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Voices from Gaza

West Bank and Gaza, November 25, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Anas Hamra for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Anas Hamra for Mercy Corps

Gaza is one of seven places around the world where we're working to build an international network of young leaders who think globally and act locally. They're learning about social issues, global needs and alternative dispute resolution, exchanging ideas across borders and inspiring their peers to take action on critical humanitarian issues.

As the hostilities between Israel and Gaza brought increased airstrikes and escalating violence to both countries in mid-November 2012, members of our youth leadership program in Gaza shared how the conflict affected their lives.

Read about their experiences over the course of five days:

November 18, 2012

‘I wish to live in peace’
Alaa Al Khatib, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

Like anyone in this world, I hope to get up in the morning and enjoy the sun shining without the fear of bombing here or destruction there. But I did not sleep last night because of the explosions in Gaza every single minute. In the morning I started to feel sleepy and very soon fell asleep for awhile. Suddenly, the sound of airstrikes made me wake up again.

That moment my father told me that we needed some bread and water. Despite the bad situation, I went to the nearest market to get what we needed. The situation was good enough, but then suddenly while I was walking there was a missile from an Israeli reconnaissance aircraft. Many people went to see what happened and then my mobile rang. It was my father asking me, ‘Are you okay? Are you still alive?’ I told him, ‘Don’t worry, I am fine.’

My family and I spend the whole day listening to the radio. There is no TV because as usual the electricity is cut off. Furthermore, we call our relatives and friends in other areas to see if they safe or not, and our friends call us to know if we are still alive or not.

Warfare usually occurs infrequently between nations. But in Palestine the situation is different, the struggle becomes a part of the Palestinian daily life. On the personal level, this situation makes me frustrated and confused.

I spend my day calling my friends, helping my neighbors and listening to the sound of the bombs and warplanes. Everyone is frustrated, exhausted, easily annoyed and worried about the future. My mind does not stop racing and my heart does not stop pounding. I am always thinking and ask myself: Will we live a stable life? Can we have a better future? What about the next generations? And the most puzzling question is: Will we suffer forever?

I wonder if I will live to the next moment. I hope to achieve my dreams and that there is an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people. We have a hope to live like other nations. I wish to live in peace.

‘My little brother has lost his appetite for food and play’
Maissa Abdul-halim Abu Samra, 23, iYouth participant, Gaza

On the first day of this operation there was a bombing very close to our home. Right now, we have enough food and our house has not been damaged. But we are very afraid for the children and families who are now without shelter. There is bombing all day and all night.

Since I cannot go to university or even study my lessons or revise them, I just watch the news on TV when there is electricity. I just heard about 10 people killed, including five from the same family, four children and their father, and four other women...

I am tired psychologically from it. I am trying to keep up my spirits, but I am afraid about my family. I don't want bad things to happen to them. I ask Allah always to protect them and all the Gazans.

My family tries to be strong, but I can see the fear through their eyes. I have one little brother who is seven years old. He used to be a very active boy, but now he prefers to stay beside my mom and all his drawings are about the violence and about children being hurt. He has lost his appetite for food and play. We try to help him not be afraid, we always read him stories and play with him so he can forget what is going on outside.

I just need safety and security for my people and ask the international community to put pressure to end these massacres against civilians of my country. I think we are strong enough here in Gaza to challenge any fears.

‘I can't believe we are still alive after last night’
Deema Al Sousi, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

Well, I can't believe that we are still alive after last night. It was the worst ever. Warplanes were flying at very low altitude, making me constantly afraid of what would happen. Then they started bombing especially my area, which is full of civilian people and children. Bombings were heard everywhere here in the Gaza Strip, and as usual, panic and fear are the main emotion in this miserable time.

My feelings are so complex, I can't explain them in the right manner. Fear, panic, worry and even more. Living in Gaza is like hell right now because of the explosions and killings.

I am a university student and am supposed to be at class right now, continuing my life normally. But these attacks deprived me of this right. This situation has made me think deeply about this world and appreciate the meaning of peace.

