Gaza: "I'm talking to you, but I am dead"

Gilles Pelissier, MSF project coordinator in Gaza, took advantage of the cease fire to go south of the Gaza Strip to see what conditions the numerous families in schools and emergency accommodation centres were living in.

“Khuzaa is a Palestinian village near the Israeli border. Here the wall gives way to the watchtowers and rows of barbed wire between which military vehicles are patrolling. And on both sides of the border, there are fields. Two peasants 50-60 years old came in to work in their fields. The cease-fire will end at midnight.

'I'm talking to you, but I am dead" says one of them. These men are stunned. They fail to understand. They lost all their livestock (one had camels, the other cows) and their harvest when the area was attacked last week. "They shot with guns the animals that were not killed by the bombs," says the old Abu Abed. He provided water to his animals and had to flee when Israeli troops launched a ground attack. "The bombs fell before me.” he recalls “We could feel the force of the explosion. So I put my son on the bike and we were off.” At one point on the road, he saw a shell falling on a woman who was running with two children in her arms. The blast propelled them into the air and the woman fell on the road. "I tried to lift her on my bike, but it was impossible given her condition” he said. The bombings continued. He was too afraid for his life and that of his son, so he had to leave her. He is traumatized.

"The bombs fell before me. We could feel the force of the explosion."

Abu Abed

Last night he returned to one of the schools in the city of Khan Younis, five kilometres away, where he fled with his family. There the many displaced families are supported by UNRWA (United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

Yesterday two MSF staff and I drove from Gaza city to the south of the Gaza Strip, to an area that has suffered major destruction, to see how the displaced people live in schools and other buildings. A few days earlier in Gaza city, we saw that displaced people needed hygiene kits and we distributed kits to more than 500 families. Hygiene conditions are not good. Many displaced people are suffering from diarrhea or skin infections, in part because of overcrowding in the emergency shelters and of lack of water.

Already in normal times, water and electricity are a problem in the Gaza Strip. The infrastructure is old and difficult to maintain because of the blockade that prevents the import of building materials. The power station was attacked and heavily damaged; electricity is now up two hours a day, which is not enough to run the pumps of the water supply network. Usually tap water is not good for drinking; many boreholes make the water very salty. So for drinking water, the population is dependent on supplies by water trucks. But this was before the war.

Now people get water from hydrants in the streets. They stand in line with jerrycans and wait their turn. They also take advantage of the truce to go shopping. To buy gas for cooking, they line up in front of stores. And they may have to wait up to an hour in front of bakeries for bread. But will the truce last? After the euphoria experienced on the first day of the truce when the calm returned, the worry was back yesterday, the last day of a 72 hours truce.”