|| Gaza Diary
Islamic Relief's aid Workers Diary
by Hatem' Shurrab reporting from Gaza
GAZA: 18th January 2009
A ceasefire has been announced and the shelling has
stopped. At the beginning I didn't believe it as in the early morning I could
hear the sound of heavy fire and then the sound of the F-16s and the drones
which never left Gaza's sky for three weeks.
Outside my home I saw more
people going out to visit their families and loved ones and to find out how they
have coped and to catch up on news. Many sorrowful stories are being shared
I saw a numbers of moving cars. I saw a lot of displaced people
rushing to see what happened with their homes. Many tents have been set up to
receive mourners so people can pay their condolences.
The people I met
today were very sad and exhausted. I saw many of my friends and colleagues whom
I haven't seen for more than 22 days. We hugged each other as if we hadn't met
This is war has destroyed a lot of things in Gaza. The war
has violently impacted on homes, mosques, schools, institutions, roads and more
importantly on the hearts of people.
I have seen things which I will
never forget all my life. I remember a nine-year-old girl who was holding her
baby sister in one of the shelters in Gaza. They became orphans.
can't forget a mother who was crying for many days after losing her son. Also, a
father who was struggling to feed his small children.
have been devastated and many women have been widowed. A lot of fathers lost
their wives and children.
Islamic Relief's programmes in Gaza will be
working to support orphans and widows - to ensure that they have food and
widowed women and men are able to earn money to feed their families through
An estimated 1,300 Palestinians died during the
attacks on the Gaza Strip. It is believed that half of those that died are
civilians. Doctors have told me that the numbers of dead will rise as hundreds
of patients are in critical conditions and may not survive.
I spent most
of the day with the Islamic Relief team distributing aid in the north of Gaza
Strip, Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Jabalia. We handed out bread to hundreds of
I met Wisal, an eight-year-old girl, who told me the
ceiling of her home had fallen on her and her family two weeks ago. They
survived but their neighbour was killed.
I met another child, Mahmoud,
12, who had a similar story but his hand was critically injured. Wisal and
Mahmoud are two children among thousands who had awful stories.
tens of dead bodies were dug out from under the rubble of homes. Surviving
family members had to wait until the ceasefire to try and find out if their
loved ones had survived. Miracles are few and far between in shattered Gaza and
all people found were bodies.
For the past 22 days, Islamic Relief
Worldwide in Gaza has some how managed to keep working despite the dangers that
our teams face. Thankfully none of the aid workers were injured but the scenes
they saw will have a long term effect for sure. Islamic Relief Worldwide is
working very hard to alleviate the suffering of the desperate people of Gaza.
We have provided hospitals in the Gaza Strip with urgent medical
equipment such as heart machines, IV fluid drips and ambulances. We have also
supplied hospitals with medicine, food and blankets for the injured and
Today, we delivered three major hospitals with life saving
medical equipment such equipments such as DC shock machines, heart monitors,
fusion pumps, ventilators and equipment for operating rooms. The level of damage
and destruction is huge and Islamic Relief Worldwide will spend years trying to
assist the people of Gaza to rebuild their lives.
Today - I fully
understood just how much we must do to rebuild and revive the lives of Gazans -
my people and the place that I call home.
GAZA: 16th January 2009
Hatem Shurrab works for Islamic Relief in Gaza
In the last hour, I have heard that 15 people have been killed and many more
injured. Seven were killed when a missile hit a tent where people had gathered
to mourn some victims of the attacks.
We are hearing that a ceasefire is
coming, but the killing continues.
My sister and her family live a few
hundred metres from the family home and yesterday she managed to get to our
house with the children just before dusk - 14 members of the family stayed in
We tried to find the safest rooms to stay in, away from the
We don't have electricity so we had to make do with candles.
I spent the night focusing on the candle flame, willing the night to pass as
quickly as possible, and worrying that the tanks might reach our neighbourhood,
as they were the closest they have been in the past 21 days of the attacks on
My mind kept racing through the night, thinking about where I
would take the family if the tanks entered our street. Where would we take
As I stared at the candle flame I realised that there was no
point in asking myself these questions as there was nowhere for us to go.
"At night my children become hungry - one meal a day is not enough for
them " Asmaa, Gaza mother
Hundreds of families have fled the
neighbourhood surrounding our home trying to find a place to shelter away from
the shelling and bombing.
The sound of warplanes and shells and missiles
have been haunting people for 21 long days and nights.
niece, like many children in Gaza, is trying to be brave.
She told me
that she wasn't scared by what was happening but when I asked her how she felt
when she heard the sounds of war she told me she felt cold and the sounds made
Today I was able to leave the house for a
few hours and join Islamic Relief's emergency team to distribute 1,700 food
parcels to exhausted and desperate people taking refuge in 12 shelters in Gaza
The number of homeless people keeps rising - many homes have been
destroyed and those whose homes haven't been destroyed don't feel safe in them.
