"Everything's destroyed." Interview with a Gaza aid worker | ActionAid UK

As reports of renewed violence in Gaza reach the UK, ActionAid along with other Disaster Emergency Committee agencies continues to find ways to provide whatever help we can. Yesterday I spoke with Yasser Juma’ Mahmood Toshtash, who is coordinating ActionAid's emergency response inside Gaza.

Homes, streets and shops in Gaza have been destroyed.
The scale of destruction in Gaza

What can you tell me about life in Gaza at the moment?

Gaza has lost everything. Everything is completely destroyed. It is hell here. People have been killed on the street. Ambulances and fire trucks have been attacked. People could not even get assistance, to stop their bleeding.

The ceasefire started three days ago and we’ve been finding 10 to 20 dead people a day since then under the rubble. That includes bodies from a month ago. People are still searching for their loved ones under the rubble — their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and relatives.

When the planes attacked the cemetery, there were bodies flying over the roofs of the houses surrounding the cemetery. You can’t imagine the situation here. You can’t smell the situation here. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe.

How many people have lost their homes?

There are 187,000 people now living inside UN shelters and schools and other locations in Gaza. So many people are homeless. Imagine what it must be like if you work all your life to build a house for your children and suddenly you are living under a tent with no water, not enough food and no income for your family.

What infrastructure is left?

The water pumps have been destroyed and with it water supplies to houses. 80% of Gaza’s electricity has been destroyed and the main power station in the centre of Gaza has been destroyed.

How are children coping?

Children here are so traumatised. My own children are traumatised. They shout and cry when they hear the planes in the sky. Schools are due to reopen on 24th August, but I don’t know whether this will happen. 150 schools have been damaged.

We need psychosocial intervention, especially therapy for the children. We need playgrounds for our children to start tackling the trauma they’ve faced during this catastrophe.

How is ActionAid helping?

ActionAid has joined up with more than three partners – local organisations – in around five locations in the Gaza strip. For example we’re partnering with the Union of HealthCare Committees, through which we’ll help 500-600 people immediately.

We will be working with two churches in Gaza which have been sheltering women and children from Shejaya on the eastern border of the Gaza strip. There were 80,000 people living there and it’s been destroyed in the past two weeks from airstrikes, drone planes and tanks.

Women from local families will be registered with us to receive supermarket vouchers that they can spend on food and essential non-food items like soap, disinfectant and blankets. This is our preferred way of distributing aid because it helps people keep their dignity and ensures they receive precisely what they need. Plus it supports the local economy. They can buy anything except cigarettes, mobile phones, or cash.

We will be sending a message through our partners to the people of Gaza that they are not alone and ActionAid is here to help them.

What are you most afraid of at the moment?

Like many people I’m most worried about the future of my children. I am a father and I want my children to grow up in peace, knowing they have no enemies. I want my children to go to university and have a guaranteed future.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope that this bloodshed will stop as soon as possible. We are all praying to God to stop this bloodshed. We want to live in peace. We want to reopen our borders.

I am hoping for an international peace conference. The vast majority of people killed and affected here are civilians. So civil society is inviting international committees and human rights organisations to investigate on the ground.

I hope the world will stop investing its millions in weapons and destroying humanity and start spending it on developing our country.

Scale of the destruction:

  • 10,770 families’ (approximately 64,650 individuals) homes have been totally destroyed or heavily damaged.
  • 1,843 Palestinian people have been killed, including at least 1,354 civilians, of whom 415 are children and 214 are women.
  • Thousands of people are injured and being cared for in five or six hospitals in Gaza.
  • There are severe shortages with medical supplies especially disposables.

ActionAid is part of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and together we’ve launched a crisis appeal.

Further reading on Gaza: