Gaza Diaries: The Tragedy as Experienced By Mental Health Professionals

'We die every day, in many ways, until we confused the definition of salvation; is it that you survive shelling and live, or die in martyrdom to be saved from such a life?'

This two part series is written by mental health professionals affiliated with the United Palestinian Appeal – an organisation which works in devising socially responsible and sustainable programmes in health, education, and community and economic development for Palestinians. UPA is headquartered in Washington, DC, and works in the occupied Palestinian territories and refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

This is part two. Read part one here.

Story 9: October 31, 2023

“Daddy, who invented the Israelis?”

A few moments after heavy shelling by our house, my 7-year-old daughter, whose body was trembling with fear, put her trembling hand on my cheek and asked: “Daddy, who invented the Israelis? Why do they do this to us? Tell them it’s enough!”

A simple, innocent question that I could not answer with all my mental strength… I chose to hold her instead and bring her and her siblings to my chest. I told them: “Don’t fret, we are all together fighting our fear.”

And so I looked at my eldest daughter, who became a teenager just a few months ago, and is fully aware of what is happening. She looked at me silently as if asking: “But you are terrified, father. I feel your heartbeats as if they beat outside your chest.” I kissed her forehead and said: “It’s ok. The bravest are those who are scared for the most precious in their lives. Do you see how brave we are!?”

Roo7 is a mental health professional, anonymous for fear of being targeted.

Story 10: November 2, 2023

This is the 22nd day of war. I’m used to helping people figure out their emotions and let them be. Today, I don’t know what to do with my own sadness anymore. I stopped counting how many family members and loved ones I lost. How can I do that when I’m trying to alleviate the pain and suffering of my kids, who also lost many of their friends and classmates?!

For me as a mother, death is not the worst part in this story. The worst part are all those images and thoughts that won’t leave the minds of almost everyone in Gaza: will we die instantly when attacked? Will we continue to suffer alone alone under the rubble for many hours or maybe days? Will we feel too much pain while dying? Will we die together? Will one or more of the youngest kids live without the rest of the family? Then where and how? Will our bodies turn into pieces? Will we feel the pain of losing a limb?

My kids ask me questions, and I try to answer in a language they can understand. How can I talk about death, that’s all around, in an age-appropriate way? How do I tell my kids to prepare for scenarios like surviving without the rest of us or being severely disabled, or both?

Dana, my 11-year-old daughter said: “Mum, if it happens that I die and you all survive, please all of you imagine as if I’m in front of you and talk to me everyday.”

“Why?” I asked.

She was sobbing as she answered: “because I’ll miss you there.”

Eman Abu Shawish is a mental health practitioner at UPA, Gaza, Palestine.

Story 11: November 3, 2023

My name is Naheel and I am 28 years old. I don’t know how much life or time I have left before my mission in this life is over. I would like to tell you parts of my story before I run out.

Today happens to be the 28th day of the attacks on Gaza. It is as if each year of my life corresponds to a day of the war.

My family and I lived through many brutal, lonely nights and we sustained damages in our home from the heavy, incessant shelling. We opted to stay and die dignified in our home over roaming between places we cannot prove are any more or less safe… People are being targeted at schools, hospitals, bakeries, buildings, and “safe areas.”

Naheel and Nisreen. Photo: From the UPA website

On the twenty fifth day, though, I did not anticipate the loss of my best friend, my sister and comrade in challenge and struggle and humanitarian work. Her name was Nisreen.

My phone rang.

Someone said: “Your friend, Nisreen, is now under the rubble and has been missing for a day and a half; they couldn’t pull her out…!”

“That is not true!! This is a joke!!” I replied.

I felt paralysed and am still in disbelief since. I stayed in bed. I couldn’t breathe. I felt suffocated. I wondered every second if my friend was still alive…!!

I was hopeful and consoled myself thinking she would survive. After two days of overthinking and helplessness, they told me “we pulled out your dead friend, as she has risen along with all her family members.”

My friend and her family were totally wiped out.

She was erased like she never existed.

Her family was ambitious and life-loving, like mine.

What is this deep pain!

