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Report from Gaza City

West Bank and Gaza, November 20, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Isdud Al Najjar manages Mercy Corps' programs in Gaza. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps  </span>
    Isdud Al-Najjar, our program manager in Gaza, helps pack a truck outside her house in Gaza City headed to families displaced by Israeli strikes in January 2009. Mercy Corps delivered the $7,000 worth of mattresses, blankets, powdered milk and other relief items to a UN school in Jabaliya. Photo: Mercy Corps

Isdud Al-Najjar usually spends her days managing Mercy Corps programs in Gaza that range from offering afterschool activities to paying people to rebuild farm roads. But the 36-year-old mother of three has spent the last week hunkered down in her Gaza City home. I spoke to her around 7:30 p.m. local time about the situation there, how it's impacting her and our programs, and her thoughts on when this latest round of violence might end.

What happened today in Gaza?
The violence is still increasing. There's still shelling from the F-16s, hitting civilians, hitting children. The situation is very tense.

We haven't been to the office since the first day of the war. All the government offices and institutions are shut down. No one is going to work. Life is almost paralyzed. If anyone is outside, he could be killed because of the shelling due to his movement.

Did anyone in your family leave the house today?
Today none of my family members left the house. Yesterday my husband just went to the mini market, about 15 meters away from the house. During that time, the Israelis shelled the harbor. And my house is very close to the beach. So we're limiting our movement just to the mini market.

What's the effect of the airstrikes on our programs?
We have had to suspend all of our activities. We have psychosocial and afterschool programs for children. We have economic development programs for youth to get technology training. We have cash-for-work programs, where households earn money by building roads, cleaning up public spaces, and they are not able to do so. These were all put on hold. All of our seven partners also suspended their work, too.

Has the shelling been just as bad at night?
It's day and night. It's nonstop, uninterrupted air strikes. Since the 16th.

In addition to shelling from F16s, you have shelling from tanks close to green line, and they started to shell some targets from the sea. So in some cases you end up with three kinds of shelling, but most of the time it's the F-16. Shelling houses, vehicles, motorcycles ... it kills children just playing inside their houses.

How are you getting your news?
When the electricity is on, we have the television, and we have the Internet. We are turning on both and listening to both. And we are receiving text messages from different security agencies about what is taking place. When the electricity is out, some of us could put generators on, and if we're out of fuel, we're using mobile radios.

Are you receiving the same amount of electricity as before?
Yes. Here in Gaza City, it's eight hours on, eight hours off as usual. Some people have generators, those who can afford fuel. In the south, it might be 12 hours on, 12 hours off, but I've heard they've had some problems.

How is the supply of food, fuel and other essentials?
For the time being, we can say food stocks are okay, because U.N. has a stock for distributing food for 800,000, and the World Food Program is providing food for around 300,000. This could last for 10 days.

Right now, we can buy food from stores around us. But if there is an Israeli ground invasion, this would affect imports, and we would be out of grain, out of flour, and this will start the food crisis.

What might Mercy Corps do to help families there?
We are doing an emergency needs assessment for families who've been affected. Also, we've had a meeting with our seven partners. In case the situation remains the same or deteriorates, then Mercy Corps will shift our program to humanitarian response. We'll be responding to needs on the ground for people displaced from their houses because they were destroyed, or who had to leave because it was unsafe. We'll distribute essential non-food items and coordinate our response with other partners and U.N. clusters.

How has this round of violence been different for you than what took place four years ago (in Operation Cast Lead)?
Seeing the children die in front of your eyes, where their houses fall down on their heads. And the civil defense people have to dig to find these small bodies burned. It's so awful. I hardly can sleep. Because during the night I'm just looking at my kids and praying that I will not lose any of them. For me, being a mother, I’m looking at the faces of my children every minute. I cannot guarantee they will be alive for the next second. I may be losing one of them.

How are your children holding up?
I'm trying to keep them from seeing these photos, but they have been watching the stories. I wasn't able to prevent them from watching. But not the awful pictures, because that will affect them. My oldest one, she is almost 11 1/2, is asking a lot of questions about when this will stop.

What's your hope that this will stop soon?
Well, today we heard that a ceasefire will be announced shortly, and then nothing happened. Two hours ago we heard that almost a truce has been agreed to. But you hear the shelling now. So the news is contradictory.

We are hoping, we are praying, to put an end to this violence, because we've had enough. One day is equal to 10 years of fear and worry. For me, there is no coping mechanism. This war kills children. We are praying that this truce will be a truce, because we cannot bear it anymore.