People here have a faith that helps them to continue their life even with all the difficulties. They do believe that Allah will be beside them and help them in these difficult situations!

Right now, I am getting news from the television and local radio station, but the most important is social media. Facebook and Twitter cover what's going on here every second, so it gives us a full understanding of our situation and provides us with pictures and a lot of information about targeted places.

My biggest fear is that there will be a ground invasion, because I deeply believe that if this happens, our life will get worse and worse than ever before. I hope we can continue our life peacefully without more killed and injured people.

‘The house next to ours was bombed’
Fadwa Ashour, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

Today was a very hard day. At about 1:30 a.m. our house was shaken as a result of the Israelis bombing a nearby building. The building was used by the Alquds TV satellite channel. Then again in the morning at about 10:30 a.m. the house next to ours was bombed. Our house suffered substantial structural damage.

I felt so scared.

I hugged my two little brothers Yusuf, 7, and Kareem, 3. I kept wondering why anyone would want to hurt us.

Our people have become more supportive and display extreme care for each other.

‘Fear is at a level that I have never seen before’
Nada Redwan, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

I cannot describe what I am going through. Today I got to sleep for just a few hours and then woke up to the sounds of bombing.

My family's fear is at a level that I have never seen before. We stay gathered in one room in front of the TV watching the news and listening to the sounds of shelling.

No one goes out. The children are kept in their houses. My friends and I stayed in touch after every missile to check that the other is still safe.

The situation is very scary and it makes me feel so much anxiety that I can't sleep enough and I can't eat normally. It has made our life a great nightmare.

‘I can't even go to the market ten feet away from my house’
Hassan Abu Edwan, 20, iYouth participant, Gaza

Facebook has become a network of unstopping instant news. I know everything that happens in Gaza before they even show it on TV.

Due to continuous bombings all around my neighborhood, I can't even go to the market ten feet away from my house. For the past three days all I did was sit in my room while missile after missile shook the entire neighborhood.

I feel a mixture of fear and hope. My biggest fear is that the war will last longer than what everybody is saying, because I can’t stand seeing more children, women and elderly hurt and killed.

But fear all around the Palestinian community has been replaced by courage and hope despite all of the destruction and bombings. Some people have lost their homes and some or even all of their family members, but they know that patience and tenacity are the road to salvation.

‘I’m scared, frustrated and hopeless’
Summer Al Jamal, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

I cannot do anything, I cannot leave my house because I might get killed. I'm scared, frustrated and hopeless. My biggest fear is losing my family and friends.

I stay in touch by cell phones, Facebook and Twitter. My friends are scared, they want to get back to the situation before the war. I hope this all ends soon.

‘We are all in danger’
Hazem Habeeb, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

How am I supposed to feel when my family and all of my friends are in danger? How am I supposed to feel when there are bombs falling over Gaza every minute? When every minute the number of dead and injured people is increasing? How am I supposed to feel when there is a likelihood that the next victims could be me, my family or someone I know?

I am afraid that something bad could happen to one of my family or one of my friends. When I hear that there is an explosion close to one of my friend's houses, I call them. A lot of my friends have had to leave their houses because they are too damaged to live in. I've only been able to go once outside to buy some basic needs for the family. We are all in danger.

‘Life has stopped’
Mohammed Al Kurd, 23, iYouth participant, Gaza

Life has stopped. No one can go out in this situation. I cannot study, cannot do anything as I usually do. The war has stopped everything!

Actually, the only thing in my mind now is the safety of my family. I am trying to call everyone I know every day.

It hurts me deeply to see my people, innocent civilians, bombed and killed without doing any fault.

Everyone here feels that they are a target, so everyone has fear inside them. We are simply trying to live our life, so people try to pretend that everything is okay. But everyone fears more violence.

We are like one body here, we are all brothers and sisters, we are all one family, everyone looks after everyone. We hope that this war will get over, and Gaza will stand again because we are strong people.

November 19, 2012

‘All the places around us are targets’
Hind Yasser Al-Khaldi, iYouth participant, Gaza

We're suffering because all the places around us are targets — a lot of the public buildings in my neighborhood were bombed. We sleep on the floor to be safer, but it has started to hurt me. I've been staying awake for the whole night and sleep too late in the morning.

