“We are fighting for our existence”

In Nuseirat, Gaza, Palestinians try to continue their daily lives under Israeli attacks, 17 December 2023.

Bashar Taleb APA images

It has been over two months since Muhammad Awad, 33, last received a paycheck.

The freelance graphic designer worked remotely, but the company laid him off shortly after Israel began its war on the Gaza Strip.

“The company told me that if you have no internet connection, we have to relieve you of your duties,” Awad said. “My family and I are living now on my savings. It would have been a disaster if I had not had any.”

Awad and his family were forced to evacuate Gaza City due to Israeli airstrikes. They sought shelter in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, with his wife’s father.

Awad once felt relatively secure in his career. He felt a sense of accomplishment each month when he would withdraw money from the bank to provide for his family.

“All of that now is from the past. It no longer exists,” he said. “This is so painful.”

He had been saving for five years to buy a home.

“My dream of owning a house has faded,” he said.

He is grateful, though, that they had a place to flee to during Israel’s relentless bombings.

“Without my father-in-law, I would have spent double the normal.”

Freelancing in Gaza

Awad is one of at least 12,000 freelancers who live in the Gaza Strip. Most of these freelancers work remotely and rely on the internet to make a living.

Yet Gaza’s communications blackouts have been a constant since 7 October, with Israel deliberately severing network communications and bombing crucial infrastructure.

The lack of internet has impacted the entirety of the Gaza Strip and, in particular, its freelancers.

In comparison with many workers in Gaza, who on average earn $300 to $500 a month, freelancers in Gaza can earn anywhere from $600 to $1,500 a month.

Many freelancers are college graduates working in the fields of computer programming, web design, translation and journalism.

The group Gaza Sky Geeks facilitates many opportunities for Gaza freelancers, as does the Business and Technology Incubator at the Islamic University of Gaza.

Yet both of these organizations are closed due to Israel’s war on Gaza, and the livelihoods of Gaza’s freelancers are in peril.

Life gets tougher and tougher

Before the war, Maysoun al-Ramlawi, 39, used to earn a living as a graphic design freelancer, working remotely.

Her family relied on both her income and her husband’s income, but they are no longer bringing in any money.

“We have no choice but to leave our house [in northern Gaza],” she said. “We are now at my uncle’s house [in Deir al-Balah].”

As her family’s financial situation deteriorates, she is very concerned about her five children. She said that her family’s earnings were not even enough before the war.

“Now, we are fighting for our existence,” she said. “It is getting tougher and tougher. I hope this war will not continue because we may be crying out for food and water in just a matter of days.”

Even those who relied on more traditional forms of income are struggling to earn money in Gaza.

Mahmoud Abu Khdair, a fruit and vegetable vendor, cannot believe what his life has become.

He fled northern Gaza to the southern city of Rafah with his family. He went from being a well-known merchant to struggling to find a tomato.

“In the early weeks, since 7 October, I was still doing well, especially in the open markets,” he said. “It was somehow a good, ordinary life.”

Everything changed after the Israeli occupation army forced the north to evacuate.

“I packed my bags and took the most necessary things to leave to Rafah,” he said. “Now I do not have anything, neither my house nor my shop.”

He wonders when life will return to normal and whether he will be able to rebuild his life. He feels like his existence has shrunk.

He wants to live a life that is free from fear of famine or bombings.

Abubaker Abed is a journalist and translator from Deir al-Balah refugee camp in Gaza.