1706083880 The lives destroyed by the Israeli offensive in Gaza

The lives destroyed by the Israeli offensive in Gaza

Since the beginning of the Gaza war, Kayed Hammad and his family have moved 14 times. The elderly Redwan couple died with one of their children and a carer in a house in a wealthy area of ​​the capital that they never imagined would be bombed. Abed Mustafa struggles every day in Rafah to get food, water and charge his cell phone. SA (prefers to remain anonymous) shares an apartment with 13 other people after hastily escaping with her mother to save her life, losing her house with all its memories in the process. These four people tell this newspaper about their desolation and describe everyday life in a devastated area after three and a half months of war in which more than 25,000 Palestinians have died.

The curse of moving 14 times


In a curse that doesn't stop, Kayed Hammad and his family have changed homes 14 times since the Gaza war began. Now, barely clad in winter clothes, he wanders in search of some food through the ruins of the Jabalia refugee camp in the north of the Palestinian Strip, where he was born 60 years ago, after escaping the Israeli bombings that devastated his home in Gaza City, the capital of the coastal enclave. “Last Christmas Eve was the worst night of my life because I had a heart attack,” he says in a arduous message exchange. “When I arrived at the hospital, the only thing they could offer me was anesthesia to relieve the pain… Now I should be examined by a cardiologist, but there is none,” he laments.

Smiling and vital in August 2022 – when he last spoke to EL PAÍS before the Israeli invasion of Gaza – the images that this Gazan – who has worked as an interpreter for NGOs and foreign journalists – now sends are those of a defeated man ” I don't see anything good in the future. They say it will take us 10 years to rebuild Gaza,” he mourns over the landscape of devastation in the north of the Gaza Strip that his photos show. The vast majority of the 1.1 million residents have fled there. “Those who have gone south are suffering in plastic and cardboard tents in the open air. Many regret and now they tell us: “I wish we had died before we left,” he says. “They told them it was a safe place, but in Rafah or Khan Yunis they are bombed almost every day.”

Kayed Hammad with Juan Carlos Sanz, current EL PAÍS correspondent for the Maghreb, in Gaza City in August 2022.Kayed Hammad with Juan Carlos Sanz, current EL PAÍS correspondent for the Maghreb, in Gaza City in August 2022.

Hammad would like to be in Spain with his brother, with whom he lived three decades ago, and to use the Spanish he learned back then with his friends. “Every person deserves to live in peace and lead a normal life,” he admits, with a feeling of regret for the fate of the remaining 2.3 million Gazans.

Like most Gazans, he was sleeping on the night of October 7, during Hamas's bloody attack on Israel, when the explosions woke him up. “From the window I saw many rocket attacks and detonations from the dome. [de Hierro, sistema defensivo israelí]. When the invasion happened, we didn't notice much difference. Until the shots from the tanks came closer,” he remembers.

Hammad, next to buildings destroyed by Israeli attacks. Hammad, next to buildings destroyed by Israeli attacks.

“How are our days here? Many nights we don't even manage to sleep for two to three hours, especially during the operation [militar israelí] focused on the north. With so many bombs, you only sleep for an hour at most, then you're so exhausted that you can't resist,” he says, describing his sleepless nights. “But then you wake up to an explosion.”

In the morning he has to take a risk and go out to get something to eat. Before the war, 500 to 600 trucks carrying goods entered the Gaza Strip every day. “Getting to where something is sold now – if someone still has a shop in a hidden alley – is a very big risk,” he admits.

“Drinking water…we forgot what it was a long time ago,” sums up the narrative of his daily life in Gaza. “You always have to return home as quickly as possible. And wait for the next day. And it's the same. More of the same. And you feel incapable of acting. Many things leave a bitter taste. “You want to feed your children and you can’t,” Hammad says sadly.

In the first week of the war, his house was destroyed by Israeli bombing. It wasn't the first time. He lost his home in 2003 (Second Intifada) and 2008 (Operation “Cast Lead”). “I don’t know when I’ll have a house again. I hope I can at least have a normal grave. Now they bury in public places, everywhere, because you can't get to the cemetery,” he says goodbye to Gaza with a pessimistic message.