I'm afraid of losing my friends, family and relatives. I think about how I can keep them safe and what we will do if things get worse. Where will we go?

The biggest fear is to lose my home, or someone I love, and I hope all of this will end quickly without any loss and I stay safe with my family.

Even though we are all scared and stressed, we try to act normally as much as we can because of the kids. Of course I feel sorry and sad, but I really do my best so my family does not feel that I'm afraid. I try not to cry when I see the people hurt and killed on the news so the kids stay calm.

But still my sisters don't eat well and sometimes don't eat anything. By now, we don't have enough bread, but thank God we can still buy some food from local markets. Thank God our house has not been hit.

‘I woke up today to news of catastrophe’
Amal Bahir, iYouth participant, Gaza

I woke up today to news of catastrophe — two members of my family were killed by aggressive attacks to their car.

These difficult days and the situation are affecting me so badly. It makes me nervous and worried all the time!

My family has become much more connected these days. But people here are always sad, worried and hopeless.

‘We live together or die together’
Ramy Salem, 24, iYouth group facilitator, Gaza

I feel that I am so lucky. I bet you are surprised from my answer! Well, I think I am lucky that I had come back to Gaza two weeks before the offensive started. Thus, I am close to my family. I don’t need to think too much and stay worried and under pressure. Now, we live together or die together.

I am a social media activist and have been spending time tweeting about the situation here. I am tweeting updates so the people outside Gaza will be aware about what is going on in the Gaza Strip.

Airstrikes can be easily heard from where I live. The closest place hit nearby was the Al-Dalou family's house. Nine members of the Al-Dalou family — a mother and her four children, a grandmother, great grandmother and two aunts — were killed in the strike. Three generations of Al-Dalou family were buried under rubble.

Last night, I thought it was a quiet night but I have just realized that was only here in Gaza City. According to the IDF updates, 100 sites in Gaza were targeted since midnight. Only five rockets were fired from Gaza. My biggest fear is a second version of Operation Cast Lead, the 21-day war from December 2008 to January 2009 when more than 1,200 Gazans were killed.

We are human and our only hope is to have a decent life.

‘I am sick of these horrifying explosions’
Deema Al Sousi, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

The sound of the Palestine Stadium being targeted early this morning was the most intimidating thing I've ever heard in my 21 years. This stadium is very close to my house.

I am sick of these horrifying explosions, tired from the continuous shelling. I cannot look any more at the TV footage of my Gaza. We are afraid that if we leave our home, we will never come back again. It is a horrible feeling.

The Al-Dalou family was just massacred. Nine people were buried under the rubble of their house. Why?

Another sad story: My heart breaks for the Hjazi family. The mother has just died as well after struggling to survive for about an hour. She followed her husband Fo'ad and her two little kids, Suhaib, 2, and Mohammed, 4, who were taken from under the rubble of their house.

These stories make me think deeply about the horrible feeling of losing one of my family or friends. I don't want to lose anyone of them, they are all what I have in this world! How hard to live this experience.

‘We all spend the day like it is the last day of our life’
Summer Al Jamal, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

There were bombings so near us this morning.

My two little brothers, 11 and 9, they get scared at night. My parents try to assure them that everything will be okay. The thing is, they are not sure if that will be the case. We all spend the day like it is the last day of our life.

November 20, 2012

‘It was a very scary night’
Deema Al Sousi, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

When I woke up this morning, the first question I asked my mother is, ‘Are we all okay?’ It was a very scary night. Bombings were crazy continuous. I feel like every shelling caused an earthquake. It's very hard to live under attack, to feel you could be killed at any moment. My normal life now is more airstrikes, explosions, killing and panic.

Everything is getting worse here. I'm just now hearing news about more people killed in an attack that hit Al-Yarmouk football stadium.

When planes started shelling the Gaza Strip, the kids in our family started shouting and crying. And I can't do anything. They ask me why this is happening to them, and I can't find an answer to their questions. I just hug them and say, ‘Don't worry, tomorrow we will live in peace.’

