Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat- The suffering of Palestinian families sheltering in the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East] schools as a result of the destruction committed by the Israeli army over a 22 day period will continue despite the current ceasefire. The reason for this is the complete destruction of hundreds of homes which have become completely uninhabitable. This also threatens the continuation of these schools as educational institutes until a solution can be found to this problem [of refugees].
Those displaced from their homes live a difficult existence and whatever care and aid that can be provided by the United Nations [UN] will certainly be below the levels required, not to mention that it is no substitute to the homes that these refugees have been forced to leave.
45-year-old Abu Luay, who supports a family of 11, was forced to take refuge in one of the UNRWA schools after he suffered injuries when an F-16 fired a missile at his neighbor’s home completely destroying it. He told Asharq Al-Awsat “The situation that we experienced from the destruction and devastation has forced us to leave our homes, and we had nowhere else to go other then the UNRWA schools after we lost everything.”
Abu Luay described life in the schools as difficult, “Many of the basic necessities are unavailable, for example a place to shower as we are afraid of catching skin diseases; we also suffer from a lack of heating and cold conditions.”
He added that some people are forced to cover themselves and sleep in the open-air as there is not enough space and the priority for sleeping in the rooms is given to the women and children.
Na’il Akasha, the director of a primary school in Northern Gaza Strip informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the school holds around 1370 individuals. Since the beginning of the military operation on the Gaza Strip UNRWA has opened its schools to shelter civilians from the Israeli bombardment.” He added that the situation is very bad, especially with regards to overcrowding. The director of the UNRWA school confirmed that “for the past 10 days the men have been sleeping in the open air passages in the bitter winter cold without blankets, and with only one meal rationed per day, until the arrival of enough aid.”
He went on to say that the situation was improving slightly after the arrival of humanitarian aid during the military campaign, but that the situation is bad in general, indicating the presence of children and patients in need of better care and rest. Na’il Akasha also revealed his fear of the spreading of skin diseases amongst the refugees due to the lack of bathing facilities, saying that since the first day they had sheltered at the UNRWA school they had been unable to bathe.
Imad Okal, the UNRWA Director of Operations in Northern Gaza revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “UNRWA has opened 16 centers to receive civilians whose homes were destroyed, which is around 18,000 people or more.” He added that the re-opening of the schools had been suspended because of the large number of civilians sheltering there at this time. He added that the shelling and direct targeting of UNRWA centers, such as the Al Fakhoura School and the Beit Lahia School, was one of the newest developments to upset the civilian population as the realized that there is no place in the Gaza Strip safe from Israeli shells, and that includes international institutions.
Adnan Abu Hasna, the UNRWA spokesman in Gaza informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the number of UNRWA centers has reached to 50 centers dealing with around 50 thousand citizens in the Gaza Strip.” He said “we are looking at how to provide them with an alternative so that they can return to work or school”.