ISRAEL-OPT: Hotlines support Gaza residents
RAMALLAH, 15 January 2009 (IRIN) – Palestinians in Gaza, who are becoming increasingly traumatised as Israel’s bombardment of the tiny coastal enclave continues, are reaching out for psycho-social support via toll-free crisis-lines run by NGOs and aid agencies.
Residents have been trapped in their homes since the Israeli offensive began on 27 December 2008, without electricity and running water, while sanitation systems have collapsed. Some 56 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are children.
The telephone network – both land lines and the mobile phone network – has been severely damaged but it is still possible, for example, to dial 121 from a Jawal (Palestinian mobile phone company) phone and access the hotlines. Communications tend to improve at night when the number of calls increases.
One of the most popular crisis-lines is run by Sawa, meaning “together”, a Palestinian NGO in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
“We are receiving 200-250 calls per day,” its director, Jalal Khadar, told IRIN. His staff of 14 are working 24 hours a day to field the calls, which are treated confidentially.
Sami (not his real name), a 13-year-old from Rafah, called for support after he witnessed his three friends die in an aerial bombing near his home.
“I was playing with my friends when the plane attacked – they were cut to pieces,” Sami told the social worker fielding his call, according to a transcript Sawa retained from the call. “It would have been better to have died with them,” he said.
Social worker Abed Rahhal, 28, told IRIN: “We do our best to listen. About 70 percent of the callers are children and most children tell me they are afraid to die.”
“There is nowhere safe”
Rahhal also fielded a call from Hanan (not her real name), another 13-year-old from Rafah, after the house adjacent to hers was bombed, shattering the windows and doors of her home.
I was playing with my friends when the plane attacked – they were cut to pieces. It would have been better to have died with them.
Ten family members are staying in her grandfather’s home, she said, after Hanan’s family was forced to evacuate their home in Gaza City due to the shelling and bombing.
“We are dying – there is nowhere safe,” said Hanan over the phone. “We are so frightened.” IRIN was able to listen to Hanan’s call.
“I instruct the callers to take shelter in stairwells, or at least to stand together against the walls,” said Rahhal.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Gaza, is operating a 24-hour help-line offering support to residents. “Most parents report panic and fear amongst their children,” UNICEF spokesperson Monica Awad, based in Jerusalem, told IRIN.
World Health Organization (WHO) mental health officer Ragiah Abu-Sway, based in Jerusalem, told IRIN by phone: “The circling drones make people agitated and nervous. For sure this is psychological warfare.”