“Ten minutes is not enough for a person with a disability to evacuate their home safely”

Israel’s illegal, 16-year closure and blockade has severely curtailed the rights and wellbeing of 2.2 million people in Gaza. The approximately 7% of the population who have a disability are disproportionately affected by issues such as restricted access to essential services, particularly to medical treatment outside Gaza, and limited life opportunities, with as many as 90% being unemployed. This is why the UN has identified people with disabilities in Gaza as being “among the most vulnerable groups in a society already in crisis.”

The threats to the rights of people with disabilities are particularly heightened during Israel’s frequent military assaults on Gaza. These have been characterised by aerial bombardment and the widespread use of explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas, often causing significant damage to homes and civilian infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, and water and electricity mains.

Services that support people with disabilities in Gaza, such as health and rehabilitation facilities, are often impacted, including direct damage to buildings, the injuring and killing of staff and service users, and restricted access due to the danger of moving around under bombardment.

As Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has reported to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, people with mobility restrictions and hearing and visual impairments often have severe difficulties evacuating civilian buildings that come under attack, increasing their risk of injury and death. And those whose homes are damaged or destroyed are often displaced to temporary accommodation that is not adapted to their needs.

These issues persist, despite Israel’s obligation as a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to take “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict” (Article 11).

During Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza between 9-14 May, people with disabilities were once again impacted. Saadi, who lives in the city of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, is one such individual. Saadi is a father of four children, and a Palestinian swimming champion who also plays for the national amputees football team. He had an amputation above his left knee after he was in a road accident when he was younger and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

During the May 2023 offensive, Saadi neighbour received a call from the Israeli military ordering him and his family to evacuate their building in 10 minutes, as it was to be bombed. “The building [I live in] consists of two floors. Each floor contains four apartments, where twenty people live, including children and women. What can I do in 10 minutes?” said Saadi.

“How will I save myself, my wife, my children and the rest of my family? It was even harder than a nightmare. My family and I experienced serious terror. I tried to leave the house as fast as possible, but it was tough, as I need to use a wheelchair. I was screaming to urge my children and other family members to leave the house before we were bombed.”

“It was even harder than a nightmare. My family and I experienced serious terror.” – Saadi.

“Ten minutes is not enough for a person with a disability to evacuate their home safely, as well as being able to get our crucial documents and possessions, especially those related to disability, such as medicines and accessibility devices.”

Saadi and his family were a few steps away from the building of their home when it was bombed with a ‘warning’ missile, fired from a drone, followed five minutes later by a missile from an F-16 fighter jet that completely destroyed the building. “In a few seconds, my home turned into rubble and ashes,” he said.

“Saadi’s story stands as a reminder of the vulnerabilities experienced by people with disabilities in Gaza during times of Israeli military bombardments,” said Haitham Saqqa, MAP’s Community Programme Officer in Gaza. “Despite the efforts of local and intentional NGOs, people with disabilities still face isolation and shortages of assistive materials they need. Repeated Israeli military attacks leave them more vulnerable and scared.”

At least one person with a physical disability was killed during the offensive, according to the Palestinian General Union of People with Disabilities (GUPWD). Three people also suffered such severe injuries that they now have a physical disability.

During five days of this latest escalation, 33 Palestinians, including six children, were killed, and 190 more were injured. Along with Saadi and his family, 1,244 people became internally displaced after their homes were badly damaged or destroyed.

Saadi and his family are currently living with their relatives. Although he has a roof over his head, his situation is far from ideal. “Fortunately, I left my home safely, but currently I live in a house where I cannot move independently and get things done easily,” said Saadi. “Even using the toilet is difficult and may expose me to fall or suffer an injury.”

Israel’s bombardment has left Saadi’s sports trophies and medals, along with all of his other personal possessions, buried under the rubble of his destroyed house. He has appealed to the international community and human rights organisations to provide special protection for people with disabilities during times of emergency. “Another chapter of suffering has just started!” he says in despair.

MAP and our partners work to uphold the rights and dignity of people with disabilities in Gaza. To support this vital work, please make a donation today.


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