Thousands of civilians have fled the areas where attacks are taking
Thousands of civilians have fled the area where the attacks are
taking place fearing for their lives, although many were reported to be still
trapped in their homes or other shelters.
We also distributed 1,600
bread packs and 1,500 food parcels to displaced people in shelters in Rafah and
The food parcels contain enough tins of fish, meat and
vegetables to feed a family of eight for three weeks.
the food aid I met a young mother-of-five who told me that she was only able to
provide her family with one meal a day since the attacks on Gaza started.
Asmaa looked exhausted but pleased when she received the food parcel.
"At night my children become hungry - one meal a day is not enough for
them and they have to wait until the next day to eat some food," she said.
"I feel relieved that I have this food - it's very painful for me to
know that my children are hungry."
GAZA: 15th January 2009
I am stuck in my house. Things are very difficult today
as tanks are in the area next to where I live and where my colleagues have
My colleague is writing my words down as I am unable to get to
the office and use my computer.
Many people have left the area and are
moving in with relatives deeper in Gaza City.
When I look out of the
window I can see people leaving with small bags - many of those leaving are with
their families. There are many women and children.
I hear a loud
explosion a few metres away. The shelling is becoming more intense and rockets
are also falling.
I can see smoke from a building that is behind my
The Unrwa (UN relief agency) building is close by and my
colleague has told me that it has been hit.
Shelling is going on.
Explosions are shaking the house. My family are gathered in one room and we make
sure everyone is OK and the house is OK.
My mother shouts out to make
sure we are all with her in the room.
My sisters-in-law are with us and the children, and we crouch down in case glass
from the windows shatters and hits us. I can hear the neighbour's children
crying and shouting.
My sister called earlier and said she will try to
make it to our home.
She has three young daughters and a son but we
don't think she will make it as it is not safe to travel.
friends are now on their way to a UN shelter. They wanted to stay with us but it
was simply too dangerous for them to make their way here.
smoke is getting thicker and blocking the sun. The fighting is coming closer to
our homes and the soldiers are now in urban areas. What scares me is that our
homes could come under attack and there will be more death and destruction.
When I meet people I find that they have almost become indifferent to
death, as we know death is not far away
I was supposed to be out
distributing aid to hospitals around Gaza with Islamic Relief's emergency relief
Yesterday we managed to deliver hospital trolleys, heart machines
and first aid equipment including bandages, disposable gloves and syringes to
five hospitals around Gaza.
We were supposed to deliver more aid today
but our work has been suspended due to the intensity of the attacks in the
centre of Gaza.
Aid is entering Gaza through Israel and Egypt but people
can't collect the food and medicine as it is not safe for them to leave their
A few days ago Islamic Relief was able to receive 20 ambulances
through the Rafah border which will be donated to the main Shifa hospital and
other smaller hospitals.
Today is the 20th day of
the attack. Every day we hope that this will be the last day but the attacks go
on and people feel depressed and scared.
Gazans feel that this won't end
any time soon. When I meet people I find that they have almost become
indifferent to death, as we know death is not far away.
In the past 20
days more than 1,000 people have been killed, many of them women and children.
Death has come close to the average Gazan.
My colleague is asking me how
I am coping with the situation and how I overcome my fear.
I take a deep
breath and try to explain as best I can.
During the day when I am out
working with the Islamic Relief team I stay strong and never show exhaustion or
I am there to help people who in many cases have nothing.
When I get home I try to stay strong for my family especially my nieces
and nephews who are very young and frightened.
At night when I read the
evening prayer I can't control myself and I cry and cry all night.
the morning I leap up and force myself to shake off the despair and hurt and get
ready to go out and try to help the people of Gaza.
Gaza: 13th January 2009
The water situation in Gaza is dire. Those people who are lucky
enough to have any water in their storage tanks are trying to save as much as
possible. Many people have had their tanks destroyed by the bombing and
Most homes in Rafah, Khan Younis and in the middle and
northern areas of Gaza have almost no water or electricity. Eighty per cent of
people in Gaza are dependent on international aid. Most Gazans can't afford to
Only today my colleague, Diya Skaik, returned to his home
which he was forced to leave 10 days ago due to the intensive bombing.
"The water tank which is the only source of water for my small family is
crushed," he told me.
"I went to the roof and just had a glance. I had
to leave the place quickly as it is too dangerous to be there."
months ago my father had a feeling something awful might happen in Gaza and
bought a larger water tank.
We are very much aware that Gaza will need
long-term help from the outside world to rebuild the devastated infrastructure
However, the water that we have is almost finished. This is despite
the fact that we have cut our usage down to the bare minimum. I know my father
is concerned about our limited supply, even though he doesn't talk about it.
