Director of the “Red Cross” in Gaza: The defenders have stopped and the suffering has increased
Maryam Muller, director of the sub-delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip, believes that the calm situation, which followed the ceasefire at the end of May 2021, did not lead to an improvement in the fragile economic conditions.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Mueller said, describing the situation in Gaza, 8 months after the end of the last Israeli aggression: The guns fell silent and the suffering increased.
She added that the latest escalation last May was the most severe and severe since 2014.
She explained in her dialogue that the renewed cycle of violence affects the mental health of the affected individuals, who also suffered from previous rounds of violence.
For 11 days, Israel launched an aggression on Gaza, which ended with a ceasefire on May 21, which left hundreds of martyrs and wounded, in addition to widespread destruction.
living and economic conditions
Mueller said that the humanitarian situation in Gaza, over the past decade, has witnessed a marked deterioration.
She added, “Gaza has been isolated from the rest of the world for 15 years, and the tightening of the screws on its economy continues in light of the strict restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods, which were exacerbated by internal Palestinian disputes and the consequences of the Corona pandemic, and the escalation of last May.”
She explained that these restrictions make efforts to rebuild Gaza difficult.
She continued: Many families were forced to find a solution after losing their homes and businesses, and some families whose homes were destroyed in 2014 are still living in temporary rents provided by relief organizations.
It indicated that the population is in a state of despair and frustration as a result of the lack of progress in finding durable solutions, or the possibility of improving life in Gaza, in addition to the record high rates of poverty and unemployment.
She pointed out that the Israeli restrictions and the four military conflicts (since 2008) caused a crisis in the electricity supply, which exacerbated the deterioration of the living conditions of the residents.
According to a report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (governmental) in August 2021, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip reached 45%.
Mueller said Gazans have many skills (that enable them to work), and they need the opportunity to live in dignity, with enough income to support their families.
And she stressed the need to ease restrictions imposed on people and goods through the Gaza crossings to ensure the economic recovery in the Strip.
She called on the authorities in and outside Gaza to work hard to find a sustainable political solution to improve the situation.
Regarding the aid provided by the Red Cross in Gaza, Mueller said that this aid prevents the worst from happening.
She added that after declaring a ceasefire last May, the committee provided financial relief assistance to about 1,500 families whose homes were completely or severely demolished.
It also provided support to about 150 fishermen, 10 poultry farmers, and about 210 aid to private entrepreneurs to help them maintain them, according to Mueller.
And she added: Two thousand people who joined the unemployed were supported.
Mueller stated that the committee is focused on providing long-term needs, such as restoring infrastructure, and providing necessary psychological support.
With regard to the problems faced by the agricultural sector in Gaza, Mueller said that the challenges are multiple, starting with the protracted conflict, and ending with the phenomena of climate change, which has become a major threat to it.
Mueller said that farmers in the border areas, which constitute the strategic food basket for Gazans, are the most affected by the recurring conflicts.
She added: The challenges that farmers face are the deterioration of agricultural wells, irrigation problems, and the high cost of alternative energy solutions such as solar panels, which the population cannot afford.
Farmers in border areas, according to Mueller, also suffer from a lack of materials needed to rehabilitate greenhouses and irrigation systems.
She continued, “The military operations that the border region has witnessed over a decade have directly and profoundly affected the livelihoods and economic well-being of farmers there.”
She indicated that, since the end of the last escalation, the ICRC has supported about 850 farmers whose crops, farms or greenhouses have been damaged.
She said: We helped rehabilitate about 70 percent of the land between 100 and 300 meters of the border fence, including removing remnants of war (with the help of the Explosives Engineering Department in the Gaza Ministry of Interior), leveling land, plowing and farming, as well as accompanying farmers during the harvest.
She pointed out that the International Committee of the Red Cross engaged the parties to the conflict in addressing the challenges, during the bilateral dialogue, to help ensure the proper implementation of agricultural activities that contribute to achieving food security effectively, and enabling farmers to reach their farms.
The Gaza Strip faces serious systemic problems that affect the quality of health care available to the population, including children who make up 48% of the general population, according to Mueller.
She said: These problems range from the lack of medicines to treat chronic diseases, to the ongoing financial crisis that has been exacerbated by (Israeli) restrictions, the consequences of Corona, and the consequences of the recent escalation.
Muller added to the above, the state of poverty, which in turn affected people’s nutrition levels, the strength of their immune system, and their inability to buy medicines that are not available in hospitals.
As for the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic in Gaza during the past two years, Mueller said that this matter had a significant impact on the already exhausted health system.
And she added: The idea of imposing more pressure and challenges on the fragile health care system is very worrying.
She noted that the ICRC cooperated with the Ministry of Health in launching a public awareness campaign to encourage the people of Gaza to get the vaccine, as it is the right way to avoid health complications and avoid confusing the health system.
The ICRC, according to Mueller, has also supported Gaza hospitals to be more resistant to future shocks and to provide better medical care for the population.
And she continued: Supporting health facilities is our main priority. During the recent escalation, our surgical team stayed for a month in Gaza, working alongside doctors in hospitals.
She noted that the Committee also facilitated the transportation of medical supplies from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s warehouse in Ramallah to its branch in Gaza to replenish stocks consumed by emergency medical teams.
The committee also contributed, according to Mueller, to making infrastructure reforms and increasing the capacity of the backup power system on which a number of Gaza hospitals depend, to ensure the continuity of service provision.
On the role of the Red Cross in facilitating the entry of medical equipment that Israel prevents from entering Gaza, Mueller said, “We are in constant and regular contact with the Ministry of Health in Gaza, and we discuss in an open dialogue all the challenges facing the health system, as well as with all parties concerned with the entry of such materials.” .
She points out that it is difficult to maintain the health system in Gaza as it is in light of the possibilities of the increasing population and the obstacles resulting from the restrictions imposed on the movement of goods and individuals.
The invisible (psychological) scars of repeated rounds of violence put an additional burden on the people of the Gaza Strip, Mueller said.
She adds: After the end of the last escalation, the amount of trauma suffered by individuals has become enormous, especially for those who lost their loved ones, as the grief and pain remain stuck in the memory.
She stated that the conflict had left a mark that reverberated for years on the hearts of children and the elderly alike.
And Mueller quotes the United Nations that 9 out of 10 children in Gaza have suffered from post-conflict trauma.
She explained that children, who make up about half of society and are under the age of 18, have suffered for the greater part of their lives from 4 military operations and multiple escalations.
On another issue, Mueller says that unexploded ordnance in the Strip and landmines pose a deadly danger to the population.
She explained that during the past three years, unexploded ordnance was reported in Gaza at least once a month, describing this as a very worrying matter.
She states that the ICRC provides the Explosives Engineering Department of the Ministry of Interior and Civil Defense with basic technical equipment, fuel and human expertise to raise their capabilities and help them remove unexploded ordnance.
Over the past years, the Committee has contributed, in cooperation with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Ministry of Education in Gaza, to educating the local community about the dangers of unexploded ordnance.
She pointed out that the number of beneficiaries of the awareness sessions exceeded 130 thousand people.