28 October – 04 November | Issue 68
Operational environment: The general atmosphere in Gaza is one of anticipation but also frustration, with an unstable political environment and no set timeframe around reconstruction. Families are keen to rebuild their lives but are also looking to the Government for solutions to the underlying causes of the most recent conflict. UNRWA’s operational focus over the past week was on Collective Centre management, vulnerability assessment follow ups, school activities, shelter assessments, assistance to those with damaged or uninhabitable homes and regular ongoing support to Palestine refugees in Gaza.
Helping refugee families in Gaza stay healthy took on a whole new meaning for Dr. Hend Harb during the Strips’ most recent hostilities. As the Senior Medical Officer at Maghazi Health Centre, Dr. Hend was seconded to UNRWA’s Central Operations Room as the lead health program focal point on the emergency response.
For almost three months, Dr Hend was responsible for communications and facilitation between five area medical focal points who worked as a team to ensure the best health care was provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering at UNRWA’s schools. At its peak, UNRWA hosted almost 300,000 IDPs in 90 schools.
Medical teams consisting of a doctor, a nurse and a health educator were deployed to each shelter. “The main challenge was ensuring that shelters were kept as clean and healthy as possible, to avoid an outbreak of disease, as well as getting medicine to people on time,” Dr Hend said. “Despite a delay in some medications arriving and the very difficult conditions in overcrowded shelters, thankfully we were able to contain any minor diseases as they happened.”
The situation of IDPs in Gaza was especially familiar to Dr Hend as she herself had family members who were displaced during the conflict. Her mother, brother, sister-in-law and their children were living in north Gaza near the eastern border when they had to evacuate their home in July. She then hosted them in the home she shares with her husband and four children.
Dr Hend recalls one particularly difficult evening for the family, when she had returned home after a long day working and was waiting to get into the elevator to reach her apartment. “Suddenly, the ground shook and rubble flew everywhere outside. I heard people screaming and soon learned that the roof at the top of the building had been hit and that people in my building were wounded… I froze and could hardly breathe,” said Dr Hend.
“In the next moment I saw people running down the stairs and among them was my family, all safe. Fortunately no damage was inflicted on our apartment,” she said. Despite protests from her mother and children, Dr. Hend went to work as usual the following day.
“I was determined to serve my people, nothing would deter me from my goal,” she said. “It was very hard to leave my children during such terrible times, but it was my duty and responsibility and I would never shy from fulfilling it."
Dr Hend’s husband, an orthopedic specialist, was very supportive of her work and they even found themselves working together at one point during the conflict. During severe hostilities in the Shujaya neighbourhood of Gaza, many internally displaced families ran from the destruction to the grounds of Shifa Hospital. “I was assigned to assist with relocating these people to UNRWA schools. It was a very tough mission,” said Dr. Hend. Her husband, who worked at the hospital, was able to support the UNRWA team with facilitating the relocation of distraught refugees and non-refugees to designated emergency shelters where they would have a place to sleep and be provided with food, water and basic medical care.
Dr Hend oversaw the transition of the health program from emergency shelters to UNRWA’s Collective Centres program before returning to her regular role with UNRWA on 8 October. She has worked for UNRWA since 2004, having also served at the Health Centre in Beach Camp. After achieving her medical degree in Russia, Dr Hend was employed at a hospital in Khan Younis. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she is studying remotely for a Masters in Health Management from Abu Dis University in Jerusalem.
In her regular job Dr Hend is responsible for the general management of the Health Centre and its staff, as well as communication with the local refugee community.
During the emergency, UNRWA health services were extended to all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and some 70 percent of UNRWA’s medical staff continued to report to work, including at the height of the hostilities. This was remarkable especially given that on average only 14 of the 21 health centres were functional, with the remaining seven often closed due to insecurity in the area.
“I am proud of myself and of the UNRWA teams I worked with. We faced many challenges together,” said Dr Hend. “I met great UNRWA staff and formed strong ties and bonds with them - they inspired me and I am proud to say that I inspired them too.”
The health sector in Gaza remains devastated and in urgent need of funding and support. A WHO-led joint assessment of health needs and services in Gaza, released last month, indicates that urgent work is needed to rehabilitate the damaged health system and prevent further loss of life.
Overnight on 30 October, it is reported that the Israeli navy opened fire towards Palestinian boats west of Khan Younis. No injuries were reported. Overnight on 31 October, one rocket was reportedly fired from east Gaza City towards Israel. No other major incidents were reported between 28 October and 4 November.
The Agency has concluded assessments of its damaged UNRWA installations, with a total of 118. Repair work is ongoing.
UNRWA is seeking USD 1.6 billion for emergency relief, early recovery and reconstruction priorities in the Gaza Strip. More information can be found here (PDF). The same information is available in Arabic here (PDF).
Rafah crossing remains closed since 25 October.
Erez crossing was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and for international staff from 28 October to 30 October, and again on 4 November. On 31 October it was open for medical cases and pedestrians only. On 1 November the crossing was closed. On 2 November it was open for foreigners only. On 3 November Erez was open for humanitarian cases and foreigners.
Kerem Shalom was open from 28 October to 30 October and again on 4 November. It was closed from 31 October to 3 November.