‘Suddenly my bed starting shaking’
Hazem Habeeb, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

Last night the Israeli air force was striking everywhere.

They struck an empty government building that was so close to us. I just was in my bed trying to get some sleep and suddenly my bed started shaking. My dad started shouting to us, 'Come here! Hurry to the middle of the house!' My family was so scared and my little brother started crying. The only thing we could do at that moment was pray to stay safe.

It was so hard, and what makes it more painful is that you know with each bombing there are many people killed, not to mention the number of injuries.

‘I just wish for peace for all’
Alaa Abuiteiwi, 23, iYouth participant, Gaza

I usually spend my days at the research lab at school, get lunch with my family and hang out with friends at night. But now we cannot leave the walls of our house. We have enough food, but many other families have moved to our house, so there is a lack of things like cooking oil, blankets and mattresses.

Today I heard that two people were killed by airstrikes near my house. I just wish for peace for all.

‘We do not want escalation, but events do not bode well’
Alaa Al Khatib, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

In Gaza all the days are terrifying and alike. The number of people killed is soaring. Violence is the only thing we see and hear.

Life here in the Gaza Strip is paralyzed. No one is going to work, university or school. If anyone moves outside, he could be killed. Everything is shut down and everyone is suffering.

Right now, we have enough clean water, bread and grain. But if this situation continues for many days, it will become a food crisis.

We do not want escalation, but the shelling is still hitting the civilians. And the threat of invasion is still looming on the horizon. Events do not bode well. We are not pessimistic, but the airstrikes are intense and uninterrupted. The bombings, explosions and destruction are everywhere. The situation is very tense.

But even though our life is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming the suffering. We need an immediate cease-fire, saving the civilians and allowing the human rights organizations to help. We need security; we demand justice; we want peace.

‘Now the worst place you can imagine is the sea’
Anas Hamra, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

I usually wake up every day and stand a bit to watch the beauty of the sea. But now, with Navy warships shelling at least 20 to 30 rockets per day, the worst place you can imagine is that place — the sea.

The shelling usually starts at midnight strongly. We have many broken windows from the bombing. You can see the trail of the rockets in the picture.

Now, every time I see the sunset coming, I am just getting ready for another nightmare of more shelling overheard and more destruction in this place.

November 21, 2012

‘We can barely breathe clean air’
Anas Hamra, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

After so many massive airstrikes on Gaza last night, I am smelling dust all over the area.

We can barely breathe clean air. I can't see anything outside the windows because it is so thick.

‘It was an unbelievable, unforgettable night’
Deema Al Sousi, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

It was like hell, the aggressive attacks continued heavily right up until the last minutes before 9 p.m., the time to start cease-fire.

I can't forget the heart breaking story about Abd Al Rahaman Naim...his father Majdi Naim, a doctor at Shifa Hospital, had not seen his son for eight days. And then today he saw him come into the hospital, killed. What can I say? No words can truly describe this.

So there was a mix of feelings when I first heard of a cease-fire. I felt so sorry for those killed, may their souls rest in peace. But so happy because we really suffered enough from these attacks. And also so worried because I know if this cease-fire fails, we will suffer more and more.

But mostly, my smile was big when I heard about the cease-fire from the news on Facebook and Twitter. I thought, 'Oh finally, I will continue my life normally as other youth in this world and enjoy a peaceful night!'

It was an unbelievable, unforgettable, meaningful and amazing night as well! People were celebrating, women, men, children and elderly people were still outside, uniting their voices and cheering.

‘We hope this is a permanent truce’
Nada Redwan, 21, iYouth participant, Gaza

Wednesday was full of action, so many places bombed and a lot of people killed. By the night, we were all in so much fear and hoping for the war to stop.

So when we saw about the cease-fire on TV we didn't believe. We double checked it by the Internet, and then we were so happy, we laughed and sang. The feeling was awesome.

Our hopes are high for change. We believe that Gaza will be a better place and we will live happily. We hope this is a permanent truce.

