“I don’t know how we are surviving”: Six months on from Israel’s assault on Gaza

Six months have passed since Israel’s 11-day military offensive on Gaza in May, but the rebuilding efforts have been desperately slow and the ongoing health needs of Gaza’s two million people remain severe.

This was the fourth major assault on Gaza that 19-year-old Nada* has lived through, following similar bombardments in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014. The eldest of five sisters and three brothers, Nada lives in a crowded flat – made up of just two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom – in the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood of eastern Gaza, which was one of the most heavily shelled areas during the 2014 assault. Like so many people in Gaza, Nada and her family face a distressing economic situation as a result of Israel’s 14-year illegal closure and blockade.  

In May 2021, life for Nada became even harder when her father was tragically killed during the Israeli attacks. Nada could not cope with her father’s death and became deeply depressed. She struggled with her sadness and anger the most in the evenings, when she would remember enjoying her family dinners and making tea for her father. Now she finds it hard to even think of the chair her father sat in and the cup he used to drink his tea from.

During those 11 devastating days, Israeli airstrikes and shelling killed 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, and injured over 2,200. At the height of the violence, 113,000 Palestinians were forced to seek shelter and protection at UNRWA schools or with host families. Six months on, more than 8,250 remain internally displaced.

The assault devastated essential infrastructure and health services: 2,173 housing units were destroyed or severely damaged; 10 hospitals were damaged; and 22 primary healthcare clinics, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination centres, were also damaged.

Alongside the immediate effects, the bombardment will have a lasting impact on Palestinians who have suffered from life-changing injuries, not to mention the significant toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing, particularly children and young people.

Due to the psychological trauma she faced, Nada was referred to Friends for Mental Health (FFMH), Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s partner, who provide mental health and psychosocial services, support sessions and counselling to people in Gaza. Since being introduced to FFMH, Nada has been participating in the organisation’s recreational activities to relieve some of the psychological pressures she is experiencing.

“This project has changed my life,” said Nada. “I was sad and depressed, but after engaging in FFMH’s activities, I stopped crying and being anxious, and started to cope better. Life is difficult without my father, but the team at FFMH supported me and helped me improve my situation.”

“We need continuous support”

Despite the scale of the destruction and the humanitarian needs of the population, around 80% of whom are dependent on international aid, reconstruction has been slow in Gaza. A Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, conducted in Gaza between 25 May and 30 June, estimates up to US$380 million in physical damage and US$190 million in economic losses. Egypt and Qatar have pledged their support for reconstruction, but Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a huge obstacle to recovery.

Israel’s restrictions on the entry of construction materials it deems to have a dual military use have slowed Gaza’s recovery. Furthermore, Israel’s prohibition on the entry of some medical equipment is threatening the health of Palestinians in Gaza, which is particularly alarming given the scale of the emergency needs and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The blockade and economic crisis in Gaza have also undermined the availability of other essential medical materials. As of September, 38% of essential medicines and 22% of medical disposables – including those needed for oncology, surgical and intensive care services – were at “zero stock” at Gaza’s central drug store, meaning there is less than a month’s supply available.

“We are suffering from a chronic issue, which is getting the needed items for repairing medical equipment,” said Dr Bashar Murad, Director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society. “Since June 2020 our MRI machine stopped working and the Israelis are refusing to facilitate the entry of the needed parts to fix it. The ultrasound machine is also not working.”

“Due to COVID-19, we have had an increased need for oxygen supply, and we bought an oxygen generator from the West Bank in February this year, but we can’t get it into Gaza,” Dr Bashar added. 

Dr Nidal Abu Hadrous, the Head of Neurosurgery at the European Gaza Hospital, warns that the lack of medical supplies could have a devastating effect on people’s lives. “Even before May, we had a fragile healthcare system. After May and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s getting worse and worse. I don’t know how we are surviving,” said Dr Nidal. “Our unit needs continuous support. We are surviving on donations from charities like MAP. When this support stops, our unit’s work will stop. And our patients won’t survive, they will die.”

Since the emergency in May, MAP has worked with partners to get urgent medical supplies to hospitals in Gaza. We have continued our vital support to limb reconstruction, neurosurgery and blood bank services, and made a huge contribution to the MoH’s COVID-19 response.

Amid rising malnutrition rates among children and increasing food prices across Gaza, MAP is working with its partner Ard El Insan to procure essential drugs, nutritional supplements, food packages, laboratory equipment and supplies. In response to the growing cases of mental health problems, MAP is working with FFMH to provide more psychosocial support, provide livelihood support to adults, and expand services to children.

For Gaza to experience any kind of sustainable recovery, immediate steps must be taken to end the blockade and illegal closure. This would allow for building materials and essential medical equipment to move in and out of Gaza, and patients to be able to move freely to access the healthcare they need.

The international community must also address the systemic human rights abuses that are at the root cause of this latest offensive. This includes ensuring genuine investigation and accountability for attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel.

Failing to take these necessary steps will prolong the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and allow illegal collective punishment to continue.

Please consider donating to MAP to help deliver vital healthcare services in Gaza.

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*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.

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