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4 Jan, 2024 16:29

‘Israel is killing us without mercy’: As the fighting in Gaza continues, civilians are starting to lose hope

Amid a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Palestine that no international organization can cope with, locals tell their stories of survival
‘Israel is killing us without mercy’: As the fighting in Gaza continues, civilians are starting to lose hope

Since October 7, 2023, an estimated 22,000 Palestinians have lost their lives amid Israel's shelling of Gaza. Most were civilians. As the conflict nears the end of its third month, the humanitarian situation in the enclave is deteriorating. The vast majority of residents lack food, water and basic medications.

Last October 7, mobs of Palestinian militants stormed Israel's southern communities, massacring an estimated 1,200 and leaving over 5,000 wounded. In response, Israel opened a war on Gaza aimed at crushing Hamas, the Islamic group responsible for the deadly attack. But in the process of doing so, more than 21,000 lives have been taken. According to estimates, only 8,000 of these were militants. 

Samira Hamad, a 33-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza City, says she would like to forget the last year.

"Even before the war, my family, like most of Palestinians, were living in poverty and deprivation," says Hamad. "But back then, we at least had some sort of security. My husband was working inside Israel, there was food on the table and there was a hope that things would change for the better. The events of October 7 turned all our lives upside down."

For 41 days, Hamad, her husband and their four children, lived under heavy Israeli bombardment focused primarily on Gaza City. Hamad says she had lost three of her brothers and their families amid the Israeli shelling. When the bombing intensified, the family decided to relocate to Khan Yunis, in the center of Gaza. There, they found refuge with relatives but ten days later, death knocked on their door.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which had been striking military targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, dropped a bomb on a six-story building in the center of Khan Yunis, killing her husband and dozens of other civilians. After Hamad buried him, she had no other choice but to move south, to the city of Rafah, where she currently resides in tents, together with her four children. 

But conditions there are terrible, she says. "When my husband was alive, he was providing us with all our necessities. Now we rely on the donations of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) and other agencies but their aid is far from being enough.

Very often my kids fall asleep without eating and I am afraid they would just die from starvation."

Food is not the only commodity Hamad and most of Gaza's 2.2 million population are lacking. Basic hygiene products and medications are also out of reach; medical services are almost non-existent, primarily because many of Gaza's hospitals have either stopped functioning or are about to shut down.

"My kids are often sick due to the poor weather conditions. To get any medical assistance, I need to walk for two hours to reach one of the nearby hospitals, as I simply don't have money for transportation, even if it is a donkey cart."

Hisham Mhanna, communications officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is currently in Gaza, says he and his organization "understand and feel the distress, helplessness and anger the people in Gaza feel and endure."

According to him, hundreds of thousands of people are trying to find refuge in Gaza shelters, hospitals and schools. Many are staying with their relatives or sleep in their cars or out in the open air, since their homes and neighborhoods have been turned into rubble. 

"The vast majority of the Gazan population is now displaced in parts of the Middle area and Rafah governates. These large-scale displacements add immense pressure on the already fragile service systems – water, sanitation and electricity.

No bakeries have been working, due to the lack of fuel, water, and wheat flour, as well as extensive damage caused by hostilities. Most water plants in Gaza have ceased operating. Water can no longer be pumped or desalinated, leaving families with no access to clean drinking water," he explained.

Since the beginning of the hostilities on October 7, the ICRC, with over 100 staff comprising medical, surgical and weapons contamination experts, has helped to support hospitals and deliver life-saving medication. The staff have also distributed essential household items and conducted multiple surgeries. But, Mhanna admits, the international agency's operations have been rather limited. 

One of the reasons for this is the absence of "basic safety conditions," primarily caused by the heavy Israeli shelling. Another is Israel's reluctance to allow large quantities of humanitarian aid in to the area. The assistance that does enter doesn't meet the growing needs of the population.

This, Mhanna says, is why the assistance the ICRC is able to provide can hardly be called "meaningful."

"It's beyond any humanitarian organization's capacity to respond to the situation in Gaza. In the absence of sufficient aid, absence of security guarantees to move safely and freely and non-stop hostilities, no one can satisfy those who lost their homes, livelihood, family members and future prospects," the communications officer acknowledged.

These words, however, do not comfort Hamad, who vents anger not only at the lack of assistance from the international bodies but also at Israel, Hamas, Palestinian factions and the world community. 

"Israel kills us without mercy, the US –which supports it– doesn't care about us, the innocent people. Palestinian factions are keeping silence, Arab presidents and the world community ignore our suffering.

We are left here to die, while the world is watching," she lamented. 

According to official UN data, more than 1.7 out of 2.2 million Gazans, have been displaced by the conflict. Over one in four households in the coastal enclave face extreme hunger. 26% have completely exhausted their food supplies. The vast majority suffers from the lack of clean drinking water.

Hamad says she doesn't have any hope for a better future, as the bloody conflict that has claimed up to 22,000 Palestinian lives is about to enter its fourth month. And Mhanna is certain that if the situation continues to deteriorate, Gazans' living conditions will become even more unbearable.

"We exist in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 1967. But we have never witnessed this level of human suffering and deteriorating humanitarian situation before, and if it continues to get worse, we will see more loss of civilian lives, including women and children. More families will be separated and the living conditions for millions of people will worsen".