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Two Days in Gaza

Being in Gaza reminds me of the analogy of the frog in boiling water. Throw the frog into boiling water and it will jump out. But heat up the water slowly the frog will stay in there until it dies.

In some ways much of what I’ve seen in Gaza over the past few days is very normal – meeting mothers going about their daily life and children going to summer camp – but underlying is a real poverty of rights. Free movement is the first.

Getting into Gaza requires passing through Erez checkpoint, an airport style terminal designed for 60,000 people. Since the blockade of Gaza in 2007, which restricts movement of people as well as imports of construction materials and fuel from Israel, only a handful of people pass through each day – mainly international charity workers like me and UN staff.

Checkpoint into Gaza

These restrictions, combined with opening or closing of the tunnels by the Egyptians on the other side of Gaza’s border, stifle what was once a developing
economy in Gaza, predominantly through exports of vegetables, fruit and furniture.

I have worked with Israelis and Palestinians and am well aware of the narratives on both sides, simplistically broken down to security versus
occupation, but regardless of who is wrong or right, one thing is certain. It is children on both sides who are paying the price.

Education is the one of the main things to suffer. I visited several kindergartens supported by Save the Children. The first one, Zam Zam, had its windows blown out during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Defence last November.

Support for children

Save the Children has rebuilt the windows using shatterproof plastic and set up a slide and a see saw for children to play. One of the little boys I met there told me shyly “my favourite thing about the kindergarten is playing with the toys and on the slide”.

The second kindergarten I visited, Al Toyyour, had been destroyed and Save the Children had to identify another building to get the children back into school. Many of the children I met hadn’t wanted to go back to the kindergarten, being too scared to leave their families.

Even when the children do get to the kindergarten they are still traumatised by the heavy airstrikes they witnessed a few months ago. Without exception every mother told me that their child wet their bed, were scared to leave the house and cried every time they heard a aircraft sound.

The psychosocial support Save the Children is offering to these children is vital. We run one on one counselling sessions and try to give children the chance to just be children again through summer camps and plays.

We visited Al Toyyour Kindergarten during a summer camp and it was definitely heart-warming to see children smiling and playing,they and their mothers dressed up in their best clothes.

Children playing at the Al Toyyour Kindergarden summer camp

Many of the children I met want to be a doctor, a teacher or an engineer when they grow up, which gave me hope in the next generation.

The next issue is healthcare. 80% of Palestinians in Gaza are reliant on food aid and most of Gaza’s water is undrinkable. I visited a Save the Children health clinic and was shocked to see babies malnourished to the levels we in the UK associate with famine in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is twofold; lack of nutritious food and lack of knowledge.

Through our daily clinic we educate mothers on how to prepare nutritious food with what’s available and how to keep their babies healthy.  One mother stood up and said “I am married to a physician and have four children but it was only in coming to this clinic and being part of our awareness raising that I realised the importance of breastfeeding. I am now breastfeeding my youngest child.”

Everything I saw in Gaza made me say a prayer of thanks that Save the Children is here and helping. But without a political resolution, free movement, safe passage to education and healthcare, the boiling pressure of everyday life has and will become untenable.

Read our report Gaza’s Children: Falling Behind which examines the impact of the blockade on child health in Gaza.

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