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On the First Day of Gaza's Ceasefire, a Visit to a Shelter Under a Supermoon

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Along with 3,000 other displaced Gazans, 32-year-old Ghadeer has been living in a makeshift shelter with her three children ever since Israeli forces bombed the house she was staying in. The bombing left her in a wheelchair. Photo by author.

As the bombs go silent in Gaza during another 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire, 20-year-old Dalia Alnajjar ventures out to meet some families living in a crowded make-shift shelter. At least 1,900 Palestinians have been killed, more than 10,000 injured, and 450,000 displaced, since Israel launched a massive offensive against Gaza on July 8. 

‏‏August 11, 2014: Three days of fighting and three days of firebreak. This is how it goes. We civilians don't have a say; we are just killed and our houses destroyed. We silently suffer.

It is as if, Israel and the fighting brigades in Gaza are playing some video game. They pause it whenever they want to talk; talk that brings us nothing but more despair.

Immediately after this ceasefire took effect, quietness enveloped the 25-mile narrow strip, quietness only punctured by buzzing drones.

Within a few hours, the streets started to come alive again. Children finally stopped clinging to their mothers and were allowed to go out to play.

You could see a cautious optimism in everyone's eyes.

Young people in Gaza want to do something to help, even though they too, are in desperate need of help and psychological support. Most seek out shelters to help children. Some go to repair their partly destroyed homes and others go to help in the devastated areas.

‏I decided to use the last few hours of the first day of the ceasefire to visit one of the many schools that has become a make-shift shelter. Currently more than 220,000 of Gaza's total 1.8 million population are registered in 89 UN-run shelters, most of which used to be schools.

I had agreed to go with a friend later in the week, but who knows if the ceasefire is going to hold or not. I didn't want to miss the chance of visiting the displaced and sharing in their suffering.

‏It was 7pm when I decided to go. My mother tried her best to prevent me by saying it's late and it's crazy. All her attempts failed.

‏As the sun left Gaza to light other places, it also left us to sink in the darkness of injustice and the darkness of the night. Power has been rare in Gaza, since Israeli warplanes attacked the only power plant here on July 28. 

Maybe the sun went to shine bright on people somewhere else in the world, cheerful kids enjoying their summer vacation.

Children playing in the dark outside the shelter

Children playing in the dark outside the shelter. Photo by author.‏

When I arrived, the school was really crowded, full of sad faces and agitated hearts.

The first thing that caught my eye was children playing on a make-shift seesaw, made by putting a wooden plank between the fence. I talked to them, they kept asking if I was from a relief organization; they were disappointed when I said I wasn't.

‏Then I moved up to room 8, where eighteen families were staying. There I spoke to Heba Abu Taiema, 34, a mother of two girls and four boys. They have been in the school for more than 30 days. Only her face and eyes can describe her painful suffering.

“We had just had lunch then suddenly the artillery bombs started to fall like rain on our house and neighborhood. We called the Red Cross and the ambulances to come and get us out but they couldn't reach due to the continuous shelling,” Heba said. “We couldn't bear it, the children were crying and really scared so we left walking cautiously from house to house till we made it to a safer place.”

She went on to explain that some injured men were left behind, and some women decided to go back to help them. They took a white flag and walked towards the men, they saw the men moving but then the Israeli soldiers started to shoot at the women, so they were forced to return.

Four days later the men were found dead, according to Heba. They bled to their last breath. One of the dead was Heba's brother-in-law. He had spent six years captive in the Israeli prisons. He was a father to five girls, the youngest is 11-months-old. His brother died of cancer in Egypt. He got to Egypt late because the Rafah border was closed. Heba said her mother-in-law lost her sight from crying. She has lost all her sons but one.

She described living at the school as a nightmare.

“There's a severe shortage of water. I go every day to the hospital to bring water. I carry the water for 500 meters under the burning sun. Whenever we want to shower we go to the hospitals. There's no electricity. My phone has been out of charge for ages, and I cannot contact my family in Jordan.” Heba continued, “they must be really worried because I'm their only daughter.”

A child sleeping on a make-shift pillow made of a bag of clothes in Heba's room. Photo by author.

A child sleeping on a make-shift pillow made of a bag of clothes in Heba's room. Photo by author.

‏They all sleep on the floor except for pregnant women, people above 65 years and disabled people, who sleep on mattresses.

I thanked her for telling me her story and moved on to room 5 which is home to 98 people.

Ghadeer's daughters insulin shots.

Ghadeer's daughter Nisyona's insulin shots. Photo by author.

There I met a lovely woman in a wheelchair. Ghadeer Abu Latifa, 32, a mother of three, was injured after the two-story house her family was taking shelter in was bombed. Her husband is in Belgium getting treatment for an injury he received in an earlier offensive by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Her only daughter, Nisyona, is diabetic. She was diagnosed with the disease when she was five-years-old. That year Israeli bulldozers destroyed their home while they were in it. “Don't kill me, don't kill us,” Ghadeer recalled her daughter screaming that day.

She told me that the school staff are trying their best to help the 3,000 people in the school, but it's hard to please them all.

‏She thanked me and all the young volunteers for trying to help Gaza's displaced people.

“Seeing you here smiling at us, willing to hear our sad stories and giving support is what gives us hope. We know that Gaza will be fine as long as it has ambitious caring youth like you,” Ghadeer said with a smile on her sad face.

‏I left the school at 10pm. I had some trouble with transportation and then I walked alone under the distractingly gorgeous super moon, thinking of their suffering.

‏Finally, the saddest things are the hardest to say because words diminish them.

My words shrink their suffering to something tangible, but their sadness is actually limitless. Words can never describe the pain these people feel and live. My words can only give you a small insight into their suffering.

Dalia Alnajjar is studying business administration in Gaza. She blogs because she feels “being Palestinian means I have to tell the world what life is like in Gaza” and “no one can translate our feelings better than us.” Excessive restrictions from Israel in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank is why most of the world and the United Nations considers this territory occupied by Israel. This is Israel's third military operation in Gaza in 6 years. More in our in-depth coverage Another Ceasefire in War-battered Gaza.

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