How is it like to stay alive in Gaza?

Merna Hesham , Tuesday 7 Nov 2023

"The whole world, the media, pictures Gazans as numbers. They see the numbers of the demolished homes, the number of the injured, the number of deaths. But we are not numbers; I am not a number. I am a human. I have dreams; I have memories, I have life."

 Gaza City
A Palestinian walks by the buildings destroyed in the Israeli bombardment on al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Gaza City, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. AP

 

Maram Faraj, who was born and raised in Gaza, and in her 20s at the time, shared these thoughts during an interview with Forbes in 2021, long before the Israeli war on Gaza began on 7 October 2023. Her words underscore the prevailing tendency to fixate on the number of victims, while the significant human tragedy aspect often goes overlooked.

Faraj told Forbes that her grandparents were forcibly displaced from their homes in Be'er Sheva by the Israeli military during the 1948 Nakba, a period when many Palestinians were uprooted from their residences during the establishment of Israel.

In 2014, Faraj witnessed a drone strike that tragically claimed the life of her favorite teacher, Ghada Abu Eta

"There were many incidents that took place in my childhood," she told Forbes. "I saw people dying. I saw mothers crying for their children. I saw people becoming homeless. I see people losing their livelihoods,” Faraj said.

"I saw people turn into pieces. I saw blood splashing all around the sky. It is really horrific."

There is a concerning phenomenon where, when the death toll becomes routine, the world grows desensitized to human suffering.

Instead of focusing on the statistics of casualties, Ahram Online brought forward human stories to illustrate the reality of life in the 41-kilometer (25-mile) long Gaza Strip, where the population numbers 2.3 million, since the outbreak of the conflict.

A father
 

The current dilemma for a father in the Gaza Strip is whether or not it is safer to send away his children.

Ali Al-Daba, aged 40, made the heart-wrenching decision to split his family, all in a desperate bid to shield them from the devastation of "a single strike," as he recounted during an interview on 24 October.

His wife, Lina, 42, along with two sons and two daughters, sought refuge in Gaza City to the north, while Ali himself fled to Khan Younis in the south, accompanied by their three other children.

In Gaza, an area now referred to as a "graveyard for children" by the UN, the landscape is scarred by countless unidentifiable charred bodies, with few remaining to undertake the grim task of identification.

To spare his family from the grim prospect of mass burials, Ali has them wear blue string bracelets so that their bodies might be recognized.

A mother
 

Mothers in Gaza are running out of options to feed their children.

On the rare occasions when they manage to obtain bread, an entire family of four or five must divide a single loaf.

In Khan Younis, a mother purchased a pound of flour to make unleavened dough for her youngest children. She baked it on a prayer mat, as it was one of the few clean surfaces available, the only other option being cardboard.

According to journalist and former Amnesty International researcher Hind Al-Khoudary, women often receive priority access to bakeries. Each person is allowed to purchase a bag containing five pieces of bread, even though they may go days without them.

Malnutrition has become so severe that mothers are unable to produce breast milk for their newborns.

One mother shared with Blinx News that her seven-day-old son is exhibiting signs of malnutrition and jaundice, requiring formula. Additionally, there is a scarcity of available vaccinations.

She also hesitates to take him to the hospital out of fear that they may face airstrikes along the way.

A woman
 

Walid Abu Hatab, a medical consultant in obstetrics and gynecology at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, told Al-Jazeera that women are resorting to taking pills to delay their menstrual cycles.

Ruba Seif, aged 35, expressed, "Privacy is a luxury we cannot afford. The bathroom facilities lack running water, and we cannot easily venture outside to find necessities. I can hardly bear the menstrual cramps on top of the constant fear, sleep deprivation, and the cold, aggravated by the insufficient supply of blankets."

Despite potential side effects, ranging from nausea and dizziness to bleeding, these women assert that they have no choice but to take such risks due to the lack of hygienic products.

The only alternatives are potential infections and the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

According to a UNFPA Palestine Situation Report, there are approximately 50,000 pregnant women throughout occupied Gaza and the West Bank, with 13,649 expected to give birth in the upcoming month.

Tragically, fear sometimes leads to miscarriages as well.

Al-Khoudary interviewed a woman in the hospital, Islam Hamdan, who disclosed that she had to endure hours-long queues, spanning from morning until evening, just to access the restroom at Al Helou Hospital. The maternity ward had been relocated from Al Shifa Hospital, adding to the challenges.

Hamdan's sister remained in labour for over a day, unable to deliver due to paralyzing fear.

An infant
 

In her CNN interview, Queen Rania of Jordan addressed a distressing acronym in Gaza that "should never exist:" "W.C.N.S.F.," which stands for "Wounded Child with No Surviving Family."

In a video shared by Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, a doctor at Al-Shifa Hospital displayed a newborn infant in an incubator.

 

"This is an unnamed premature baby," the doctor solemnly stated, "His mother, Fatima al-Hirsh, was a victim of Israel's bombardment on Gaza, along with her entire family. She was still pregnant when doctors delivered him as she drew her last breath."

Tragically, 11 other members of his family also lost their lives.

