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In the Eye of the Storm

PRCS in Gaza

Courtesy of Palestine Red Crescent Society

More than seven months of the most brutal war on Gaza have left no past, present, or future in Gaza. Even we, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, protected under international law by the Red Crescent emblem, are not really protected, but rather directly, repeatedly, and deliberately targeted. We have lost 27 precious souls so far, 17 of them while on duty. Our hospitals and centers have been forced to stop functioning, our teams have been brutally arrested, our ambulances have been severely damaged, and we find no protection whatsoever anywhere in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City was forced out of service by Israeli attacks at the beginning of the genocide. The Israeli military repeatedly attacked Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Yunis, patients and staff were forcibly evacuated, and equipment was destroyed. At the moment, Al-Amal is only able to provide minimal services.

As with all national societies, however, leaving is not an option for PRCS teams. While we ourselves are displaced and have lost loved ones and belongings, we live the same trauma as all Gazans, relocating time and again, and innovating solutions to the direst of unimaginable situations.

Before October 7, there were 902 PRCS staff members – now down to 781 due to attrition, arrests, and martyrdom – and 3,224 volunteers. The challenges faced by our staff are the same as for all other civilians in Gaza. Before coming to work, team members must ensure that their families have water, food, and shelter. They often feel helpless as they cannot protect their families. Some endure the daily struggle of being on duty as paramedics after having to leave their families, not knowing if they will return, or if their families will be there if they do return.

Providing first aid to an injured infant in the Al-Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, Gaza City.

PRCS has lost 43 of its original ambulance fleet – 23 have been damaged by Israeli attacks and 20 taken out of service – but 30 new ambulances have been donated over the past 6 months. Only 20 ambulances operate daily across the Strip because of lack of fuel and access, mostly in the central and southern areas of Gaza. Poor roads and lack of fuel also impede the work, and numerous places are inaccessible since the Israelis declare many areas military zones as they move through the Strip. Even if we get calls from the wounded or actually hear their cries, we cannot access them. We try to coordinate our movement with the Israelis, but even when we succeed, our ambulances are often targeted. This terrible feeling of helplessness is excruciating. In Jabaliya, where we were forced to evacuate our emergency medical services (EMS) center after raids by the Israeli military, who also destroyed all but two of our ambulances, we established a medical post, which had to be evacuated as well. We now provide EMS and first aid at field points wherever our volunteers are. In Gaza City, the EMS center is no longer operating since it was besieged by Israeli forces and we were forced to evacuate.

The frequent communication blackouts compromise the effectiveness of our EMS operations. People cannot call the ambulance service, and we cannot reach or talk to those in need, so we attempt to locate the wounded as quickly as possible by focusing on the smoke and following the sounds of the bombs. In areas like Rafah, where our EMS centers and PRCS headquarters had to be evacuated, we strategically position our ambulances near hospitals and around the governorate at field points so that it is easier for teams to respond and get to the wounded as quickly as possible.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, 70 percent of whom are children and women. More than 1.9 million have been forcibly displaced, with around 70 percent of residential units destroyed, alongside massive destruction of all kinds of public infrastructure – hospitals, schools, and universities – simply every aspect of life. With constant bombardment, no place is safe in Gaza. The entire population of 2.3 million is now in need, and aid entry into Gaza has been a constant struggle, with an average of only 120 trucks a day, before the complete closure of the southern crossings 10 days ago.

Palestine and Egyptian Red Crescent teams distributed food parcels to displaced families at one of the PRCS-EGRC camps in the Mawasi area of Khan Yunis.

As a national society, people expect a lot from us, and we have many responsibilities yet almost no means. In such situations, our disaster risk reduction efforts and initiatives almost evaporate – except for human resources, our most precious asset.

The investment made over the years in our human resources has enabled staff, volunteers, and communities to support the ongoing response operations. Despite displacements, they always reach the nearest center or point of service and have been as innovative as possible with the scarcity of supplies. But things are never easy. We can organize shelter sites, set up tents, and plan the full sphere of standards, but we lack the necessary tools because they are either not available in the local market or not allowed entry by the occupying force. Awareness among the communities is also a challenge, as it is impossible to talk to people about hygiene and waterborne diseases when they can’t even find water, and when 3,000 internally displaced persons in a school have access to only 10 toilets.

Osama Tayeh, a PRCS EMT volunteer, carrying a wounded baby in northern Gaza. Osama was killed on December 4, 2023.

PRCS is responsible for receiving all assistance that comes through Rafah, while UNRWA manages the aid through Karem Abu Salem. For the first few months of the war, the only point of aid entry was through Rafah before the Israelis opened Karem Abu Salem. But the supply is not stable, and at the moment it has stopped completely. Our main partners in Gaza are UNRWA, OCHA, and WHO, with many local CSOs cooperating in food distribution.

We call on the international community to put an end to this war, to demand a permanent ceasefire that would allow us to move safely, and to pressure Israel to allow aid to safely reach all areas of Gaza. Even when the crossings were open before October 7, the number of trucks allowed to enter was not sufficient, which resulted in a very high level of food insecurity. Now, given that there is no longer any agricultural production at all and bakeries have been destroyed, we are all totally dependent on international aid.

From Aziz, a PRCS team member: On March 24, 2024, I lost my beloved brother Ameer, who was a PRCS volunteer for Disaster Risk Management. Ameer hadn’t left the operations room since October 7, and continued to serve in very dangerous circumstances. While he was inside Al-Amal Hospital, he was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper.

His killing was a shock. It was a coincidence that I was there at the time, since I’m normally located in Rafah. That night I was on mission at Al-Amal Hospital. And before I could comprehend what had happened, we were besieged by the tanks surrounding the hospital, with snipers shooting anyone in sight and forcing us to evacuate the hospital. Suddenly, in the midst of my shock and sorrow, I had to lead the team and even the internally displaced persons, patients and their families. In moments like these, we try to remind ourselves of all the things we’ve learned or worked on over the years. No one ever expects anything like this scenario, yet we must try to deal with it as best we can. We had to stabilize those who were injured, and we had to salvage what equipment we could – mainly the VHF system and the repeaters that the entire PRCS operations depend on. The evacuation process took more than 20 hours. We (30 people) had to make do with only 5 ambulances – to transport the bodies of the deceased, the patients, and the teams – and attempt to move through the destroyed streets. We were neither able to get out of the area nor to return to the hospital. We were under fire all the time. We believed that these were our last hours on this earth – heavy hours that moved very slowly. But eventually, with coordinated international efforts, we managed to reach Rafah.

The loss is immense. I cannot tell you that we have healed, nor that I have healed. Although we have survived physically, for now, healing is still remote. I hope that one day it will be possible.

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