Gaza - stories from the field

Stories from the field: Gaza

Our Gazan colleague Eman Alagha talks about life and work on the front line.

By Action Against Hunger

Aug 28 2014

My name is Eman Alagha, I am 33 years old and a mother-of-three (pictured below). I have a daughter Malak, aged 11, and two sons, Hesham, 9, and Omar,1, respectively.

I am also a humanitarian worker and head of  Action Against Hunger’s food security project in Gaza, where I live. 

The recent war was the third I have lived through during the last six years. I number the wars without labelling them first or last because I believe that this will never be the last one. May be it’s the hardest, but it’s not the last.

I was watching the media carefully one week before the official announcement of the recent operation, trying to convince myself that politicians would find a political solution to protect Gaza from facing [the situation] again.”

Balancing life and work during war

During the conflict, I tried to balance three roles while surviving the hard nights. 

The first, with my husband, was to ensure my children had food, water and safe shelter. Every day I discovered I was wrong, that the place I had chosen was not the safest. I did this in coordination with my husband.

My second role was to manage part of Action Against Hunger’s emergency intervention in Gaza,  delivering aid to the most vulnerable, those who had been directly affected by the conflict. It was hard sometimes to sustain the strength needed to do this, but I did so knowing that even if I was facing this situation, I was still in a much better position than others.

The third and the hardest part was to provide emotional support to my children, even when it was so difficult to do so. I was responsible all the time for minimizing their fears, even when they had stopped believing me. 

Children are so smart: they know if you are telling the truth or just easing their fear. But they aren’t smart enough to face the daily nightmares they faced. They aren’t smart to understand why they are facing this. And they weren’t strong enough to hear people screaming and running down the street every day after their houses were destroyed by massive bombing.

Living in Fear

My biggest fear was to lose one of my family members. I was praying all the time for that not to happen. I was going deeply into my soul every single minute, asking myself if I was strong enough, as most people thought, to face what I was facing. I asked if I should be used to this, having endured three wars in six years.  

Was I strong enough to lose one of my children? I am not, I was not, I cannot.  I couldn’t understand how some people seemed so strong in front of the camera when they were talking to journalists about losing their families. 

I still don’t understand why I can’t live like any other woman around the world.

One of the hardest moments was when my baby got sick and I couldn’t reach a doctor by phone. My Husband took him and refused to take me too, because somebody had to stay with the other children. 

Three minutes after they left I heard a huge bombing and it was mentioned in the media that the location of the attack was near the doctor’s clinic. I couldn’t reach him by phone. 

Ten minutes passed. I didn’t have the ability even to cry, to talk, even to move. All I could think was that it was my fault. Then the phone rang and my daughter answered, screaming ‘Mammy, mammy they are ok.’ At this moment I started to cry like a baby.

Another moment which I cannot forget was when my parents evacuated to my home. The ground invasion was near to their home. There were  four airstrikes within 50 metres of my house within the first hour of their arrival.

Feeling responsible for them and my family was exhausting. I slept only two or three hours a night and spent those nights waiting for the sun. It gave you the first sign you were alive another day.

Being a Muslim, female and local aid worker

As a local humanitarian worker, I have never faced any serious problem with the local people’s attitudes that could affect my work. I can feel the respect when I deal with those benefiting from the support we provide. They always had encouraging words, especially as I was a married woman working in this domain.

In the Gaza Strip, even during hostilities, most people believe that humanitarian workers are here to help. If anything, people feel local workers can understand, express and explain their needs more than an expatriate. So, they prefer to talk to a local worker first.

Being a Muslim woman, Islam doesn’t prevent me from education, traveling around the world or even being on the front line of an international organisation. But traditions do. 

Many women are challenging this traditional view though and changing this picture. When they believe that they deserve this right they start defending it.

When I started working with Action Against Hunger our field work required me to drive a 4x4. I can say that I was the first one to do so in our area of intervention, and it was like a revolution for the community. 

Sometimes I was encouraged, while many times I wasn’t. But I was totally believed that this was my right at the time and that I didn’t harm anyone by taking that right. One year later, many women in the same or other fields were doing the same and the whole community has started to accept the idea.  

War's impact on women and children

I believe women and children were severely affected by the recent conflict. But in my opinion, the problem was not that women and children were targeted but that civilians in general were targeted. When we say that more than 70% of [those killed or injured] were civilians, this should not be accepted under any justification.
 
Gaza has endured massive destruction that exceeds the capacity of any humanitarian intervention. Three wars in six years with zero achievements. A generation psychologically damaged [by what has happened] and the future is just a matter of waiting for the next conflict.

Looking ahead

I don’t want to be pessimistic, but if the situation remains the same without any real solutions, Gaza will have no future. It is just a matter of time before we have the same conflicts again.

Palestinian women will continue to fight for their families’ basic needs, including dignity, freedom and security. Basic needs that people around the world are receiving by default. This situation will prevent any Palestinian woman from developing herself or getting better chances, and will keep her several steps behind the whole world for years or even decades to come.

Now and for the coming future, my only dream will be a safe place for my children, where they can hear the sound of birds instead of military planes, where they can get a real education instead of seeing thousands of dead bodies. 

Where they can enjoy playing in a park rather than seeing demolished houses every morning. Where they can play games rather than differentiate between different kinds of weapons. 

I have had that same dream several times.

boy drinks clean water in Occupied Palestinian Territory, where Action Against Hunger is providing life-saving support
boy drinks clean water in Occupied Palestinian Territory, where Action Against Hunger is providing life-saving support

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Photo credits:  © Eman, ACF Gaza & Eloise Ballack, ACF International