I lost my comrade in ambition and struggle. How am I going to resume my doctoral journey without her, if I am destined to live?? Before the war, Nisreen was finishing up her thesis and prepping for her master’s defense and wedding ceremony…

Everyday since, I look at our pictures and memory album. My heart bleeds from pain. I tell myself “no, she didn’t die, this is a nightmare and I will wake up from it. I must wake up. My friend still has a lot to give life and our friendship…” I wish I died before living the pain of this loss. And who knows when I would lose my picture album and any memories I have in my home…

On that barbaric day, I lost a beautiful soul as pure as an angel. And how? In a fire belt!!!!! And how can I live with this rupture in my heart and soul. We always left a special mark in our humanitarian work, helping people and alleviating some of their pain. All we wanted was to reduce some of the burdens our people that they unduly carried, especially those children who lived through traumas, many wars, incessant aggression, crises, and never-ending conflict.

I have so much energy that can fill up an entire planet and so much passion to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology as well as improve myself and serve people. I like children and I like to work and live and travel and move and be free and have those rights like any other normal human being…

I lost my dream, my journey, and my loving supportive friend. The bride-to-be has now become a bride of paradise and got the highest achievement of meeting her Maker, along with her family.

As for me, with all this loss, I have not lost my life just yet!!!

Naheel Al Qassas is a mental health professional, UPA – Gaza, Palestine.

Story 12: November 4, 2023

The fifth day of war.
It’s 11:00 am.

I made some tea and the kids sat around me, as I was considering some activity we can do to reduce the repercussions of the horrific night before.

Before any of us took a sip of the tea, we heard a loud explosion. Sounds of breaking glass and things falling. The house suddenly filled up with black smoke that caused partial darkness and a suffocating odour, and everyone started coughing. The metal drape fell on my head, but I didn’t care. All I was focused on was getting wet towels to cover the kids noses so they don’t suffocate.

Then we all ran towards the ground floor with the two young girls hanging on to my clothes, only to find the stairs also full of broken glass. I took the kids inside the house on the ground floor and headed towards the building entrance to look for my eldest son. He was waiting for any vehicle selling drinking water, while his father was waiting in a bakery line to buy some bread. I was searching and telling myself: “Please, God, protect my son and husband and don’t separate us.” I felt my heart beat fast and my thoughts racing back and forth. I kept searching in the burning street that was full of smoke and rubble. I deeply thanked God when I found him safe and sound.

The smoke subsided only for us to discover the martyrdom of three children from three of the families of our neighbours. One of the children had gone up to the roof to feed the rabbit kittens. He used to adore those kittens and care for them like they were little babies… We also found a number of injured people.

The families whose homes were damaged started moving to other places. My youngest daughter, Fayruz, who is 7 years old, bid farewell to her friends. Little did she know that they will be targeted in the houses they went to, and two would die and rise.

We spent around an hour and a half in the ground floor until my children’s bodies stopped shaking enough so they could walk, and we went back up to our home. I quickly swept the broken glass and the fallen things, and pulled down the windows that were partially broken so the pieces don’t fall on pedestrians on the street. And when I was done, I started feeling the whiplash in my head from the fallen metal drape, which remained for a few days afterwards.

I looked at my kids who were gathered in a corner, crying. I hugged them all and before I uttered a word, Fayruz said: “I pray I die and rise so I get rid this of this fear.”

Dana said: “Mommy, I feel I am dead… I feel I am not alive… mama, do you see me?”

I performed some quick psychological interventions, and then I allowed them all some space to talk freely about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Eventually, I suggested we draw. Dana, my 11-year-old, drew the attached picture.

She explained her drawing: “This is a house that was shelled and fell on people, and this girl said No God But Allah before she died. She is really scared and very sad and nobody can save her from the rocket.”

Eman Abu Shawish is mental health professional with UPA – Gaza, Palestine.

Story 13: November 4, 2023

The 30th day of the war…

Fifth of November…

Today, my baby Fayruz completes her 7th year.

Since over 3 months ago, she has been counting the days waiting for this day. I swear she was counting them one day at a time, and asked me every day: “How much longer till my birthday?!”

She had a grand plan with the details of this day. I say grand for her as a child from Gaza, but it could be a perfectly ordinary day for kids in the rest of the world… maybe even less than ordinary.

Her plan has a colourful cake imprinted with the cartoon character Elsa; 7 colourful candles; some marshmallows; decorations; birthday fireworks; balloons; a list of guests that includes some classmates and friends from our neighbors; and a whole lot of fun! Then go out with the family on some outing, perhaps to eat shawarma, or play in one of the kids’ arcades.