West Bank witness to his family's disappearance

Ramallah / Gaza City

In the first days of the war in Gaza, the elderly Amer and Nama Redwan were not afraid for their lives and were convinced that the Israeli army would never bomb their two-story house with a garden in Tel al Hawa, one of the best neighborhoods in the capital the enclave. “Nothing will happen, don’t worry. We are in a very safe area, next to the Red Crescent, international organizations… They have never bombed here before,” Amer reassured his daughter Iman on the phone, who was worried about the news from the West Bank city of Ramallah – where she was going moved from Gaza for her wedding – followed by airstrikes that killed hundreds of people every day.

On October 9, Ramadan's wife Abu Aljar – a mix of friend and caretaker who insisted on accompanying the Redwans through their most difficult times – called the imam in tears and told him that her son was nowhere near the house house. An air raid had destroyed it hours earlier. Inside were Amer, 83 years old; Nama, 77; one of his sons, Hussein, 38; and Ramadan, 52.

The family home in Gaza City before and after the bombing.The family home in Gaza City before and after the bombing.

A neighbor told them that he had urged Amer to escape half an hour earlier. The Israeli army did not warn of the impending bombings, as was common practice in previous offensives, but people fled as they saw them getting closer. “He said to him, 'Come on, Jay' [una expresión de respeto a quienes han peregrinado a La Meca] and he replied, “Why?” The Israelis know who lives in every house and that my wife is in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. This is not a high bloc and there is no one from Hamas or Jihad [Islámica]”, Account.

The bodies of mother, son and Ramadan were soon recovered lifeless from the rubble. The rest of the children quickly called a private excavator to search for their father. Three days later, the operator called Imán when he smelled decomposition near the place where his mother was recovered, but she stuck to the fact that it was the body of the cat Loco. “No, I'm sorry, I'm just looking at the cat on the rubble pile,” he replied.

Imam Radwan with his parents Amer and Nama.Imam Radwan with his parents Amer and Nama.

“When you think about the whole situation, you feel like what happened to you is just a drop in the ocean. And there are things I don't think about because I would go crazy. Like my niece had lost her father. Or when the dogs eat my father, my mother or my brother,” he says. He says this because they are buried in the Al-Fallujah cemetery in the now-destroyed Jabalia refugee camp, and Israeli troops have partially bulldozed graves in this and five other cemeteries in Gaza, images confirmed via satellite show. It is the only cemetery where an acquaintance found two places for the three bodies in the midst of the most intense bombing in decades.

Like 80% of Gazans, they were refugees from the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) in 1948, which led to the displacement of 800,000 Palestinians. Two decades later, when Israel captured Gaza from Egyptian troops in the 1967 Six-Day War, the family fled again and ended up in Saudi Arabia. Nama, the mother, was an Arabic teacher; American, administrative and later businessman. They had seven children and returned to Gaza in 1988, where Imán attended high school and studied journalism at the Islamic University.

Hussein, in the foreground, with family members.  Nama is second from the left;  Magnet, the third.  Amer, second from the right.Hussein, in the foreground, with family members. Nama is second from the left; Magnet, the third. Amer, second from the right.

Imán still uses the present tense when talking about his parents: “My father is…”, “my mother likes…”. He last saw her in August. The Israeli siege prevented them (like almost all Gazans) from leaving the Gaza Strip. The only way she could meet her 52-year-old daughter and see her grandchildren was for her to enter the country, which required permission from military authorities. Given the difficulty of achieving this goal, Imán spent three days, crossed as many countries and spent a lot of money on a journey that would be 75 kilometers long without restrictions and by land: on the road from Ramallah to Jordan, via a slow border crossing; From Amman, take a flight in the opposite direction to Egypt and take the road to Rafah, the border crossing into Gaza.

The odyssey of charging a mobile phone to stay in touch


The conversation with Abed Mustafa depends on the sun. In Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip they were lucky and the day was clear. Like every morning, Mustafa walked about seven kilometers to charge his cell phone at some friends who have solar panels and are doing him this huge favor for free. But if it had rained, I would have had to pay people who own small generators to charge the battery a little and I would not have been able to respond to the call from EL PAÍS.

