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The Guardian: Love and resistance in the Gaza Strip

To view original article, published in The Guardian Weekly on 22nd April 2008, click here

In an apparent softening of its position, Hamas has said it will accept a partial truce covering the Gaza Strip. But the lack of water, fuel and medicine has taken its toll and Palestinians continue to die of malnutrition and lack of medical resources. Mona el-Farra is a doctor and human rights activist working with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. She is also the author of From Gaza With Love, a blog through which she keeps the world abreast of conditions under the Israeli occupation

Doctor Mona el-Farra, top left, poses with a group of children in the Gaza Strip (photo first published in The Guardian)

I started writing in 2000 when my parents’ home was demolished by the Israeli occupation army at the beginning of this intifada. I felt strongly that I should tell people abroad about my personal experience and about what’s happening in Gaza under occupation.

As a doctor working in the field and living in Gaza I witnessed so many human rights violations and I wanted people to know about it. About two years ago some friends and supporters of the Palestinian cause in Britain encouraged me to start a blog because they thought that my message was strong, but I didn’t expect the reaction – the response was overwhelming. So I continued.

Gaza at the moment is a big prison, a very dire situation. Like all the community, most of the time I feel isolated, but by writing I feel that I am not alone. Other people in the world react to my writing, and I can see I am not alone – it is a sort of therapy for me.

Let me describe this morning for you. For more than four weeks now we haven’t had fuel in Gaza. I have completely run out and I walk to work. I walk about 6km – or more than that because I don’t only walk to work, I have other meetings and activities that I get to by walking. I have to wake up much earlier to get there on time. While walking to work today I saw many children, women and students. Everyone was walking and there were few cars on the street. It reminded me of the curfew. The Israelis are not inside Gaza now, they are outside, but they are still controlling us.

The streets are quiet, just people walking silently with grim faces. My walk is not safe or pleasant because the drones and fighters are in the sky and I can hear bombing and shelling. I don’t enjoy the walk – I feel danger. I feel for the patients who cannot reach the hospital. Many doctors, nurses and health workers come from areas outside the city – to them 6km is nothing. They cannot get to work and it is paralysing our life.

Gaza is a traumatised community. Of course there is hope for peace, but people cannot see any horizon. Most people are not working. In such situations, peace becomes more valuable to people. We hope that we can live with dignity and have normal lives like other people in the world, but we are exhausted and frustrated, and spend one day to the next not knowing what will happen. But we know very realistically that our life is difficult, that we are leading a very difficult life in Gaza.

Power is regular at the moment and Israel has announced it will allow fuel into the area, to the power station. But it is not enough. We are always under the threat that the power will cut off, and the generator is not enough to meet the needs of our regular routine work.

Power cuts affect the patients, like those on renal dialysis, as well as our daily routine in the operating room. Much of our high-tech equipment is out of order before its time, the CT machine has been ruined and the laboratory equipment’s results are not reliable. This is the case for all the health systems in Gaza. You cannot depend on them because of lack of resources and power cuts.

Because we don’t have a functioning health system we have to refer patients to other hospitals outside Gaza – children who need surgery, for example, or cancer patients who need chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The process of their referral is terribly difficult. Most of them don’t get permission to leave. Even if the hospital accepts my patient the army says: “No, this patient is allowed, that one is not allowed.”

It makes me angry and frustrated, but it doesn’t stop my enthusiasm to keep working. I’m not allowed to collapse: I’m an activist and I should continue supporting my people, my community, my patients, so it puts an extra burden on me. I feel the burden and sometimes I am tired – but not collapsed.

I believe it is my duty to do it. What keeps me going is that I feel all the time that people need me, or need my efforts. For example, I am trying to arrange for a new paediatric general surgeon to come to Gaza to carry out operations on children who cannot leave but are in urgent need of surgical intervention. If I succeed, many patients’ lives will be saved. It is the cause, the health cause, the humanitarian cause, that keeps me going.

I also coordinate work in cultural centres for children in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. I believe very strongly that these centres are important because they support children’s psychology through entertainment. Playing, dancing, painting, reading – these are important needs. OK, people are hungry in Gaza, but their psychology has collapsed; we need to help the minds of children through these activities. At least 65% of Palestinian children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome from living in war conditions.

Support from other parts of the world is very important – some people give, but it is not enough. However, if it comes directly to the children of Gaza, to the patients of Gaza, it is going to do a lot. On another level, it would help if people wrote to their members of parliament because nothing will change dramatically unless the politics are changed.

• Mona el-Farra is still looking for a paediatric surgeon. She can be contacted through her blog, fromgaza.blogspot.com. She was interviewed by Charlotte Baxter.