28 November 2012
Photo credit: Samar Abu Elouf
During the recent military escalation in Gaza, many of UNRWA’s 12,000 staff reported to work to support the civilians who needed their help. A crucial part of that work was done by some of the Agency’s 230 guards. They ensured safety and security for refugees and UNRWA staff alike in the Agency's health centres, schools and food distribution centres.
One of these was Ismail Yaghi, an UNRWA guard supervisor in Gaza City, who drew on his initiative to protect civilians throughout the eight-day conflict; even raising the alert on an unexploded missile right next to Gaza’s main university.
”It was in the middle of the main street that UNRWA staff members use to go to their work”, says Ismail, whose quick action may have saved lives.
During the violence, Abdallah Abu-Sayed, a guard working in an UNRWA school, spotted 40 civilians running to an UNRWA clinic for protection. Recognising that the clinic was too close to houses being targeted by Israeli fire, Abdallah got their attention and led them to a more secure location.
Abdullah is modest about his extraordinary bravery: “People trust UNRWA, and it is our duty to uphold that good reputation.”
Bringing comfort under fire
During the conflict, UNRWA housed almost 12,000 people fleeing the violence in 14 of its 245 Gaza schools. The Agency’s guards gave essential help dealing with traumatised people, and guiding them to safety.
Hamed Al-A’il, an UNRWA guard working in northern Gaza, was proud to give help to his fellow Gazans during a difficult week. “The airstrikes were intense”, he says, “but we could not leave our duties towards the people who trust us.”
Many of the guards put themselves in significant danger. Abdallah was working as a guard in an UNRWA school on the first day when the air strikes started, suffering injury from shrapnel as the school was hit.
His colleague Ramiz Abu Eita, a guard working in Gaza City, was traveling to work in an UNRWA car when a nearby media tower was targeted by an air strike. “Pieces of shrapnel hit our car, and broke the glasses of the car windows,” he says.
In Khan Younis, southern Gaza, an UNRWA school was very close to a targeted governmental location, and was hit as collateral damage. Guard Awad Khawlda, working in the local UNRWA school, ran into the building to help teachers and the students to evacuate. When one student sustained glass injuries to the head, Awad took him to the hospital and waited until his family arrived before returning to work:
“Once the school was empty, I checked the damages with other guards and collected the pieces of shrapnel.” Awad also inspected the Japanese clinic in Khan Younis, which had been damaged.
“We risked our lives”, says Jamal El Arqan, a guard in Rafah, southern Gaza, “but only because we feel responsible for serving our people.”