Pregnant women are among the most vulnerable people living under Israel’s offensive in Gaza. Palestinian women are increasingly enduring pre-term labor and childbirth complications, risking their lives in an attempt to reach hospitals for safety. Studies have shown a strong correlation between high levels of stress during pregnancy – particularly for low-income women – and higher rates of preterm labor, a disaster affecting to-be mothers on both sides of the Israel-Gaza conflict.
In Palestine, if mother and baby survive childbirth, they both now have to survive life in Gaza. The United Nations reports that one in every five of the 300 Palestinians killed since July 8 were children; the youngest was five months old.
In Israel, obstetricians and gynecologists report that their pregnant patients also suffer significantly increased rates of preterm labor and even miscarriage as a result of stress brought on by rocket fire. Pregnant Israeli and Palestinian women seem to have similar biological responses to the stresses of war, but their conscious choices in how to best protect their unborn children are distinctly different.
Dr. Eyal Anteby, the head of obstetrics and gynecology at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, told The WorldPost:
Patients [in Israel] are reluctant to go to the hospital because every time you go out of your house, you are vulnerable to the missiles… We see less patients going to the emergency room. They come late when they are in more advanced stages of labor.
While pregnant women in Israel are staying in their homes to avoid the danger of rockets, Palestinian women are fleeing their homes in search of safety. This contrast demonstrates the nature of Israel’s attacks in Gaza versus that of Hamas against Israel. Israeli women seem to feel that their homes are unlikely to be hit by rockets; pregnant women in Gaza know their homes are anything but safe.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported Friday that 1,890 families in Gaza have had their homes “destroyed or severely damaged rendering them uninhabitable,” and that 80 percent of homes in Gaza receive electricity only four hours a day.
Voices of Gaza, an independent site that aims to include “the voices and faces of people in the Gaza Strip” in media reports, profiled the story of Solafa el Deabella, a 31-year-old pregnant woman in Gaza:
I am in the seventh month of my pregnancy. Due to the damage to our apartment, we had to leave Gaza. Now we are staying in Bureij camp, with my family in law. They’ve targeted a house here a few hours ago. I am so stressed. It is not good for me to live in these conditions. I think I might be suffering from high blood pressure … the same as I had in my previous pregnancy … [because of] all the stress. And there is no way I can reach my doctor in these circumstances; it’s not safe to move. Still, it is safer for us to stay here than to go back.
By Saturday, just three days after her first report, the “safety” provided by Bureji camp proved temporary. Solafa wrote:
[Israeli jets] just dropped leaflets on Bureij, telling us to move to Deir el Balah. They’re going to attack this area and we’re supposed to move. They’ve dropped them just now, within the last 30 minutes. It is the first time that they drop the leaflets in Bureij camp. I don’t know what to do.
In response to the severe threat faced by pregnant Palestinian women, CARE is planning to launch two “mobile health teams” to serve 200 patients a day, providing pre- and post-natal care for pregnant women and new mothers.
Theo Alexopoulos, with CARE’s Emergency Team in Jerusalem, stated:
We are getting reports from our partners that pregnant women are risking their lives to get to hospitals, because they feel they will be safer there than in their homes… But they can’t stay in the hospitals forever. Then where do they go? There is no safe place in Gaza.