My whole family are trapped in Gaza, my friends are dead – and I can’t get an update
I lost contact with them on 12 October.
‘This is the hardest night I have ever experienced in my life.’
This was a recent text message from my brother in Gaza, describing an airstrike that hit a home 10 metres from our family’s house.
He added: ‘We can’t speak to you because we still can’t process what happened. All the windows and doors of our house have been shattered. Please keep us in your prayers.’
Thankfully – as far as I know – he, and the rest of my family, are still alive.
Our neighbour Abeer – who is a childhood friend – survived the massacre, but her entire family were all killed in this bombing. It’s absolutely devastating. It’s terrifying.
As the only one of my family who isn’t in Gaza, being far away from them right now while living in the UK, pregnant with my first child, makes me feel ashamed and helpless.
Text messages like the one from my brother leave me in a state of agony.
I grew up in Jabalia Refugee Camp, the most densely-populated refugee camp in Gaza.
The camp was created following the 1948 Nakba (meaning ‘catastrophe’), the ethnic cleansing and mass killing of Palestinians, which saw the destruction of their homeland by Israeli armed forces.
The Nakba forced Palestinians into internal displacement. My village, Isdud, became a distant memory as my great-grandparents fled to Gaza after their hometown was depopulated, just 36 kilometres away.
Most of those uprooted from southern Palestine found a new home in Jabalia Refugee Camp, named after a nearby village. This camp – the largest of eight in the Gaza Strip – resides in close proximity to the ‘Erez’ border crossing.
It is also where my father was born, and where I spent my formative years.
Growing up in a refugee camp shaped me indelibly. I got my education in United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in the camp. Year by year, my bond with the camp deepened – a constant reminder of my status as a refugee, all while wanting to one day return to the village of my family.
This experience also heightened my political consciousness and strengthened my connection to the land.
I experienced firsthand the terrifying, traumatising, and horrifying reality of living under brutal Israeli attacks. The enduring cruelty etched in my memory often made me feel like I might be moments away from being killed, with a constant fear of losing my family.
One such example was in 2008 when I was in high school in the midst of exams; sudden, powerful attacks were indiscriminately launched across the Gaza Strip. With bombardments occurring near my school – as well as my siblings’ schools too – my parents ran into the streets, filled with fear for each one of us.
It was the first major war launched against Hamas after the group won the majority seats of election in January 2006. It lasted for three weeks, with roughly 1,400 Palestinians – majority civilians – killed before a ceasefire was agreed.
Over the years, many of my friends – and my uncle too – were killed during the aggressions I had witnessed. I evacuated my home many times, as we were always under danger of random Israeli attacks.
The cherished childhood memories I held at many places in the camp were obliterated, as the landscape continually shifted.
After finishing secondary school, I wanted to move to the UK for educational purposes, as I had secured a fully-funded scholarship. While I had been applying to study abroad without a particular country in mind, it was the UK that eventually awarded me the scholarship.
So I arrived in the UK in 2018 to pursue my education in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford Brookes. I went on to get a degree in Social Anthropology at LSE and am currently doing a PhD in the same field in St Andrew’s.
Throughout it all, the feeling of guilt about being away from my whole family has been all encompassing – especially when my home is under attack, like it is now.
It feels like no place is safe in Gaza.
In fact, most of my family members have sent me heart-wrenching farewell messages, urging me to care for my unborn baby and to pass on their stories to her.
Receiving these messages left me overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and helplessness. However, they also fuelled my determination to amplify my family’s voices to the world through protests, writing and storytelling.
My immediate family in Gaza consists of 10 members, including two children: a one-year-old baby and a three-year-old. My extended family has over 90 members – half of them are children – with the majority residing in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
Jabalia Refugee Camp, where they still live, is considered one of the most dangerous areas during Israeli bombardments, constantly under threat from airstrikes and attacks.
So, like thousands of Palestinians at the moment, they’ve been forced to flee their homes and are terrified for their safety.
Before losing contact with my family on 12 October after Israeli forces cut electricity and bombarded the telecommunication infrastructure, they told me that the current situation is unlike any assault we’ve experienced since the war on Gaza in 2008.
Israeli forces have ordered over a million Palestinians in the north of Gaza to evacuate to the south, offering stark warnings. My family was among them. They received recorded messages and even had pamphlets dropped from planes to pressure them into leaving for their ‘safety’.
My aunt, who works at a hospital, has stayed behind. She and her colleagues refuse to abandon their patients. She told me that moving their patients would be a death sentence for them and they are all terrified.
On Sunday, I learned through a tweet by a mutual friend on X that two of my childhood friends – Alaa and Nadia – along with their daughters and six other family members, were killed after they had fled their home in the Gaza city centre to the south.
When they tried to evacuate as ordered, they were killed in an airstrike on the house in Deir al-Balah where they sought refuge.
I cannot believe that this happened and the knowledge that I will not be able to meet them again is too hard to bear. How can anyone tolerate such immense pain?
On top of that, my pregnant sister – with health issues – is struggling without power, water or food in the northeast.
She urgently needs medicine and her mental health is deteriorating. Without this and proper food to feed her baby, I don’t know if her baby will survive.
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We are living with deep pain, generation after generation, questioning why thousands of innocent lives have been taken.
Since this war began, we have heard a US Senator calling for the destruction of Gaza, saying ‘level the place’, and an Israeli politician has said, ‘Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 1948’.
These comments leave my people facing psychological terror and fearing genocide, all while enduring a complete blockade and bombardments.
Through the shock and the devastation, I’m left with many emotions and questions.
Will my family in Gaza survive the mass killings, bombardments, and blockade? Will my unborn daughter have the chance to meet them next year and will her grandparents ever be able to hold her?
Being in the UK and watching as the Government takes what seems to me to be a one-sided position feels like the place I came for safety is complicit in Israel’s actions. Now is the time to change the policy and fight for humanity.
I believe in the spirit of the people – that change is possible.
I never imagined witnessing so much death, the loss of entire families, individuals with lives and a story to tell. Being deserving of life, human rights, basic needs and dignity shouldn’t be reserved for the few.
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