HARROWING testimonies from mothers in Gaza, released today by international aid agency Christian Aid, reveal the catastrophic conditions they are enduring while pregnant and giving birth.

The UK charity’s partner, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), interviewed displaced women and girls in Gaza City and Rafah who told of their babies dying in their wombs, after birth or being injured during delivery.

One mother, who waited nine years to become pregnant, miscarried due to “intense fear and fatigue” after walking for hours to reach al-Nussairat, in the middle of Gaza, to escape the bombing. Israa Kamal Mahmoud Abu Nahel, 34, told aid workers: “When I knew I was pregnant, I cried a lot out of joy, but the war came and killed my happiness.”

Another mother, Dana Hassan, 26, lost her baby after being exposed to white phosphorus in Al Remal, Gaza City when she was heavily pregnant. “[The doctor told me] many women like me lost their babies for the same reason,” she said. “I was so sad and worn out mentally as the due date of my baby marked his death.”

Julie Mehigan, Christian Aid Programme Manager for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, said: “The unimaginable devastation of losing a baby in the womb, during childbirth, or after delivery, is a horror being experienced daily by women across Gaza. The only way to stop the killing of innocent children and save lives is for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

“Until the UK Government suspends arms sales to Israel, it may well be complicit in the deaths of babies and the heartbreak of their mothers, like those we hear from in this gut-wrenching report.”

Nesmah Osamah Hamo, described how her son suffered a head trauma after she went into premature labour and gave birth without any medical help in the bathroom of the house where she was staying. During delivery her baby fell on the ground. In a cruel irony, before the war Nesmah lived close to al-Shifa Hospital, previously the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip.

There are 60,000 pregnant women in Gaza, according to latest estimates and hundreds of miscarriages and premature births have been reported since the outbreak of the war.

Earlier this month, a UN Population Fund representative said that only three of Gaza’s 36 hospitals were capable of providing assistance to the estimated 180 women giving birth across the territory every day – around 15 per cent of whom suffer complications requiring significant care.

Amongst the few women who have received medical assistance is Ruwaida Waleed al-Nazli whose son, Waleed, was delivered by emergency caesarean. “I was so happy to finally meet him, but his lung was not fully developed”, she said. Waleed died three days later when heavy bombardment around Kamal Odwan Hospital cut off the neonatal intensive care unit’s oxygen supply. “All I think about right now is not giving birth again and having more kids. I do not want to repeat this misery”, Ruwaida added.

PCHR said the report sheds light on Israeli measures intended to prevent births in the Gaza Strip amidst a lack of protection from military attacks, poor health services and unsafe access to healthcare, restricted access to adequate food and dire living conditions elevating risks during pregnancy.

It states: “All these violations have increased miscarriages among pregnant women, preterm labours and stillbirths while many of them fear maternal mortality or stillbirth due to lack of healthcare and ignoring their special needs. These violations double the suffering of pregnant women in particular, making them feel in a race against death.”

Other distressing accounts include one from Razan Reyad al-Ejla whose four-month-old son Basem died in a shelter at Deir al-Balah Secondary School for Girls after developing sepsis following a hernia operation. Razan told aid workers she visits his grave daily and lies beside it.

Pregnant Sara Ali was injured during heavy bombardment around al-Karamah School, al-Sha’af. “Suddenly while sleeping on a mattress on the floor, shrapnel penetrated the classroom’s window and hit the right side of my abdomen,” she said. “I was so scared fearing that my first baby may get hurt.”

When Raghdah Sa’dallah Ahel went into labour late at night she tried to hold on until the morning over fears that she would not be able to call an ambulance due to a communications blackout or that the ambulance would be targeted, but the pain became unbearable. She said: “I had to take the risk and walk in the middle of the night with my husband raising a white flag. We walked for around half an hour but it felt like hours.

“Thank God we safely made it to al-Sahabah Clinic and within only five minutes I delivered my baby. I cannot even think how I might have given birth to my baby girl on the street and I still have nightmares about it.”

PCHR lawyer Aya Alwakeel, who gathered the women’s testimonies with colleagues, said: “I felt their pain and we became friends, communicating regularly. I have met with them several times to check on their condition and support them, including psychologically. They were very eager for the world to hear about their suffering. They said that finally, someone who cares and listens to our suffering has come.”

Fellow lawyer Nadwa Badaro, who helped prepare the report, added: “We have listened to the women who have experienced and are still experiencing these oppressive and harsh conditions. This makes them feel that they are not alone.”

Two PCHR lawyers who contributed to the report were killed in Israeli airstrikes before it was published: Dana Yaghi and Nour Abu Nour. Colleagues speak of their “unwavering commitment to women’s rights” and have vowed to continue their work. PCHR currently operates in Rafah, Gaza City, and in Deir Al-Balah and Al-Nusseirat, central Gaza.

* Christian Aid’s local Palestinian partners, including PCHR, are delivering aid including food and medical assistance to children, women and men across Gaza. Donate to their emergency appeal here.

* Source: Christian Aid