Compounded War Against Marginalized Groups in Gaza
Disabled women as an example
Written by: Wafaa Al-Arouri
In its relentless efforts to project an alleged humanitarian image detached from reality, Israel exploits disability within settlements. Under the banner of “You’re in Good Hands”, it allocates social and economic privileges to those living with disabilities.
But in the current ongoing war on Gaza, which began on October 7, 2023, Israel’s lies and claims are unraveling one after another.
Despite the apparent comprehensive medical care and easy access to medications and treatments for people with disabilities within Zionist society, promoted under the guise of coexistence and justice, the brutal occupation forces are indiscriminately bombarding Gaza. Everyone, especially those with disabilities, faces the threat of death under the rubble, as their disabilities prevent their escape.
Since the beginning of the war, people with disabilities in Gaza endure inhumane conditions, amidst a lack of medications specific to their needs. Survivors are also exposed to causes of physical disabilities, whether through limb amputations or chronic physical injuries.
Alone during the war
While the occupation offers financial incentives to companions of individuals with disabilities in Zionist society, it simultaneously inflicts daily compounded suffering on those with disabilities in Gaza. These individuals have not only endured the loss of family members who once supported them but also revealed the purported concern for individuals with disabilities within Israel as mere propaganda for the occupation.
Meet Maysoun Jalal from Fakhoura in northern Gaza, a woman with partial visual impairment since birth. At 35, with a child under 3, she found herself playing the roles of both mother and father simultaneously.
Tragedy struck when her husband became a martyr due to intense shelling on Fakhoura, claiming the lives of 38 family members. Maysoun, having sought refuge at her sister’s house in a nearby neighborhood, awaited her husband’s arrival after a brief job promise. However, the occupation’s missiles were faster. The automated response from his mobile phone echoed, “The requested person cannot be reached at the moment.”
Recalling the traumatic experience, Maysoun states, “The explosion was deafening. I wandered through the streets in a daze, navigating the bombardment from one alley to another until reaching the hospital. Upon witnessing my shattered mental state, the medical staff denied me entry to identify my husband’s body. They claimed he was not among the bodies received, despite twenty martyrs’ remains being there by then. The count of missing martyrs had reached 38.”
Catering for the critical case of Disability: a luxury during war
Maysoun continues, “On the following day, while awaiting the completion of the Civil Defense crews’ work in the area, my brother from Khan Younis came to take me, risking himself. The family understood the challenging situation I found myself in with my only child, especially as a person with a disability. We hastily fled the bombardment, taking only our clothes and leaving everything behind.”
In a small tent on the roadside near the warehouses of Rafah, Maysoun and her son currently reside with 25 members of her family. In this cramped sapce, she spends nights listening to the cries of her 3-year-old son, who pleads for both food and his deceased father.
Maysoun elaborates, “Women with disabilities have greater needs than others, which are neither provided nor considered a priority in times of war. For instance, I require special medications for my eyes, which have been unavailable since the beginning of the war. Not taking them increases the intensity of my pain.”
I broke my glasses during displacement, and I can’t see without them. This makes my life darker, more obscure, and foggy. I couldn’t afford to get new glasses amid the war. Acquiring new glasses is considered a luxury compared to other essential needs.
Women with disabilities have been suffering greatly since the war’s inception due to the unavailability of assistive tools. Those with mobility disabilities face significant challenges using bathrooms, given that most shelter centers and displacement locations are not accommodating.
Maysoun highlights, “The queues for water, bread, and bathrooms make no distinction between individuals with disabilities and others. Everyone waits in line, regardless of disabilities and the challenges of standing and waiting for an extended period.”
In times of war, “there are no designated lines or bathrooms for people with disabilities, and neither are there sufficient medicines nor suitable places to sleep.”
Gender discrimination haunts women with disabilities in Gaza
When we specifically address women with disabilities, we are talking about a category that is more marginalized and prone to discrimination in any society. What is the situation for those living with disabilities in Gaza, especially during the war?
This is something Maysoun has felt repeatedly, particularly during the distribution of in-kind and financial aid. She and her son are not classified as a “family” because there is no man with them. Often relegated to the sidelines, Maysoun took matters into her own hands by directly approaching aid distributors. At that time, she asserted her right to food, drink, and bedding. However, according to her, priority in aid distribution favors those with connections and influence.
“Even when I requested a mattress for myself and my son and pointed out that I have a disability, the aid distributor at UNRWA mocked me.” “I see you standing on your feet; what disability do you have?” Maysoun recounted how the aid distributor lacked any responsibility or appreciation for her unique situation.
Maysoun denounced the fact that her son was not considered an orphan in the simple aid for children, because he only lost his father. Then she wondered: Did she also have to die so that her son could satisfy his hunger?
People with disabilities at the end of the lifeline
Individuals with disabilities not only found themselves at the bottom of the list when it came to receiving aid but were also last in line for survival opportunities amid the bombings and destruction.
Since the war’s onset, dozens, and possibly hundreds, of individuals with mobility disabilities have tragically lost their lives. Their inability to escape and that there was no one to carry them out of the rubble were contributing factors.
