Like every year around the end of the month of Ramadan, men in Gaza flock to their neighbourhood barbershops to groom themselves for the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday. The 28th of Ramadan 2021 (10 May) was no different. Muawiyya Wahidi was on his way to open his barbershop in spite of the violence that had already started in Gaza. It would be a decision that would change his life forever.
“Despite the start of the conflict, I went to my shop thinking that [the conflict] would end, or at least be limited and that men would go to the barbershop like every year to get ready for Eid,” he recalls. “It was a calm and normal day, or so I thought. Everything collapsed the moment a car next to my shop was bombed, killing at least five civilians.”
As it turns out, that day would be the first of an 11-day round of hostilities in Gaza – the gravest since 2014 – that would ultimately cost 261 Palestinians their lives. Muawiyyah describes the scene that followed the bombing:
“My neighbour, who works as a tailor, was standing at the door of his shop at the time of the bombing. His cousin, who was standing next to him, was killed immediately. My neighbor was still breathing, so I pulled him away from the smoke and took him to a pharmacy next to us to wait for an ambulance to arrive. As we were walking, he fell to the ground and blood started coming out of his mouth. I sat next to him to ease his pain with some words and, after a few seconds, another missile hit us directly. Sometimes I look at it as a miracle. I mean, the missile was headed straight for me, but it passed through my feet and penetrated the ground.”
In spite of sustaining severe injuries, 42-year-old Muawiyya, a father of two, was incredibly lucky. He was one of the survivors. “I could not believe I was still alive,” he recalls. Yet, his road to recovery would be long and painful. “After my injury, I underwent 38 surgeries. The doctors amputated my right leg and removed shrapnel from the rest of my body. Now the bone in my left leg is frayed and has to be amputated because it needs a complex surgery that cannot be performed in Gaza. I tried several times to get a referral for treatment abroad, but unfortunately it did not work,” he explains.
Muawiyya’s leg was not the only thing he lost. His house and his barbershop were also badly damaged and, with them, his livelihood. Since then, his life has been a continuous struggle - having to deal with his injury, on the one hand, and trying to follow through with repairs to his house and his barbershop, on the other. Only then will he be able to regain his source of income and provide food and clothing for his children.
Like in the case of Muawiyya, hundreds of homes and vital infrastructure were destroyed or damaged, basic services were severely disrupted and tens of thousands displaced during those 11 days of unrelenting violence that ravaged the Gaza Strip.
“I’ve been working as a barber for 25 years. The barbershop was everything for me - my dream, my future and my only source of income. I hated being disabled, so I started surfing the internet, looking for ways to cope with my injury as a barber,” he says, determined to go back to work. “I found that my salon needs to be refurnished with lots of equipment and special devices are needed so I can work again with my disability. I do not wish for much and I am not looking to make a big profit. I only want to be able to provide daily needs for myself and my family.”
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), during the 11-day hostilities in Gaza, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children and 41 women. Of those fatalities, 130 were civilians. Some 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including 685 children and 480 women, some of whom, like Muawiyya, may suffer a long-term disability requiring rehabilitation.
UNRWA continues to assist Palestine refugee families impacted by the hostilities through rental subsidies and integration packages. In addition, the Agency distributed one-time cash assistance of US$ 40 per person, to some 21,000 vulnerable families to help cover their most immediate needs. Recently, UNRWA began the reconstruction of damaged or destroyed houses through a self-help approach. Reconstruction payments were provided to families, who in turn supervised the process of reconstruction.