Children in Gaza playing in the streets of Gaza during Eid in September 2009. Nine months after that year's war on Gaza, the coastal strip was still struggling to rebuild. Photo by Karl Schembri/Save the Children
On my first entry into Gaza in September 2009, it was at the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid. Children were playing out on the streets, asking me to photograph them, swings were set out on the pavements, people were out shopping for new clothes and visiting relatives. The utter destruction left by the Israeli attacks in Operation Cast Lead back in December 2008 was still all there; Gaza was struggling to recover, but the great mood on the streets blurred all that into the background.
Life goes on, I thought, because it's life that Palestinian children and their families crave for. That's what I thought too in November 2012 when fighting once again escalated. Just when my colleagues had hurriedly evacuated and their cars were still barely out of sight, I heard the egg seller doing the rounds with his donkey, shouting his trademark phrases for people to come out to buy fresh eggs, as if nothing was happening.
A lot was happening. Nights were the worst, as Gaza was pounded by missiles launched by the Israeli navy out at sea, which I could hear whizzing overhead towards the heart of the city, the artillery shelling the strip from the north, and fighter jets and drones dropping their bombs. Despite the November cold, we had to keep windows open to avoid the windows breaking inwards during a blast. The earth trembled with some of the bombs that would detonate metres underground leaving enormous craters. Less than four years since Cast Lead, Gaza was still rebuilding from the rubble -- most of it through foreign aid funding -- and now it was being destroyed again. The inescapable sound of drones buzzing ominously overhead 24 hours a day felt like having a factory upstairs.
As I write now -- this time from Amman -- those streets I first saw in Gaza during Eid five years ago are barely recognizable on the TV, pummeled once again by the full force of the Israeli military. The street where I lived for four years has had an entire family wiped out. Recent photos show that the neighbourhoods of Al Shajaiya and Khuzaa have been all but obliterated. There will be no children playing on those streets this Eid; those who are still alive are fearing for their lives. Many places seem vulnerable to attack in this tiny strip as houses, hospitals and schools have all come under fire. One Palestinian child is killed every hour. Every 6-year-old in Gaza is now living through the third war in their life. Aside from the risks they face of being injured or killed, one cannot begin to fathom what this means for their long-term mental health and well-being.
On the other side of the conflict, Israeli children have to flee to shelters whenever they come under rocket attacks. The regular sirens spread fear and panic, though at least there are safe places where families and children can find shelter.
Everyone I speak to in Gaza right now tells me that while a ceasefire is desperately needed, things cannot go back to what they were before the escalation when the blockade made life impossible.
Despite promises in the 2012 ceasefire agreement to ease the blockade, Gaza was actually more blockaded than ever prior to this escalation, as the tunnels linking it to Egypt and bringing daily essential goods had been all but destroyed.
In Gaza, even before this recent escalation, life was impossible and daily eight-hour power cuts meant that Gaza was running on less than 12 hours power a day, Gaza remained cut off from the rest of Palestine; Palestinians barred from visiting their relatives on the other side. My former landlady was refused by Israel from travelling to the West Bank for treatment when she found out she had breast cancer. Fishermen were shot at if they approached the three nautical miles limit imposed on them, builders had no more construction material to finish off their work, thousands of Palestinians lost their precarious jobs and more than 80 percent of them were dependent on humanitarian aid.
That is no life. That is why it is so crucial that this Eid be marked by an end to the violence and incredible suffering. But beyond an immediate ceasefire -- to ensure that 6-year-olds today have a future -- a sustainable solution will require agreement by the parties to lift the blockade and put in place the building blocks for a long term peace.
Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. It is currently working in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, and is concerned about the wellbeing of children caught on both sides of the conflict. The above piece reflects the author's opinion and his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza.
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