‘I don’t have the capacity to go through more of this. I need another heart to be able to deal with this pain’
Earlier this month, the Gaza Strip was remorselessly pounded by Israeli forces for nearly three days. The Palestinian Health Ministry figures show that more than 300 Palestinians were injured and at least 44 were killed, 15 of whom were children. For Palestinians in Gaza, it was just another chapter of the torment and agony that has become a feature in their life.
Gaza is a tiny territory home to two million Palestinians. Bordered by Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean coast, the Strip is around 365 sq km, about the size of Cape Town. Most of its inhabitants are refugees from cities and towns in what was historic Palestine but became the State of Israel. They were forced to flee during the violent colonial conquest and expulsion that led to Israel’s creation in 1948. The destruction of Palestinians’ homes and villages triggered an Israeli war with other Arab states, which resulted in Gaza coming under Egyptian control. In 1967, in another Israeli-Arab war, Gaza was seized and occupied by Israel.
Since 2007, it has been under an airtight Israel-Egypt land, air and sea blockade. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as two of the three border crossing points; the third is controlled by Egypt. Israel has not only severely restricted the movement of Palestinians in and out of Gaza but also goods, in a blockade that experts have long warned violates international law.
Israel’s siege on Gaza has had a devastating impact on the population. Over half of Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line, 80 per cent rely on humanitarian assistance, over 64 per cent suffer from food insecurity and 97 per cent of the water is undrinkable.
For many, all they have endured is misery and pain. Rana Shubair, a mother of triplets, says motherhood in Gaza is a test in and of itself. “War and death terminology seeped into my children’s minds. From a young age, they started asking questions about planes, and the explosions they heard. Once, my son asked me to show him the hole where martyrs were put,” she recollects. “No child should ever need to experience that.” Now teenagers, her children have only ever known a life characterised by ever-lasting brutality. “They’ve witnessed all Israeli aggressions, big and small. I can no longer tell lies or tell them when it’ll end,” she says.
The recent bombardment was consistent with Israel’s colonial modus operandi. Israel has launched four military operations on the enclave since 2008 and has slaughtered over 4,000 Palestinians. Though a ceasefire was reached following the latest offensive, it merely marked a slight reduction in the unceasing systematic violence and collective punishment. And the consequences are particularly painful for the enclave’s young population. Below, three young Palestinians from Gaza detail their experiences.
YARA EID, 22, GAZA CITY
“I genuinely didn’t think I would survive this latest round of bombing. Each time it gets harder than the previous one. In the aftermath of the previous bombardments, I would always get so sick physically and mentally; my body would shut down completely and I wouldn’t even be able to eat. What I witnessed after the 2014 Israeli assault continues to scar me. So, this time, I thought it was going to be the end of me. I feared my panic attacks and my PTSD would be triggered again.
“What is so heartbreaking in Gaza is literally anyone could be a victim at any moment. No one is safe. There are no shelters, no warning sirens, nothing. Around the region, the feeling is always the same afterwards. Even now, as I look around, there is a strong feeling of grief and helplessness everywhere. Everyone is just expected to go back to their normal lives but what are those lives? If we want to simply drink water, we have to travel to get clean drinkable water from a well. And sometimes that’s not even possible because there is a shortage.
“People don’t realise just how distressing life under the siege is. I was away from Gaza studying as part of a scholarship when the 2021 onslaught started. I had been away for six years and was unable to return because Gaza is under a blockade and movement of people into the area is restricted. My neighbourhood was struck and I had no contact with anyone in my family for some time. I thought they were all dead. They thankfully survived that occasion, but my father became sick immediately after and I had not been able to visit him for six years before this because of the blockade. He died shortly after and I only managed to see him for six months before his passing. I was robbed of having a father for six years.”
ISSAM ADWAN, 29, RAFAH, SOUTHERN GAZA
“Seeing the massacre, hearing the bombs falling everywhere, the screaming; it was brutal. Just constantly fearing that one of these bombs could take someone you love and care about and turn your life into even more hell. I can’t begin to explain the mental impact it has. Especially as many of us are already enduring flashbacks and anxiety from the past. I’ve been in psychological therapy for the last five years, and especially after the 2018 Great March of Return massacre at the border where one of my closest friends was murdered. I am certain that, like me, so many of the Gaza Strip citizens are suffering from severe conditions of PTSD, depression and experience suicidal thoughts.
“I’ve actually been told by my therapist that I’m regressing mentally, and that trauma is playing a big part. Even though I’ve been working as a journalist on the ground for more than 10 years and been exposed to so much, I still can’t process seeing so many women and children being murdered like that every time.”
MALA MATAR, 22, AL-RIMAL, GAZA CITY
“I was almost in a state of denial and avoidance during the latest war because I did not want it to be true. Last year’s death and destruction of Gaza is still stuck with me. The thought of it all repeating itself is exhausting and so demoralising. Every round of aggression comes and each time the people have not recovered from the last time. A close friend of mine was stood in front of a building that was completely destroyed by a bomb and she and her husband were badly injured. Every single person in Gaza has a story like this.
“It’s not something you can move on from. Everyone calls us fighters or heroes, but we don’t want those labels. We just want a normal life without constantly having the two traumas of war and the blockade looming over us. Gaza is completely isolated from other people, other cultures and other languages and nobody has an idea how lonely it is, or how tough it is knowing you’ve been robbed of your freedom. So many generations yearn to experience the simple joys that come so easily to the outside world – going to the museum or going to the cinema, for example.
“When you’re in Gaza you don’t live, you only survive and I’ve come to the realisation that the international community has normalised our suffering. It’s seen as something ordinary when we are murdered and Palestinian blood is shed. But I don’t have the capacity to go through more of this. I need another heart to be able to deal with this pain.
“This is why I started painting. It allows me to express myself silently without the need for words and sentences because some things simply cannot be explained. That is what Gaza is; a situation beyond explanation.”
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