The water shortage in Gaza is causing health and environmental problems.
Only a few months ago Islamic Relief provided Gaza's main water pump
station with spare parts. The system is old and in need of repair and was
already feeling the strain during the siege of the past 18 months.
we provided eight shelters in Gaza with drinking water for the many hundreds of
people who have been displaced by the bombing. Many of the shelters are
overcrowded and have no access to clean water. We provided each person with 20
No doubt, after the fighting is over, we are going to see vast
amounts of damage to houses and the water tanks on the roofs.
As an aid
worker I am focused on coping with the here and now but like everybody in Gaza I
am waiting and praying for a ceasefire so we can try to rebuild our lives.
Right now our aid team is reacting to what is happening around us.
However, we are very much aware that Gaza will need long-term help from
the outside world to rebuild the devastated infrastructure.
It will take
the people of Gaza even longer to heal from the physical and psychological
damage of this war.
Gaza: 12th January 2009
I haven't been able to write
my diary for 48 hours - I've simply not had time and have been busy working with
colleagues to prepare thousands of food parcels for desperate people.
We have to finish distributing aid before it gets dark and make sure that we are
back home, as there is no electricity and families and loved ones worry if we
are out on the streets. The bombardment intensifies at night and so it's not
wise to be out then.
I sometimes wonder if there
will be enough space to bury the dead. Yesterday a friend of mine was killed in
his home. He was a journalist and worked for a radio station.
attacks started on Gaza I have lost good friends - and if you ask me how I feel
about it - well, I can't really say as I'm trying to block it out so I can focus
on my work.
I feel exhausted - as does everyone around me - but as an
aid worker I have no choice but to keep going
I'm one of the lucky
ones, as I can keep busy with my work and focus my energy on trying to assist
people - this is one of the things that is keeping me going.
manager's home was exposed to heavy gunfire - he lives close to the borders of
Gaza City - and the bullets hit the room his children sleep in.
I decided today to try and speak to people on the streets
around the office to find out more about their situation, but it's hard to find
people and when you do everyone is in a rush to visit a relative or friend and
pay their condolences to families who have lost loved ones.
are closed, the most crowded areas are near hospitals. I met a few people in the
streets but many more are in shelters in school buildings, which are now housing
hundreds of frightened people who have fled their homes hoping they will be
safer in these buildings.
The "hidden" homeless are staying with their
extended family members. Hundreds of families have moved in with relatives and
for Gazans this is adding further pressure on them to take care of their
Islamic Relief has received many phone calls from
people asking for blankets and food - they need to keep warm and to feed their
families. We are now distributing aid to these families alongside people who are
living in shelters.
More aid is arriving in Gaza through Israel's
borders and my logistics colleagues work out how to get the aid loaded on to
trucks and out to the hospitals and shelters.
I feel exhausted - as does
everyone around me - but as an aid worker I have no choice but to keep going.
Gaza: 9th January 2009
I'm using my brother's laptop to type these
words - it has an hour left on the battery. The battery on my laptop has already
As I write this I can hear the sound of explosions around.
Thirteen days on and I can't say that I'm getting used to the sounds of bombs
and missiles hitting Gaza.
Today Islamic Relief was unable to distribute
any aid as the bombing was so intense - vast parts of Gaza are now under thick
Yesterday we were able to distribute 1,000 food parcels to
local aid organisations who are helping us to reach desperate families - each
parcel has enough food to feed a family of eight for one month.
morning I heard about six people killed in the Qarrah area - all of them were
over 50 years old. They were considered to be the elders in the community and
they were respected and loved by all in Qarrah. People are in a state of shock.
The whole health sector in Gaza is in meltdown.
In the hospitals the doctors are sending home the severely injured - they have
no choice due to the shortage of beds.
Many of those sent home are in
urgent need of hospital treatment and anywhere else in the world they would be
expected to stay in hospital for weeks. But Gaza is no ordinary place - it's a
place full of deep pain and misery. I don't think there any words in the
dictionary that can accurately capture what's happening here
injured are being forced to return to their homes a few hours after arriving at
the hospital and are forced to try and recover from their injuries as the bombs
The shortage of doctors can be seen in the operating
theatres. While a doctor is operating on a patient two more will be brought in
for emergency surgery at the same time - it's an impossible situation.
It's not only the doctors; there is a severe shortage of nurses too. The
hospitals asked student nurses in their third and fourth years to come and help,
as well as other volunteers - such is their desperation.
to remember that Gaza has been under siege for the last 18 months, so the
hospitals were already suffering from a severe shortage of medical equipment.
Al-Shifa is the largest hospital in Gaza and it just
cannot cope with all the injured. In most hospitals around the world generators
are used as emergency back-up if anything happens to the electricity.
