Overwhelming reunions during the humanitarian pause in Gaza

An Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza recounts how he spent the first 4 days of a humanitarian pause during the unprecedented escalation in Gaza.

As the humanitarian pause goes on, I am writing to tell you how we spent the last 4 days, and of my hopes for everlasting peace in this land. This short period without airstrikes and bombing has given everyone in Gaza a chance to breathe. But the relief is short lived and when we’ll next have the chance to rest, only God knows.

A humanitarian pause for a few days is meaningless compared to the dire situation facing displaced people and the huge destruction to infrastructure and services in Gaza that this crisis has caused.
The first day of the pause was a Friday. Fridays are part of the weekend in Gaza and usually families gather, spending the day in Jummah prayers, having lunch together, and doing other activities together. I used to go to my parents’ house every Friday to enjoy mum’s cooking and see my sisters. So, on the first day of the pause, we decided to try and spend the day as we would before the escalation.

We managed to get some chicken at the market – mum insists the home-raised chickens you can buy there are better than the genetically modified mass-produced chickens we get from the supermarkets. We can’t argue, but there aren’t any other options anyway as food supplies are running extremely low. My brother-in-law and I began cutting some logs and started a fire while my mum and sisters prepared the chicken. We enjoyed one of the best lunches we’ve had since the start of this war. It was a moment to remember.

Dust, destruction and donkeys on the road to Rafah

On the second day, my wife wanted to see her parents who are staying with a relative in Rafah, about 30km away. I checked my car and found that I had enough fuel left, so I reckoned we had to make the trip. My wife missed her family a great deal.

During the drive, I could see destruction everywhere. I could not drive 100 metres without seeing a destroyed house or building – all within the southern area that was assigned as ‘safe’. After a while, I could see people standing in very long queue. The line was around 1 kilometre long and consisted of people all carrying blue gas cylinders. As I drove I couldn’t but notice this blue line extending on and on. It was a tragic scene. All these people were struggling to get few kilos of gas. The small amount allowed into Gaza will never be enough to meet this demand, which is almost beyond imagination at this point.

As I drove, the road was full of carts pulled by horses and donkeys. It was not the Gaza I was used to and I was devastated to see how badly the Gaza Strip has been damaged. We also drove past lines of cars waiting for fuel and I could see people pushing their cars towards petrol stations in a bid to save every last drop of fuel they could.

The skies were full of dust, smoke and the smell of destruction. “Dad, why can’t we see the road clearly?” my daughter asked. I told her “The skies are still full of pollution from the bombing and now everybody is burning fire to prepare food. All that produces pollution that makes the road look unclear”.

We arrived at my wife parents’ place. As I climbed the stairs behind her and our kids, I could hear loud crying from upstairs. Everyone was overwhelmed by emotion over this reunion. It has been a long time since we last met. They told us stories full of terror about their not-so-safe passage south.… I will share these stories in another blog if I’m still able to write to you.

We spent Saturday telling each other how we’ve passed our days, how we’re managing to refill water, comparing the prices of food. We tell our stories and listen to theirs. It was overwhelming seeing them again. In the evening, as we made our way back to my parents’ place, we could see that the lines of people waiting for fuel did not seem to be any shorter than before. People were just waiting there in the hope of having a chance to get some fuel. Some had waited for 2 days without any luck.

Tales of destruction in Gaza City

I spent Sunday calling my friends, especially those who were still in Gaza City and had not been able to evacuate. I have a friend that we hadn’t heard from for around 10 days. I heard news that the area where he lives had been invaded by tanks and that hundreds of people had died there. We kept calling him for days, but we couldn’t reach him.

Our hopes of finding him alive were diminishing every day.

One of our friends who was still in Gaza called me and told me he would walk to our friend’s house to check on him. He couldn’t go by car because the tanks had demolished around 80% of the city’s streets. “It looks as if they were deliberately driving over the pavements. Every electricity pole and all the cables are destroyed. The central park in Gaza City is upside down. They have uprooted all the trees and tore up the benches,” my friend explained.

I asked him if he’d managed to go to the area where I lived. “No,” he said. “The roads were totally destroyed”. He did, however, managed to find our missing friend; alive, but unable to communicate with anyone as his mobile phone could not connect to the network.

‘Everything we loved in this place has gone’

Today is the fourth day and it’s been raining since morning. Like thousands of displaced people we have no winter clothes, so we’re staying inside. Many people have no roofs over their heads.

Everyone in my house has the flu – in a crowded house it is easily transmitted. Diseases are spreading everywhere, and people cannot find medication or health care. People can’t find food, fuel… even pavements to walk on.

Everything we loved in this place is gone. We have been collectively punished by a brutal force that does not care about humanitarian laws.

Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.

*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague. Read the other blogs in this series here.

**On Monday 27 November, it was announced that the humanitarian pause would be extended for two days.

Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of the morning of Wednesday 29 November.