“Every act of daily life, even the simplest, requires enormous effort and I am tired,” says this 24-year-old Palestinian, who preferred that his real name not appear in this interview. “But for me the most important thing is having a battery in my phone. Call, hear from loved ones and find out what's happening…”

Before October 7, Mustafa lived in a small apartment in eastern Rafah that he had renovated himself. It was a kind of refuge where he boasted of his independence and received his friends. On October 9th, he fled his home, which is now a mountain of rubble.

Mobile phones of friends and neighbors are charged in a house with solar panels.Mobile phones of friends and neighbors are charged in a house with solar panels.ABED MUSTAFA

“I have attended UN schools, visited relatives' houses and now I am at my grandparents' house in Rafah. We are 27 people in three small rooms,” he explains. With him are his parents and his six siblings, all younger than him. The youngest, Mohammad, is only two years old. “Every day is similar: I charge the phone, return home and the next battle begins: finding food and water. Everything is very difficult. For example, if you look for water, you have to walk for miles before you find someone who sells or distributes it. I pray a lot before I leave the house. “I ask God to help me find what we need,” he explains.

Hardship and downtime have forced Mustafa and his father to find ways to survive with dignity, building a home oven to bake the bread they bake themselves and a precarious plastic and metal oven to do so the children can wash themselves with sea water. hot “if possible.”

Container for collecting rainwater for drinking. Container for collecting rainwater for drinking. ABED MUSTAFA

The connection comes and goes. Mustafa has network coverage thanks to its neighbors who have an Egyptian network. The questions and answers overlap and need to be repeated several times. Also, time is of the essence as the battery runs out. “The other day I went to a market to look for oil. Half an hour after I left, a bomb fell in the area. “30 people died who were perhaps looking for oil like me,” he recalls laconically.

Mustafa holds a degree in English Language and Literature from Al-Azhar University in Gaza and has worked as a consultant, trainer and program coordinator in international and Palestinian organizations. But he has been unemployed since March last year. He was also never able to leave the Gaza Strip. “I wasn't that lucky, I applied for a scholarship to study for a master's degree, but they didn't choose me. I didn't care where to go. We Palestinians go wherever the opportunity arises,” he says.

The life of this young man represents that of tens of thousands of residents of the Gaza Strip, where 60% of the population is under 25 years old, many have college degrees and speak English fluently, although they have never left this small area of ​​365 square kilometers, but they are unemployed . According to official figures, 70% of Gaza's youth are unemployed.

Mustafa feels trapped now more than ever. “I hate this, I hate it. Everything is full of people, the house is full, the street is full. “You can’t even walk, every day there are more displaced people, more tents…”

Distribution of flour from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Distribution of flour from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Abed Mustafa

His exhaustion mixes with great sadness as he thinks about the family and friends he has lost since October. “The death that hurt me the most was that of my uncle. “He hated Hamas and everything it represents, but Israel killed him in his house along with eight other people,” he recalls.

“The other day they bombed the house of a friend from the university here in Rafah. The whole family died except for him, who was seriously injured. Now he is a walking dead man,” he added.

Mustafa's family has been running out of money for days and is surviving thanks to humanitarian aid arriving in small quantities via Rafah. They eat canned goods and whatever they can find and make it a priority to feed the children. “I don't know how long it's been since I stopped eating meat. If it is found, it will be too expensive. My hair is starting to fall out, I think it's because I've been eating so badly,” he explains.

But that afternoon she was lucky and the family had falafel for lunch thanks to a friend of Mustafa. “Everyone is skinny. People are starving and attacking humanitarian aid trucks. “I feel calm tonight because I know we’ll have something to eat tomorrow,” he says.

Rubble of a building after a bomb attack with a red inscription: Rubble of a building after a bombing with the message written in red: “Osama Badawi still lies under the rubble.”ABED MUSTAFA

“What's next? I don't know. People are worried about their lives today. “My family and I are completely apolitical, but it will be difficult for Israel to put an end to Hamas, which is an undeniable force in Gaza Reality is, with a strong structure and not just a military one,” he thinks out loud.

The cell phone battery is empty and Mustafa says he has to hang up. “Do you know what scares me?” he says before saying goodbye. “Let’s get used to it: the bombs, the lack of food, the schools turned into shelters, the death…”

Teaching children to deal with pain


The interview is postponed several times due to bombings in the area. In order to make a connection and answer this call, this psychologist must travel to a place where UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, operates, to Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. SA does not want his name published. “For security reasons, I would prefer to remain anonymous. And besides, my story is that of many others, it doesn’t need a name,” he explains.

