UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd:
"Please Don’t Forget What’s Going on in Gaza"
By Adnan Abu Hasna and Chareen Fahmi
3 August 2006
Although the international press is currently focused on Lebanon, the situation Palestinians face in the Gaza Strip is precarious as they flee their homes due to IDF shelling.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, when asked what her message is to a world that is now consumed with news from Lebanon, states: "Please don’t forget what’s going on in Gaza because there is no let up in incursions and access problems here. What we saw in Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday was rather horrific".
Karen Abu-Zayd and John Ging, the Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, visited Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday where the staff is struggling to deal with wounds resulting in an unusually high number of amputations.
Over 1,500 have fled their homes in the Beit Hanoun area within the past two weeks for Jabalia camp due to the shelling. Four UNRWA schools at the camp are serving as makeshift shelters for those compelled to flee their homes.
"I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!" screams six-year-old Mustafa, adamantly refusing his father’s mentioning to return to their apartment in the towers of the Abraj Anada area, northern Gaza Strip. He doesn’t talk except for those words. Like most children in the Gaza Strip, he has witnessed things children should never have to see. Fresh in this child’s mind are visions of a Palestinian man lying on the ground near Mustafa’s home, his leg severed by a shell. Asia Kabeer, an UNRWA psychologist working with Mustafa and other children says that "all the scenes are stuck in his memory and he can’t forget them". She adds that fear prevents Mustafa from playing alone; he spends every hour of the day beside his family and in fear that they will leave him alone. Mustafa, his 6 siblings and their father Yehya fled the Beit Hanoun area for Jabalia Preparatory A Girls’ School, one of the four UNRWA schools where over 1,500 displaced people from 270 families have taken refuge.
Enter nine-year-old Palestine refugee Ayesha, quite confident and talkative. But her talk in this makeshift shelter in a school is not of dolls or future plans. Another young witness to horror, she explains "I am afraid all the time because it was the first time in my life that I saw people hit by shells. I can’t forget the screaming of one of them. I am afraid that the shelling may come to where we are in the school". She has mixed feelings about returning home: "I really want to go back but at the school I feel more secure despite having lost everything—my room, dolls and toys".
Twenty-year-old bride-to-be Ala’ lost everything when her family’s apartment was hit directly by a shell in the Al Nada towers. "I was about to get married two weeks after the shelling but I have had no luck", she laments. "Everything I bought for my wedding had been destroyed. I lost my new clothes, even some of my new gold. I don’t think for a moment that my house will become this classroom". She doesn’t know when she will be able to get married.
Upon hearing on the radio that two Palestinians were killed and five injured in the Nada towers area, Jehan El Shaer, a mother of five, insists that the school is safer than her apartment there. She will not return home given the uncertainty, but states that "the problem is that the school will be opened for the students very soon and we have to find another place". According to Aneas Abu Shammala, an UNRWA physiologist, many displaced adults are also suffering from very complicated physiological problems due to the day-to-day uncertainty, stress and pressure they succumb. In addition, there are pregnant women who may soon give birth at the school for lack of alternatives, and bed wetting and skin disease are increasing amongst the children there.
Meanwhile, UNRWA is working to accommodate the humanitarian needs of the displaced in the four schools in Jabalia camp, including the delivery of between 10,000L and 20,000L of water each day. The closure of the Karni crossing hinders the delivery of vital humanitarian aid and has cost UNRWA $732,000 to date this year in additional storage, demurrage and transport charges.
In light of the deteriorated situation in the Gaza Strip, support from donors helps to ensure UNRWA’s ability to provide humanitarian aid to Palestine refugees. The European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) will provide a new funding package of €50 million in humanitarian aid to UNRWA, other UN agencies and NGOs for vulnerable Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. A portion of these funds will provide food aid for an estimated 500,000 people, including UNRWA beneficiaries, until the end of this year.