Since the start of the war and despite her young years, Fayruz realized that her dream of a birthday celebration is slowly vanishing… She felt that celebrating is a form of treason to the thousands of children who passed, and to the pains and fears of those who are still alive… I feel sorry for her heart that learned very early how sorrrow competes with joy and wins, and how death attacks life and destroys it.

Let us get back to her plan:

As for the cake, bakeries here can barely make bread and no room for cakes, and there is no gas to bake one at home…

As for the candles, those were replaced with bombs that light up the sky and never leave…

As for the fireworks, don’t worry, we have explosions anytime…

As for the decorations and balloons, they have no place on cracked walls that are filled with smoke…

As for the list of guests, it has friends who became martyrs before they even knew about the invite, friends who are grieving the losses of loves ones, and friends we know nothing about after ways of communication were severed…

And as for the outing after the party, there is no place left standing in Gaza, no restaurant or arcade or even a street… everything turned into rubble…

As for joy, I thank God she is still a child, and is overtaken by a pure and uncorrupted instinct to pursue happiness and fun…

That instinct that gave her sparkling eyes in the morning as she joyfully yelled: “Mama today is my birthday!”

I hugged and kissed her and said: “Happy birthday, happy birthday my sweetheart!”

Suddenly, her eyes stopped sparkling and she said: “Is it ok to throw a party? It’s not ok, right?”

I looked at her lovingly and said: “Whatever you want, what would you like to do?”

She smiled and hid her head in my lap and asked: “Do they bake a cake in war?” And she meant the bakeries.

I smiled and replied: “We will see, we will get one if we can find it, but what shall we do if couldn’t find any?”

She was silent.

I suggested: “If we couldn’t find a cake, we can celebrate with marshmallows.” (We had bought some the day before as this was the last ingredient in our plan.)

She screamed: “Yaaaaaaaaay!!!”

My heart danced to the amount of happiness in her eyes, so I added: “God-willing, we will have a nice birthday after the war.”

She abruptly asked me: “And what happens if we die as martyrs?”

One of her sisters saved me and said: “If we die as martyrs, we will throw the nicest birthday party in Heaven.”

This, dear friends, is childhood in Gaza. A dream blockaded by scoundrels from every corner; scoundrels who wage sudden wars that won’t let a simple child’s dream ever be fulfilled.

Eman Abu Shawish is a mental health practitioner at UPA, Gaza, Palestine.

Note from UPA: Realising the discrepancy with the specified birthday on November 5; I could not get hold of Eman to clarify because all communications were cut off again.

Story 14: November 6, 2023

Stolen birthday moments:

We spent most of the day trying to prepare some food for the family. This took a very long time because we used firewood that takes time to light and can only accommodate one pot at a time.

Red eyes and continuous shedding of tears are not important, nor are the fire burns on our hands. What really matters is that I don’t see them hungry, or have a guilt scar in my heart if any of them, God-forbid, were to become martyrs while craving food…

After we were done cooking, we changed our clothes. We gathered around to read some verse from the Qur’an before it turned dark. Darkness has been arriving much earlier than usual these days.

The kids sat on the floor of the room we have been sleeping in since the beginning of the war. I arranged the pieces of the marshmallow in a plastic plate and placed an electronic candle in the middle. In another plate, I put what we could scavenge of biscuits, and I walked towards them holding the two plates whilst singing: happy birthday to you…

Fayruz was the first to clap! Then her siblings followed as they sang with me. If the cells in her body could speak, they would have told us they were dancing in joy. And if I could, I would have thanked the darkness for hiding the avalanche of tears on my face that I could not control… I cried because of my daughter’s purity and innocence; that daughter who was elated with less than peanuts… or maybe I cried because I tricked time and stole for my kids and I 18 minutes of joy, of genuine smiles, of warm wishes, before an airstrike targeted a nearby location that shook the ground, the building, and our hearts… and my kids all returned to my lap and shoulders and sides, where they belong… and we start over the rituals of fear and fake sleep.

This, dear friends, is childhood in Gaza. A dream blockaded by scoundrels from every corner; scoundrels who wage sudden wars that won’t let a simple child’s dream ever be fulfilled. And so we replace it by a reality that we can force, until life or death finds its way to us.

