Born and raised in Gaza, Mohammed Maqadma is no stranger to the endless conflicts and turmoil in the region. But he says the havoc wreaked by Israel’s latest military offensive in Gaza since July has reached such an unprecedented scale that it is beyond even his imagination.

As a doctor with more than 30 years of experience providing medical care for refugees and now heading the health department for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, Maqadma appealed for Japanese assistance in an interview during a recent visit to Japan.

“I have actually lived through three wars — this one, the one before and the one before that,” Maqadma said, referring to the three major conflicts between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory in the Gaza Strip from 2008 to 2009, in 2012 and this year. “And I have never seen something like this, except in the movies.”

Showing a photo of an injured child who lost his entire family in the bombings, Maqadma lamented that there are “many, many like him” and that a lot of families have been left homeless.

Asked if he was furious about the situation, he chose his words carefully and replied: “Not furious. I feel very sad and depressed about this.”

Given the experience of the previous fighting in Gaza, UNRWA was prepared to receive 50,000 internally displaced persons in the event of another contingency, such as a war or disaster. But in the aftermath of Israel’s latest offensive, some 290,000 people sought refuge at the U.N. body’s 92 schools in Gaza.

“Those are only the number that came to our schools, but (the actual number displaced) could be up to 450,000 or more because not all of them came to the schools,” he said. “This is far, far beyond the capacity of our emergency plan.”

Even before the latest conflict, Gaza was already plagued with an array of issues, including poverty, unemployment and food security, as well as inadequate water and power supplies, Maqadma said.

The hospitals, for example, are in a “very bad situation” with serious shortages of supplies, including medicine and even the most basic medical equipment such as needles and syringes.

In addition, although Maqadma has been working to promote primary health care, it is not easy for refugees to make their way to the hospitals in these conditions.

“I have met many patients who were in need of hospitalization, but there was no access,” he said.

Maqadma said he and his six siblings were born in a Gaza refugee camp and grew up in a very poor family. But his father insisted that they be educated.

“In school I was a very good boy,” he said, laughing, when asked about his childhood. He attended UNRWA schools and won a university scholarship from the agency, followed by another scholarship for postgraduate studies.

He recalled that as a child he felt helpless when one of his brothers got sick and kept crying in the night, and there was nothing Maqadma or his mother could do to relieve the pain. “I decided to become a doctor and to work with the poor,” he said.

He began his career as a doctor at UNRWA soon after graduation and has continued there for more than three decades. Of the numerous cases he has dealt with, Maqadma spoke of one very poor woman who had a high-risk pregnancy and needed followup care after giving birth.

To ensure that she could receive the appropriate medical assistance, Maqadma and his team visited the woman at her home in a peripheral area in Gaza. They successfully won her trust and she later started visiting his clinic, eventually giving birth without any complications.

He learned later that she was killed when the Israelis shelled the area where she lived.

“That’s one of the things I can’t forget,” the 61-year-old doctor recalled. “It’s was some 10 years ago . . . but it is still in my mind.”

Maqadma said he believes ending the Israeli occupation is the key to peace not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but also in the entire region.

“Weapons will not put (an) end to this problem, (neither) from our side (nor) from their side.”

Asked for his motto, Maqadma quoted from the Quran: “Always do good for others, even for those who hurt you, do good for them. By the end, they will become your friends.”

“It’s forgiveness,” he explained.

Maqadma, along with his wife and three of their four daughters, still lives in Gaza. He yearns for the day when his people can have a life just like others in any part of the world and “taste the peace.”

Hoping his daughters’ generation can live in peace and have a better life than him, he said: “They should grow up in a peaceful environment. We should take our chance for development. This is my dream.”

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