The doctor's voice resonated with resignation as he continued, "For the time being, we shall call him Naji, which means 'survivor.' Israel's ongoing war on Gaza threatens Naji's life and the lives of 130 other premature babies who face an imminent threat of death if Israel persists in blocking the delivery of essential fuel and medicines. Regrettably, over 2,000 Palestinian children have already lost their lives to Israeli airstrikes."

He also raised a poignant question, pondering who would care for Naji in the future.

In dire circumstances, pregnant women are undergoing C-sections without the benefit of anesthesia, as hospitals have exhausted their supplies.

A child
 

When Gaza's children hear a sudden loud noise, they instinctively duck, their reflex honed by the cruel reality of Israeli warplanes in the skies above.

One young boy, striving to provide bread for his family, revealed that he wakes up at 3am to patiently wait at the bakery until 10 or 11am, only to be dishearteningly informed that there is none remaining.

They also endure long lines just to secure a meager gallon of water, a quest that frequently yields no results. "It is more dignified to meet one's fate at home," he somberly concluded.

Photographer Motaz Azaiza captured a poignant moment in a heartwarming video filmed outside Al Shifa Hospital. In the midst of a creative activity, children were provided with paint and paper.

With a paintbrush in one hand, a young girl instinctively ducked and cowered at the unmistakable sound of an Israeli warplane passing overhead.

A UNICEF worker named Nesma shared that her 4-year-old daughter, Talia, is exhibiting severe symptoms of PTSD. She has resorted to self-harming, tearing out her hair and inflicting deep scratches on her thighs until blood is drawn.

In another striking account of the ongoing Israel war on Gaza, an 11-year-old named Kazem Abdel Kareem offered an ironical perspective. Despite his age, the Palestinian child stated, "I've lived through five wars: 2021, 2014, 2021, 2022, and 2023," listing the death toll for each year.

“How is this fair?” the 11-year-old asked his 61,000 followers.

A journalist
 

After the initial Israeli strike on Gaza following Hamas' Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on 7 October, the responsibility of documenting the atrocities committed against Palestinians shifted to journalists and their social media platforms.

In a significant transformation, individuals like Plestia and Bisan transitioned from content creators to war correspondents.

Since internet connection is scarce and unreliable, Plestia, 22, has taken to sharing her diary entries.

In an entry marked 29 October, Plestia wrote, “I read Anne Frank's diary, but I never really understood or imagined them, like I thought that is something we only read about like it is history. It is not something that will happen in 2023.”

On 31 October, Plestia wrote, “The jacket that I am always wearing is not even mine. I literally miss everything.”

She then added, “I try to be optimistic and I keep asking myself, "What do you want to do when all of this ends?”

She just hopes that her house will not be damaged more than it already is. She asked her 15-year-old cousin the same question, and she answered, "bechamel pasta."

Another journalist, Bisan, 25, who once made culture-related videos, said that she wakes up at four in the morning to wash her face and brush her teeth with saltwater in order to beat the 50,000-long line of people using the same facilities. 

 

In another emotional video, she said, “even if we survive the white phosphorus, even if we survive the bombing in the schools, in the hospitals, in our homes, there is no food. There is no water. All that we have is the salty water from the sea.”

A doctor
 

Ezz El-Din Loulou, a fifth-year medical student at Al Shifa Hospital, revealed the grueling reality faced by medical staff who have not seen their families for over three weeks due to the impact of the war.

"Doctors live with constant physical and psychological risks," he emphasized. He recounted an incident where another doctor's ambulance was targeted while en route to the hospital.

The patient had to be transferred in a civilian car, which tragically came under fire as well.

Sleeping arrangements are scarce, and Loulou improvises, using clothes as makeshift pillows. His most fervent dream is simply to "have access to clean water," and his sole plea is to "preserve the hospitals from becoming mass graves."

An animal
 

The human element, and the suffering endured by people, is undoubtedly a significant concern. However, what about the welfare of animals and people's beloved pets?

In the midst of the chaos, the corpses of horses and donkeys can be seen strewn across the streets with overturned carriages, including near the Al-Shifa Hospital when it was struck on 3 November.

The sight of a stray dog is so unusual now that Momin Faiz, who typically avoids street animals, felt compelled to stop and offer the entire contents of his water bottle to a dog.

"This is the same dog that used to chase us when we walked in the street, dying of thirst," Faiz said. The dog trembles with fear when he hears a warplane.

Dunya Ashour, 23, and her family fled their home during an Israeli bombardment. She managed to rescue her dog but could not save her three cats.

Elsewhere, a displaced farmer in the Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza was filmed standing beside the lifeless body of his horse in the rubble.

The farmer exclaimed, "What kind of farm is this? It is actually a yard for a power company. We had to relocate our cows and horses here, and they targeted us in this very spot."

Abu Aziz, the horse, belongs to one of the world's most expensive breeds. Unfortunately, 15 of the farmer's cows either ran away or vanished.

The challenges faced by the people of Gaza are multifaceted, whether as cancer patients, diabetics without access to insulin, individuals with hearing impairments, elderly individuals dealing with chronic pain, or those in need of dialysis. The list of hardships goes on.

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