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Drained to the last drop by the Gaza blockade

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 03 June 2010

Mother of four Najwa Sheikh Ahmed writes for Channel 4 News about the trauma of life in Gaza under the Israeli blockade, where "If you pass your day safely, then you are lucky."

Gaza protester (Reuters)

It has been more than 1,000 days since the unjust, inhuman siege was imposed on Gaza with its 1.5 million inhabitants.

As a working mother living in besieged Gaza, having to care for four children - their needs, their emotional support, and even their difficult questions and innocent comments about daily life - my job is nearly impossible under such huge stress and in such a state of mind.

I am tired of thinking about all the domestic duties accumulated and postponed because of the frequent power cuts endured since 2006, when Israeli airplanes bombed the only power station in Gaza.

I return home after eight hours of work to another huge shift of work, involving cleaning the house, cooking, laundry, taking care of the kids and monitoring their preparations for their final exams. It makes the journey home a burden instead of being a nice time to spend with my children.

I am fully occupied, not only with a mother's normal duties but also with other duties created by the siege. I have to worry about everything, from the availability of cooking gas, to being able to afford a nice meal for the family, to the frequent power cuts that make your life hell (especially in the burning summer), to my upside-down schedule of duties accumulated until the electricity returns, to the children's whining because they don't have anything to do during their long days at home.

Sometimes I feel I have been completely drained of the last drop of any maternal feelings.

If you pass your day in Gaza safely then you are lucky. It is a place where every day survived is a blessing, no matter how much the kind of stress you have to deal with.

However, you can't stop thinking of what will happen the next day - whether you will have another "normal" day or whether you will have to face another wave of overwhelming fears, the kind that leaves you completely exhausted and tired.

Life in Gaza has totally changed since the blockade, where people now look only to survive, unable to taste the joy of a given moment, overwhelmed by the extremely violent life and traumatic events they are forced to endure.

Moreover, the last Israeli war on Gaza increased the fears and concerns that anyone would think of since the last war was beyond cruelty and showed that Israel feels no mercy towards any human being living in Gaza.  

I was shocked when my child Mustafa said he did not want to have children when he was married because he said he did not want to go through the hell of taking care of them or worrying about their safety whenever there is an Israeli operation in the area, or even worry about his not being able to find proper medical treatment for his children when they feel sick.

Such comments from a child who is only eight show this generation's devastated state of mind as a result of the violent life they have to live.

I cannot forget even for a while the screams of my little Salma months after the war ended, whenever she hears a loud sound or explosion. I cannot forget the look in her eyes when she sees an Apache on a TV film. How can I promise my children a better future when I myself am not so optimistic about it?

Realising that your life is trapped in the same place forever increases the state of depression you feel. I was born in one of the camps in Gaza and have lived all my life in Gaza. My husband was also born in a camp and lived in the same camp until he was 38. But still we can recall nice memories from childhood, and tell stories about happy times and joyful moments.

We even could tell the stories of our parents and grandparents when they fled from their homeland. We could feel the essence of the orange trees, the story of the water well, the breeze comes from the sea.

These stories were always our reference point for belonging to our homeland - unlike our children, who unfortunately could tell their own stories written in the blood of the killed people in each Israeli operation.

Sometimes I feel so guilty for bringing my children to this kind of life, when deserve to live a peaceful normal life as other children in the world. I wonder, how can I tell them to accept others when they don't have the chance to leave Gaza and meet with others? How can I teach them to be loving, tolerant people while all that they experience in their life is hatred, violence and death?

I cannot think of a mother in the world that could deal with a situation where she can't explain to her children why they are living such a life in Gaza. Or why they can't travel for a vacation outside Gaza. Or why the Israelis called us terrorists.

A long time ago I stopped believing that my words could change the fact that we are under the mercy of Israel, who control the air, the sea, and the land. But at the same time I cannot deny that I am impressed by the international solidarity groups who risk their lives to defend their belief in the justice of our cause and our right to be free.

The latest incident, the attack on the aid flotilla by Israeli commandos, shocked us all in Gaza, not only because of the extent of this criminal act but also because Israelis are claiming that it is justified in international law.

I wonder sometimes what would happen if Israel treated us as human beings who have dignity and a right to live freely. Sometimes I live in my own fantasy where Gaza is free, where I and my children can travel everywhere, where we live and sleep peacefully, where hunger, deprivation, unemployment are erased from the lives of Gaza people, and where security, freedom of movement, and the right to proper medical care are reality, not fantasy.

But could this happen in the coming years, I wonder? 

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