In occupied Palestinian territory, new lives blossom in the aftermath of violence
By Catherine Weibel
GAZA CITY, occupied Palestinian territory, 11 December 2012 – A girl in school uniform searches for belongings among pieces of furniture hurled against the walls by a blast. She picks up a dress through the rubble and gives it to her stepfather, Mohammed, who hangs it on a window frame. The window has blown out.
Mohammed, his two wives and nine children live in Beit Lahia, a poor neighbourhood north of Gaza City. He had already had four daughters with his first wife, Camilla, when he took a second wife, Jawaher, a widow with three daughters of her own. Both women have since given birth to baby girls.
A baby is born
Camilla is pale and barely speaks. She delivered her baby during the week of violence that shook Israel and Gaza.
“That night, the sky was full of planes,” says Jawaher. “In the middle of the night, there was a terrible noise and the children screamed – an air strike on our street. Happily, we were scared and left, because a second air strike destroyed half our house.”
The heavily pregnant Camilla could not hold the baby any longer. She delivered with the help of Jawaher. “I took her to my parents’ house. I was worried because the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck,” says Jawaher as she cradles her own baby girl, born two weeks earlier.
A few days later, Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets warning people to leave Beit Lahia for their own safety. The family fled again, this time seeking shelter in a school.
A postnatal visit
Two weeks ago, UNICEF distributed hygiene kits, water kits and blankets to nearly 4,000 displaced people.
“All these events took a toll on Camilla; she is really exhausted,” says Reem al-Qatawy, a midwife visiting her at home. “The baby is healthy, but the mother suffers from anaemia and hypertension. I will refer her to a doctor.”
The postnatal home visit is part of a UNICEF programme reaching out to high-risk pregnant women across Gaza, with support from such donors as Iceland and Japan. So far in 2012, more than 4,000 home visits have been supported, reaching nearly 3,000 mothers.
“All I want for her is peace”
In Gaza City, Director of the al-Shifa hospital maternity ward Dr. Hassan al-Louh says that many pregnant women experienced bleeding or reported that the baby moved a lot during the week of violence. “When the mother is stressed, her heart rate increases, and it affects the baby inside,” he explains.
In al-Karama neighbourhood, Fatma gave birth at home during the week of violence. “I kept wondering what I would do if I could not reach the hospital, because I had no drugs at home,” she says. Her pregnancy was complicated because the baby was in breach position (legs first).
On the last day of the conflict, as rumors of a ceasefire were all over the news, the baby started coming. “I was in pain – the sound of explosions was terrifying, and the whole apartment was shaking. My five other children were either clinging to me or covering their ears with their hands and screaming in fear,” the young mother recalls.
No ambulance could come for Fatma because of the air strikes. Her stepmother, a nurse, helped her deliver the baby half an hour before the ceasefire took hold. During the postnatal visit, both mother and baby Rama were found to be in good health.
Now sitting at home, Fatma gently holds Rama, wrapped in pink clothes and a matching blanket. “All I want for her is peace,” the mother says.