In Gaza the generators are the main source of electricity for the hospitals and
there is no back up. If the generators do not work properly there is nothing the
doctors can do. This can happen during an operation.
Islamic Relief is
going regularly to the hospitals and supplying them with medical equipment. But
what will happen when the fuel runs out in Gaza and the generators no longer
Most people in Gaza are already without electricity as most do not
have access to generators.
When I sit down to gather my thoughts and
write these diaries my mind often goes blank because sometimes it's too
difficult to process the full magnitude of the suffering in Gaza.
I struggle to find the words to describe what's happening here - I don't think
there are any words in the dictionary that can accurately capture what's
Gaza: 8th January 2009
While I was writing this diary entry I received news
that a Palestinian family had been killed in the northern Jabaliya refugee camp
after their house was bombed.
Jabaliya is home to an estimated 125,000 people and is the most densely populated camp in Gaza.
They were a father, mother and son from the Aljaro family. Other members of the family had
But the news got worse: the father was the brother of my
Islamic Relief colleague Alaa.
I tried to reach Alaa to check he was OK
and pay my condolences but couldn't get through to him on the phone.
finally received news that Alaa was OK. But what do I say to him when I see him?
Every day that passes brings more and more bad news and with every
passing hour the human misery increases.
One minute we hear news that
five people have been killed in a certain neighbourhood, then a few minutes
later we receive more news that people have been killed in a different area.
It seems like Gazans are just becoming numbers.
Gazans are not
just numbers, Gazans are very kind people who love life and love others.
Every child that has died enjoyed playing,
like other children across the world.
Every child that died had a family
that loved them dearly.
Our aid team also learnt today that the fathers
of three of the children in our Psychosocial Support program had been killed.
They are now orphans.
Islamic Relief runs a project with Gazan
children who have been traumatised by conflict. It is funded by the Catholic
Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD).
Two thousand children are
involved in the project, which aims to help youngsters deal with their loss and
provide them with support and care.
I wonder what effect this conflict
and losing their fathers will have on those three children in the long term.
One thing is for sure, when the bombing ends - and we pray for it to end
now - this project will need to be one of our priorities.
I've met a lot of children over the past 12 days and I can see the fear
in their eyes.
The state of the shelters in which people are seeking
refuge is dire.
There is no electricity, and no fuel for cooking.
Neither is there any kind of heating to keep people warm in these cold winter
The good news is that our relief teams continued with our
distribution to three UN shelters, supplying people with hygiene kits and
We also prepared a list of medicines desperately needed by
Gazan hospitals and are now working on trying to purchase the medication inside
Gaza and co-ordinate the purchasing of aid from outside Gaza and work out how to
get it into Gaza.
Gaza: 7th January 2009|
Today we had a few
hours of calm. For three hours we could deliver aid without the worry of
bombardment. It was a busy day.
An Islamic Relief aid team went to the
Paediatric Hospital to provide it with medical items, such as surgical sets,
bandages and scissors among other items which are continuously required.
We also delivered soaps and other hygiene material and blankets to six
The people in the shelter were happy to see aid workers
arriving with supplies, especially blankets as it's very cold here in Gaza.
During this three hours of calm we were also given a deeper insight to
the misery on the streets of Gaza.
We visited a building near the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Gaza where 200 people
Many of the people there asked me if I could tell them
where a safe shelter was - where they could go to stay safe with their loved
ones. I had no answer.
Despite the temporary halt in the bombing I only
met people, young and old, full of sadness and fear. Many people that I met
looked bewildered and exhausted.
In one shelter I met a man called Abu
Mohamed. He had been forced to leave his home and was desperate to return.
"I refuse to go to a UN school as it is unsafe. Yesterday a school was
hit and more than 40 were killed.
"I can't let my family and relatives
be killed. I want all this to stop and go back home safely," he said.
I also met a 12-year-old girl named Fatima. She had
fled with 12 members of her family to be in a UN school.
Her home was
partially destroyed after her neighbour's house was bombed.
other children, she didn't feel safe but was trying her best to block out the
bombing by playing with her cousins in the school yard.
dangers, the children of Gaza are resilient and some are determined to keep
Our aid teams are working out how we can source more aid
supplies into Gaza and deliver the aid we have inside Gaza.
precious minutes and seconds in the day to try to reach desperate people whose
Eleven days on and there is no end in
GAZA: 6th January 2009
I'm absolutely exhausted. Despite the
bombing last night I managed to get some sleep - I don't know how - I think my
body just had enough.
A homeless Palestinian woman weeps in a school
turned into a UN shelter in Gaza. Families have sheltered in schools
Islamic Relief aid team went out and visited one of the UN schools that has been
turned into a shelter for families displaced by the bombing.
What I saw
was heartbreaking. Before me were families who have had their homes destroyed
and have lost everything. Gaza is a very poor place and many people didn't have
much before the bombing started. Many more are left with even less
The people I met told me that they had found themselves in the
firing line and had no choice but to leave their homes.
