No. 3

“My Life Turned Upside Down”

Palestinian women report on their lives amid Israel’s siege of Gaza.

Yazan Abu Salameh, Women Under the Sun, 2024.

In Gaza, without weapons or military training, women are keeping their families alive and united amid the massive bombardments of their homes by Israel. In addition to searching for shelter, water, food, and wood for cooking, they are taking care of children, the elderly, and the sick. Their survival, and their resistance, take place daily. In late December 2023 and January 2024, six women in Gaza agreed to record answers (in English) to Vinícius Assis’s questions about their lives and routines before and during Israel’s war on Gaza, their current challenges, and what they hope to do first after the conflict ends.


Norah Alkahlout

I’m 22 years old. I used to work as an English teacher before this war started, but now I’m jobless. I used to wake up early in the morning, with gratitude in my heart, eager to greet my beloved family with love and warmth. I pray for fajr, and I pray for a great day ahead. Then I have my breakfast and get prepared to go to work. I used to spend eight hours at work teaching different levels of students of different ages.

Then I get some rest and prepare for the next day. After that, I help my mom with teaching my younger brothers. After we finish our duties, we gather or sit together and talk about our whole days, how did we spend it, how was it. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, we can share our thoughts together.

On Oct. 7 we were preparing ourselves for schools, universities, and our work. In the early morning, suddenly we heard heavy explosions. My father woke up and immediately rushed to the office. He ordered everyone to stay at home because of the heavy bombardments and explosions. We canceled all of our daily plans, and we stood in front of the TV and followed the news.

We knew about the attack from my father, a journalist. He gave us the latest news updates. We were astonished. We didn’t understand who, when, and why. We were confused. We didn’t know what was going on.

On the first day, nothing happened. The Israelis started to bomb after at least 24 hours. Until they responded, we were afraid and scared since the Israeli media was warning, and we understood there would be a big response. Then when the Israelis started this war in Gaza, after a week we got displaced from Gaza City to the central area. We responded to the Israeli orders, as they said it’s dangerous. Then, when we felt it’s getting worse and worse, we moved to Rafah, and now in Rafah we have no other plan, because we are next to the Egyptian-Palestinian border. We don’t have a plan for the next five minutes. We don’t know what to do next.

The Israelis shut down the borders from the first day. So no food, no water, no electricity, no cooking gas, no fuel. When we run out of cooking gas, we use wood; we have been using wood for cooking, boiling water, and other daily life needs. In this world I learned to do many things: I learned how to use alternatives; how to save water, fuel, wood, food; how to accept the minimum.

People’s health is affected badly, since we are deprived of vegetables, fruits, and the nutrients that our body needs. So I’m losing weight, and sometimes I lose my concentration. Some pregnant women lose their balance, some of them give birth early, and some of them have miscarriages. This war affects our psychology, our mental and physical health. There’s even a shortage and lack of vitamins in the pharmacy. So everybody’s life has been affected, especially women in general and pregnant women in particular.

I still hope and look forward to the moment that the Israeli killing machines stop. I don’t really have a plan, but I need to sleep peacefully, without the sounds of explosions, bombardments, and drones.

We are out of plans. We can’t plan for the next five minutes.


Dareen

I’m a 25-year-old freelancer working on various projects in communication and marketing. I prefer not to share my full details at this moment.

My days were filled with work, followed by evenings out with friends and family. In Gaza, we had wonderful places where I loved to spend my evenings. Living with my siblings meant daily grocery shopping, cooking, and enjoying large family meals. My life was full, and I had many ambitions and dreams.

I was at home when I first heard of the attack. The news was shocking and deeply worrying. Having experienced several attacks on Gaza before, I was immediately concerned about my family and my own safety.

Everything has changed. Now I’m in a shelter with my family, focusing solely on survival. Our days are about finding basic necessities like food and water. Safety is a constant concern, as is getting enough to eat and stay warm. We’re trying to make the best of this situation, staying together and supporting each other.

Our diet is mostly white rice and tomato sauce. Cooking in the traditional sense isn’t possible; we just try to make something edible. Survival is challenging: there’s a scarcity of water and food, and the needs of the many displaced people outweigh the available resources. We prioritize the most vulnerable among us, like when we fasted so my sick younger brother could eat.

The ongoing threat to our health is severe. Lack of hygiene products puts us at significant risk of infections and diseases. For women especially, maintaining hygiene and health has become a daily struggle.

When this conflict ends, the first thing I want to do is sleep. Just sleep without worries or fear.


Rasha Elwan

I arrived here [at El Arish General Hospital in Egypt] on Nov. 21. My leg hurts; they operated on me. They will operate on me again. They have to stitch the wound. I think I’ll stay another two weeks. Then I don’t know — maybe they’ll send me to Cairo.

My family is in Gaza. My son died, and my husband is hospitalized in Gaza.

We left Gaza while the bombing was ongoing — there was no respite.

Here my condition is a little calmer, and the doctors are good.

The situation is catastrophic in Gaza. I was in Nasser Hospital in Gaza. The situation there was difficult because there are many cases and they don’t treat all of us. There are many injured and sick people.

