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Julie Webb-Pullman--Gaza: Khan Yunis revisited

Gaza: Khan Yunis revisited

Julie Webb-Pullman
September 17, 2011

When Kia Ora Gaza was in Gaza almost a year ago, some of the team visited poor families and orphans in Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Yunis.

At that time I reported on the dire situation faced by families there, some of whom had been living in these conditions since 1948.

Yesterday I returned. The intervening year has not seen an improvement, but rather, even more homeless, living in even worse conditions, as a result of even more attacks by Israel, compounded by that state’s refusal to permit the necessary building materials in to replace the houses they have been destroying for over 60 years now.

UNRWA has managed to construct apartment shells but they stand empty, unable to be completed because of lack of materials, while next to them homeless families have cobbled together shelters on vacant government land – shelters they must leave before winter because the land is lower than the surrounding area, and when it rains, these paths become rivers flowing around – and through – their ‘homes’. Besides which, many have no glass in the windows, and the roofs are merely sheets of iron held down with chunks of broken concrete salvaged from the rubble, providing about as much protection from the rain as a colander.

I visited a woman widowed by Operation Cast Lead, and her four children, who, along with everyone else here, must find another place to live before winter arrives. She will be competing with many thousands more for the few residences available – leading to serious overcrowding. Another woman, also widowed by Operation Cast Lead, lives, eats, sleeps with her seven children in one room of her father’s house, a house they must share with 20 relatives. Yet another lives with her nine children in an unfinished government apartment block which Hamas made available as emergency housing for those left homeless by Operation Cast Lead, and now wants to complete – but cannot, because they are full of women like her, widowed, unemployed, and unable to pay rent for them, let alone buy them at the favourable rates offered.

In Gaza there are no single parent benefits, no dole, no sickness benefits – the small amount of taxes the government-under-siege is able to collect is quickly eaten up by providing the most basic necessities such as water, electricity, and cooking gas.

If it wasn’t for the Khan Yunis Islamic Society, a non-governmental organisation totally reliant on donations, these children would have no food, no clothing, no school books, and certainly no possibility of ever attending university. They and their families would have no opportunity to receive medical care and medicines, rehabilitation services or to travel abroad for necessary treatment.

In their attempt to ensure that the most poor and most vulnerable of Khan Yunis – orphans, poor families, people with disabilities and medical needs - do not become trapped in a cycle of poverty and deprivation, the Islamic Society delivers urgent relief, medical aid, welfare, social services, and rehabilitation programmes to ensure their integration into the community. For example some 30 orphans have all of their living and educational expenses paid, and they run nine kindergartens in Khan Yunis, to enable all children begin school with basic literacy and numeracy, as well as social skills.

I visited the largest kindergarten, Toyor Al-Jana, directed by two women. They run two sessions a day, with 190 children attending the morning session, and 180 attending in the afternoon. Classes have 20 children in each, but space has become such a problem that an outside storage shed has had to be converted into a classroom.

Because so many of their students suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have other special needs resulting from their survival of aerial attacks, ground invasions, and the bombing and shelling of their homes, as well as witnessing the deaths of family members and friends, the Society is very keen to identify and implement international best practice for this special needs group, in order to provide the best services possible for these children and their families.

They therefore welcome not only international financial contributions to their programmes (such as for a much-needed shade-cloth or roof for the kindergarten playground), but also professional and academic collaboration, knowledge and skill-sharing, to help them achieve the most positive impact physically, psychologically, socially and educationally, to produce productive and active members of society.

In what has become my most common reaction in Gaza, I left Khan Yunis amazed by the resilience of the people who continue to struggle against such enormous odds, and the children who, despite the horrors they have witnessed and the hardships they continue to suffer, can still smile and have fun, as this video shows.

*Any kiwis wanting to help Khan Yunis orphans, either by donating to their programmes or by collaborating in the development of best practice for this particularly vulnerable population group, can contact the Khan Yunis Islamic Society directly at

New UNRWA housing in the background, houses constructed from rubble in the foreground

overlooked by the remains of the shelled-out apartments no longer habitable.

This street becomes a river when it rains, flooding all the houses.

The black hose is the water supply…

…for this solo mother, here with 3 of her 4 children.

One room is home for this widow and her 7 children…

while another with 9 can't afford to pay rent,

or buy the unfinished apartment they live in.

At least the kids can go to kindy

although it desperately needs shade.


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