Dignity amid destruction: Embrace CEO reports from Gaza

Visiting Gaza is a privilege. First, because it’s hard to get in. Permission is needed from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. It’s a place few people can get to – for all the wrong reasons.

Second and more importantly, because the people of Gaza are special. The warmth of their welcome and their appreciation of even the most meagre token of support and friendship is as humbling as it is beautiful. 

Gaza City sits in the middle of the Gaza Strip (25 miles by five) and is deceptively normal at first glance. That’s because people get on with their lives, as best they can. Living with Israel’s blockade, almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world and from family and friends just 50 miles away in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, is something that the people of Gaza have had to get used to. Which doesn’t make it any less deplorable and shameful.

But appearances are deceptive.

Just as you might not know that Gaza is one of the oldest cities in the world, inhabited since the 15th century BC, you wouldn’t immediately know from a brief visit what it means to have only two or – if you are lucky – four hours of electricity a day.  As a visitor, you wouldn’t have to experience the indignity of getting up at three in the morning to wash your children’s clothes because that is when the power is on. You might not clock that you can’t treat sewage without electricity unless, like me, you suffer a day or two of sickness from eating shellfish caught in the narrow fishable waters off the Strip where hundreds of tons of sewage are dumped each day.   

And yes, some of the horrific scars of war can still be seen from 2014.

In Gaza the destruction of war has come so frequently in the last ten years there has never been enough time to clear up, even though recycling the destruction is the people of Gaza’s way of making up for the shortage of construction materials because of the blockade. 

But most of the scars are hidden. The trauma of conflict and the ravages of chronic stress compete with malnutrition, anaemia, and conditions like rickets or osteoporosis caused by nutritional deficiencies, to say nothing of cancer or infectious diseases. Diagnostic equipment is scarce, medical supplies are intermittent and medicines are expensive and often unavailable. Running hospitals and clinics with obsolete equipment and no mains electricity is a struggle.

Which is why your extraordinarily generous response to our emergency appeal – over £165,000 and counting – is nothing short of life-saving.

Gaza desperately needs medical supplies. It has fantastic and dedicated doctors, nurses, dentists and health workers. What it lacks is basics such as baby food, vaccines and medicines as well as big stuff that we take for granted, like bone density and CT scanners, incubators, and solar panels to keep the operating theatres running. Your wonderful response will make an enormous difference.

So, on behalf of our partners and people in Gaza who we know are touched by your generosity: thank you.

A special thank you to Joseph, a nine-year-old boy who gave all his birthday money to our appeal and who received this lovely response from Suhaila Tarazi, Director of the Al Ahli hospital:

‘…you are a generous and very thoughtful young boy who has a very loving heart. Your ability to put others before yourself is a rare quality to find these days. We feel lucky to have you as a true friend to help in our mission of healing in Gaza. Please be assured that your gift will be spent for a good cause to help many sick children at your age in need of treatment. You are more than a super hero to us…’

Here’s what I learned from my recent visit: the people of Gaza are suffering a collective and persistent trauma of deprivation, isolation and neglect.

And yet they welcome visitors with traditional Arab hospitality and with warmth, dignity, and a lack of self-pity which makes you dread returning to the relative tranquillity and normality across the border where you left your car. 

It’s hard to get in, but it’s also hard to leave. 

You can give to our appeal for Gaza by clicking here.

 

This blog first appeared as an article in our Embrace magazine, January 2018.

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