I met a mother
who was burning paper in order to boil water for her child. She was doing this
because she had no milk - maybe she could fool her hungry baby with the warm
I was surprised at the amount of women and children I saw in the
school - and worried too.
People are exhausted,
traumatised and they are surviving on a limited amount of food - there simply
I found it very hard to see people suffering like this,
especially the children.
At Islamic Relief we have decided that we have
no choice but to deliver food to people - no matter what the dangers, and there
are plenty of dangers in Gaza.
As aid workers we can not stand by and
watch as people suffer - they have nothing and we have to do something to help
There are around 500 people sheltering in the school and we are
also preparing to provide people with hygiene kits, which contain simple things
like soap which are important in preventing the spread of disease.
women and children living in these kind of conditions is unbearable. Many of the
children had walked long distances to reach the schools. Their parents had
thought they would be safe here.
The children are tired and hungry and do
not know why they have been made to leave their homes and live in classrooms,
like most Gazans they are cold and hungry and bewildered by the events of the
past 11 days.
GAZA: 5th January 2009
For the second day we have had
to postpone our planned aid distribution. The security situation gets worse by
the hour, making it very difficult to go out on the streets and deliver
Picture of Islamic Relief aid worker, Hatem Shurrab
I often feel
like I am saying the same thing again and again, but the humanitarian situation
is nothing short of desperate
Homes are without water and electricity.
Gazans have only been receiving water once a week for the last six months. But
the electricity is down, which means the water cannot be pumped up.
is very dangerous. As well as the obvious danger of being without water, there
are added health issues and the possibility of the spread of
Gaza is now divided due to the presence of the Israeli army and
it is pretty much impossible to travel to the central areas.
Relief colleagues who work with orphans are in the middle of Gaza - it is now
very difficult to reach this area.
The inability to travel safely is
severely affecting the aid effort. Only today I was at a bread queue talking to
ordinary Gazans. Explosions could be heard in the background.
I met one
woman who had been queuing from 0730 to 1030. But others had been queuing for up
to 10 hours - such is the shortage. One man I met told me he was taking shifts
with his brother in the bread queue in order not to lose their
Others I met just broke down in tears when I began speaking to
them - it seems they had no words left.
A little girl takes shelter at a UN
aid centre in Gaza on 5 January 2009
Gazans face crippling shortages and
constant blasts, Hatem Shurrab says
I often feel like I am saying the
same thing again and again, but the humanitarian situation is nothing short of
desperate. Our colleagues in the UN are calling it a humanitarian
Each day in Gaza it feels like it can't get any worse - but it
does. People just don't know what to do or expect.
I ask you to imagine
how you would feel if you found yourself in a situation where you and your loved
ones had little food, water and no electricity. And all the time the sound of
explosions - bombs, missiles and tank fire - can be heard everywhere.
long days and nights the people of Gaza have been living with fear - we are
exhausted and every day brings more violence and more misery.
Gaza: 4th January 2009
The moment we all feared has come - ground troops are in Gaza.
For the first time I was forced to hide in the basement of our house, as there
are no shelters or bunkers to take refuge from the bombing or shelling.
With seven members of my family - the youngest, Majd, being seven months old -
we spent the night listening to explosions.
The bombardment was relentless. Some of the explosions were near our home and
were causing Majd to cry. Our house was rocked by a nearby explosion - it was
This is worse than the aerial bombing - everything feels so close.
The night was very cold and we spent it listening to the radio to see if we
could find out what was going on. We knew what was happening; that now the
fighting would be on the streets of Gaza.
This was what we were hoping would not happen. Everyone selected a corner in the
basement to sit in - we knew it was going to be a long night.
I woke up at 0710 - exhausted and suffering from a headache, like most people I
had barely slept. Outside there was silence - maybe everything had stopped? But
almost immediately, I heard an air strike and realised that the nightmare wasn't
Islamic Relief Worldwide had planned to deliver some aid today but the situation
on the streets of Gaza was just too dangerous.
Instead, we made preparations for the delivery of aid to hospitals. Our
emergency manager was at the al-Shifa hospital; he told us many of the injured
were being taken there.
It is very dangerous now to be out in the streets. With each passing day and
night, the dangers in Gaza increase and so does the humanitarian crisis.
Electricity is not available and people are using generators.
Even in the Islamic Relief Worldwide office we have to leave early in order to
save fuel for the generators for the coming days.
On Monday, we plan to distribute aid to the hospitals - I, like the rest of
Gaza, hope it will be safe to do so.
Gaza: 3rd January 2009
As I finish writing this I am having to move to the basement of my house with
seven members of my family, including a baby aged 7 months.
International School in Gaza was hit in an Israeli strike
Loud explosions are going off all around and a colleague from the UK is
writing down my words as I speak to her on the phone.
