Ceasefire delays add misery in Gaza

Thanks to donors, Islamic Relief is responding to the most urgent needs in the region, with a focus on providing hot meals for families and psychosocial support for children living under unimaginably challenging circumstances.

Thanks to donors, Islamic Relief is responding to the most urgent needs in the region, with a focus on providing hot meals for families and psychosocial support for children living under unimaginably challenging circumstances.

Published Mar 1, 2024


Yusuf Mohamed

Without a ceasefire in sight, and Rafah also under attack, the decimation of Gaza seems to hinge as much on forced starvation and the spread of disease, as it does on constant bombardment.

For nearly five months, the world has witnessed the slaughter of nearly 30 000 Palestinians, among the about 13 000 children and 8 800 women.

More than 7 000 people are missing – 70% of whom are women and children. People in Gaza who have managed to survive the relentless strikes from air, land and sea, have had their homes, loved ones, and access to even the most basic of necessities, ripped away.

On Israel’s evacuation orders, 1.4 million internally displaced people, including more than 600 000 children, fled to Rafah at the southern end of Gaza, bordering Egypt. At just 63km2, there are 22 200 people a square kilometre in Rafah – five times its pre-October 7 population density. Informal shelters here offer gravely inadequate protection from the wintry conditions, as diseases and infestations spread rampantly through the camps. The life-threatening conditions are made even more detrimental by the critical shortages of water, food, shelter, sanitation, medical assistance and other essential resources.

But the shortages are by no means due to a lack of compassion and concern for the people of Gaza, from civilians across the world.

At any given time, there are an estimated 5 000 humanitarian aid trucks queuing at the Egyptian border, waiting to be allowed into Gaza.

However, a shockingly insufficient 100 to 200 trucks are allowed to enter daily, after being thoroughly checked and having many items, including baby formula,irrationally confiscated.

The only other access point into Gaza, which borders Israel, is also tightly controlled by the Israeli Defence Forces, with several recent reports of young Israeli civilians camping at the border to block aid from entering the region.

Meanwhile, 1.4 million people are trapped inside what was briefly called “the only safe zone in Gaza”, but has fast become a death trap. With hundreds of Palestinians targeted in Rafah, the assault further demonstrates the blatant and systematic annihilation of Gaza.

The aid that is allowed to enter the middle and south of Gaza is mostly directed to people sheltering in UN facilities. Because of the sporadic flow of aid, it is all but impossible to tailor provisions to match families’ specific and most urgent needs.

This results in some families who receive food aid, for example, selling it off at exorbitant prices in order to buy winter jackets, toilet paper or other urgent necessities.

Non-governmental humanitarian and development organisation, Islamic Relief, has been working in Palestine since 1997, supporting communities with food, clean water, safer homes, education and opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods, as they grappled with the brutal realities of occupation, blockades and recurring conflict.

Since October 7, we have been compelled to suspend our humanitarian developmental efforts in the region, to focus on delivering life-saving aid, including clean water and hygiene packs; 3.7 million food items, including ready-to-eat meals, food parcels and vouchers; more than 2.2 million medical items; and psychosocial support for 61 391 children.

Our staff members in Gaza are native to the region and partner with service providers to ensure that as many families as possible are served.

One of our colleagues, whose name is withheld for his safety, shares updates when he is able to, about the horrific, dystopian-like conditions he is working under, while also trying to protect and feed his own family.

In mid-February, at around the 130-day mark of non-stop bombardment, and with ground attacks in Rafah looming, our colleague shared this personal update: “I am finding it harder to write as my mental health is deteriorating. I am now full of despair and losing hope there will be any relief to the pain and suffering.

“I even started thinking of leaving Gaza, starting a new chapter of my life seeking refuge somewhere in the world. But I do not know where to go and, as a Palestinian, no country will accept me and my family as refugees.

In addition, leaving through Egypt involves paying thousands of dollars that I do not have.

“I am worried about the future of my kids. I am afraid their mental health will be damaged beyond repair if they witness more of this killing and bombing. I am afraid I will not be able to keep them safe and unharmed.

I can’t protect them. I am living in a false world. I am living in agony and suffering. People are not allowed to return to their homes in the north and not able to stay in Rafah either.

Should they just disappear into thin air? This is a crazy world and crazy war. Nobody is considering that we are talking about human beings: we are not just furniture to be moved from one place to another.”

With a few days to go until Ramadaan, during which Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sunset, Palestinian Muslims would typically be preparing to welcome the sacred period by decorating their homes and communities, and preparing traditional festive foods. For this Ramadaan however, our colleague shares that he has told his family to not have any expectations: “We used to have family gatherings with great meals, sweets, qatayef (folded pancakes) and samosas.

“This year, we will have none of these things.

“What I will miss the most are the iftars (breaking of the fast evening meals) Islamic Relief hosts for our sponsored orphans and their families. I will miss the night prayers and gathering in the mosques. Most of the mosques, if not all of them, have been destroyed.

This year, we approach Ramadaan with one hope: that a ceasefire will happen, that we can live peaceful days, that we can go to our homes, that we are still alive.”

Echoing our colleague’s desperate hope, Islamic Relief continues to advocate for an urgent and permanent ceasefire, an end to the illegal siege of Gaza, and the upholding of international law. We eagerly await the fulfilment of the International Court of Justice-approved measure for the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, and we call on governments that have withdrawn funding to restore support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East on which millions of Palestinians are reliant.

For now, thanks to our loyal and committed donors. We are doing everything that we can to respond to the most urgent needs in the region, with focus on providing hot meals for families, and psychosocial support for children living under unimaginably challenging circumstances.

* Mohamed is the CEO of Islamic Relief South Africa.