Gaza Crisis: Eyewitness Stories

January 5, 2009

The situation in Gaza is worsening by the hour said Dr. Suhaila Tarazi, director the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. Yesterday we received 17 patients suffering from bombing and shrapnel injuries. Most of the injured were civilians who were sitting in their homes. However, there are even more injured people in areas where they are simply stuck in homes without food, water and electricity -- and we are unable to reach them.

As some injured people do come to the hospital, we treat them and if they are stable then we send them home. We have treated more than 100 patients since the most recent attacks began. And we are currently housing 30 injured patients along with persons rejected from other hospitals. We are a church hospital and so we do not turn anyone away.

The hospital is in urgent need of medicine and supplies. There is no electricity in all of Gaza and so we are currently running off of generator power. We have very little supplies left -- enough to last for another week. If this crisis continues, we will be in a very dire situation.

The attacks are also hitting close to our area here in Gaza City. Yesterday, the main square beside the hospital was bombed

-- just 30 meters away. The attack left a big crater and injured seven innocent civilians who were just walking on the street.

And the crisis is also affecting the families of our own staff.

Yesterday, one of our nurses, Hania Murad, received a call from her husband while she was working here at the hospital. Her husband was calling for the hospital to send an ambulance to pick up her kids, who had been injured in a bombing. However, their home was located near the American School where are not allowed to go -- even with an ambulance. The Red Cross was also unable to send an ambulance into the area. For eighteen hours her kids sat waiting and injured.

One of Hania's kids died.

This is the life of our staff. While their hands are working hard to save the lives of many, their hearts are at home with their own kids.

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Life in Gaza

Bombs continue to fall while the population in Gaza sits by their open windows in the cold, holding their kids and telling lies to the youngest: "It is just new year fire crackers!"

No one over the age of five believes it and the adults do not believe what the Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Tzipi Livni, said Thursday: "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

Reports from Palestinians, who ACT International works with, have a different story to tell. The situation is described as "horrendous". Children are hungry, scared and cold. People have to stay in their homes, more or less exposed to the bombing, just hoping to stay alive.

Palestinian medical sources report that at least 421 people have been killed by the air raids in Gaza since last Saturday. Israeli officials report that four Israelis have been killed by recent Hamas rocket attacks.

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Children are scared

"Adults tell stories to try to distract children… to make the situation easier for them. No one goes out on the streets except if they really have to," said Omar Almajdalawi from Jabalia in Gaza, an aid worker with ACT member DanChurchAid. He tells that most people now live with open windows, despite the cold, so that the glass does not break into a hundred pieces from the impact of missiles exploding in the area. "I have never experienced a situation like this," reported Almajdalawi.

"We keep awake at night to comfort our children every time something happens. Since the start of the operation, we have no electricity and now we have no water," Almajdalawi reported. He also mentioned that due to the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past few months, the population is already suffering from the scarcity of fuel, used for cooking in most Palestinian households. Now, without electricity and water and with gas running out, people hope against all odds that their nightmare will be soon over.

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Danger to leave home

The director of Ahli Hospital, Suhaila Tarazi, and her staff fear leaving home to go to work. "Not only are we suffering from the daily bombardment. We also suffer from the continuous cut off of electricity, the shortages of food, water, basic commodities and the medical supplies, said Tarazi.

Ali Mohammad Abu Shamaleh (30) lives near the Islamic University in Gaza. He is unemployed and married with two children. He described the situation as "the worst since I was born".

"It is a horrible situation... Bombardment everywhere, wherever you go you may die. You don't know where to hide or to keep your children safe and away from threats and danger. We spend every night in the kitchen to avoid any damage that could result from… glass and shrapnel flying because of the indiscriminate shelling," said Abu Shamaleh.

"We have food for the next two days. I don't know what to do then. I need a milk canister every week. When they shelled the Islamic University, my three-year-old baby nearly choked, he could not breath nor could cry. My wife was shocked and did not know what to do. I started crying and shouting randomly until the baby regained his breath. I am asking all those who believe in God to help us to stop this filthy war."

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"What did we do to tolerate this hell?"

Abdellatif Yousif Abu Ayadeh (55) from Rafy is a father of a family of eight. He has been unemployed for two years and has suffered two heart attacks. Abu Ayadeh and his family were obliged to leave their house because the Israeli troops shelled the nearby municipality building.

When nearby shelling took place, Abu Ayadeh reported, "I felt as if my house was uprooted from its place. I don't have any place where to go or sleep. I am asking the whole world: 'What did we do to tolerate this hell?' I am praying to God to stop these destructive and offensive actions."

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"I lost my daughters"

Anwar Ba'alosha (38) lives with his wife and nine kids in a simple 50 square meter house in Gaza, which consists of two bedrooms. "It's winter time, no electricity and I don't have any means for warming my house except some bedcovers and mattresses," said Ba'alosha.

His 2-week-old daughter, 18-month-old son, wife, and himself were all sleeping in one bedroom and the other seven daughters slept in the other bedroom. "All the time we listen to horrible sounds of Israeli bombings and intensive air strikes. But suddenly we heard a very loud explosion," said Ba'alosha. He recounts how he was thrown up in the air as his house collapsed.

"People stopped me and told me 'Stop, you're bleeding' and they pushed me into an ambulance. I was fully confused and shocked. Splinters had struck my body everywhere. My wife was in a similar condition," said Ba'alosha.

"Friends came later and told us that our kids were mildly injured. It was not so. Slowly I understood the news. I had lost five of my kids, all of them girls. And my house is totally destroyed."

Ba'alosha added, "I would like to thank God that I am poor, so the ceiling wasn't concrete. It was asbestos. Otherwise all of us might be dead."

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ACT members are currently coordinating their efforts and developing a plan of action for the next ten days of response in light of the significant humanitarian access challenges.

The Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, supported by ACT International members.

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. The United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries is a Member of ACT International.

 

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