I am trying very hard to hide the fear in my voice but I don't think I'm
doing a very good job.
The ground invasion has started and now nobody knows what will happen next.
My colleague is asking me if the rest of our team are safe - I spoke to them
one hour ago and as far as I know everyone is ok for now.
The colleagues who live in Jabaliya camp have moved out deeper into Gaza so
that they can try and stay safe. Jabaliya is a very exposed place and its safer
for people to move out of this area.
Before this ground invasion was launched I had been out visiting children who
should have been in school, but of course all the schools are closed.
I heard the news that the American International School was hit in a strike.
Of course the school was empty - they all are.
I spoke to 12-year-old Nour today. He studies at Dar Al Arqam school. It was
hit in the first few days of the bombing.
Instead of sitting his exams he sits at home reading books trying desperately
to blank out the bombing.
"I have a number of story books. I love reading but I read all the stories.
There is no electricity to watch cartoons and there is no safety to go and buy
new story books, it's terrifying and boring to stay under fire all this time,"
The schools have called the winter holidays early as the security situation
is getting worse each day.
But these holidays won't be the same for Nour or his friends. They won't be
playing in the streets of Gaza, instead they will be sitting terrified in their
houses. I want the shelling stop because I become scared when I hear it
"I'll never enjoy this holiday. Everyday I listen to bad news about people
"I will also not go to my desk if schools open because my class is among the
classes which were destroyed.," he said.
Nine-year-old Masa is another Gazan child who is trying to make sense of what
is happening: "I fill my time in studying, but the sound of planes and shelling
is not letting me focus on the lessons. I try to stay near my mother and father
and hug them several times a day," she said.
"I got bored of staying at home all this time. I want to play with my friends
and cousins. I want the shelling stop because I become scared when I hear it
It's sad speaking to these children and hearing their stories and thoughts.
They should be playing in the streets, but instead they spend their time
hiding indoors - terrified and confused.
More than 50 children were killed during the last week. Schools are shut down
and students are not going to their exams.
Tomorrow [Sunday] we had planned to deliver blankets and food parcels to
three shelter locations which have been opened in schools for families who live
in the border areas and who have been evacuated from their homes.
Now that the ground invasion has started...well, we simply have no idea if we
will be able to leave our homes. It's going to be a very long night in Gaza.
Gaza: 2nd January 2009
A week is a long time when you live in
a place that is cut off from the outside world and are surrounded by death,
devastation and destruction.
It is seven days since the attacks were
launched on Gaza and in that time hundreds of people have been killed and many
more injured. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights among the
dead are 51 children and 14 women.
When I do manage to snatch the odd
hour of sleep I wake up hoping to find that all of this has been a bad nightmare
and that Gaza is back to being a place full of life. It seems that the situation
we are in now is not going to end anytime soon and the nightmare will go on. The
bombardment continues and I hope it stops so that people can go out and bury the
The numbers of people who went to attend the Friday prayer today
was much less than any other Friday prayer I can remember. Mosques are located
in the heart of communities and often close to government buildings. These
mosques have closed their gates, something unheard of in the Middle East - a
mosque being closed on a Friday.
Long bread queues
Today I managed to have a snatched conversation with a woman who was on
her way to buy some bread from one of the few bakeries open on Gaza's Wihda
Um Nasir is a mother of five children; the eldest is 17 years
old. She told me she was widowed and her husband had been killed during an air
raid on Gaza some three years ago.
She told me that she hides in the
basement of her house with her children when the bombing attacks start. Every
night the children sleep on mattresses close to their mother.
had to wait for over an hour to get her bread but she said she felt lucky she
didn't have to spend more than an hour queuing. She said she was terrified to be
away from her children and was eager to get back to them in the case the bombs
started dropping again.
Um Nasir is one of thousands of Gazan women who
are worried for the safety of their children and are trying their best to keep
their families safe and keep some kind of normality in their homes.
While we were talking I discovered that two of Um Nasir's children are
being sponsored by Islamic Relief and this makes life a little easier for her as
she survives with very limited resources.
Islamic Relief has a large
orphans sponsorship programme and individuals from around the world provide
Islamic Relief with donations so we can assist these youngsters.
office in the UK told me that many people have been calling to find out if the
children are safe and how they can help them.
The good news is that some
aid is now arriving in Gaza through Israel's borders and this has given the
Islamic Relief aid team a much needed energy boost. We hope to step up our work
on the ground and reach more people in the coming days.
Gaza: 1st January 2009
I could barely sleep last night due to the continuous explosions - they seem
to be hitting every part of the Gaza Strip.
Despite the dangers, Islamic Relief is increasing its humanitarian work - we
have no choice. This morning we delivered four trucks of food to the main Shifa
Even as we were delivering the food, newly injured people were arriving at
the hospital. I wonder if the doctors are having any rest at all - it seems the
wounded just keep on coming with no pause.
