My friends and family always ask about safety and security in my assignments. I can honestly say that I have not felt concerned for my safety during my time in Gaza and any of my questions about the safety are quickly answered.
Each day starts with a short meeting of the MSF team to discuss any violence that happened overnight in Gaza and the broader area and to discuss movements of the staff throughout the day. Since the Gaza strip is small (about 25 miles (41 km) long and 3.7-7.5 miles (6-12 km) wide for a total of 139 square miles (360 square km)), our staff live throughout the territory and are knowledgeable about any incidences.
Most days we hear about small skirmishes or issues that occurred overnight. Often it is the navy shooting at the fisherman as they stray outside of the designated boundaries. Sometimes it’s a shooting by masked men and occasionally there is family related violence reported. Other times we learn of planned demonstrations. We modify our activities and driving routes to avoid areas close to the conflicts.
Last weekend the walking boundaries for international staff were extended to include about 25 blocks. This is a welcome change to the two blocks we were limited to when I arrived. Outside of that area, we must request permission to go, a car and a driver. When we go to busy areas such as the old city or the market, our driver escorts us as they know the area well, help us communicate (my Arabic is limited to Hello and Thank You) and, most importantly, can get us to safety if trouble arises. Some areas of Gaza (such as the beach) still remain off limits due to the ERWs (explosive remnants of war).
The rules don’t seem to impede our ability to have fun and get around. Our weekend fun has included many lovely dinners (including with a beautiful view of the sea), trips to the market, and tours of local religious sites (the Great Mosque of Gaza, a Greek Orthodox Church, and a Catholic Church). It’s been fun getting out and about and seeing the sights and experience a little of life in Gaza.