November 22, 2012

‘The heart began to beat again in the Gaza Strip’
Anas Hamra, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

Tuesday was one of the most brutal and bloody days. And Wednesday night was a very difficult night. I bet that no one in the Gaza Strip slept that night for a moment.

For so long I waited for the declaration of a cease-fire and truce. And what a moment when Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, announced a cease-fire agreement. I was very cheerful and I stayed tuned to the last moment of the end of the war.

While my family was listening to the speech about the cease-fire, my little sister started jumping. Then she asked me, ‘Will we sleep peacefully this night? We will not hear the sounds of the explosions?’ I replied, ‘Don't worry, everything is going to be good. You will sleep the whole night without fear.’

After 9 p.m., the Palestinians gradually began to come out of their homes and they started cheering, launching fireworks and celebrating. In that moment, the shops opened their doors and the taxi drivers drove their cars. Simply, the heart began to beat again in the Gaza Strip.

After those happy moments, everyone returned back to their homes. It was a quiet night, and you could feel as if Gaza City was a ghost city because all the people were sleeping and no one moved. It was such an exhausting eight days.

I wish only for the return of stability and calm to the region and the end of the conflict. I would like to thank the countries that contributed to the end of the warfare and saved the peace, like the U.S. and Egypt. I hope peace will prevail here and in all parts of the world.

‘Finally, I got my beautiful picture’
Anas Hamra, 22, iYouth participant, Gaza

After eight days of war, of complete destruction of homes, buildings, cars, the general outdoors and the taking of innocent children, women and youths' lives!

Finally, after a long wait for the clock to turn to 9 p.m., the time when a really strong and true cease-fire between the Palestinian Resistance and the Israeli Army would take effect.

Finally, I got my beautiful picture.

Yeah, it's raining. But it's so peaceful after the eight days of fighting — and it's also my mom's birthday, so really what a joyful day we are having!

I would like to truly thank everyone from my heart who have stood and supported me and Gaza in the past days.

شكراً لكم مع الحب — Thank you, with love.

‘I am ready now to help everyone who needs us’
Mira Bakri, iYouth Program Coordinator, Gaza

I thought that November would be full of wonderful things, especially since it started in an amazing way, with my best friend’s wedding on November 1. And then all my friends surprised me on my birthday, November 11.

A few days later, we were on vacation for the Hijri new year, but the leaders of our iYouth program wanted to work, so I decided to join them. The office was full of excitement and enthusiasm as we worked on a plan for the next phase of the program, planning the community service projects, the trainings and the other activities we would implement.

Around 3 p.m., our small meeting was interrupted with all of our cell phones ringing — we received the news of the assassination of one of Hamas’s leaders. All of us fell silent, the active and happy faces around me became worried ones. We decided to go back to our homes, hoping to see each other the next day.

Unfortunately, we became prisoners in our own homes.

I spent the whole next day calling my friends and colleagues to make sure they were fine as I watched the news to see what was happening minute by minute.

On the third day, I received a call from my manager asking me if I was interested in working under these circumstances. Without any hesitation, I agreed. I started calling the youth leaders and asking them to contact the more than 300 members of the program to find out what they and their families might need at this time of the war. After ten hours of continuous work — phone calls, text messages and emails — we sent our report back to the office. It was the beginning of assessments to determine how Mercy Corps may be able to respond to emergency needs.

The next day we started working in a different way, to collect the youths' voices and opinions about what was happening. We also kept trying to collect information for the assessments, though that was challenging in many ways, but we wanted to help in any way we could. We continued working all through Wednesday, November 21.

When we first heard news about the truce, we waited to make sure it was true — we have heard similar news before that turned out not to be correct. But when we were sure of the news, I started receiving phone calls and hearing the people in the streets celebrating.

Despite our happiness that the war was over, we were still afraid that there would be more fighting again.

But when I woke up today, November 22, I felt sure that the truce is true. I wanted to see all my friends that I missed so much during these difficult days. I met some of them and we walked in the streets to see how they look now.

I am ready now to go back to my work, to start preparing for the next steps, to help everyone who needs us and to reach the biggest number of people and provide help to them.