It's the new year, but for
Gazans it feels like 2008 never ended
The food aid included flour,
rice, beans, tinned meat and fish. Islamic Relief also provided hospital stores
with four large trucks filled with food supplies. It was desperately needed. The
supplies are enough for the Gaza Strip hospitals for more than a month.
Since the bombing started six days ago, people are becoming more and more
desperate. I've met families who are resorting to boiling weeds that they've dug
out from the ground in order to feed their families.
People are queuing up to an hour to get bread rations. The long queues are
dangerous - bombs could fall at any time and being out in the open is the worst
place to be.
The weather is getting colder and this is another danger for Gazans. Islamic
Relief has already distributed blankets. We distributed 400 today to the injured
at Shifa hospital to take home with them.
Due to the density of people in Gaza, homes are built very close to
government buildings so when bombs are dropped, homes are damaged too.
Many people are living without windows or doors, shattered by the force of
the bombs. People are worried about the structures of their homes as walls have
caved in. Some people are trying to replace the broken glass with nylon. But
nylon, like most things in Gaza, is in short supply and not many people can
afford to buy it.
The children are hungry, tired, scared and cold
Most people do not have gas, and electricity is limited. There are long
periods of time when Gaza has no electricity.
People are trying to keep themselves warm by using extra blankets. Many
people have started to burn wood to cook food - it also helps to keep them warm.
Others are burning paper from exercise books to cook tea on.
As usual, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, and it's the children I
fear for - they are hungry, tired, scared and cold. It is not easy to blank out
the sounds of screaming F-16s or bombs being dropped for an adult, but more so
As aid workers, we know we are taking big risks leaving our homes in the
morning and going to work but we have no choice as we can't stand by and watch
our people suffering, and so we keep going.
The Islamic Relief staff are trying their best to do what they can. They are
Gazans like the rest of the people and we all feel scared. But at the same time
we know that if we do not go out and help our fellow Gazans then who will?
It's the new year, but for Gazans it feels like 2008 never
Gaza: 31st December 2008
People around the world will be about to celebrate the new year - not here in
This is usually a time when people make new plans and have high hopes for the
coming year. At the moment the people in Gaza are just hoping they will be alive
tomorrow. 2008 was a bitter year for Gazans - it looks like 2009 will be the
Food is beginning to become a major issue. Only two weeks ago the
United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended the distribution of food in
Gaza because of shortages.
We pray there is some respite from the constant bombing - this will allow
desperately needed aid to get in. The crisis in Gaza seems to tick every box to
make it a major humanitarian disaster; hunger, killing, insecurity and poverty.
What makes the food situation even worse is that Gazans were already facing
difficulties with food over the last year - now they are on the brink.
Eighty per cent of Gaza's 1.5 million population depends on international
humanitarian assistance; that is an incredible amount of people in such a small
area of land. The level of poverty is spiralling out of control.
When we go out and assess what is needed you can see that the people are
beyond despair. Food provided by Islamic Relief, the UN and other agencies is
beginning to run out in people's homes. The heads of households are despairing
at the thought of how to feed their children.
Every family has a story of suffering. They will tell you about the shortage
of food, of cooking gas and fuel, and of course electricity. People have to
queue for an hour to get bread.
Gaza residents are facing serious shortages
of basic necessities
At the moment only a quarter of the bakeries are operating due to a shortage
in gas and electricity.
There are 47 bakeries in Gaza. However, 27 of them have not been operating
for some time now and the rest are unable to open every day. There is only
enough flour in Gaza to last two weeks unless more supplies are brought in.
As an aid worker I have seen poverty deepening in Gaza since the blockade
began 18 months ago. This year has been one of the worst years I can remember in
terms of the desperation people are feeling - not knowing if there will be
enough food in the markets, if there will be electricity or fuel.
Over the past 12 months Islamic Relief has delivered food assistance to
40,000 families, in addition to supplying vast amounts of medical equipment,
hygiene kits and kitchen tools to half a million people.
At the moment Islamic Relief is able to source food from suppliers here in
Gaza. In a few days we will begin emergency food distribution. 2008 was a bitter
year for Gazans - it looks like 2009 will be the same.
Gaza: 30th December 2008
On Saturday Gazan school children were supposed to be sitting their exams -
schools should have been full. This is exam time but instead of sitting at their
desks children hide in their homes. The intensity of the bombing is effecting me
– but I’m a grown man so what about the children? I can see how my nephews and
nieces are being affected. Tala, my youngest niece, is only five years old –
when she hears the explosions she rushes to her mothers lap – both mother and
daughter are terrified. A lot of the time parents try telling their children
that the bombing is the sound of thunder – but Gazan children are not ordinary
children –they know bombing when they hear it.
