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A girl born in Gaza a few weeks ago was called “Sedra” or “like a star” in Arabic because she gives hope to her family after a traumatic year like a star.

His mother, Mervat al-Buhtaimi, is one of the women whose pregnancies were affected by heavy bombardment of the area by Israeli forces in May.

The airstrikes began after Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem on May 10 and lasted for 11 days.

At least 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children, 39 women and 1,710 wounded, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which does not distribute civilian casualties.

Twelve people were also killed in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

But behind the ruined streets of death, staff at the al-Awda maternity hospital in northern Gaza witnessed pregnant women being harmed mentally and physically.

They described how the injuries led to an increase in premature births, և how the trauma prevented women from breastfeeding or having sex with their baby.

Ms. Al-Buhtaimi carried these fears with her throughout her pregnancy, worsening in May until she feared losing even an unborn child due to injury, she said.

“While the bombing and the shelling were happening, I thought we were all going to die,” said Ms Al-Buhtaimi.

“One of my fears during the attacks was that I would take the child home without getting to the hospital. I was in severe pain, like labor pains, I could not go to the hospital. “I was afraid I could give birth to her, she could have problems.” This was not an idle fear, as one of his cousins ​​had an abortion during the attacks.

Baby Sedra at Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, Palestine.  Photo: ActionAid Ireland
Baby Sedra at Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, Palestine. Photo: ActionAid Ireland

“She lost her child in fear of being bombed and shelled. “I was horrified to lose my child,” said Ms Al-Bukhaimi.

His daughter, Sedra, was born in mid-June in hospital just weeks after the 11-day bombing ended.

Mrs. Al-Buhtaimi said: “Now I feel better seeing my little girl in my arms.”

For psychologist Helana Mesle, this mother’s fears are very common.

He has seen women silently suffer after a traumatic childbirth, losing their worries under the weight of the damage of the conflict.

“Some women were unable to breastfeed their babies, hug them or even accept them because they came under difficult circumstances,” she said.

While working with patients in the hospital, he sees that they express: “Dissatisfaction, constant crying and rejection of their children.” He said. “Some women have had other symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, eating disorders as a result of the bombings, and fear of losing their children, loved ones or homes, especially in the northern Gaza Strip.” Her team also worries about the growing rate of postpartum depression as women cope with the loss of a newborn baby – possibly her family member.

Others were left homeless by the bombings.

As many as 58,000 Palestinians fled their homes, many of them taking refuge in crowded UN schools during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“Pregnant women would usually be very happy to prepare for the arrival of their newborns,” said Dr. Mesle.

“But the war and its aftermath prevented them from enjoying those moments.” Instead, he treated patients for what he described as “sudden psychological grief and pain.”

He sees patients at al-Awda Hospital through mobile clinics. His team uses social networks like WhatsApp և Messenger to connect with women after giving birth.

Helana Mesleh works as a psychologist at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza.  Some women were unable to breastfeed, hug, or even accept their babies because they came under difficult circumstances.  Picture.  ActionAid Palestine via ActionAid Ireland:
Helana Mesleh works as a psychologist at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza. Some women were unable to breastfeed, hug, or even accept their babies because they came under difficult circumstances. Picture. ActionAid Palestine via ActionAid Ireland:

Mobile clinics

The clinics were first opened by the hospital when the epidemic took place. They are, in fact, large ambulances equipped with medical supplies and equipment for various diseases.

They also provide mental health services through psychologists like Dr. Mesle, who can visit women at their homes for support.

Dr. Mesle also worked with children whose mental health was affected by the attacks.

Their behavior has changed from bed wetting to aggression, which has replaced the usual activities of childhood, they talk about fear, anxiety, social isolation.

“The children were very attached to their parents, they did not want to sleep away from them. “When they heard a noise, they kept shouting and crying.”

Adnan Radi, head of the gynecology department at Al-Awda Obstetrics and Gynecology, said many patients had been injured during pregnancy.

“Pregnant women have suffered the most from the categories, especially psychologically, as some have not been able to get to the hospital to get the services they need,” she said.

During the bombings, the hospital treated a number of “complicated births, caesareans, early abortions” during the week.

It also increased the number of newborns seeking treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Some pregnant women were injured during their lifetime and were hospitalized earlier than planned.

“In some cases, women survived the bombing or fell indirectly into their children or husbands,” said Dr. Radin.

“As a result, there was ‘bleeding’ or ‘blood collection’ behind the placenta. “We had to have half and six caesarean sections, and the results were good.”

No women or infants died in the hospital during the bombing. However, in his experience, those few days added stress to the already difficult situation in life.

“It is well known that wars, poverty, low living standards, malnutrition and population density are all factors that lead to psychological stress, many complications of pregnancy, and what is called a high-risk pregnancy.”

He listed four areas where they saw changes during and after the 11-day offensive.

Premature births increased. This poses additional risks in Gaza, as the resources of doctors and midwives are limited.

They noticed a “sharp increase in bleeding symptoms” as a result of paralysis of the placenta in the uterus.

“During the war, the percentage of prenatal bleeding increased fourfold,” he said.

“And six cases of placental abruption reached al-Awda Hospital in a very short time.” Streets have become impassable due to risks, including “most roads leading to hospitals.” Ambulances were in constant use, but they could not always reach the women on time.

And he said that led to women working too long at home or even having unplanned home births without medical help.

Finally, after giving birth, the team noticed “changes in women’s behavior after childbirth as a result of psychological stress.” He said. “These cases have been transferred to psychological treatment departments.”

At one point, the hospital was without electricity for 20 hours, according to a spokesman for ActionAid Palestine, which supports the hospital through its local partner, the Health Workers Committee.

“They depended on a reserve of diesel և radiators, which are not enough to meet all needs,” said the NGO.

“There was a threat that hospital services could be shut down at any time.”

Last month, Amnesty International expressed concern over allegations that the Israeli army attacked UHWC offices in the West Bank in connection with the Palestinian People’s Liberation Front (PFLP).

Mervat Al-Buhtaimi with his baby Sedra.  Women's pregnancies were affected by heavy bombardment of the area by Israeli forces in May.  Picture.  ActionAid through Palestine ActionAid Ireland
Mervat Al-Buhtaimi with his baby Sedra. Women’s pregnancies were affected by heavy bombardment of the area by Israeli forces in May. Picture. ActionAid through Palestine ActionAid Ireland

Occupied Territories Bill

ActionAid Palestine is supported by ActionAid Ireland from Dublin.

Ceo Siobhan McGee said. “From the recent bombing in Gaza, we saw that women, children and children, were almost half the victims. It caused untold damage to infants, children and expectant mothers.”

The NGO also calls on the government to adopt the bill on “Occupied Territories”.

This bill violates the importation or sale of goods or services originating in the Occupied Territories, or the extraction of resources from the Occupied Territories in certain circumstances, and related issues.

Mrs. McGee said: “By passing the Occupied Territories Bill, Ireland will become the first EU country to ban trade with Israeli illegal settlements in Palestine.”

“These settlements are illegal under international EU law, as they are built on land outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders.”

“Women and children are being taken seriously,” she said of the evictions.

“We urge the Irish Government to immediately adopt the Occupied Territories Bill,” said Ms McGee.

In May, Ireland became the first EU country to recognize an Israeli settlement in Palestine as a “de facto seizure” following Dale’s inter-party vote.

In the run-up to the vote, the Government introduced an amendment, including a condemnation of Hama’s actions, which was adopted.

  • The ActionAid Ireland application is available from the Government of Ireland https://actionaid.ie/occupied-territories-bill/

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