Fieldset
Gaza: “My children have already lived through three wars”

In 11 days of May 2021, Israeli airstrikes and shelling in Gaza killed 256 people, including 66 children. Three months on, Abed el Hamid Qaradaya, MSF's physiotherapy activity manager, shares his experience of living and working through the bombardment...

It was very surprising to everybody. Nobody was expecting it.

We were starting the Eid holiday. I’d bought some clothes and chocolate for my children.  We prepared special cookies and were ready to celebrate after Ramadan.

I came back from work at 4:30pm… and at 6pm it started.

Ready to escape

I lived through the conflicts in 2008, 2012 and 2014 but I think this was the most intense.  There was shelling everywhere.

We didn't sleep at night.  When we were afraid, we prepared our clothes and important papers, packing them in a special bag, thinking, “if we’re attacked or something happens, we can escape”.

We discovered there is no safe place in Gaza

During the morning we would sleep. Then we would watch the news to try and find out where the next airstrike would be.

Protecting normality

Before we went to bed, I tried to play with my children. We tried to watch movies and play games. I bought them some Lego and we built forts and castles together.

However, it got more intense day by day. My sister’s home was attacked so they came to live with us and our home became really crowded.

We were trying, as much as we could, to open the MSF clinic to provide a minimum service during the fighting. We set up phone consultations to ensure patients were doing at least the minimum amount of physiotherapy exercises and tried to help them if they needed advice.

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People clearing debris after an Israeli airstrike destroyed a residential tower in Gaza City
People clearing debris after an Israeli airstrike destroyed a residential tower in Gaza City

Difficult moments

On the last day of the war, the Thursday, I said to all the teams, “stay at home. I am the one who’s going to work. I'm the one who will provide the service.”

So, I worked that day, treating 30 patients, which is a lot alone.

You had to keep your feelings inside. Most of the people who visited me that day were displaced. They’d left their homes and were living in a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

I remember I saw a girl with a very severe burn. There were a lot of things we needed to do for her, but that we couldn't because of the war. That was one of the most difficult moments.

Another moment was when I saw that our clinic had been damaged. 

Before the war, we believed that our office and the clinic were in the safest place in Gaza. It’s away from all the borders, away from all the troubles… we discovered there is no safe place in Gaza.

But, we came back immediately, the first day the shelling stopped. We could not wait. A lot of patients were in need.

The 3D printer

In the Physio Rehabilitation Department, we are currently treating 425 patients and the number is increasing every week, mostly burn and trauma patients.  Normally hand injuries represent only around 20 percent of our patients.  But now we have a lot of crush injuries, especially on patient’s hands.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was the destruction of the 3D-printing lab we were working with. They supply special compression therapy facial masks for our burns patients.  

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MSF physiotherapists make a compressive face masks for a burn patient
MSF physiotherapists make a compressive face masks for a burn patient

You can’t buy 3D-printers in Gaza, but a local engineer had managed to build one by taking electronic materials from here and there and constructing a printer out of wood and materials that he found in the market. We’ve been working with him for over a year.

Luckily, his printer survived the damage and we were able to provide him with a small place in our clinic where he could resume printing.

Living under blockade

I have to be frank with you. If you put two million people inside 35 square kilometres without good water, without enough food, without work and without hope – which is the most important thing – these people sometimes will explode.

The politicians are working on the collateral problems of Gaza, like supplying food, supplying drugs, supplying water, solving some electricity issues. But they’re not solving the main issue which is jailing all these people in the same area.

Therefore, I believe that every two to five years we will have an escalation or war and there will be more destruction and death.

We must solve the main issue, which is this blockade Gaza is under. This country should be open. We should have an airport. We should have a port that can improve our economy and improve our life. Then the medical situation will improve, the economy will improve, and everything will improve if we have more freedom.

One of my children is 10 years old and the other is 12 years old… and they have already lived through three wars.

I just want them to have a brighter future with a good education and no more war.

We have good technicians, we have good abilities, people here have good brains. We are all just still hoping and struggling for a good life.

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MSF IN GAZA

Between May 10 and 21 2021, Israeli airstrikes and shelling in Gaza killed 256 people, including 66 children. Almost 2,000 more were injured. 13 people, including two children, were killed in Israel as a result of rockets and missiles launched by Palestinian armed groups.

MSF has been in Gaza for almost 15 years, providing surgical and post-surgical assistance to victims of burns and trauma. In 2018, it began offering reconstructive and orthopaedic surgery, physiotherapy, and psychosocial support to thousands of Gazans injured in the Great March of Return.

During the May bombardment, an MSF team in Gaza worked in 24-hour shifts to support the emergency room and operating theatres of Al-Awda hospital, in the area of Jabalia, Gaza treating an average of 40 to 45 patients a day. 

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Read more: Stories from Occupied Palestinian Territory

Gaza: “Night and day, what we are living through is terrifying”
The two conflicts: Lessons of loss in Palestine