The panic caused by the strikes and the shelling from the sky and the sea has
an immense impact on the psychology of Gazan children. Islamic Relief has been
running a project in Gaza for a number of years trying to deal with
psychological trauma suffered by children. The program has taken many stapes
forward – however the current bombing means we will have to start all over again
– sadly I feel the need for counselling will be greater.
The security situation is getting worse. My colleagues and I make sure we
walk to our office – going by car is far too dangerous. We phone the office as
soon as we step out of our houses. Then along the way we phone the office about
four times at specific points – we do this so they know we are safe. Once we get
to the office we ring our families to tell them we have made is safely. This is
what life in Gaza is like in these days. Even a simple walk to work could be
life threatening. This is why most of the shops and businesses are closed – the
safest place to be – if there is one – is to stay indoors. But as humanitarian
workers we have to be out in the community, our job is to help people.
We are now communicating with suppliers outside of the Gaza Strip. We are
trying to prepare for what lies ahead in the coming days. We do not know if the
bombing will stop or if it will get worse – but we have to prepared- and
unfortunately that means preparing for the worst.
Gaza: 28th December 2008
We are working round the clock now to try and get as much medical aid to
The fact that nobody knows when the next bomb will fall makes our job
As the bombing continues, the hospitals are reaching breaking point. We
are doing our best to source the aid needed from local suppliers and
our existing stocks. We have enough at the moment but the way things are
going we need to start getting aid in from outside Gaza as stocks will be
running out very soon. The hospitals were already low on supplies before this
crisis- they can barely cope now.
Yesterday we delivered five trucks of aid to the ministry of health in Gaza -
they then distributed this to five hospitals. The hospitals seem to be
the focus of the aid effort at the moment
We just met the UN and other aid agencies to help co-ordinate the aid
effort and make sure there is no duplication.
I can't bear to think what will happen if the bombing continues. There
are not enough beds in the hospitals and they are severely short of
equipment, including x-ray machines.
But as we go out and asses the damage, we can see other needs. There is
a shortage of food and flour and people are rushing to the bakeries
but there's not enough bread.
Islamic Relief Worldwide Workers in Gaza
I can't imagine the fuel lasting much longer. Due to the bombings, people are
staying in their homes - they are too frightened to venture out. Aid workers
are not exempt - the fact that nobody knows when the next bomb will fall
makes our job very dangerous.
The urgent need for Gazans will soon be food distribution
The shops are closed and so getting food is not easy. Trying to live
in electricity blackouts is difficult - so working becomes that much harder.
Soon we will be distributing food as this is going to be an urgent need
in the coming days if the bombing doesn't stop. That's our plan but we are
now working to make sure we can source what is needed.
Every day is bringing fresh challenges and we have to find ways of
dealing with them. The lack of supplies in hospitals, the food shortage and
of course the fear that stalks the streets - I only hope and pray that
tomorrow is different.
Gaza: 27st December 2008
I was coming home after visiting a friend at 1130 on Saturday, when I
heard the horrific sound of three huge explosions. Then a series of
explosions rocked Gaza City. I live in the centre near a number of police
buildings which were targeted first.
As I rushed home, I saw the main Gaza police station had been
destroyed. Suddenly, another missile hit it again and, along with dozens of
people nearby, I ran away. When I got home I found almost all the glass from
the windows and doors was shattered due to the explosions.
I ran to the Shifa hospital to check on casualties and was shocked by
the number of cars and ambulances bringing in the injured. There was
In less than half an hour, the hospital was full of casualties. There was
no space for more, yet the casualties kept coming. At the hospital I
saw something I have never seen before - dead bodies outside on the
floor. Everyone in Gaza has a relative or a friend killed or injured after
Islamic Relief is working hard to get medical aid to the hospitals,
which desperately need disposable equipment. We spoke to the committee at
the Shifa Hospital to find out what's needed. We are now supplying it
with syringes, sponges, surgical gloves and other such equipment.
Hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are now using normal beds
for intensive care patients. Everything is so desperate. Only 50% of
the ambulances are working. If the attacks go on for another week the
doctors are going to have to start using old and traditional ways of treating
the injured - that means no anaesthetic. We have to get new supplies in!
For two years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been witnessing
daily crises over shortages of food, fuel, health services in addition to
severe poverty and unemployment. We have seen the closure of crossings and
the banning of patients from travelling for medical treatment.
All these restrictions have slowly sucked the life out of Gazans and it's
no exaggeration when I say that trying to live daily life is a struggle.
But Gaza has not witnessed anything like this onslaught since 1967.
I used to describe what was going on in Gaza as a catastrophe, now I have
no words. I received news that the brother of one of my work colleagues
has been killed in the attacks. They had been looking for him all day
and discovered him under the ruins of a destroyed building.