Eman Abu Shawish is a mental health practitioner at UPA, Gaza, Palestine.

Story 15: November 7, 2023

Decapitated Dream

Here I write to you with honest feelings and heavy emotions. I, like any person on this earth, have unfulfilled ambitions and dreams. Today I share my pain over education and educators. Oh how passionate I am about knowledge and learning!

My college journey from the bachelor’s to master’s was no ordinary one; it was filled with adventures, stories, and memories that I hope I can narrate to my children one day.

Throughout seven long years of working under temporary contracts with lack of job security and professional stability, in a dire Palestinian reality, I never succumbed to obstacles and challenges that seemed to be thrown at me from every direction. I used to work with my colleagues under severe injustice, inhumane siege, poor economic conditions, and a difficult financial situation. I have always dreamt of the moment I would be able to pursue postgraduate studies. I patiently awaited my chance and booked my spot in the master’s program with 40 dinars.

My family and I saved as much money as we could to finance my studies and pursue my dream. Always on my mind was the Hadith of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on pursuing knowledge: “Whoever follows a path seeking knowledge, God will make easy for him a path to Paradise. Indeed, the angels lower their wings in satisfaction with what the seeker of knowledge does; and everything and everyone in the skies and the earth, and even the fish in the water, seek and pray for their forgiveness. The favor of the scholar over the worshiper is like the favor of the moon over all the other planets, and the scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets did not leave behind a dinar or a dirham, but rather they left behind knowledge, so whoever takes it will receive an abundant share.” This Hadith was my strongest motive to persist.

And I started my master’s program.

All my professors used to motivate me to continue. I will never forget the mark of Dr. Anwar, Chairman of the Psychology Department, God’s mercy be on his soul. He was adamant on creating the doctorate program in psychology at the Islamic University in conjunction with Al-Azhar University. I also remember Dr. Osama, God’s mercy be on his soul, who has risen as a martyr in this aggression. Also I note Dr. Jamil, the man with the incredible sense of humor, may God protect him, who once told me: “You, Naheel, will be a doctor. You are real and intuitive, for your character is special. Even your face is joyful!”

I laughed and said: “I would feel so blessed if I just finish my master’s degree!”

I remember many of my professors who pushed me to pursue graduate studies on women and children. They had much faith in my potential and abilities and all this I merit to God first, then to my parents, then to every professor who taught me. And I will not forget my Godfather in my clinical and academic journey, Dr. Moustafa El-Masry, who helped shape my personality to the better. I am indebted to him for life and want to be a clinical supervisor, just like him!

I feel a strong sense of belonging to my university and community there. I always searched for scholarships to study clinical psychology abroad, and went through the full process. I wished to bring knowledge back to the people of Gaza and join my professors in disseminating knowledge and enriching life. But it was the wisdom of God that my destiny was to stay and study in Gaza and serve my people and my country. And so I started graduate school while balancing study with work and life.

After hard work, exhaustion, and much hardship, finally the signs of success started to show. I got to the last semester my master’s degree and my dream was shining inside of me. I cannot describe how proud and happy I felt! I stood tall and proud in front of the obstacles of life and this dream buried inside of me!

But my joy was incomplete…

Suddenly, one day, I woke up to the sounds of heavy shelling. The first shock was the bombardment of the buildings of my university. This educational edifice is not just buildings and departments. That university represents the character of the sincere, educated, hardworking, loyal, honest Palestinian person. It is also a podium for scholars and scholarship and is considered the second home for every student ever enrolled in it. Now, the educational career is destroyed, and so is the university with this mad shelling.

Dr. Anwar, Dr. Osama, and Dr. Ibrahim were all killed… so many of the faculty were killed… I will no longer listen to their lectures nor receive their encouragement except in my memories… and we will not resume together the path seeking knowledge and wisdom… what a loss and what a tragedy…

My thesis was burnt and so were all my papers… no more homework to grade and no more idols to evaluate and guide…

I felt as if a giant rocket targeted my heart!! All my dreams were shattered in front of my eyes.

I cried with all my senses; I cried as if I had never cried before.

As if the dream in Gaza turned into void and was put on hold until further notice…

AAAAAAHHHH… between our rosy dreams and making them a reality lies a grey, ugly war!!

