‘Those who can bear it eat only one meal a day so they can leave more food for the children’
Ahmed Sourani is Christian Aid’s consultant in Gaza working closely with our local partners. Along with his family he had to flee his home one week into the current conflict. Since early December he has been living in the UAE, after being allowed to leave Gaza to receive a food sustainability prize at COP28. Here he describes the many struggles facing people in Gaza as well as their hopes for an immediate ceasefire and a just, lasting peace.
My home is in Gaza city. My apartment is in a building with four floors. My eldest son and my brother also live with their families in the building. There is a small garden with an olive tree and an orange tree as well as some flowers. I miss my home very much.
We left our home exactly one week after the start of the war in Gaza. There had been bombing everywhere. There was a call from the Israeli army for people in Gaza city to move south. We would get recorded phone calls telling us to move. This was very shocking for us.
A neighbour who had returned to our neighbourhood told us that our home has been partially damaged. All the windows and doors have been destroyed. And unfortunately, some of our furniture is no longer there. We don’t know what happened. Even so, we would love to come back to our home in Gaza city.
When we left our home, we didn’t know where to go. I called our colleagues at Christian Aid’s partner CFTA (Culture and Free Thought Association) and they agreed to host us at their community centre in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
The community centre became a shelter for displaced people. At first there were 40 members of my family at the community centre. Over time another 20 from my extended family joined us. In the end it was a shelter for around 300 people living over three floors. 70% were women and children.
A resident at Christian Aid’s partner CFTA’s community centre using the community kitchen to feed some of the 300 people sheltering at the centre.
It took us around two or three days to get the mattress and blankets we needed. We set up a committee and had daily meetings to make sure there was enough food and water as well as electricity from the solar panels. We are lucky that the shelter had a community kitchen, so we were able to bring fresh vegetables and grains to make sure everyone was fed.
Initially there was more food available in the local market because it was harvest time but during the second month of the war the amount of food available to buy became less and less and food prices increased. Thankfully we get a weekly delivery of fresh food from Christian Aid’s local partner PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) as well as distributions of clothing, hygiene kits, cash and canned food from UN agencies.
One of our big challenges was getting enough clean drinking water because the lack of fuel has stopped the water supply network. Some of the agricultural wells were used by the community who then purify the water by using filters. The international organisations have also been delivering water.
The community centre had enough fuel to last us six weeks and enough cooking gas for one month. So we needed to start buying firewood which we would use for baking bread and cooking. The community centre used solar panels for the lighting and to charge our phones.
In the morning we arranged breakfast for the children. It is mostly canned food with some vegetables and fresh bread. We have around eight very elderly people, one in a wheelchair, who are also our priority.
We try to eat twice a day but we prioritise children and the elderly. If we can, we try and have a second meal in the evening so we can try and sleep with some food in our stomachs. Those who can bear it often eat only one meal a day so that they can leave more food for the children. Most people are suffering from malnutrition. I have seen how we have lost weight. We have seen the changes to our faces and our bodies.
Without available fuel, wood and charcoal are needed to heat the stoves used to cook and bake bread for people sheltering at Christian Aid’s local partner CFTA’s community centre.
People’s health is also affected by worrying 24 hours a day; being traumatized mentally and emotionally. You are always worrying about the children and worrying about not having enough food or water. You worry a lot for the children when they wake up crying in the middle of the night. It is a terrible feeling that you would never want to experience.
We are dealing with traumatized children, so we have some coping strategies to help them. We would tell stories in the evening or sing songs and also do some drawing.
It is a nightmare whenever a child or an elderly person becomes sick. It would be terrifying because there is nowhere to take them for treatment because the hospitals are too crowded with the injured. We rely on the medicine we already had or what we could get from local pharmacies. We had a few people at the shelter with medical backgrounds who were able to offer advice as well.
We also use medicinal herbs, especially for coughs and chest infections or the flu. We would use chamomile and thyme for coughs and swallow a spoonful of dried tea to treat diarrhoea. We’d also use lemon, as well as garlic and onions for infections.
You are woken up by airstrikes every night. You never sleep through the whole night. You are always thinking that something bad could happen at any time. Some bombardments were only a few hundred yards from the community centre.
In recent weeks it has become even more dangerous in Khan Younis so my family and most people at the community centre moved further south to tented settlements in Rafah. But during the winter the weather in Gaza is at its worst. People staying in tents do not have enough clothes and blankets. People are suffering from the cold.
It is not easy for me to return to Gaza but I am lucky that I am being hosted in the UAE by good people. It has been hard to keep in contact with my family because there has been no communication coverage in Gaza for the past week. Thankfully though because of e-sims we are able to send a few words each day just to be sure that they are alive and fine.
Everyone is following the news about the case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. It is not an issue of punishment; our hope is that the court’s decision can bring a ceasefire and pave the way for a just peace.
Palestinians are looking for anything positive that could mean there is a ceasefire or that the war could end; anything that could prevent violence and stop this mad war. There has been enough war and killing.
Everyone in Gaza is praying for a ceasefire. Even a truce for one day or even a few hours would give people a chance to catch their breath. A ceasefire could be a first step to a peace process. This is the biggest dream for all the people in Palestine, and I am sure even for the people in Israel. We hope it could lead to a two-state solution that would allow the Palestinian people to practice their legitimate rights and see their hopes and dreams on the ground.
Ahmed with Christian Aid colleagues at COP28 in the UAE in December.