Nour Arshi, a survivor living with mobility disabilities, shares her story with “Sharika Wa Laken”: “Had it not been for my father and brothers pulling me from under the rubble, the civil defense and ambulance wouldn’t have reached me. I would have remained buried beneath the debris.”
At the age of thirty, Nour, born with a mobility disability resulting from her mother inhaling bomb fumes launched by the occupation, ironically faced the threat of losing her life due to the same occupation’s shelling.
Surviving the bombing. Is it really a “survival”?
Nour survived the bombing, yet the war’s psychological aftermath continues to cast its shadow over her life. Once residing in a meticulously adapted family home designed to facilitate her every need, she now finds herself navigating through shelter centers that lack essential accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
This shift has not only left a profound psychological impact on Nour but mirrors the plight of thousands of individuals with disabilities in Gaza. These individuals grapple with the harsh psychological and living conditions imposed by the war, forced displacement, and the scarcity of medications, treatments, and assistive tools.
Take, for example, Nour’s loss of her wheelchair due to the bombing of her house. Her plea for a replacement echoed on Facebook, shedding light on the plight of those facing complete paralysis, robbed of hope by the ravages of war. She emphasized their desperate need for assistance from those around them.
Nour drew attention to the additional psychological strain caused by the unavailability of water for individuals with disabilities.
In a heartfelt appeal, she urged institutions dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities to open their centers in Gaza for the displaced. Such centers, being purposefully adapted, would offer a significantly better environment than the makeshift tents currently provided.
At least 6,000 have fallen into the realm of disability due to war
We spoke to Haneen al-Sammak, a dedicated advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in Gaza. According to her, “After the recent aggression on Gaza, the percentage of people with disabilities in Gaza’s society increased as a result of the war. However, the magnitude of this increase cannot be known or estimated until after the war is over and at least 6 months have passed.”
“Disabilities do not appear immediately after surgery, and it takes time to know if the patient has a disability,” she explained. “Disability is only defined in the case of amputation of the leg or hand.”.
According to Sammak, “Preliminary estimates indicate that more than 6,000 people have had one of the upper or lower limbs amputated so far.”
Delving into the challenges faced by people with disabilities in shelter centers, Al-Sammak indicated that “the needs vary based on the nature of the disability. However, those with intellectual disabilities face particularly challenging circumstances in this war. They are not receiving the necessary assistance or provided with an accommodating environment. This is coupled with the struggle to comprehend the altered reality and the profound impact of losing family members or being displaced to unfamiliar territories.
Similar hardships are experienced by individuals with hearing impairments, who endure discrimination and marginalization from both fellow displaced individuals and the administrations of shelter centers. The lack of a universally understood communication language and the inability to convey clear messages through sign language exacerbate their predicament.”
Regarding mobility disabilities in select UNRWA-affiliated shelter centers, Al-Sammak highlighted, ‘A specific class has been designated to accommodate men and women with mobility disabilities, contingent upon the preparedness of the respective shelter center. However, this provision represents a modest percentage when viewed against the broader constraints faced by shelter centers.”
Disability deepens needs
Al-Sammak states, “Individuals with disabilities face pressing challenges, including lack of sanitary diapers and a noticeable absence of dedicated health facilities tailored to their needs. The restroom facilities initially allocated for their use have now been repurposed into bathing spaces for the displaced population, given their larger capacity.
Moreover, those with disabilities grapple with issues concerning nutrition and access to medications and are treated like other non-disabled displaced individuals, while some specifically require medications tailored to their disabilities and related injuries.
“The biggest problem faced by women with disabilities is that there is an increasing suffering in terms of privacy,” she said.
She points out that, regrettably, “only a handful of institutions persist in their efforts to support individuals with disabilities during the ongoing war. Despite initial needs assessments, the services provided fall significantly short of meeting the comprehensive requirements of this vulnerable group.”
Ghaida Al-Sarhanah, a psychological therapist, explains the profound impact of the war on individuals with disabilities. “Psychological disorders, including acute stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, are prevalent. Additionally, delirium and various cognitive-emotional disorders are observed.”
“This demands urgent intervention to address the overall mental health catastrophe in Gaza, with a specific focus on the individuals with disabilities in particular.”
Disability in the context of greater war
The challenges faced by women with disabilities in Gaza are not independent of the wider suffering inflicted by the ongoing Zionist war on the diverse population of the region. Yet, their struggle is uniquely compounded by the pervasive marginalization and discrimination experienced by this specific group. The profound need for enhanced privacy, driven by their biological necessities and bodily uniqueness, accentuates the obstacles they confront.
Access to services in Gaza, while undoubtedly arduous, proves somewhat more manageable for men with disabilities than for their women counterparts.
Regrettably, the prospect of alleviating the suffering of these women seems improbable without a definitive cessation of the war. Such a pause is indispensable to empower them to reclaim the rights unjustly taken away by the occupation. Furthermore, societal discrimination exacerbates the repercussions on these women, necessitating a comprehensive resolution to mitigate its effects on them.