I was raising this dream as if it was a baby I was nurturing and caring for… I could not express how I felt; all the words and letters disappeared; and I left my dreams in the hands of God like any human who could not find anyone but God to help them, and I cried out loud: “On this earth exists what deserves life, hope and love…!” And I tell you: “We love life if we could find a way to it.” (Note – both quotes from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish). We are not numbers; for every one of us has a story, a dream, a memory, and an ambition. My dream is what keeps me alive to this day. And from the heart of pain hope is born, for we are alive, staying, and the dream will be continued.

Naheel Al Qassas is a mental health professional, UPA – Gaza, Palestine.

Story 16: November 9, 2023

Raji is the youngest of my siblings. My little brother is a sensitive and warm person. He’s ambitious and has a big dream to become a civil engineer. Raji loves life, soccer, and playing with our niece, Elia.

Raji witnessed all the wars on Gaza since he was born, and he did not enjoy his childhood like other kids… and he hasn’t achieved any of his dreams in this life…

My brother’s fears are my biggest worry, for each time I look at Raji, I see hope in the future. Now, I feel major helplessness towards him as if I carry the burden of the responsibility of his well-being over my shoulders. He has seen nothing of this life, except nonstop war and destruction.

My father always told me: “Naheel, I have grown old and not much of life is in me. My health may fail any day, and my duties on this earth will end with it. I worry for little Raji who has not yet accomplished what you and your siblings did academically, nor has he had any chances at life yet. I ask you to embrace and care for him like I did for you.” Those words of my father’s linger in my ears and continue to pain me more and more.

Raji says he feels bored, exhausted, and scared. He always repeats: “I am bored and sick of the shelling! When will we be rid of it? I am scared of death!”

The hardships of life have stolen Raji’s childhood and forced him to grow up early, just like it did to other children in Gaza. Raji asks question beyond his age and has thoughts bigger than his youth. For he thinks about death before he could live; and aches of loss before he could enjoy existence.” Every night, he says: “I want to sleep next to mom so we die together.” And he tells my mom: “Don’t leave me for I will go with you to Heaven!!”

He feels extremely angry at rockets and the sound of drones and wonders: “why do they bomb us! I feel I am about to die! God, when will this war end?! I want to go to school and see my friends! I know nothing about them and am terrified they are all dead in this war that is killing all kids my age…”

Naheel Al Qassas is a mental health professional, UPA – Gaza, Palestine.

Story 17: November 12, 2023

I turned 30, three days ago!

Happy birthday to me.

I welcomed my birthday as we are stifled under the strongest, most difficult attack we faced in our combat history. I say our combat history because we, or at least I, have witnessed many wars and aggressions that the sieged Gaza Strip has lived for many years. I think of thirty years that passed, of the entrenched fear I developed of losing my family, home, and my loved ones. In the past, I thought I understood what it meant to be occupied, but turns out I had no idea!

I thought I understood occupation when I suffered bitterly in my experience with Sofia, the birdie of my heart gifted to me a few years into my marriage. Visiting Sofia, whom I delivered in occupied Jerusalem at the time, required me to get permission from the Israelis, their permission to go see my daughter who was born at 6-month-gestation. She, her father, and I were in desperate need to be with each other when she was in the incubator. But it so happens that the occupier’s law prohibits parents from being together in the hospital, and provides a permit only for one member of the family at a time, and for a maximum period of one week… how much I needed my husband next to me and how much Sofia needed both of us together… and how many difficult decisions we had to make from afar, without looking into her eyes…

At that time, I used to existentially ponder upon our situation.

The struggle begins at the Erez Crossing, where you are forced into a long search from head to toe! You see soldiers and officers everywhere with their heavy artillery, arrogantly looking around, with their fingers on the trigger, ready to attack in cold-blood and empty all their bullets in the head of the victim, as per usual.

I have passed through Erez many-a-time and every time I feel sadness, bitterness, and terror over our state of affairs, for we have no prints in this part of the occupied land. You see female recruits all around, and you can’t help but wonder how can a woman be so harsh on another woman this way… how does she not see that had she been born on the other side of the line, she would be in my place… you see Israeli flags everywhere, and surveillance cameras in every square meter, no kidding! At the time, I thought I knew what it me to be occupied. To be occupied means that your enemy obliterates any marks of the the native people that could prove they had right over the land. To be occupied means that you feel like an alien in your own homeland.

