Mohammed Ismail

Written by

January 15, 2020


It’s been weeks since the latest escalation of conflict in Gaza.

Whilst the socio-economic situation has not changed, everyone is slowly getting back into their regular daily routine. However, I am still left thinking about those who lost their lives during the bombardment and shelling.

Is life going back to normal with their families? Have their friends forgotten about the times they spent together? Have the empty rooms in their homes been filled?

Gaza: Life in a conflict zone

conflict-in-Gaza
Intensifying conflict in the region has hit communities in an area with struggling health services and high levels of poverty

It’s these simple yet poignant questions that highlight the hardest thing about losing loved ones: the empty spaces left behind. These points of emptiness and loss linger in your memory, your thoughts, and all around you.

One memory, in particular, is the Al Swarka family. Everyone I meet here remembers this family. Sadly, all that’s left of them are two young girls. The family were hit during an airstrike on their house in a rural area in Gaza. Everyone else died.

I can’t imagine how these two children felt when they woke up in the hospital without a father, a mother, their siblings, their cousins, and of course: knowing they’d lost their home. For children who survive such trauma, they’re now about to take the first step on the journey into a totally new and unknown life.

They’re left trying to find a new home, digging through the rubble of their former home for whatever they can find – their school bags, notebooks, toys and clothes. Every time, I think of situations like this, I stand in shock.

Here in Gaza, your home is everything. You work around the clock to give your family shelter. Inside these four walls, you place all your dreams, hopes, beliefs, and a reason to keep going amongst hardship. However, in a fraction of a second: you could then lose it all.

I can’t imagine myself in a similar situation. Every time my daughter sees a house that’s been demolished or under construction, she asks me: “Dad, has this house been bombed?” Yes, these are the ideas lingering in our children’s heads. Her perception of houses is always connected to war. And indeed, everything residents own or will have is at stake.

Islamic Relief: Working on the ground

Our partner organisation working in the area of Deir al Balah visited the Al Swarka girls soon after the airstrike and told me about their struggles:

We hardly reached the place. We managed to distribute some clothes and essentials, but this won’t solve the problem. The area isn’t accessible. There’s no infrastructure, no safe source of water, and no proper electricity available.

Having lost their home, the children are now living with their uncle in a house made of tin sheets, around 100m² in size. What’s more, the family is squatting on the land. It’s illegal to build there without permission and they refuse to rent in another area.

Not only do they need shelter but they also require health care. Hospitals in Gaza are running out of medicines and disposables. The Al Swarka children were sent home when their condition improved, but they still need regular check-ups and care. However, like many families, they simply can’t afford health care, nor to go to private health clinics.

Challenges ahead: Struggling in winter

child-in-Gaza
For children in families such as the Al Swarka family, life as an orphan is incredibly challenging [not pictured]

With winter placing an even greater burden on residents, the family is now in urgent need of clothing, mattresses and blankets. They lost everything they owned when their house was destroyed and can’t afford to buy anything new. The family’s only income is through rearing sheep but this isn’t enough to cover their basic needs – especially with rising prices in the region.

This may be just one family but the situation of Al Swarkas mirrors the dire economic situation in Gaza. Everybody in this densely populated area is struggling. We’re facing the hardest economic situation we’ve witnessed in years.

Unemployment rates are unprecedented. Far more businesses are closing than are opening and our youth and skilled workers are in a rush to immigrate elsewhere, towards an unknown future. The situation is on the verge of imploding. People are frustrated and see no hope.

It’s been more than weeks now since the tragedy of the Al Swarka family broke our hearts. And still, there’s no sign of hope on the horizon.

Find out more about our work across the Palestinian Territories, where we continue to offer lifesaving support. By donating towards our Gaza Appeal, you can provide critical healthcare and help save lives.

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