Due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Handicap International has suspended its rehabilitation projects inside Gaza. However, our Palestinian staff members remain inside Gaza to be with their families and are living under the constant threat of bombings. In a July 22 interview, Samah Abu Lamzy, Handicap International’s Gaza project manager, describes what life is like for Gaza residents.
How is the situation in Gaza City?
We are all terrified. Bombings are occurring all over the Gaza strip. We thought at the beginning that we would be safe just staying home, but the homes of many civilians have been destroyed over the past two weeks. Everybody is watching the news in order to know where the bombings are taking place. However, because of electricity cuts, we can’t always get information.
Just yesterday I could hear that the bombing was very near, but I didn’t have electricity and it was impossible to know which neighborhood was being targeted and if it was coming towards our home. Over the past 24 hours we haven’t had more than two hours of electricity. So we just hear the explosions, but we don’t know what is going to happen next.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to leave my neighbourhood, but some of our Handicap International colleagues living in Al Shujayea had to move their relatives out of the area. According to the news I have received, more than 110,000 people are now gathered in communal shelters and are surviving with very limited support services.
Are there quieter times when you can rest?
Very rarely. Gaza City is small, so we hear bombings all day and all night. When tanks are shelling an area we hear about two explosions every three seconds. At night it gets worse. From 8 p.m. airplanes start to attack and their raids normally last for about 12 hours. We can only rest for a few hours, generally in the morning after the sun rises.
Our children are constantly afraid. They hear the explosions and people screaming, and they see very frightening images on the TV. Post-traumatic stress is starting to set in. My seven-year-old daughter now has stomach pains and vomits when she hears loud shouting. When I speak with friends and relatives they describe the same symptoms. What we are going through is very brutal and we will need a lot of mental health support when this is over.
Have you been able to go outside of your home at all?
Yes, during a short fire cease fire I went to Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City. The hospital is beyond maximum capacity. Injured people were being treated on the floors, which are covered in blood. The situation was already disastrous before these attacks, and it is worsening by the day as health facilities run out of supplies. Handicap International is currently looking for funds to supply the hospital with some assistive devices and to deploy outreach rehabilitation teams in each of the five governorates across Gaza strip. However, due to the blockade, I know that even if we manage to gather the required material, it will be very hard to bring it across the Gaza border.
Cease fires are very rare. There have only been two since the crisis started. Combat is otherwise continuous and the population of Gaza is deprived access to basic services. Families are running out of food but they are too afraid to go outside to find more.
How do you feel about the coming days and weeks?
Everybody is extremely scared. When Al Shujayea was being attacked, the entire city of Gaza was covered by smoke. We were thinking that this was the end for all of us. We need to see some positive signs that there will be a truce soon—something that will give us a little hope so we can breathe easier.