Every time I went to Jerusalem, I would stand at the window of my hotel room and ball my eyes out for hours. I walk in the alley and look at people’s faces and I cry. I cry for feeling like a foreigner in my own homeland. I cry because I was lonely, lonely, lonely with Sofia who was fighting under those machines that keep her alive…

Often, I used to wish that Mohammad and I could go visit Sofia together. I wished she would see us together so she feels our love and what it means to have a family! But we were deprived of that, too, because our permissions to go together were always declined, for their fear that we would stay there. And “there” is the part of the land that was previously snatched from us, and thus our simple existence becomes a threat to their fake country; for we are a living proof of the horrific mess by which this land was stolen, the proof that refuses to disappear. Because of this, I do understand their paranoia about the original people of the land.

Sometimes I would go visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock to pray in that blessed, sacred place, hoping to feel that some evidence of our history and existence here still remains; that I find some peace there. I used to worship and cry a lot!! I cry because in a few hours I will have to leave Sofia alone again and return to Gaza, not knowing when I will be allowed to see her again… and I cry at our whole situation! But even in my miserable attempts to feel some peace and safety, I only felt more bitterness and pain! For wherever you looked, you would see Israeli police, looking at you like a hungry cat ready to jump at its prey; ready and wishing for the moment in which they end your life!

Despite all this, I never truly understood the meaning of occupation until today. As we try to survive the most brutal of wars we have witnessed, I finally started to grasp what it means to be occupied. Today. Between death and us is zero distance, and nobody is reaching out to do us justice! Occupation as I see it now is that one party moves as far as possible from their humanity to chase their greed, and paints the enemy as the one devoid of humanity.

I want to thank my body and mind and soul for the flexibility and coherence, this coherence that allows me to write these words despite all this madness… I am proud and grateful for you.

Yasmine Ayoub is a mental health professional at UPA – Gaza, Palestine.

Story 18: November 13, 2023

While we are in the twilight zone between life and death, I find myself recalling my memories and remembering my life.

Gaza… my pain and my beloved Gaza.

The world knows of her five wars and a few aggressions.

But we – her people – know that her wars are far more. You know her military wars, like a thirsty vampire attacking us collectively and one-by one to quench its thirst. Then it goes back to its nest, satiated with our remains, naps for a period of time called truce, which may be longer or shorter before the beast gets thirsty again and starts over…

But we have another war that is no less vicious, operating in darkness like bats, war of the siege…

We have been its game for 16-plus years, but – unlike other wars – it is slow and has its unique taste; it slowly counts our flesh, turning the kill into an art; flavours with different spices; chews slowly, then wipes its mouth, takes off its gloves and walks away, so that anyone looking – if someone actually investigates – finds no trace or evidence to condemn…

Both wars are heavy with fear, worry, and helplessness, and make you ponder which of the two would end your life first…

As a mental health specialist, I was destined to work with tens of children whose ages range between 6 and 17 years. All of them born in the era of the siege…

I shall not talk to you about their pains, but rather about their dreams…

– I dream to have a Barbie doll or any other toy, doesn’t matter which.
– I dream to have windows for the house because it gets very cold.
– I dream to take an allowance to school.
– I wish I could ride a car to school because the path is very long and the school bag is heavy.
– I wish to go to a restaurant just one time.
– To have meat on Friday like others.
– That we bring fruits to the house.
– A big shawarma sandwich.
– To live in a house instead of the wooden shack.
– I dream to wear new boots, for all my life I’ve worn used boots that outgrew the feet of others.
– To buy new clothes for Eid.
– To have a TV or mobile phone.
– LED light for the night because we are scared when the electricity is out.

And this is only a drop in the sea…

Their dreams are all about eating, drinking, clothing, and shelter. In a time where children of the world steadily rise up Maslow’s pyramid, most of us are glued to its base. This is no surprise since most people in Gaza fall below the poverty line… significantly below it, ladies and gentlemen… like the families of the unemployed, those with limited income, and those living in debt… and far and few are those to whom life has smiled by letting them crawl above the poverty line to afford those basics. Some of them are public employees or employees of the UNRWA or any of the international organisations…

And there are families oscillating around that line, like families of daily laborers and workers on short-term contracts. Those climb above the line when they find a job, and flip back below it when their job ends… so even the slightest sense of security in income and basic livelihood is not present.

