A harsh winter in Gaza’s caravans

Israel’s military offensive on Gaza in 2014 severely damaged or destroyed 18,000 homes, displacing over 100,000 people to temporary shelters, rented apartments and steel ‘caravans’. With reconstruction moving at a glacial pace during this cold winter, few of Gaza’s homeless are feeling much warmth.

Houses and streets in the southern village of Khuza’a, and entire areas in eastern Khan Younis, were all subjected to shelling and airstrikes in 2014, leaving almost all homes either destroyed or badly damaged – scenes which were repeated in communities all across Gaza.

This hardship has been compounded by winter storms in recent weeks, which has caused flash flooding, displacing some 100 families from the southern city of Rafah. Medical Aid for Palestinians recently distributed mattresses, blankets and hygiene kits to some of the worst-affected of these families.

Azza Yusef Al-Najjar is a 23-year-old mother of two who lives in Khuza’a. Her husband is disabled, after he was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier when he was on the roof of his house in 2008. The family’s tragedy mounted when they lost their house in the last attack on Gaza. They initially took refuge at an UNRWA school, where they lived for a number of months until her daughter got sick, whereupon they moved to a temporary ‘caravan’ shelter in the village.

“Life in the caravan is disgusting and painful. My 6-month-old son Yazan has become sick since because of the unhealthy atmosphere,” says Azza. “It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The ground under the caravan is wet, and rain drops from the ceiling. I really suffer with him as he has persistent colds and infections and I have to take him regularly to the hospital.”

Azza’s health has also suffered due to their conditions. “I got ill with a virus when I was pregnant with my son because of the caravan,” she says. “I used to feel dizzy and faint, and had low blood pressure, and I received injections and medicines. When my son was born I stopped breastfeeding, and I had to send my two-year-old daughter Ruba away to live with relatives. I want to send my son away from this atmosphere too. I can’t provide milk and diapers for both of them.”

Access to healthcare can be a struggle in Gaza, where 17 hospitals and 56 clinics were damaged or destroyed in 2014. This is particularly a problem for families living in temporary shelters.  Dr. A’aed Yaghi, manager of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society in Gaza, told us: “The winter cold brings with it high incidence of diseases such as respiratory illness, flu and colds. We have noticed that most of the people who live in the caravans, especially the children, suffer from dermal diseases, skin infections and parasites because the lack of hygiene.”

I am calling for the immediate reconstruction of our homes, so we can live with dignity

Hundreds of families like Azza’s live in the caravans, which were donated by local charities and international donors after homes were completely destroyed during the 2014 attacks. The slow rate of reconstruction – due in large part to Israel’s restrictions on the import of basic building supplies into the territory – mean that residents face an uncertain future.

“We’re always tired, nervous and have low spirits, but as we’re grown-ups we can bear living in the caravan,” says Azza. ”But the children can’t, it’s hard for them to live here. Officials come and see our situation, and promise rebuild our houses and help us, but these have just been words till now.”

“I am calling for the immediate reconstruction of our homes, so we can live with dignity.”

MAP, in partnership with the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) and Avaaz, are calling for easing of restrictions on the entry of building materials into Gaza and an end to the blockade and closure of the territory. Please sign our petition here.

You can also support our emergency relief work and other projects in Gaza by donating today.

Featured image: Azza and her son. Photo credit: Lara Aburamadan

Keep up to date

Sign up for our newsletter to receive all the latest updates from our programmes, campaigns and fundraising appeals.