Due to her health situation, Elwan was not able to address all questions.


Zainab Bashir

I’m 22. I’m a fresh graduate from university. I used to work as a translator, but after the attacks on Gaza I lost my job, like so many others.

I used to wake up really early for a training that I used to go to, translation training I used to attend with Dr. Refaat Alareer, who was killed by the Israeli forces. I used to wake up at eight, have breakfast, and have my headphones on in the car on my way to the university where I took the training. I listened to a podcast or music and just looked at the sea from the car windows — you can hear bombing in the background, sorry — the road to university was a very beautiful one; it gave me the best morning just looking out the window at the sea and people running. Then training would be so productive and so fun, because our trainer, Dr. Refaat, was amazing. We learned a lot from him. So I would have learned a lot and returned home happy. Or I would walk around Gaza, get some coffee and chat with my friends around the streets of Gaza — they’re all gone now. When I got home, I would do some translation work, and if I had assignments, I would do them and sit with my family, watch some TV shows on my iPad. Then I would just go to sleep and repeat. On my days off, we would surely go out with my family or just stay home — all in peace.

On Oct. 7 I was in my room. I still had my makeup on, because my brother’s wedding was the night before. I was in my room, trying to clean my room after the wedding and cleaning off my makeup.

I didn’t need to read about it or anyone to tell me about the attack. I knew about it when I first opened my eyes. I was planning on having a long sleep, because the wedding was tiring. I woke up to the sounds of bombing, and I started wondering, What is happening? I mean, I was at a wedding the day before. What’s that? Is that some kind of celebration?

I was so confused. I was so scared. I was disappointed, because that’s not how I wanted my day to start. I started wondering what will happen to everything. What will happen to the training? What will happen to the scholarship I was applying to? I was applying to this scholarship — two, actually, one of them was in Australia, and the other was in Qatar. Then I just started thinking about how will everything go and whether I’ll be able to continue with my life or not. Lots of questions were rushing to my head hearing the first bombing in the early morning.

What changed my daily routine is that it’s demolished, completely demolished. I lost my university, I lost my very dear doctor and trainer, I lost everything that I used to do. I just now basically sleep, wake up, look at the news, get stressed, hear bombings, and sleep again if I am able to. Nights are mostly sleepless because of the bombings and the stress. And that’s pretty much it. I don’t have a routine. I’m just sitting here waiting for this to end or for me to die the next minute, the next hour. I’m just here waiting for my fate. I don’t know if I’m surviving. I can’t say I survived until this thing is over.

I’m lucky enough that I’m staying at my house. We have lots of people who evacuated from their houses staying at my house as well. There’s not enough cooking gas, but we have some little amount of it. We use it to make coffee or tea if it exists, because it’s not always here. We cook on wood fire, and the wood we used for fire is now rare. So now no gas or wood to cook our food on. Cooking on fire is a very tiring process: lighting it, cooking on it, and all the gasses coming from the fire. It’s really tiring.

The attack and the war we’re living now is very much affecting our health. We are losing lots of weight because of shortages of food and drink — not only me, I assure you. All women and not only women, everyone, but mostly women because we have to do everything, the chores. They have to care of their kids, they need to secure food, clothing; if they’re sick, they have to take care of them with very little food. Imagine having very little food and at the same time you have to cook on the fire and you need to wash your kids’ clothes using only your hands and a very little amount of water. No diapers for kids — sometimes they use pieces of cloth, and they have to wash them. So that will definitely affect their health and their bodies, their bones, and their weight of course, because they don’t eat, they do lots of work.

I don’t want to forget to talk about the shortage of sanitary pads and shortage of painkillers that we used during our periods. It’s a very sensitive topic to talk about for them, so they just suffer in silence.

First thing I would like to do is just to sleep in my bed, close the windows. We keep them open because we’re afraid they would fall from heavy bombings. I’ll just close the windows and sleep with no noise outside. As you can hear, lots of noises are outside. I just want to sleep with no noises. Next morning, I want to go see my family. I haven’t seen them in too long, because it’s not safe to go out. I just want to go see them and sleep over at my grandma’s house. I can’t sleep over there because they have lots of evacuated people also. I want to sleep over at their house and have some sweets with them. I haven’t had anything sweet in too long. I simply want these basic things when this war ends.


Anonymous

I am 37 years old, and I am a life skills trainer. My daily routine was between my job and my family requirements and my social life.

On Oct. 7 I was in my home. At 6:25 I was trying to wake up my kids to go to school. Once we heard the rockets fired, I immediately decided to not send them to school, and actually I started to pack up my emergency backpack, because I knew that this would happen.

I live day by day. We don’t have plans, we can’t expect what will happen in the next minute.

We are trying to survive. Everything is a struggle. If I want to shower, I have to plan for this for three days. I have to start thinking about how to secure water and how to heat water, because now we are in the winter and the water is really cold. I was displaced two times. The first time I got out from my home in Abasan al-Kabira, in the east of Khan Yunis, I went to the town center. Now I am in Rafah.

