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Q&A with our program manager in Gaza

January 19, 2009

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Excerpts from my phone conversation today with Isdud Al-Najjar, our program manager in Gaza City:

What was the situation like today in Gaza City?
It's quieter than before, and it's safer. People everywhere were getting out of their houses, many of them who had left their houses (during the warfare) went back to see what had happened. Everybody was checking out the damage and destruction.

What was it like in your neighborhood?
We were gone for two days, until yesterday morning when we heard about the ceasefire from the Israeli side. In my neighborhood, there was not much destruction at all. But one close to mine, where there were Israeli tanks … it was awful. You cannot recognize the area.

The Mercy Corps office in Gaza City was open today for the first time since the fighting began on Dec. 26. How many people made it in?
Eight people, out of 25 staff. Many of those who didn't come in are working in Khan Younis (in Gaza's south) distributing food. Others are just now returning to their houses (that they had to leave during the fighting). It's still not 100-percent safe here. There are still warplanes in the sky, and we still hear shelling here and there.

How are the levels of basic supplies?
We had electricity at the office because we have a generator. But electricity is still unreliable. Most of the supermarkets and stores you can find almost everything. But we still have no cooking gas.

What is the greatest need right now in Gaza?
There are huge needs. People need everything — food, furniture, clothes, kitchenware, psychosocial assistance .... They need a place to live. People are back in their homes but they cannot recognize them, because of all the destruction. And there are thousands of people living in schools now.

You know we save all our lives to have a house in Gaza, and construction materials are very expensive. We hear these stories on the radio now: People who have been spending their lives building this house, or saving to buy this apartment. And then it comes to nothing after two minutes of shelling. They do not have anything. They just survive with their life.

What will Mercy Corps staff in Gaza focus on this week?
We will be organizing ourselves into two teams. One in the north, which first will be in Zaitoon and Jabaliya (two heavily damaged neighborhoods) delivering powdered milk and registering families for further relief distributions, and distributing plastic sheets to displaced families and families who have windows broken. And one in the south, in Khan Younis, which first will help package and distribute food to displaced families.

What is the mood there?
We are very disappointed and frustrated. We are very hopeless, actually. Most of the people now they are thinking of leaving Gaza. When you live in a place where you feel like you cannot protect your kids ... it's really an awful feeling. Life becomes so difficult. I don't know how we are going to recover from this. But still, we are coping, inshallah.