JERUSALEM (AP) — Fights break out in bread lines. Residents wait hours to get a gallon of brackish water, making them sick. Scabies, diarrhea and respiratory infections ravage overcrowded shelters. And some families have to choose who eats.
“My children are crying because they are hungry and tired and can’t go to the toilet,” said Suzan Wahidi, an aid worker and mother of five in a shelter. UN shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah, where hundreds of people share the same toilets. “I have nothing for them.”
While the Israel-Hamas war is in its second month and more than 10,000 people killed in Gaza, trapped civilians struggle to survive without electricity or running water. Palestinians who managed to flee Israel’s land invasion in northern Gaza, the south is now experiencing a shortage of food and medicine, and there is no end in sight to the war started by Deadly Hamas attack on October 7.
More than half a million displaced people have crowded into UN hospitals and schools turned into shelters in the south. Schools – overcrowded, littered with garbage, invaded by flies – have become a breeding ground for infectious diseases.
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Since the start of the war, several hundred aid trucks have entered Gaza through the southern Rafah crossing, but aid organizations say this is a problem. fall into the ocean of need. For most people, each day has become a painful cycle of searching for bread, water and stand in line.
The sense of hopelessness has strained Gaza’s close-knit society, which endured decades of conflictfour wars with Israel and a 16-year blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces.
Some Palestinians have even expressed their anger at Hamas, shouting insults at officials or beating police officers in scenes unimaginable just a month ago, according to witnesses.
“Everywhere you go, you see the tension in people’s eyes,” said Yousef Hammash, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council in the southern town of Khan Younis. “We see that they are at a breaking point.”
Supermarket shelves are almost empty. Bakeries closed their doors for lack of flour and fuel for the ovens. Gaza’s agricultural land is mostly inaccessible and there are few markets for produce other than onions and oranges. Families cook lentils over small fires in the streets.
“We hear children crying at night asking for sweets and hot food,” said Ahmad Kanj, 28, a photographer at a shelter in the southern town of Rafah. “I can not sleep.”
Many people say they went weeks without meat, eggs or milk and now live on just one meal a day.
“There is a real threat of malnutrition and famine,” said Alia Zaki, a spokesperson for the UN World Food Program. What aid workers call “food insecurity” is the new benchmark for Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, she said.
Famous Gaza dishes like jazar ahmar – juicy red carrots stuffed with ground lamb and rice – are a distant memory, replaced by dates and packaged biscuits. Even those are hard to find.
Every day, families send their most assertive loved ones before dawn to one of the few bakeries still in operation. Some take knives and sticks – they say they must prepare to defend themselves in case of attack, with riots breaking out sporadically in the water and bread lines.
“I send my sons to the bakeries and eight hours later they come back with bruises and sometimes not even bread,” said Etaf Jamala, 59, who fled Gaza City for the town of Deir al-Balah , in the south of the country. where she sleeps in the crowded corridors of a hospital with 15 family members.
A woman told The Associated Press that her nephew, a 27-year-old father of five, living in the Jabaliya urban refugee camp in northern Gaza, was stabbed in the back with a kitchen knife after being accused of turning off the water supply. He needed dozens of stitches, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Violence has shaken this small territory, where family names are linked to community status and where even small indiscretions can be magnified in the public eye.
“The social fabric that Gaza was known for is fraying due to anxiety, uncertainty and loss,” said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
Israel cut off water to Gaza shortly after the Hamas attack, saying its full siege would only be lifted after the militants released Hamas forces. 240 hostages they captured. Israel has since opened pipelines to the center and south, but there is no fuel to pump or treat the water. The taps are drying out.
Those who cannot find or afford bottled water rely on salty, unfiltered well water, which doctors say causes diarrhea and serious gastrointestinal infections.
“I can’t recognize my own son,” said Fadi Ihjazi. The 3-year-old lost 5 kilos (11 pounds) in just two weeks, she said, and was diagnosed with a chronic intestinal infection.
“Before the war, he had the sweetest baby face,” Ihjazi said, but now his lips are chapped, his face yellowish and his eyes sunken.
In shelters, a lack of water makes it difficult to maintain basic hygiene, said Dr. Ali al-Uhisi, who treats patients at one in Deir al-Balah. Lice and chickenpox have spread, he said, and on Wednesday morning alone he treated four cases of meningitis. This week it also saw 20 cases of liver infection, hepatitis A.
“What concerns me is I know I’m only seeing a fraction of the total number of cases at the shelter,” he said.
For most illnesses, there is no treatment: zinc tablets and oral rehydration salts disappeared in the first week of the war. Frustrated patients attacked doctors, said Al-Uhisi, who described being beaten this week by a patient who needed a syringe.
Sadeia Abu Harbeid, 44, said she missed chemotherapy treatment for her breast cancer during the second week of the war and could not find painkillers. Without regular treatments, she says, her chances of survival are low.
She barely eats, choosing to give most of the little food she has to her 2-year-old child. “This existence is a humiliation,” she said.
Throughout Gaza, rare scenes of dissent are taking place. Some Palestinians openly challenge the authority of Hamas, which has long ruled the enclave with an iron fist. Four Palestinians across Gaza spoke to AP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals for what they saw.
A man who was reprimanded by a Hamas officer for cutting in line for bread took a chair and smashed it over his head, according to an aid worker waiting in line. In another area, angry crowds threw stones at Hamas police officers who cut in front of a water line and punched them until they dispersed, according to a journalist on the scene. .
Overnight in Gaza City, Hamas rockets heading towards Israel provoked angry outbursts at a UN shelter. In the middle of the night, hundreds of people shouted insults at Hamas and shouted that they wanted the war to end, according to a 28-year-old man who was sleeping in a tent with his family.
And during a televised press conference on Tuesday, a young man with a dazed expression and a bandaged wrist pushed his way through the crowd, disrupting a speech by Iyad Bozum, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. Interior run by Hamas.
“May God hold you to account, Hamas! the man shouted, clutching his injured hand.
The future of Gaza remains uncertain as Israeli tanks roll through the ghostly streets of Gaza City in a bid to overthrow Hamas. Palestinians say it will never be the same again.
“The Gaza Strip I know is just a memory,” said Jehad Ghandour, 16, who fled to Rafah. “There’s no place or anything left that I know of. »