As Saturday morning unfolds for many of us, bustling with the anticipation of a busy weekend leading up to Christmas, we navigate the familiar routines of showering and preparing for the day. We hope that our family members, partners, or roommates haven't claimed the shower ahead of us – a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of our lives.
Now, picture a different scenario. Imagine approaching the shower, only to find a queue of 2,000 people ahead of you, all struggling for the same basic necessity. Tensions run high, and the concern for hygiene grows as you notice fellow queuers suffering from respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. Some display symptoms of more severe conditions, such as yellowing of the skin and eyes, sparking worry about the possible presence of hepatitis.
In this disconcerting moment, you grapple with the unsettling realisation that you have no assurance of the shower’s cleanliness or its potential impact on your health after thousands of poorly individuals have used it before you. The terror of uncertainty takes hold. However, this is just a fraction of the terror you’ve experienced over the past months.
This unsettling scene, however, is not a mere imagination. It is the harsh reality faced daily by the people of Gaza. Unlike us, they don’t get to wake up without fear, surrounded by the comforts of routine. Their version of preparation doesn’t involve choosing outfits or festive jumpers; instead, it’s a struggle for survival amidst rubble and destruction.
The dire circumstances facing the people of Gaza, which would have traditionally triggered swift humanitarian responses from international organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations, now persist without the urgent aid that was once commonplace. A pivotal component of these responses would have entailed a critical hygiene intervention, addressing the current disease hazard arising when 2,000 people are forced to share a single bathing source.
Institutions like the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) emphasise the unprecedented scale of destruction in Gaza, yet the humanitarian community’s response remains noticeably absent.
The scale of devastation surpasses the comprehension of even those accustomed to working in war-torn regions. So, why this apparent inaction?
Several factors contribute to this troubling situation. Firstly, stringent restrictions dictate what supplies can enter Gaza, including essential items such as fuel, tents, medical supplies, and waste management materials. This list is far from exhaustive, as numerous other crucial items face entry prohibitions.
Secondly, the Rafah Crossing in Egypt, barely operational and the sole functioning border entry point, sees a drastic reduction in the number of trucks allowed into Gaza. Previously, about 500 trucks entered daily to meet the needs of the 1.6 million people registered as refugees with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA). Today, with the region on the brink, fewer than 100 trucks gain approval to cross the border daily. A drop in the ocean when considering the scale of aid necessity for the region – this alarming decline in aid delivery is underscored by recent desperate scenes of civilians scrambling onto trucks for provisions in moments of urgent need.
A new UN report reveals that 576,600 people have depleted food supplies in the region, facing catastrophic hunger, and agencies warn that Gaza’s 2.3 million population is at “imminent risk of famine”.
The third impediment to progress lies in restrictions preventing humanitarian aid workers from entering Gaza. Consequently, local and international aid agencies must rely on Palestinian staff within Gaza, who themselves are beneficiaries, to deliver the limited aid that manages to break through.
The situation in Gaza is getting more desperate by the day, despite the presence of International Humanitarian Law, the law of war, which has existed since the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Under international humanitarian law, Israel is required, as the occupying power, to ensure the basic needs of the population of Gaza are met, including food and water, medicine and heating and children who have lost limbs due to the bombing operations are supposed to be provided with life-saving health care quickly.
Sadly, the law of war has been forgotten.
Fortunately, the humanitarian community and the Parliamentarians of Ireland have not overlooked the crisis, and the Department of Foreign Affairs is urging Israel to uphold humanitarian law in Gaza. Humanitarian aid workers are pinning their hopes on Parliamentarians to broker an immediate and sustained ceasefire and secure permission for trucks and personnel to enter Gaza, enabling them to initiate life-saving efforts. Until then, as we go about our morning routines, stepping into the shower, we can’t help but contemplate the stark contrast between our daily concerns and the harrowing reality faced by those sharing bathrooms with 2,000 others in Gaza this Christmas.
Regional Director, GOAL Middle East