Our shelter in the basement of the UNDP compound became my home for the next 10 days. It also unexpectedly turned into the home of 43 international and national staff and family members of UN agencies and international NGOs.
On Wednesday afternoon, many of the international staff had come to the UNDP compound; they were on standby, waiting for the humanitarian corridor to open to leave Gaza.
I was asked whether I wanted to leave with them. Being the head of the Gaza sub-office, this option had not even occurred to me. My immediate response was ‘No, I will stay with my colleagues here. This is where I need to be.’
When it became clear that there were too many risks for the convoy to proceed and the border would remain closed, I went downstairs to the basement with my team to set up the shelter for guests who would stay for the night. Or perhaps a couple of nights at most.
Every time there is an escalation, or potential escalation, I check our basement with my team to make sure that the bottled water and canned food, as well as mattresses, pillows, and blankets and medical supplies are properly stocked. I check whether the underground fuel tank, the three generators, and armoured and soft-skinned vehicles need to be refuelled. As UNDP hosts the UN Emergency Coordination Centre, I also double check that all communication backup systems are working.
I had gone through this procedure a countless number of times since my arrival two years ago, but this was the first time since 2014 that we would activate the emergency shelter. I was relieved that I had an experienced team who had gone through… unfortunately, many escalations, hostilities and wars, and knew exactly what they were supposed to do. I trusted them with my life. I could focus on managing the compound and keeping the residents safe, and ensuring our national staff were given the support they needed to get through this terrifying experience.
The sound of outgoing rockets whooshing towards the north or east were inevitably met by either the booming of its counter-missiles blowing them up in the skies, or incoming missile strikes delivered by drones and F16s, or the retaliatory projectiles from the sea or land. During my first escalation experience in May 2019, only a week after my arrival in Gaza, I had learned to differentiate the various sounds, which were mostly in the distance. But this time, the continuous intensity of overlapping and intermingled sounds made it difficult to distinguish. This time, the explosions were all around us in the Rimal area – where UN agency offices and residences were located, and most INGOs had their main offices.