Eighteen-year-old Mohanad Abuowda should be focused on his Leaving Certificate. Instead he has been riddled with worry for his family living back home in Gaza, Palestine.
The ceasefire, which has been in place since Friday morning, is a “great relief” to Mohanad, and he hopes it will continue.
“This ceasefire has brought one less worry for me… I just hope to see Gaza open and accessible for tourism and trade soon so we can have a proper functioning society,” he says
Recently the windows in his family’s home were smashed. His parents and three sisters, the youngest of which is nine, have been sleeping all together in the kitchen for safety.
“If something were to happen they feel at least they were together,” he says.
It is difficult to communicate with them, as the power often cuts out due to damaged electricity lines and energy shortages.
“I worry about them and I wanted to help them, but there was no way to do that,” he says.
Since fighting began on May 10th, health officials in Gaza say at least 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children, and more than 1,700 wounded in air and artillery bombardments. According to the Israeli military, at least 160 of the fatalities were militant fighters. In Israel, 12 civilians have been killed, as well as a soldier, and more than 600 people injured.
Mohanad, a talented footballer, came to Ireland alone and with little English at the age of 15. He was granted refugee status, but as a minor he was not able to travel back to visit home. Anyway, it is not safe to try to enter Palestine right now, he says: “It is hard that I cannot go there, but I cannot bring them here either.”
The sixth-year student has seen it before himself. He recalls hearing rockets and bombs outside his home during previous wars. “I remember how hard it was… They are bombing all around you. The power of that rocket is unreal. You feel as though you are in a movie.”
Hide from rockets
Tareq Altorak, also 18, came to Ireland for similar reasons. He graduated from the Le Cheile school in Tyrrelstown, Dublin on Thursday, but he says the day felt “pointless” without his family safely by his side.
The Leaving cert student has many siblings back home, including a two-year-old sister. They should be getting educational opportunities like he is, but instead they have learned how to hide from rockets, he says.
“My sister had to stop going to school. She is very smart. Kids need to go to school… All they have is wars, attacking and people getting killed,” he says.
His family home is situated in the most dangerous area of Gaza, he says, as it is close to where members of Hamas are based. Many nearby have lost their homes.
“A few days ago they had to leave because they got a call from the Israelis to say they would bomb our house. It did not happen in the end, thank God,” he adds.
Tareq feels “a bit more comfortable” after the announcement of the ceasefire: “My family is going to be fine for now, but the damage Israel has done is still there… At least there is no bombing.” Although they have respite from the airstrikes, it will be difficult to resume their lives, he says: “They still need money, food on the table and clothes, but all of the shops are closed.”
Tareq came to Ireland in search of a “better life”: “I wanted a peaceful life and I didn’t want to get killed.” Despite the ceasefire, he knows now “for sure” that there is little hope of improving the lives of his family if they remain in Palestine.
“What I wish for is to get my family here as soon as possible. I remember being there; I know it is not safe.”
Dublin resident Fatin Al Tamimi could barely sleep, eat or think with the worry she felt for her family living in Gaza during the airstrikes.
“I am very relieved that they have survived physically. Mentally they are traumatised… You can see the fear,” she says.
Among those killed in recent days were 50 people living in the buildings next to the home of Al Tamimi’s aunt, who had to flee her home in recent days.
Fatin’s 12-year-old niece has been telling her how she was “terrified” when the ground shook. “They sleep together in the middle of the floor… You cannot imagine the terror,” she says. The situation has been “more than worrying; it is devastating”.
Fatin has lived in Ireland for more than 20 years. She was born in Qatar to Palestinian parents who were not allowed to return to their homeland, she says. Chair of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, her name is on a blacklist banning her from re-entering Palestine due to her activism. She would return to Gaza in a heartbeat if she knew it was safe.
“I used to spend summers in Palestine. The last time I went I was about 13 years old… Now I have no right to go back.”
She clings to hope, as all Palestinians do, that this fresh ceasefire will last, she says. “The messages and the calls from my family give me strength. I feel they are stronger than me.” She prays it will be possible and safe to meet her mother and sister in Jordan this summer so they can grieve for her father, who died two months ago.
“Hopefully my sister can stay safe. We still have that hope that we will meet in July.”
Smell of death
Yaser Alashqar, adjunct assistant professor of international peace studies at Trinity College Dublin, has been hearing from his family how the “smell of death and destruction is everywhere around them”.
Like the rest of the people and families in Gaza they are “terrified and traumatised” from the 11 days of fighting, he says.
“Gaza is under Israeli blockade and they are trapped and cannot escape. There is no safe space in Gaza.”
He recalls a “depressing” situation when he visited his homeland two years ago. He says Israel’s militarised policies and blockade of Gaza continue under the pretext of undermining the power of Hamas, but this a “collective punishment” on the entire people.
“As I saw it on the ground, the majority of Gaza’s young population have a desire to leave because of the worsening living conditions,” he adds. Covid-19 and high case numbers has made Gaza’s plight “more critical”, he says.
While European states had called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid, Yaser says they are “still unwilling to push for longer-term solutions or challenge Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid in the Palestinian territories”.