He is 39 years old and works for Médicos del Mundo. He fled his home in Gaza City, first taking refuge in the center, in Nuseirat, and eventually renting a small apartment in Rafah, where 14 people live. “My worst moment was running away from home to save my life, driving like crazy to get out of this area and looking into the face of my elderly mother who came with me. I lost my home and all my memories. “It hurts a lot,” he explains.

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Expulsion twice has not stopped her from continuing to practice, especially with children. In schools converted into shelters or makeshift camps, SA and dozens of other psychologists are already beginning to deal with the invisible wounds of more than 100 days of bombs, loss and fear. “I decided to become a psychologist to help people. It's in my heart, I want to help these children, and I'm not thinking about staying home,” she explains.

Palestinian children at a Doctors of the World psychological support workshop in Gaza, in an image provided by the organization.Palestinian children at a Doctors of the World psychological support workshop in Gaza, in an image provided by the organization.

The help they provide is a kind of “psychological first aid”, emergency therapy. “We help them deal with pain, we start giving them emotional support to recognize and express difficult emotions, and practical tricks to deal with stress and anxiety, such as breathing exercises and other tactics,” he explains.

These are children who suffer from serious mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. Games and artistic and plastic activities help children express their feelings in front of psychologists and feel accompanied by other children. “We play, we paint with them, we talk to their families if they have families… There's not much we can do, we can't hope to launch more ambitious programs to protect their mental health now, but at least we're trying.” to give them a little relief and security,” explains the psychologist.

According to UNRWA, more than one in four patients seen in its centers in Gaza before the outbreak of this military offensive required psychosocial and psychological support.

Most of the children were already traumatized before October 7th. A report published by the NGO Save The Children in 2022 concluded that since the imposition of the land, air and sea blockade in 2007, the lives of children in the Gaza Strip have been mired in severe deprivation, cycles of violence and restrictions on their psychological freedom Health was already at a critical point. Around 80% of children reported feeling in a constant state of fear, worry, sadness and pain.

“For example, I remember a seven-year-old boy who lost his parents and four brothers in a bomb attack. Only he and his 15-year-old sister could be saved. Now he is with relatives in an animal shelter and is doing very badly. “He doesn't sleep well and has nightmares, he's constantly angry, he's very aggressive, he cries, he screams and he doesn't want to talk to anyone,” explains the Doctors of the World psychologist.

At a workshop organized by Doctors of the World in Gaza, some children draw bomb blasts on a picture provided by the organization.At a workshop organized by Doctors of the World in Gaza, some children draw bomb blasts on a picture provided by the organization.

SA explains that the boy did not want to participate in any of the activities suggested by the psychologists and kept reliving the moment of his parents' death and his escape to save his life. “He felt guilty for what had happened and when he started talking he said he wanted to die. It was a very difficult case. I spent a lot of time with him, talked to him, invited him to take part in an activity and little by little he joined the games and started to open up. He is a child who needs many individual sessions and many years to recover at least minimally. As a psychologist, I know,” she adds.

SA clears his throat and takes a few seconds to regain his composure. She is single and explains that she uses the techniques she teaches children on her mother, her nieces and even on herself. The breaths, the positive thoughts, the calming gestures… The woman is part of a team of around twenty people, four of them psychologists. Their supervisors accompany them to recognize if they are fainting and help them take a break if they feel emotionally overwhelmed. For example, if a colleague or friend dies or is injured in the bombings, as was the case.

“The situation is getting worse day by day. It is very difficult. I am a psychologist, but I am also human and I suffer. “I try from the bottom of my heart to be strong, with the children, with my family and to do something for them, even if it’s little,” he emphasizes.

Doctors of the World has warned that the extreme violence in Gaza and the atrocities witnessed by children “may cause irreversible damage to their mental and emotional development” which “will not go away when the violence stops” as a small percentage will develop it more serious mental disorder requiring specialized treatment. “But at the moment we can't think about the future, we don't know what else can happen to us. We live day by day,” SA says goodbye


Coordination: Brenda Valverde Rubio and Guiomar del Ser

Design and artistic direction: Fernando Hernández

Development: Alejandro Gallardo

Audio output: Nacho Taboada

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