Jerusalem24 – Mohammad Hamayel – Fire departments around the world rush into the face of danger in their endless mission to save lives despite the odds. A story as old as the tales of heroes who would risk their lives for the lives of others. In Gaza, that story continues in some of the most difficult circumstances.
When Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip on the 10th of May, 2021; the Gazan Fire Department rushed into service. Rushing through the streets of the besieged Gaza Strip, these men were needed to help in the search and rescue of civilians who were caught in Israel’s bombing of the strip. From removing rubble to save lives or recover bodies. These men pushed on with their work.
Jerusalem24 got in touch with Colonel Raed Dahshan, of the Gazan Fire Department. He spoke of the difficulties of working in a rescue service in the Gaza Strip, as the skies rained down bombs and chaos filled the streets. One story in particular, stuck with Dahshan, “We had nothing but sledge hammers as we broke through six or seven concrete ceilings to reach people stuck under the rubble.” He adds, “We would have to turn off any heavy equipment we had so we can try to hear where they were.” Sometimes, all they can rely on are the cries for help coming from underneath the rubble. “We’d ask the people around us to be quiet, we needed the silence to know who they are, and where they are so we can find them;” said Dahshan.
As the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip intensified, the work of the Fire Department became harder. Roads were destroyed, entire blocks were flattened. “The pits from the bombing prevented us from using our trucks, we had to carry our equipment on our shoulders and continue on foot,” says Dahshan. He was talking about their journey to an area called al-Rimal, where the bombings had completely destroyed the area. “When we arrived there, the houses were mixed up,” he says. “I mean, all the houses had collapsed on each other as if they were fused together.” Going through the ruins the fire fighters had to do all they can to find survivors and in a lot of cases, corpses. “We’d find a corpse here, a survivor there,” he says. He adds that “We’d find someone’s body from one family in the ruins of another family’s house.”
Dahshan said, “we thought we knew the area, but we were wrong.” The bombing had changed the entire face of the area.
The 16-year siege on the Gaza Strip had limited the work of the fire department there. The lack of working equipment and vehicles meant they had very little to work with. “All we had in a lot of cases was a sledge hammer to work with in order to break the concrete. We were almost empty handed,” says Dahshan. He continues, “we were removing sand, filling and tiles with our bare hands.”
“We reached about ten people from under the rubble, including an old woman, a baby and a child under twelve or ten years old,” says Dahshan. After the cease-fire was announced between Hamas and the Israeli government, Dahshan and other fire fighters decided to visit the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza to see the people they have saved. He said, “it was a very emotional tour as we looked at the fruit of our labour.” He continued to describe the visit, “one of the fire fighters was sobbing, he was very affected by what he had seen there.”
“We work under the slogan that he who saves one life, saves all lives.”
Despite the end of hostilities, even if only temporarily, the work of the fire fighters and search and rescue teams is far from over. As of writing this, they have found 18 people under the ruins of the bombed Gaza strip. Despite the lack of working equipment and vehicles, the fire fighters of the Gaza Strip march on. Doing their best to find survivors, and in the worst case; finding the corpses of missing loved ones who can only give their final farewells.