One year on, MAP’s team reflect on the May 2021 offensive and Gaza’s slow recovery

A year has now passed since Israel’s devastating 11-day military assault on Gaza in May 2021. Between 10 and 21 May, Israel’s bombardment killed 261 Palestinians, including 67 children, and injured 2,200 more. At the height of the violence, 113,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Coming in the context of a protracted humanitarian crisis precipitated by years of illegal closure and blockade and the COVID-19 pandemic, this latest offensive once again pushed Gaza’s healthcare system – and exhausted health workers and humanitarians – to the brink.

During the emergency, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s dedicated local team once again leapt into action. They quickly released pre-positioned stocks of medicines, disposables and laboratory reagents to hospitals and blood banks to help treat the surge of patients. Our support reached 405,000 people, equivalent to a fifth of Gaza’s population.

MAP’s Gaza Director, Fikr Shalltoot, described the conditions they were working under: “While Gaza’s hospitals were struggling to meet the urgent needs of COVD-19 patients, the offensive made the situation worse. I was scared to death when my colleague had to leave his home and travel to one of our warehouses to ensure the distribution of drugs and medical items to hospitals. It was a life-threatening experience but we both felt that it’s unavoidable.”

In a video diary at the time, MAP’s Senior Programme Manager Mahmoud Shalabi documented this journey, depicting what he was witnessing on his way to the warehouse to oversee the release of pre-positioned medical supplies. A year on, Mahmoud has recreated his journey, and reflected on Gaza’s limited progress toward recovery.

“In our neighbourhood, buildings are still destroyed, so you cannot forget the horrible experience you lived through during the aggression.”

Though headlines have again faded from Gaza, humanitarian needs nevertheless remain acute. The pace of reconstruction remains glacially slow amid a stifling blockade. None of the 1,688 severely damaged or destroyed residential homes needing reconstruction work since the escalation have been fully rebuilt.

“In our neighbourhood, buildings are still destroyed, so you cannot forget the horrible experience you lived through during the aggression” said Amal Zaqout, MAP’s Community Programme Officer.

Medical supplies also remain low, with 39% of essential medicines and 22% of disposables at “zero stock” meaning there is less than a month’s stock available at Gaza’s Central Drug Store. High rates of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity only add to the pressure on people and essential services.

As Amal explains, it is not just physical injuries and destruction that are taking long to heal. The attacks also had an indelible and traumatic impact on the mental wellbeing of Gaza’s two million people. This includes MAP’s own team, who had to endure the terror of living under bombardment while working tirelessly to get medical aid where it was needed most.

“I still see my son shaking every time he hears a loud sound,” said Amal. “Just recently there was a loud sound of bombing again in Gaza. I couldn’t sleep, wondering whether the Israeli attack will be repeated once more this Ramadan. I was terrified!”

“The next day, I met my friend, who was evacuated from his home many times during the May 2021 offensive. He was so depressed and anxious thinking of and reliving this horrible experience.”

UNICEF estimate that some 675,000 children in Gaza require mental health and psychosocial support services.

MAP’s team remain resolute in their determination to uphold the health and dignity of people in Gaza through their work, even despite all the many challenges they face. As Fikr explains:

“I’m optimistic in nature but as a resident in Gaza, it is difficult to be hopeful. But I’m proud to work for an organisation like MAP which responds to emergencies at the golden hour and continues its unique support to ensure that patients have access to essential healthcare.”

To coincide with the one-year anniversary of Israel’s devastating 11-day offensive on Gaza last May, MAP is launching #11DaysOfAction. We are asking supporters to help us highlight the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and call for the international community to take action to address its root causes, including blockade and impunity.

If you are in the UK you can take part in this campaign now by emailing your MP, and urging them to demand that the UK government takes real action to address Gaza’s perpetual health crisis.

Email your MP

Photo: Workers sort out the rubble from Al-Jawharah Tower building that was hit by Israeli air strikes in May last year. (Credit: Reuters/Suhaib Salem).

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