UN aid worker in Gaza recounts desperate Palestinians' trauma

AFP , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

A UN humanitarian worker described the suffering she witnessed first-hand in Gaza, where she saw children mutilated and families bombed out of their homes, in an emotional testimony Tuesday.

Zena Naser - Gaza
A woman holds the body of her daughter Zena Naser, killed in an Israeli bombardment on a residential building in Maghazi refugee camp, outside the morgue of al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. AP


Speaking to journalists in Geneva following a three-month stint in the territory, Yasmina Guerda of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA described the desperation from the viewpoint of Palestinians suffering under the Israeli war on Gaza, which began on 7 October.

"You have 10-15 minutes to evacuate your building because it's going to be bombed. Your little kids are sleeping... You wake them up," she said.

"You take one last look at your room and say a permanent goodbye, because you know it will be dust."

As horrifying as that sounds, she stressed that this is the "best-case scenario", since many others are not warned before an attack.

Children lost limbs

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 37,658 Palestinians and injured more than 84,000 others, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

Guerda met people whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli massacre in the Nuseirat refugee camp earlier this month.

Gaza's health ministry said at least 274 Palestinians were killed and 698 wounded during the so-called operation.

The next day at a hospital, Guerda met children who lost limbs in the attack.

"Many of whom reminded me of my own two little toddlers. They were staring into the void, too shell-shocked to produce a sound or a tear," she said.

Barely surviving

Nearly nine months of Israel's war on Gaza have led to catastrophic humanitarian conditions in the besieged Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of the risk of famine.

For Guerda, there are no "living conditions" there.

"What they have... are survival conditions, and barely. They are holding on by a thread."

She said aid workers were trying to "quantify the suffering with figures", looking at the total number of displaced people, the litres of water they get per day, or the truckloads of aid that make it across the border.

"But it doesn't matter," she said. "Those numbers, they're never near enough ... (for) a population that has lost nearly everything."

Israel's relentless bombardment and ground invasion has displaced much of Gaza's 2.4 million population -- some multiple times -- but with little hope of finding safety.

"There are no safe centimetres left in Gaza," Guerda said.

Obstacles to aid

Guerda described the impossible "daily puzzle" of getting aid to those suffering under Israel's war.

The violence has killed more than 200 aid workers since the war began, she said.

Humanitarian agencies also struggle with administrative impediments and restrictions, bad internet connections, bad roads, a dire lack of fuel to get around, and the threat of looting due to the breakdown of security.

Since the Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah began last month, sending about a million people fleeing again, "the humanitarian space was reduced dramatically", she said.

Guerda hailed the resilience of Palestinians in Gaza, saying she had been amazed to see that "hope still has a strong pulse" there.

What people need, she insisted, "is a respite".

"They need decision-makers to finally make a decisive gesture to put an end to the relentless way in which they are being knocked down after every attempt to get back up."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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