Coming up to one of the makeshift homes of a Palestinian family inside a warehouse in the Gaza Strip, Omar Fathy Gragee tells us he would love to let us inside, but his wife had just had a baby, with no electricity, running water, food or supplies. I asked Gragee how he and the 30 others of his family from Shejaiya were surviving. He said: “We are trying to get whatever we can from people.”
Similar scenes have become all too common within Gaza as some 220,000 internally displaced Palestinians have fled their homes since war broke out. But a local grassroots organisation called We All Gaza is attempting to provide much-needed food, water, clothing and supplies to the people of Gaza.
Two friends, Moamin Salamah Abu Ewaida and Ahmed Wakil, founded We are Gaza after recognising the need to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians who were losing their homes and loved ones, and who could no longer feed themselves or provide for their families. Ewaida says when the war began, he focused on spreading awareness of the humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians. “One day I noticed [a tweet about] ‘Gaza Under Attack’ had reached around 140 million people, and [I thought] if I kept using social media I could make people aware of the problem, and my message soon began to focus on the troubling humanitarian issue.”
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Ewaida began to spread the word through Facebook and Twitter that he and Ahmed were starting a group called We All Gaza, hoping to reach out to the millions of people transfixed by the war that was playing out on this small parcel of land. Locals and friends started donating money and food and giving whatever they could to help. “After that, some people started to believe in us … [and] … after I posted on Facebook a friend of mine told me to come to him and collect money from his family in Gaza to help,” Ewaida said.
Ewaida and Wakil risked their lives to go to the closest Western Union office to collect growing donations of cash. Western Union was the only reliable way they could get the funds, because whenever banks would open they were flooded with hundreds of people trying to get out what they could to survive, Ewaida says.
With the donated cash they initially bought food such as jam, cans of beans, cheese and bread from a local group known as From Gaza to Gaza, and distributed it to families stranded in buildings in the Tal al-Hawa area in the city. Ewaida says they have now put together standard care packages consisting of food, water and even underwear, which costs them about US$26, and they’ve also begun to deliver beds to families.
Last Sunday, they were set to deliver 15 of 70 beds they had for distribution. They had already delivered around 100 beds the previous day, and because of the great response wanted to hand out more. “We won’t hand them all out today because it is too dangerous for airstrikes in the night, and also when we go and hand them all out at once too many people come running to grab them and it’s a problem,” Wakil said.
Cramming some 70 beds into a white-and-blue Volkswagen Caravelle with dice hanging on the front window, they prepared to go to a group of families in the Tal al-Hawa area. Driving down the road on the way to the factory to pick up the beds, Ewaida and Wakil pointed to buildings that had been blown up by Israeli airstrikes. They say it is important to have local organisations like theirs to help the Palestinian people.
“This is Gaza,” Wakil said.
In the past seven years, Palestinians within Gaza have seen four wars, three of which were with Israel and one which was an internal dispute as Hamas took the area from Fatah. The wars have crippled the region, and Palestinians are calling bombs, airstrikes and death as “normal”.The crushing effect of the current seven-year blockade of Gaza by air, sea and land has also caused devastating shock to the internal economy and structure of the territory, and it has hindered humanitarian aid to the region.
When we arrived at one of the homes set to receive some beds, little children and old men slowly poured out from behind a cloth draped over an opening in one of the buildings. The women gleefully laughed and smiled as we asked to take pictures and urged their little ones to have their photos taken while showing the peace sign.
There were no visible toilets, cooking or food preparation areas, beds of any kind or even lights; it was just the families and what they were able to take from their homes as they fled from air strikes and bombs. Every family we went to was suffering under the same conditions — without food, without water and without anyone coming to help them.
“This is why we are helping. Look at this, it’s horrible,” Wakil said.
As the day came to an end and all the beds had been given away, Wakil and Ewaida’s brother gave toys away to some children who had been playing with old tyres as the sun came down. As they were handing the toys out, children rushed around in a frenzy. The ones who were lucky enough to get a toy scurried out the front door of the building and immediately began to play with one another as we could hear the sound of drones circling in the sky.