Voices from Palestine: “The situation in Gaza is catastrophic”

Over the past month, the situation in Gaza has continued to deteriorate. Reports from Kvinna till Kvinna’s colleagues and partners paint a devastating picture of civilians’ struggles amid sustained attacks, with women, children and other vulnerable groups bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Two women walking in Gaza, October 8th, 2023. Photographer: Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills
Two women walking in Gaza, October 8th, 2023. Photographer: Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills

For over a month, the world has been watching in horror as the war between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, and a catastrophic humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Gaza. Ever since Hamas’ unprecedented violent attack on Israel killing about 1,400 people on October 7th 2023, the Israeli military has carried out a disproportionate response by air, sea, and land against Gaza with devastating effects on the civilian population. The attacks fail to distinguish between military targets and civilians, there are no spaces to seek shelter for people in Gaza who are trapped in an active warzone.

“The current situation for civilians in Gaza is catastrophic, people are dying while the international community is watching,” says one of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s colleagues. “Gaza is running out of essential supplies such as food, water, medicine, and electricity. Cutting off electricity and water to Gaza, and blocking the entry of fuel, food, and all but a trickle of humanitarian aid, including medicines, amounts to collective punishment—a war crime.”

As of November 8th, this has resulted in more than 10,000 Palestinian deaths and more than 25,000 people injured. Many are still buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings. Meanwhile, shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine continue to worsen. Kvinna till Kvinna has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire and on all parties to abide by international law, stating that the collective punishment of all Palestinians can’t be justified, and that the international community has an obligation to act to stop the violence and killings. Violence feeds violence, and the disastrous crisis is inextricably intertwined with decades of occupation and a 16-year-long blockade of Gaza. It highlights the need for a peaceful and lasting resolution to the military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Dire situation for women and children in Gaza

Kvinna till Kvinna has long worked with local Palestinian women’s rights organisations to promote women’s human rights. In a region deeply affected by long-standing conflicts, our partners work to strengthen human rights, prevent and fight gender-based violence, provide psychosocial support to women and girls, and promote women’s economic empowerment and participation in society. Amid the current crisis, they have adapted their work to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to affected communities.

Over the past month, Kvinna till Kvinna’s colleagues and partners have become witnesses to how—once again—the most vulnerable groups among the population are bearing the brunt of war and decades of occupation: women, girls, young children, persons with disabilities, and elderly persons. Since October 7th, more than 6,000 women and children in Gaza have lost their lives. 1.5 million people in Gaza have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

“Women and children are affected tremendously. The highest numbers of deaths are amongst children and women. Moreover, a lot of them are wounded with severe injuries due to non-stop shelling. Entire families are being wiped out,” says one colleague. “Most of the bombings are on civilian homes, hospitals, schools, churches, mosques… everything is being targeted.”

Lack of essential supplies

Amongst other things, women and children face an increased risk of gender-based violence and food insecurity. They are also particularly affected by the lack of healthcare access, including the disruption of maternal, newborn and child healthcare services due to ongoing airstrikes, deteriorating water and electricity supplies, displacement, and restricted access to medicines.

“Women and children are facing a lack of essential supplies. Not only water and food, but also hygiene products and privacy,” says Kvinna till Kvinna’s staff.

This can contribute to increased levels of trauma and stress for women.

“Thousands of women have lost their houses and livelihoods. Many displaced women will not be able to raise and take care of their surviving children,” says one colleague. “Pregnant women in Gaza are left in shelters with no supplies of food, water, and medicine and have no other choice but to deliver their babies in operations without anaesthesia.”

Losing colleagues and loved ones

On top of being witnesses to the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and fearing for their own lives as the strikes continue, staff and partners to Kvinna till Kvinna are grieving the loss of colleagues and loved ones.

“Our partner organisations in the Gaza Strip are facing horrible situations and living in equally as bad conditions as the rest of the people in Gaza. They are at risk of being killed at any moment. Unfortunately, we lost four colleagues from partner organisations along with their family members.”

“They are trying to be strong as much as possible to support each other. But sometimes, they are losing their strength to do anything at all—with the risk of being traumatised or killed.”

Receiving regular updates from partner organisations has proven difficult amid repeated near-total internet blackouts in Gaza. This has left the population isolated and many on the outside desperate for news about affected staff, friends, and family.

“We are in contact with them when it’s possible to check whether they are still alive or not, but we can’t reach them on daily basis,” says one colleague about contacting Kvinna till Kvinna’s partners.

“We can’t think of the future right now”

As the humanitarian situation continues to worsen and with devastating news from partners trapped in Gaza reaching us, Kvinna till Kvinna’s staff present are enduring immense stress and horror themselves. Several of them are in neighbouring areas experiencing spill over from the conflict.

“Jerusalem and the West Bank has been under lockdown, with invasions every now and then from the Israeli military,” says Kvinna till Kvinna’s staff. “They are imposing closures on different cities and there is all sorts of violence and inhumane actions towards Palestinians.”

This has created an atmosphere of constant fear, especially concerning the safety of their families. Many are haunted by uncertainty about the future. One colleague expressed, “It has been very stressful and horrific; we are trying our best to continue working for the sake of our partners and ourselves.”

“We can’t think of the future right now, it is very unclear and brings us a lot of fear too… We don’t see any good future for our children nor our country in general. We are living day by day only.”

Immediate ceasefire and continued support needed

The past month has made clear how any further escalation of the war inevitably hurts civilians, with the most vulnerable groups such as women and children being disproportionately affected. Kvinna till Kvinna and partners continue to call for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire to put an end to the violence.

“The silence is huge amongst international governments and that is worsening the situation of Gaza,” says one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s colleagues.

“We appeal to the international community to stand with Palestinians and to take a fair and human position; to see the real suffering of the Palestinian people now and under occupation.”

Moreover, providing essential support to civil society organisations aiding affected populations and supporting Palestinians in their quest for a peaceful society is now crucial. Despite this, several governments have decided to suspend aid to Palestine—a decision that will inevitably lead to worsening conditions for women affected by violence, inadequate assistance for survivors, and the inability of local civil society organisations to address urgent needs.

“We urge the international community to put pressure on the governments not to stop or suspend the funding on Palestine—but on the contrary, to increasing funding on both humanitarian and development levels.”

Source for statistics: UN Women

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