Due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Handicap International has suspended its rehabilitation work in Gaza. Guillaume Zerr, Handicap International’s head of mission for the Palestinian Territories, describes the catastrophic humanitarian crisis and his grave concerns for Handicap International staff living in Gaza.
At the start of the Israeli army’s operations in the Gaza Strip, the main feeling of our Palestinian staff was resignation at being confronted with the same situation they have faced repeatedly over the years. Naturally our teams were extremely concerned for their own safety and that of their friends and families, but first and foremost they were upset to see the cycle of violence starting over again.
Then the air strikes intensified. In the last 48 hours we have seen over 100 missiles every night. Living in the wrong neighborhood or the wrong apartment building is enough to put you in mortal danger. There have been massive explosions right at the heart of urban areas, terrorizing the whole population. On July 14, for example, one of our colleagues had to take his pregnant wife to hospital to give birth but knew that making the journey would put them both in danger. There was a brief ceasefire for a few hours yesterday morning to allow the populations access to fresh supplies. This also gave us the opportunity to carry out initial assessments in the hospitals, but the raids have now started up again.
The bombing has forced us to interrupt our activities to allow our teams to stay at home and take care of their families. Faced with the intensification of the air strikes, our local partners are no longer able to visit the beneficiaries they work with, in particular children with cerebral palsy. We hope for a permanent ceasefire to be declared to ensure that this interruption is as short as possible. The situation is untenable and affects all the health service providers, who were already working in appalling conditions prior to the air strikes. The blockade of Gaza prevents the hospitals from operating properly and means the inhabitants cannot access the essential goods and services they need.
We are monitoring the situation very closely, in concert with all the humanitarian actors, in order to identify how we can provide assistance. However, we will continue to face major obstacles as long as the blockade remains in place. For example, it is extremely difficult to bring medical equipment, such as walking aids, into the Gaza Strip. If the fighting continues, it is more than likely that we will see a disastrous deterioration in an already unacceptable humanitarian situation.