Gaza: Where evacuation is no game

Save the Children medical supplies being loaded on to an ambulance in Gaza
Save the Children medical supplies being loaded on to an ambulance in Gaza

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza, two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks. Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time it’s completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

Impossible to sleep

I’m writing this at 2am from the confines of my apartment. My family and I have been awake since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives.

The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

Apart from hurried trips to get more food, I have not left our apartment in days. I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Little power, less water

Gaza is a city of apartment buildings and with power for only three hours a day, there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites. Many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 per cent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

What do we tell our children?

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive took place in winter 2012 and we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

Save the Children staff risking their lives

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

We’re aiming to distribute 2,500 hygiene kits and 2,500 baby kits in the coming days and we will also open child-friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These spaces provide children with vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

Violence must end

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families. But ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families in both Gaza and Israel.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children is equally concerned about the well-being of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza. 

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