My kids once had such simple dreams, for we, too, had limited income as I struggled to find a job.

With patience and faith, and much persistence, ten years passed post graduation before I was able to find me a contract-based job.

As if dreams grow in direct positive correlation with income, for today my children have “luxurious” dreams now that their mother is working, albeit intermittently.

One of my girls dreams of owning a car, and another of riding a plane, at least once before she dies…

Talking of travel, we have no right to it, for the borders of land and sky are sealed with rusty locks… you can ask our crossings how many men, women, and children have passed waiting for permission to leave for medical treatment, not for tourism or fun…

As for the borders of the sea, thank God that they endowed upon us a few miles, from which some can find sustenance from fishing and some entertainment… that’s the only outlet for the poor, for its sand, air, and water are free. Did you feel some hope here? Hold on… for its water is polluted from sewage pushed upon us by the occupation through the Gaza Valley…

How generous life can be giving you all those options to die…

Whoever doesn’t die by shelling dies by hunger and thirst; or by the sickness from them; or by pollution of water, air, soil, and produce; or by the fire of a candle lit by a mother to ease fear of the dark in her children when the electricity is out, and the candle burning down the house and the children as they sleep; or by defeat and sorrow over helplessness in getting one’s kids some basic clothing they asked for; or by bitterness over an age slipping through your fingers and dreams buried while you stay in place, for your education doesn’t do you good, nor do your qualifications… and the list is long…

If you see us on screens rising from under the rubble thankful to God, or mourning our beloved with folk songs, or receiving the news of truce with a short-lived sense of joy, it is not because we hate life; it is just that we are used to death…

We die every day, in many ways, until we confused the definition of salvation; is it that you survive shelling and live, or die in martyrdom to be saved from such a life?

Eman Abu Shawish is a mental health practitioner at UPA, Gaza, Palestine.

Story 19: November 15, 2023

The Smell of Gunpowder:

There are two kinds of killing we are exposed to daily and always from this criminal usurper.

The first is direct killing, using the strongest, most destructive types of missiles in the world. Those can annihilate and kill laaaaarge numbers of people, surpassing 100 per hit, typically of women, children, and the elderly.

As for the second, it is a slow death for those who live day-by-day in this ugly war. This is primarily through destroying every civil resource like municipal services, which led to piling of garbage in neighbourhoods, especially with the large numbers of the internally displaced gathering in those neighbourhoods. This increases pollution on many levels, insect infestations, rats, foul smells, and air pollution.

What is more difficult is that the usurper uses the direction of the wind as a weapon, especially at night. They shoot toxic smoke and internationally banned phosphorous bombs. The toxins move with the wind between neighbourhoods and into homes. Frequently, those toxins are accompanied by a strong, foul odour that smells much like gunpowder, and gives us a feeling of death by suffocation.

I remember the early morning breeze as cool and refreshing, expanding your chest with joy. I used to long to smell the dew drops and begin my day on that note… especially on days I planned to play football (soccer). But this foul smell increases by sunrise, robbing us of the nature’s simple gift of clean air…

My 75-year-old father cannot stand this suffocating smell, and coughs and sneezes for a long time. Our heart sinks of fear for his health each time this happens. Then he confesses: “I have lived through maaany wars in my life but have never witnessed anything like this war and this brutality. I cannot bear this.”

So do children. They are deeply impacted for they cough even when sleeping, as if they have a heavy flu. My 7-year-old daughter always says: “Daddy, my nose is blocked and I can’t breathe. I wish I can have some good air!”

Where do I get my daughter some good air… I hold her and stay silent.

We started thinking about simple solutions for this problem, so we soaked pieces of cloth in water, which itself is scarce. When we smell those toxins, we cover our noses and try to breathe slowly until the smoke subsides.

My wife looks at me, tearful from all the smoke and gunpowder, and wonders: “Is it our destiney to die by suffocation?”

A lot of people say that if we make it alive, we will probably die by diseases resulting from these toxins. As if the occupiers have planned a never ending series of death to extract all hope of life, even after this war is over.

We have God, for He is our agent.

Roo7 is a mental health professional, anonymous for fear of being targeted.

This series first appeared on UPA’s blog. Read the original here.