Shockwaves from Gaza felt by students abroad

Palestinians living abroad continue to receive horrifying news from their families in Gaza: displacement, destroyed homes and deaths of family members.

Naaman Omar APA images

Muhammad left Gaza in 2019 for a better future in the United States.

His stable life abroad, working toward a bachelor’s degree in IT, has helped the 24-year-old to work through the traumas of war that he had endured in Gaza.

But his life has been turned upside down by the genocidal war that Israel is now waging.

“I wake up, sleep, and even go to the toilet constantly checking the news and worrying about my family,” he said. “I am so scared about them. The horror of war has haunted my sleep and made me sick.”

On 14 October, he was sleeping when Israel bombed his uncle’s home in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, where more than 20 of his extended family members were taking shelter.

“I couldn’t believe they had bombed them,” said Muhammad, who requested that his last name not be used.

The telecommunications network was very weak, and he couldn’t contact his family immediately.

But when he did, he learned that 12 of his relatives, including his uncle, aunt and many cousins, were killed, and several others were injured. The rest remained trapped under the rubble.

“I used to spend time with them more than with my siblings,” he said. “I’ve literally lost my joy in life. Every day I read about the killing of people I know. We have become numbers.”

Although many neighbors and the civil defense members rushed to rescue those trapped under the rubble, the nearby intense Israeli bombardments and lack of equipment hindered the operation.

Gaza’s interior ministry reported on 27 October that 1,950 Palestinians in Gaza were still missing under rubble.

At Muhammad’s family home in Beit Lahiya, several relatives remained trapped under the rubble for two days. All of them were pulled out lifeless.

Communications blackout

Israel has cut off water and electricity in Gaza, and only a limited number of humanitarian trucks are allowed into the Strip.

Damage to infrastructure has been enormous. Gaza’s health ministry estimates that Israel has destroyed over 175,000 residential units since 7 October.

Each day, Muhammad receives calls from relatives in Gaza and elsewhere that bring more devastating news.

Hours after his uncle’s home was destroyed, Israeli airstrikes then leveled his family’s home.

As a result, his 15-member family sheltered in another relative’s house in Beit Lahiya. The neighbors’ adjoining home was then bombed, killing 12 people. Muhammad’s family had to flee once more, to another home. But this home was also partly damaged due to airstrikes on 28 October

Then, he lost contact with his family.

Israeli authorities had cut off cellular and internet communications in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society released a 27 October statement noting that it was “deeply concerned about the ability of our teams to continue providing their emergency medical services.”

Many international bodies, including the World Health Organization and other UN agencies, also stated that they had lost contact with their staff in Gaza.

On 28 October, the communications firm Paltel said the services were being returned gradually. But for Palestinians abroad, this lack of contact was agonizing, and they are certain it will happen yet again.

“When I eat or drink, I feel guilty”

Sahar Kaloub is pursuing a master’s degree in international relations in Dublin. She had only arrived there from Gaza recently, in September, and was starting to settle into her life abroad.

Since 7 October, though, her life has erupted into chaos.

“Nothing can describe my feelings. I spent the first 10 days confined in my room,” she said. “I wish I hadn’t traveled and that I had stayed with my family in Gaza. I wake up a thousand times at night to check and read the news.”

Her family fled from Gaza City to the southern city of Rafah on 13 October, after the Israeli army ordered Palestinians to evacuate to the south, displacing over a million people.

“When I eat or drink, I feel guilty as my family are struggling to find water, food and sleep well,” she said. “Imagine my father, who has to stay five hours in a queue to buy a little amount of bread. Why are Gazans enduring this? Why?”

Gaza has sunk into darkness, leaving most people without any electricity to charge their phones to keep in contact with their families.

“I don’t even know if my two close friends are alive or not,” she said. “I knew some of their siblings were killed and the rest sheltered in schools. I can’t even help my family or send them money. Why are they [Israel] treating us like animals?”

Last week, Kaloub watched a video of intense bombardments on a neighborhood in Rafah, where her family lives.

She could not contact them for reassurance.

“It was a very ruthless bombing. They literally burnt the neighborhood,” she said. “I didn’t know what had happened to my family. I collapsed on the ground and cried bitterly. It was an indescribable moment.”

Her family survived, but their house was damaged.

“I am sick of all this,” she said.

“I am really tired of sending my condolences to my beloved ones. I don’t know if I will be able to return to Gaza or see my family again.”

Ahmed Al-Sammak is an MBA student in Dublin. He previously worked as a journalist in Gaza, where he grew up.