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‘Kill Zones’, Body Bags and Starvation: Gaza aid Workers on The Devastating Reality of Life in the World’s Most Dangerous Place

It’s the “most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker” – and every day it gets worse

Aid workers in Gaza. Photo supplied by Tom Mutch.

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For a few brief hours, Gazans could believe their nightmare was over.

“When they said there was a ceasefire I cried a lot, I was so happy”, says Rami Bolbol, a 27-year-old aid worker. Reports initially suggested that Hamas had accepted an internationally brokered proposal and that an end to the fighting was imminent. The former university lecturer, now a coordinator with Cadus, a German NGO, told Byline Times: “In my heart, I knew there wouldn’t be a [lasting] ceasefire, but we wanted to feel safe even just for a few minutes. It’s better than nothing.”

It took only a few hours for their hopes to be dashed, as Israel announced it could not accept the terms, and would commence a long-awaited ground assault on the southern city of Rafah. Within hours, bombs were landing again.

Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker. A Cadus worker is pictured above trying to help those impacted by the conflict. Photo: Supplied

“Their ground forces have invaded Rafah, and there are air strikes all the time” Bolbol said, speaking from Gaza. “People are very afraid and confused, most people [already] evacuated and don’t even have a place to put their tents.” Cadus’s team, a mixture of local and foreign volunteers, specialises in evacuating critically ill and injured patients from the most dangerous zones. They also run trauma stabilisation points in southern Gaza to treat injuries, mainly from explosions. These were formerly “safe” zones, by the standards of the Strip, where around 34,000 people have died in the Israeli assault.

There is now nowhere safe left to host anyone injured or fleeing. Aid workers here face conditions that are among the most perilous anywhere. Since October 7, Gaza has been the “most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker”, according to the International Rescue Committee. More than two hundred humanitarian workers have been killed during Israel’s assault on the strip. Much of the work Cadus does was originally conducted by the Red Cresent, but the Palestinian wing of the aid group now claims it is too dangerous and that their workers are regularly shot at or detained.

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“We were waiting at a holding point near a checkpoint when an Israeli rocket struck 200 metres away from us” said Patrick Munz, a 30-year-old German who recently returned from a seven-week stint in Gaza as Cadus’s Head of Mission. This checkpoint, on the Netzarim corridor that bisects north and south Gaza, is in the middle of what Israeli media has described as a ‘kill zone’, where anyone who enters without prior approval is liable to be shot on sight. The last time he was there, Munz says, he saw a Palestinian woman’s corpse lying a few hundred metres from the army post.

When their convoy reached northern Gaza, he says “you go past a roundabout and then everything is just destroyed. You have these huge eight story buildings that have just completely come down.” Almost no buildings remain standing, and people are desperate and barely surviving. “When you enter the city, you have this feeling of walking death. Thousands of people, really young people, kids walking through the streets.” Most live in tents or in the remains of their dwellings. There is almost nothing in terms of power or running water and if someone gets injured it is usually impossible to treat them or clean their wounds. There are still regular clashes in this part of the Strip. Despite the IDF having originally cleared northern Gaza in the first months of the assault, Hamas has reconstituted a presence and continues to operate, with the fighting putting already destitute and desperate civilians at more risk.

Until recently, the vast majority of aid flowed through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, but with the Israeli army conducting a ground assault and massive air strikes on the city, all aid is now cut off, and humanitarian workers and supplies cannot enter or exit. Munz says this operation will be “a total disaster. Thousands of people are going to die. The situation is totally fucked.”


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During the first week of the operation, aid organisations are expected to ‘hibernate’ – stay inside an assigned house that is designated a ‘deconflicted zone’ coordinated ahead of time with the Israeli military and not leave until the fighting dies down. The buildings do not have bunkers or basements, and workers are expected to simply trust the IDF will not hit them in its bombing runs or artillery barrages. After the April bombing that killed seven World Central Kitchen employees, many do not trust the IDF’s promises to not target or endanger aid workers. A Human Rights Watch report listed at least eight different strikes on humanitarian aid workers’ organisations, including those that had been clearly ‘deconflicted’ with the IDF.

Munz says the level of destruction will make it impossible for the region to return to normality for many years. “It could be like what we see at the Syrian borders, where there are just millions of people living for ten to fifteen years in tents without a real solution. They [the Israelis] were talking about ‘tent cities’ and I expect this to happen.”

Despite the enormous destruction Israel’s assault has caused, people still find ways to seek moments of enjoyment, Munz explained. “You frequently see kids flying kites through the streets… if there is nice weather you can see even 50 to 100 people flying them… on the beach.” He says that prior to the current offensive, there were still markets in Rafah where “you can buy almost everything you need… if you need food, or cigarettes, or if we need a new gas stove, you can buy it there.” But all this is likely to be destroyed as the Israeli offensive takes its course.

“There are a lot of young, smart people here, and they know their situation is just totally fucked.” A line you will hear often in Israel is that after October 7, there are “no innocents in Gaza”, but Munz says that almost none of the people he has spoken to support Hamas –  in fact, most of them blame Hamas for bringing Israel’s wrath down on their heads. “It is a different kind of hate than they have towards Israel. Hamas was their government, and it has just totally destroyed their lives”.


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Munz plans to return in June, after the Rafah offensive. “I can come back and say ‘oh it is so dangerous’ but look at these privileges I have! Because we [foreigners] can just leave whenever we want, and they are just stuck. So many people told me, ‘You don’t know when you are going to die, so you are always ready to die.’ They also always have meager belongings packed and are ready to move at any notice, because ‘you never know when an offensive will start.’ Many people have moved three times already, been pushed south by the initial Israeli assaults- now those in the south are being told to move to destroyed areas in the north.”

Bolbol, for his part, remains stuck, his home having already been destroyed during an Israeli bombing. He paid $9000 to put his wife on an evacuation list to Egypt, but he is stuck in Gaza while the Rafah crossing remains closed. “All we dreamed about is to live in peace and have a safe and decent life.”


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