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Humanitarians at risk: a testimony from the Gazan wreckage

Saber Ashor sits in front of his house in the Annaser neighbourhood of Gaza. His house was hit by Israeli shelling in late July 2014. Photo by Saber Ashor

This post is part of our 'Humanitarians at risk' series, dedicated to World Humanitarian Day taking place on 19 of August. The series features testimonies of humanitarians around the world who risk their lives daily, while saving those of others. World Humanitarian Day is our opportunity to recognise the personal sacrifice made by humanitarian professionals and pay tribute to those who were injured or killed while doing their job.

Saber Ashor joined EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) in 2008 before the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ war. Saber has witnessed three wars in less than six years. Just a week ago Saber’s house was partially damaged by an Israeli airstrike that hit his neighborhood, Annaser, in Gaza.

Nowhere is safe

When the strikes on Gaza started in the middle of the night of the 7 July, my wife and I moved our eight children to the basement of the house which we thought was secure. It was difficult during the bombardment to stay in the house. My house is located and surrounded by open fields and space which were heavily targeted by Israeli jets and naval shelling. Nobody was able to move in the entire Gaza strip and we stayed within an area of 25m² for the first 10 days of the war with limited supplies of food and water. As the airstrikes continued on my area, I took advantage of a truce to move my family to Rafah in the south to stay with my extended family for a week. During this time I witnessed the most horrible attack on civilians where more than 100 people were killed, most of them children and women who were fleeing their homes looking for safety.

There were 50 of us staying in same apartment for five days without water and electricity, and without any communication facilities. Totally disconnected from the world and not knowing our fates. One of the safe options that we considered was the nearest UNRWA school. But before we decided to move the school was shelled by Israeli jets which resulted in a huge number of innocent people being killed.

When a ceasefire was announced, I decided to take the risk and move back to Gaza city rather than staying in the south. I came back to my home but the whole neighbourhood had been severely hit and I found my house damaged. We are currently staying at my brother-in-law's house.

Humanitarian workers are at risk

Being a humanitarian worker I used to listen to people's stories and help them through ECHO's projects. Now I have become a vulnerable person myself and a victim of the conflict. 

Ambulances that came to help the wounded in the UNRWA school were hit and a humanitarian organisation that came to deliver humanitarian assistance like food and water to our area was not able to reach us due to heavy shelling. There was a high risk for all the people in Gaza. Nobody was able to move including humanitarian workers and medical staff.

Six years with ECHO, witnessing three wars

Working conditions in Gaza are difficult in an escalating conflict. Aside from work-related challenges, while working with ECHO I witnessed three wars in Gaza. This one is the worst. I want to go back to my normal life and follow up with partner organisations which support the most vulnerable. But I am unable to as my family and I are displaced without access to basic services. We are homeless at the moment and if the negotiations fail we will have nowhere to go. My children, like other Gazan children, have witnessed so much and need immediate psychosocial support.

Interviewed by Fadwa Baroud AbedRabo
Gaza-Jerusalem Aug 2014

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