MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
‘The basic necessities of human life are cut off’ — Gaza residents face gigantic humanitarian crisis
‘There is no electricity, there is no water, the hospitals are about to shut down,’ said Gift of the Givers’ projects manager in Palestine, Hanin Barghouthi.
More than a week after Israel imposed a “complete siege” and cut off the entry of supplies to Gaza, people in the territory are facing an unprecedented crisis.
Hundreds of thousands in the north of the Gaza Strip fled their homes after Israel issued an evacuation order in preparation for an expected ground invasion — but they have nowhere safe to go to. For more than a week, Israeli airstrikes have pummelled Gaza in retaliation for attacks by Hamas militants on 7 October in which more than 1,300 people were killed and at least 200 were taken hostage
On 17 October, news broke that hundreds of patients, staff and people seeking shelter from Israeli bombs had been killed in an explosion at a hospital in Gaza, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.
‘A real humanitarian crisis’
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Hanin Barghouthi, the projects manager at the Gift of the Givers’ Palestine office, said the situation in Gaza was “really bad”.
“Gaza is suffering now from a real crisis, a real humanitarian crisis. The airstrikes and the bombings are targeting … civilians, houses, schools, streets and everything. So that, of course, has led to thousands of deaths, thousands of injuries, and over a million people are displaced from their houses and seeking shelters in random places,” she said.
“There has been no electricity for over a week. Hospitals are working on generators and the generators need fuel, so the hospitals are going to shut down in less than 24 hours if there is no fuel.”
Barghouthi said the Gift of the Givers team in Gaza had been working to provide them with essential supplies. The team of 60 was also working with local partners.
“Although the team themselves have left their houses and they are also displaced, and we always say that their safety is the top priority — they are doing everything possible to help,” she said.
The Gift of the Givers team has focused on assisting injured people with first aid and medical assistance, as well as helping displaced families, distributing water, food and basic necessities.
“Of course, the escalation and the situation there has become really hard, and our team are facing difficulties in moving and reaching those with injuries and displaced people because 80% of the streets are closed and the rubble is everywhere — and hundreds of bodies are still under the rubble,” Barghouthi said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub
The World Food Programme estimates that in normal times, more than 60% of Gaza’s population faces food insecurity. Barghouthi said this had been exacerbated under the tightened blockade of recent days.
“The basic necessities of any human life are now cut off in Gaza — the electricity, the water, the fuel, the foods — people are having a really hard time in finding food,” she said.
“There is no electricity, there is no water, the hospitals are about to shut down. The Ministry of Health has announced that we have less than 24 hours for most of the hospitals to keep working.
“The hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, with dead bodies, with displaced people who are sheltering in hospitals thinking it is a safe place — but as we have seen with the bombing of the hospital, even the hospitals are not a safe place.”
Barghouthi said hospitals had reached their capacity.
“The ambulances are out of service, the medical workers are also targeted. We have hundreds of medical workers, doctors, paramedics, nurses who were killed or injured during this war,” she said.
Voices from Gaza
Naglaa Abu Nahla told Daily Maverick the situation in the Gaza Strip was very difficult, especially after the Israeli bombardment displaced the residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City to the borders of the valley.
Abu Nahla lives in Al-Qarara, east of the city of Khan Yunis, and her family are residents of Gaza.
“They were displaced to the city of Rafah, and we are fine. My house was affected by the bombing. I have a museum containing 5,000 antiquities, and it was damaged. I opened my institution as a shelter centre for the displaced, and I try as much as I can to provide their needs with food, drink, and clothing,” she said.
Abu Nahla said the entire population on the eastern border touching the separation wall had moved to the centre of Gaza, but there was not enough space for everyone.
“Many United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools, some hospitals and many houses were lined up, and people were all on top of each other,” she said.
“There was no aid, no electricity, and no fresh water for the needy, and food began to be scarce in the malls.”
Imtiaz Sooliman speaks out
“After the bombings started taking place and increasing in intensity, I sat back and thought to myself, ‘Why does this keep happening, over and over again?’” said Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, the Gift of the Givers’ founder.
Sooliman was speaking during a pledge line hosted by INX Prime on Thursday. The pledge sought to raise funds and also to serve as a platform to educate the public on the history of 75 years of Palestinian suffering in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
“We go through the same motions. They get bombed in 2009, you get relief teams, you get goods, you go inside, there is a ceasefire — it stops and life carries on. A few years later in 2014, the same thing happened. In 2022, the same thing happened,” he said.
“We need to sit back and say, ‘We cannot allow this to go on any more.’ And the only way to do that is to educate the world because a lot of people have misinformation,” he said.
Understanding the context of the issue was key, Sooliman said.
“People are resisting, because they’re under 75 years of oppression. How would you feel if somebody walked into your house and took it away? Walked into your land and took it away? Stopped you at hundreds of checkpoints in a place that’s smaller than Kruger Park? You can’t go to your holy place to worship, you need permission to go to your place to worship.
“In rules of engagement in war there is honour; even though there’s enemies, there is honour, there is decency, there’s a way of fighting using equal force,” he said.
“You don’t beat women and children. The Israeli army is very used to fighting non-combatants. They feel very strong and powerful, but they beat unarmed women, unarmed children, old people, and they think they’re real men.”
Gift of the Givers staff have told Sooliman that what is happening now is different from the conflict in previous years.
“Their words were, and they’ve never said this before, ‘They’re massacring us, this is a genocide.’
“They’re attacking civilian buildings. They’ve hit 15 hospitals. They’ve hit 48 schools. They’ve hit mosques. They’re cutting off water. They’re cutting electricity. They’re cutting fuel,” Sooliman said.
“The current crisis can only be described as a massacre, genocide, ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, war crime, crimes against humanity, and a gigantic humanitarian crisis with disinformation and misinformation used as a weapon of war.”
Solidarity and urgent aid needed
Abu Nahla said she was trying to help as best as she could, but it was increasingly difficult to do so.
“People are in dire need of food and the provision of sanitary materials such as shampoo, soap, and bathrobes. We have reached the point where we use wastewater to collect it and pour it into barrels for bathing and cooking food,” she said.
“I don’t know what more I can say about our situation in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli occupation is asking us to immigrate to Egypt, and Egypt rejects this decision. They say that if the Palestinians are displaced, they must be displaced to the Negev. The Israeli occupation army is preparing for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, and if the ground invasion takes place, no one will be able to go out into the street. Therefore, we need to provide aid to the people before it is too late.”
Barghouthi thanked the people of South Africa for their continued support.
“The people of South Africa have always been and will always be great supporters for the Palestinians. They have gone through what we are going through, so we always send our thanks and gratitude to the people of South Africa for always standing with us,” she said.
“We want you to keep us in your prayers, we want your help in fundraising, and your help in pushing the authorities and the governments to do anything to stop this — because the situation in Gaza is a crisis … the humanitarian situation is a disaster.”
Barghouthi stressed the importance of urgent humanitarian aid.
“If humanitarian aid is not allowed as soon as possible, thousands of civilians are going to lose their lives,” she said.
Donors have been asked to support Gift of the Givers’ ongoing efforts to provide rapid emergency relief to Gaza’s displaced people during this humanitarian crisis.