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Gaza resident: ‘I am weak, I am vulnerable. But I want to live’

  • Israeli airstrikes have been raining onto Gaza since October 7, in retaliation for an attack by armed group Hamas that killed 1 400 people.
  • Over 5 000 Palestinians have already died in the latest conflict, and there seems to be no ceasefire in sight.
  • A 35-year-old civilian in the beleaguered Gaza strip details what life is like under siege.  

Ziad, a 35-year-old Palestinian, recounts the past few days in Gaza: his fear that water will run out; the financial toll of war; and his wish to have normal conversations again.

Friday 20 October

8am I never thought that I, in my 30s, would become like one of those old people who wake up and check the newspaper obituaries to see who has died. In my case, it is the internet, not the newspaper — if we have a connection — and I check to see if anyone I know has died in the airstrikes and bombing. As for the age, I believe that you are as old as you feel, and these days I feel old. Very old.

A whole family I know have died. We were not close, but it is completely different when you match faces to the names; when you remember interactions. These were people of flesh, blood and memories who no longer exist. The idea of being alive one minute and then dead the next terrifies me.

Yesterday, the church in Gaza where many Muslim and Christian families were taking shelter, was bombed. I know that my friend, his wife and daughter are fine. I called today to check on him. “Until now, we are still getting people out from under the rubble,” he says. “A relative of mine is dead and another one is in a critical condition in the hospital.”

He says they are in no state to think about future steps. I feel helpless. I wish I could be there for him.

10am Ahmad, the middle son of our host family, is a very helpful person. He is always working to help the families who evacuated with finding a place to stay; providing some basic necessities like clothes, shoes and milk; or guiding them where certain services are located.

Over a cup of coffee, he shares the tremendous impact of the situation on Gazans’ livelihoods: “A friend of mine had finally got a good income working as an online freelance programmer. For the last two weeks, he hasn’t done any work. He called me and said that he was out of money.”

For many Gazans, freelancing has been the “ticket” out of unemployment. For the first time, Gazans did not need to cross a border or have a certain passport to be accepted — all they needed was a laptop, internet connection and electricity, and now even those are gone.

Children sit by cars damaged in an Israeli army raid on Nur Shams, a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

I wonder about the daily workers: the plumbers, the cleaners, the carpenters. How have they been able to afford these horrible times? Because disasters come at a price. How can they buy all their necessities with no income? I think about the young entrepreneurs I know, who started small businesses out of a talent they have or a gap they have filled in the market. Now that most of their shops are destroyed or damaged, I worry about their future.

Noon I want to stand up and scream.

This is the second Friday since the whole situation started. Fridays are when families gather for lunch, friends go out for fun and people relax. For us, we are trapped, full of fear, waiting for the unknown.

It kills me to see on the internet pictures of long queues of people waiting to buy the iPhone 15 while Gazans are waiting in long queues to get bread and water for their families. I hate that many people around the world are not aware that we exist, and we are dying every day. I want to cry … and I desperately need a hug.

6pm Since yesterday, the host family has been trying to secure drinking water. The water we have might last for a day or two. So far, they haven’t succeeded, but they assure me there is nothing to worry about. I am worried.

My sister decides to reduce the amount of food and treats she gives the cats. Their food and stuff occupied the biggest space in the bags we took, but she says we are not sure how long this situation will go on, and we need to keep as much left as possible.

The cats start meowing and going to the bag trying to fetch a treat. At first, she refuses to give them anything, but then she caves in and gives them the treats.

10pm I lie on the couch to count my blessings for the day. I remember that my cat jumped over my belly and started purring; Ahmad told me that a shop owner is selling products at lower prices for those who evacuated because he wants to help; I saw a short video of Gazan children swimming in the sea; and — oh, I am still alive.

Saturday 21 October

8am The explosion this morning was so hard that I literally felt my body rise above the couch I was lying on.

The targeted house was metres away. I wake up, terrified, trying to get the cats with my sister, but this time I can’t. There is such a loud buzzing and ringing in my ears that I can’t focus. I can’t balance either.

My sister gets the cats, and we sit on the couches, as usual, waiting for a cue to move. Minutes later, she opens the door of the balcony, we can’t see anything for dust. Later, Ahmad goes to check and see what is happening. Ahmad — enthusiastic, positive Ahmad — comes back covering his body with his own hands, as if he is trying to hug himself. He looks lost … he is scared.

How long will this nightmare go on? How long?

9am Most of the windows of the host family’s house are broken due to the bombing. When I open the toilet door, I realise that the medium-sized window there has fallen out, leaving a huge rectangular area of light and showing the window of the neighbouring building. I go backwards and return. The grandfather says: “Go inside and do your thing. I promise you nobody will look.” I politely decline, saying I will wait until it is covered.

There are many new things I have forced myself to get accustomed to since this whole horrible situation started, but relieving myself in an open area where people can watch is not one of them.

Noon I get the chance to talk to my friend to check on her after five days of failed attempts. She tells me that she, who evacuated her house and is living in fear with her children, has volunteered to check on all her colleagues to provide them with emotional support. I can’t believe her. Is she capable of absorbing all the negative energy of the others? Is she fully equipped with what it takes to make them feel stronger? I wonder, in Gaza, who is helping the helpers? Those who are trying to make a small, positive change.

I also receive a message from a friend abroad telling me that she is amazed by my resilience and what a strong person I am. Who has told her that? Doing your best to survive is not resilience. I love and want to live life to the maximum. I want to travel, listen to music, learn new cultures. I don’t want to be running for my own life. I don’t want to pray every day that I live to see the sun of the next one. I am not resilient. I am weak, I am vulnerable. But I want to live.

In Gaza, for some it is taboo to seek psychosocial support. People would rather live in shame instead of speaking openly about their problems. And for others, they are so consumed with providing the necessities to their families that they cannot even consider taking care of themselves. I believe every single Gazan is in dire need of therapy.

4pm For the first time since we evacuated to this home, the grandmother has not prepared lunch. “I am very sorry,” she says. “For some reason, I can’t cook today.”

But everyone knows the reason; this strong woman, who has been doing her best to keep her family and guests strong during these tough times, is afraid. She sees death around her and finds herself helpless in its face.

6pm We are still low on drinking water. After many attempts, they have only been able to fill five bottles.

They give me and my sister one, but we give it back. We still have two bottles with us, and they will benefit more from it. I am worried soon there will be no drinking water.

8pm Sitting on the couch, focusing on nothing, hearing bombs from time to time, my sister and Ahmad start a conversation about theatre. They talk about the history of theatre in the Arab world and about the most iconic plays that have left an impact on the culture and public perspectives. They share their recommendations of their favourite plays.

I admire how they enjoy a normal discussion that any two people around the world might have.

I think back to a conversation I had earlier today with one of the kids. She asked me if I could have a superpower, which one would it be? I told her that I would like to be invisible. I have changed my mind — I want the superpower of being normal, living a mundane life and discussing everyday topics.

This article was originally published by The Guardian’s global development project part of Guardian News & Media Ltd.