This conflict is affecting everything in my life, not just my health. Actually I am getting old, getting more and more gray hair. My memory is worse than a fish’s memory.

My health is not good. I have a chronic disease, which is Hashimoto’s; it’s related to the thyroid gland. The symptoms are getting worse.

What would I like to do [when this is over]? I would like to have a good shower, a very hot shower. I want to go to my home, to clean my home, to cook real food for my kids. I don’t know. This question actually is the hardest one.

Also, as a woman on my period, it’s very hard because of lack of water. It’s very hard to clean yourself.

The basics of life are struggling. We are struggling in securing them, and there’s no pacific place. We are not safe. I know I am in a trauma now. I need mental health care. Let’s see after the war what will happen.

We are dual citizens, Egyptian Palestinians. We are trying to get out of Gaza, but actually they ask for an imaginary amount of money. For each person, they ask for $10,000 dollars to get out of Gaza, and we are six people. So we need $60,000 to get out of Gaza — or a very good and a very strong connection at the ministry of foreign affairs in Egypt.

My uncle has paid $15,000 to leave Gaza. He was with me in the same home. They collect money for leaving Gaza. Actually I am Egyptian — we shouldn’t need to pay this amount of money, because we are registered at the Egyptian foreign affairs ministry. All we need is someone who can follow up our names and send them back or insert them on travel lists.

Noor Swirki

I’m 35 years old, and I am married and a mother of two children.

My daily routine was amazing. I was working as a project officer at one of the local institutions here. I started my day walking beside the sea, on the corniche, and then I went home to prepare myself for my work. I spent hours of work at my institution, and then I went to the gym for some exercise. Then I had my evening activities with the children, with friends. We had visits, we had outdoor activities —we had too many things to do, in fact. We had the sea, we had a great beach, and we had some resorts. So yes, I had been living an amazing life, and I miss this life.

Around 6:25 a.m. [on Oct. 7], I was helping my daughter to prepare herself for school. The first class starts at 7:15 a.m., so she was wearing her uniform. I was preparing some sandwiches. We heard these noisy sounds of explosions, and we were asking ourselves, What is happening? After hours we knew that it was an attack from Hamas toward the outskirts of the Gaza Strip. I was completely shocked. I was surprised. I expected an offensive response from the Israelis, but I didn’t imagine this kind of response, I didn’t imagine this kind of war. This is the most violent response we’ve ever had from Israel.

My life turned upside down. My life before this war and after this war is not the same at all.

If I had a routine before the war, currently I don’t have any routine. I don’t have any life. I’m waiting my destiny. I’m living my time minute by minute, because we don’t have safety. We can’t plan for the next step, we can’t expect what will happen the next time, if we will stay alive or not or our beloved ones will stay alive or not. So there is no daily routine. All things have been changed — our way to live, our way to cook, our way to clean our clothes. We are living in the shelter with too many people, with thousands, and we had our home before, so it’s a completely different life. It’s not about the daily routine. It’s about a war. Life has been changed because of this war.

I’m currently displaced for the second time. I moved from Gaza to Khan Yunis, and then I moved from Khan Yunis to Rafah, to a place called Al-Mawasi. I moved from one place to another with too many people, with tens of people in a shelter, and we have been practicing our life there at its simplest. We don’t have any safety, we don’t have any stores for food. We are looking for food, looking for water, looking for electricity, for communication with the other side of the world. It’s a miserable life.

We cook with firewood. We have never had to do that before this war, and it’s hard to have this fire. I have this sensitivity to the fire, and I’m suffering because of that.

It’s a tragedy to be a displaced woman. You don’t have your own privacy. You don’t have your own health routine. You don’t have your own pads, because we have this shortage of pads for our cycle, and we don’t have access for some hygiene. We wear headscarves all the time, even when we are sleeping. We don’t have any space. We are obligated to take care of the family members. We have this double responsibility for them, for the children, and even for our elderly family members — our husbands, our sisters, our brothers, and all the family members. To be a woman in this world, you are doubly victimized — from the occupation, from the current situation, from the community. Even the relief aid that we are receiving doesn’t take into consideration our needs as women. We have a weak response toward our demands related to pads, to hygiene. We are suffering from all of these multiple issues.

I miss my home, I miss my privacy, I miss my bed, my clothes. I’m wearing men’s clothes because there are no women’s clothes that fit me in the market. I feel like a man while I’m wearing these clothes, but I don’t have any other choice. I want to be back in my home and to sleep safely, to sleep with no nightmares, with no bumping and shaking, with no fear that I will be killed while I am sleeping. To take care of my children, I will do my best to make them good people for this community and for the world. I don’t want them to live in this fear. I don’t want them to turn to offensive people in this war. I want them to be healthy and safe and to grow up as good citizens. So my first thing [after this ends]: home and children and that’s it.

Vinícius Assis is a journalist with nearly two decades of experience covering issues across the Americas and Africa. Since 2018, he has been the only Brazilian MoJo (mobile journalist) reporting from African countries for media in Brazil, the U.S., and Europe.

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