By Garry Walsh, Programme Officer, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
I was really happy to get access into Gaza, to be able to visit Trócaire’s projects on the ground and to meet old colleagues and friends, yet I was almost dreading this visit. I knew there would be heart-breaking scenes in this war-ravaged territory.
It was my first time visiting Gaza since the devastating conflict with Israel this summer that saw over 2,200 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis killed. Although the violence has stopped, there is still a widespread humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
For despite the cessation of hostilities, and the pledges of billions of dollars in international aid, there has been little rebuilding and reconstruction of Gaza. Some emergency aid is getting through, but the Israeli and Egyptian authorities have imposed crippling restrictions on the flow of many vital materials, such as cement, that are necessary to begin reconstruction.
As I visited neighbourhoods in Gaza that lay completely in ruins, the scenes reminded me of images of European cities after World War II. These are the effects of the third war in Gaza in just six years.
Over 100,000 people remain homeless in Gaza, their homes being either completely destroyed, or being too severely damaged to live in. Some people are living with extended families, others in temporary accommodation and UN schools. Yet some still have nowhere to go. I met some families who were living in half-destroyed apartment blocks, with entire walls missing and their homes exposed to the elements.
The Shejaiya neighbourhood has been one of the worst affected areas from this summer’s conflict in Gaza. Almost the entire neighbourhood lies in ruins. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Ramadan Nurfil stands in front of a partially destroyed apartment block in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. His shop has been destroyed, yet despite the damage to the building, he and his family are still living in the apartment in the first floor. They have nowhere else to go, and are afraid of the coming winter weather. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Mohammed Wahdan stands on the site of his destroyed home, where 8 members of his family were killed this Summer in Gaza. Mohammed claims he was also used as a human shield by the Israeli armed forces as they made house-to-house searches. Trócaire’s partner organisation the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are providing the Wahdan family with legal assistance to try and achieve justice. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Rasmi Najar stands in front of the temporary shelter that he is now living in with his family, following the destruction of his home in this Summer’s conflict in Gaza. The five-floor building was destroyed by Israeli armed forces, and 35 members of his family have been left homeless. (Photo : Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Trócaire has been responding to the crisis over the last few months, and is working with local partner organisations on the ground in Gaza to protect some of the most vulnerable people. We have provided communities with emergency aid, including medical supplies, food and blankets. We are also working with our partners to provide psychological care to people, especially children, who have experienced the trauma of violent conflict.
After a few days in Gaza, I say my goodbyes to my colleagues, and I have one last mint tea before rushing back to get through the Israeli military checkpoint before it closes for the evening. A colleague in another international organisation tells me that as he was finishing his visit to Gaza, a young child in one of the communities left in ruins waved over to him and shouted “See you next war!”
The sad reality is that if there is no change in the status quo, another round of devastating violence is almost guaranteed. As such, Trócaire is also working to support Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations to work towards building a long term lasting and just peace and the prevention of future rounds of conflict.
Ireland and the EU also have a role to play. There is an urgent need for international pressure on Israel and Egypt to end restrictions to allow Gaza to rebuild again. Yet reconstruction is not enough. We need accountability for potential war crimes that were committed. We also need a political solution that addresses the cycle of violence and ends the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Otherwise that child will be proved right, and we will be visiting Gaza again after the next war.