DSPR Update: October 2023
[The following is an update from the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) of the Middle East Council of Churches.]
For more than three weeks now Palestinian civilians in Gaza have endured relentless bombing by Israel from air, land and sea, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has become catastrophic, which already was suffering under a 16-year blockade. Israel cut all telephone and internet connections in and with Gaza last night, followed by a ground invasion. We are deeply concerned about what‘s taking place now in Gaza and the situation of our colleagues there, especially after we lost all contact with them. Please pray with us for the ceasefire and for the safety and security of the people there.
According to UNOCHA, more than 8,005 Palestinians were killed in Gaza since the start of hostilities, of whom 66% are children and women. About 1,600 people, including 900 children, have been reported missing and may be under the rubble. The number of casualties reached 20,242 people. An estimated 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced. Since 11 October, Gaza has been under a full electricity blackout, following Israel’s halt of its electricity and fuel supply to Gaza, which in turn triggered the shutdown of Gaza’s sole power plant. Communication with Gaza is again completely unavailable. Hospitals are shutting down. They lack fuel, water, medical supplies and personnel. Fuel is being severely rationed and is used to run a selected number of critical facilities. Meanwhile, there are more than 1.4 million internally displaced people according to UN Ocha across the Gaza strip.
Health facilities are overwhelmed, medical stocks are in short supply and access to hospitals and medical care is hindered by the ongoing hostilities and damaged roads. Hospitals are facing an unprecedented level of devastation, primarily driven by the overwhelming number of injuries and critical shortages of vital resources, including medical personnel, electricity, and water. In the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem), people including UN staff continue to face severe access and movement restrictions due to closures, checkpoints and roadblocks by the Israeli Security Forces. People taking Arab public transportation face additional security scrutiny. The DSPR Central Office team tries to come to the office daily to work but has been facing obstacles and difficulties including soldiers stopping buses to check people’s ID cards. There are many people from the West Bank who go to the Augusta Victoria Hospital (where the DSPR Central office is located) for dialysis or oncological treatment and carry a medical permit, Even the sick people are taken out of the bus and their permits are taken away from them.
UPDATE FROM STAFF AND FRIENDS IN GAZA
Based on our daily communication with our colleagues in Gaza, which was cut totally last evening as mentioned earlier. Here are some of the updates from some staff with whom we have been able to contact: The Solar System teacher Mohammad at DSPR NECC Vocational Training Centre in Gaza City has unfortunately lost his entire wife’s family after coming to Dair AlBalah in the southern area seeking refuge. We have also been informed that three Christian families who, like the other Christians in Gaza, sought refuge in the church have lost their homes to airstrikes while they were in the church, these are newly built homes. There is nothing left from their previous life. The staff is scattered and it is difficult to find out where everyone is, as many have lost their homes and some dear relatives.
Food, water, electricity, and fuel still do not reach the people. When the church was bombed, a large part of the storage was also damaged. That’s why people are resorting to well water, which is extremely high in salt and poses immediate health risks. Health partners have also detected cases of chicken pox, scabies and diarrhea due to poor sanitation conditions.
The people in both churches in Gaza give the remaining bottled water to the children and some adults who have kidney problems. Canned food is just the main food that is still available but will not last much longer, because the people in the church use it for themselves and for the neighboring families who have nothing to eat.
Sometimes they find some vegetables from street vendors Food supplies are running out. The World Food Program estimates that the current stocks of basic food in Gaza are enough for about 12 days. However, store supplies are expected to last only five days. Bread can be found in bakeries, with limited amounts and long lines. From 4 o‘clock in the morning people stand in front of the bakery‘s door to get a loaf of bread. It also became dangerous to be in crowds even if small people are afraid of being targeted as several groups were standing in line of several bakeries that have been hit. To mitigate the bread challenge, Christians who refuged to the the Churches managed to bring flour to the Church and brought small ovens to bake their own bread and avoid leaving the church compounds.
It is also challenging hard to get cash. This is because many banks and ATMs were damaged, while there are little opportunities to withdraw money from some of the ATMs. And there is no electricity with which they can charge their cell phones. All our colleagues are leaving their homes because they need to find food to live on, which is becoming increasingly difficult. When they go out on the streets, they risk their lives. Because of the impact of the bombing, our colleagues in Khan Yunis, Rafah, and Deir al-Balah are sitting in the homes of people they did not know before, and they always end the phone call with the words „We don‘t know if we will survive to talk to you tomorrow.“ Now, communication with them is impossible.
With heartfelt gratitude and solidarity,
Nader Abu Amsha, Executive Secretary and Audeh Quawas, Chairperson
Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees
Middle East Council of Churches