The world wakes up to Gaza devastation
By Conor O'Loughlin, Caritas International Humanitarian Communications Officer
Ruin of what used to be Gaza legislative building before the bombing.
On Monday, the first full day without violence in either Gaza or southern Israel, and after what was probably the first proper night's sleep for many since the fighting began, Gazans woke up to find a moonscape where their homes had been.
According to Tariq Al- Safine, the head of the Bloodbank Unit in Al'Shifa hospital, Gaza's biggest hospital, "Whole neighbourhoods are just gone. The sewage system is smashed in places and sewage is overflowing everywhere. There are deep craters in the ground. Some areas looked like an earthquake had just passed through. When people emerged yesterday, olive trees were still burning on the streets."
The rebuilding work will take a long time, and Gazans are tired. Commitments of aid, like the $1 billion committed over the weekend from Saudi Arabia, will certainly help. The psychological trauma will take even longer.
"Since the ceasefire, people have been roaming the streets in shock," said Fikr Shalltoot, programme co-ordinator for Medical Aid for Palestine, a Trocaire/Caritas partner organisation at work in Gaza. "Nothing that they remember looks the same. People are afraid because now they have to face reality; to start asking about friends and family and to face the truth of whether their loved ones are dead or alive."
"Gaza was already a nightmare," she continued. "Before this new war, we had little access to water, the electricity was shut off many times, food was scarce and people were not able to move. It would take 7 hours in line to get a few loaves of bread. And then? F16s, Apache helicopters, submarines, white phosphorous. Children and adults were equally scared. There was complete destruction of buildings, glass windows broken, homes destroyed, phone lines and electricity, whole streets gone; everything."
Fikr sounds tired on the telephone as she describes how difficult it was for her to leave her children with their father and go out to work amidst the war and carnage to help those who desperately needed all the assistance they could get.
"I am a humanitarian, but first I am a human being. For the last three weeks, nowhere was safe in Gaza and I thought that if I can do something to help or provide medical help in order to save lives then I needed to do it. Instead of sitting at home, which was also not safe!"
Those concerns were shared by Nawaraz Abu-Libdah, another aid worker with young children. Nawaraz lives in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.
"I realised that I had to keep it together for my children who kept asking what was happening and why. They wondered if we were all going to die. The strikes were so loud and so close. Many times we thought: we are next.
"I explained to my children that I had to leave them to help the people that need it more. I told them that they were safe with their father. I told them not to worry about me because I was doing something good to help the people that need it."
With the ceasefire and increased access for journalists, the images of the destruction in Gaza are being beamed around the world. It is worse than many feared, and shows to some extent the horror that the people have Gaza have been locked into since December 27.
And what will it take to recover? It is impossible to know.
Tariq told me of the daily horror of working in the hospital during the siege. "Some of the things that I have seen are unbelievable. I have seen people carrying body parts. Injured people with smoke coming out of their stomachs and bodies falling apart with blood everywhere. After this is over, most people here won't need just food aid or medical aid, but psychological aid due to the things they have seen and experienced."
Fikr also told of her shock at what she saw in the hospitals: "I saw the injured lying on the floor with nothing under them. Nurses and doctors were working with nothing. Dead bodies were lying in the corridors and outside the hospitals. Relatives screaming and crying in search of their loved ones."
With the sewage system smashed in many places, and dead bodies still being pulled from the rubble, the humanitarian community is on alert for an outbreak of water-borne diseases, such as dysentery or cholera.
There are already more than twice the number of injured people in Gaza as there are hospital beds. The last thing the people need is another crisis; another day of pain.
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