On February 19, I am going to turn 23. I’m anxious that the day will come and the war will still be ongoing, but then again, I’m not entirely sure I will live long enough to see it.
Before the Israeli war on Gaza, I lived a peaceful life, going every day to Al-Aqsa University in pursuit of my studies. My school has now been bombed by the Israeli military even though it was full of displaced Palestinians from northern Gaza. The bombing campaign killed a number of the displaced, turning the place I used to study, laugh, and feel joy into a horror movie.
My friend and classmate, Nadia Abd El-Latif, was killed during the Israeli onslaught due to a direct Israeli airstrike on her house. The same thing happened to other friends and colleagues — Mahmoud Al-Naouq, Yousef Dawwas, and Muhammad Hammo.
My teacher, Refaat Alareer, was killed in the same way, as was my cousin’s husband, along with her seven-year-old son. All of these deaths have left me drained. After over a hundred days, Israel’s war is still ongoing, and my soul feels worn.
These 115 days make up 2,760 hours spent living with acute fear and anxiety, with no idea whether we’ll be among the survivors or not. But since the bombing began in October, I have been trying — in vain — to think of a way out of Gaza.
Just two months before the war, I had been granted an Erasmus scholarship and was in Spain. Unfortunately, my fate was to return and experience this inhumane genocide. If I were still in Spain, I wonder how my heart would feel. My family would definitely be here in Gaza, except for my sister Rawan, who traveled abroad a week before I did, and has been in Algeria since last January pursuing her master’s degree in international law.
During the beginning of the war, a friend of mine helped me to file a visa application to Qatar. She was hoping that Qatar would grant me a visa, which would make leaving Gaza a bit easier. She promised to host me in her house until the end of the war. Hesitantly, I agreed, reluctant to leave my family in such dire conditions, but the point was moot, as Qatar rejected my visa. I was very disappointed, expecting Qatar to agree since it is an Arab country with strong relations with Palestine.
After the rejection, I started to look for another way to escape Gaza, especially when the Israeli army launched its ground invasion of Gaza. I witnessed the unbearably cruel treatment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers, and I saw the outside world’s cold reaction.
That is when I started to panic in silence like everyone else here. I hide my fear from my siblings because I am their strength, and they even try to hide their fear from me, knowing they inspire me to be strong for them. But underlying all that is the knowledge that we’re all terrified as we pretend to be brave.
Egypt has closed its borders with Gaza many times during the war and has made the price of leaving Gaza unbelievably high. Since my mother is half-Egyptian and half-Palestinian, this was incredibly heartbreaking to me. Egypt is an Arab country neighboring Palestine, with which we share a common history and culture. How can they do this to us? There are many Palestinians in Gaza who have Egyptian blood and hold Egyptian nationality. Yet even those Egyptian citizens residing in Gaza are being asked to pay at least $1,500 to be let through the Rafah crossing to escape death.
Over 80% of people in Gaza live below the poverty line, and many wouldn’t be able to pay even $100. What is even worse is that if you do not have an Egyptian passport, the current going rate to pass through is $10,000 — and even then, if you somehow manage to find the money, you’ll still have to wait for days or even months to leave. Recently, the Egyptians claim to have decreased the amount to $5,000 per person, yet the struggle remains the same.
A small number of wealthy, influential people in Gaza can, in fact, pay such amounts to leave. Others are resorting to seeking donations through crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and LaunchGood, and I do not blame them. They have no other way to avoid the bombing and save their lives.
Many displaced families have sought shelter in my grandparents’ house during the war, as we reside in Rafah, where many displaced Palestinians are now living in tents. Three of these families were able to legally coordinate with Egyptian authorities to leave Gaza.
Hala Ihsan Abu Ramadan, 32, was displaced from the very north of Gaza along with her family four separate times until they finally reached Rafah. After collecting money through GoFundMe, Hala reached out to the Egyptian “coordinator,” who was a friend of her sister Heba’s manager. The coordinator asked for $5,000 per person, for a total of six people — Hala, Heba, Heba’s husband Hassan, their brother Abed, and their parents. Their father is a cancer patient and has not been able to receive any medical check-ups or chemotherapy sessions since the beginning of the war due to the overcrowding of Gaza’s hospitals.
“My father has to leave Gaza,” Hala told me. “His life is on the line. If my father does not get treatment, cancer will spread throughout his entire body. He will die very soon if the situation remains the same. We contacted the Egyptian coordinator, and he confirmed that my father’s case was designated urgent.”
Hala added that, as recently as today, her father’s name has not shown up on any of Egypt’s lists of people allowed to evacuate Gaza. “I mean, if my father’s case is urgent, and he has been waiting since December 30, how much time do urgent cases take?” Hala asks me. The Egyptian coordinators ended up raising the price required of Hala and her family several times, first to $6,000, then to $7,000, $8,000, and finally, to $10,000 per person. Appallingly, as of the time of writing, none of her family members have been allowed out of Gaza.
Hala’s cousin, Saleem Abu Hamdah, whose mother is Egyptian, has not been allowed into Egypt even though he paid $1,200. His wife and three children were allowed into Egypt, however, after paying those same so-called “coordination expenses,” along with his parents — leaving him alone in Gaza.
Another woman I spoke to, Samar, requested that her surname be withheld for her own safety. She has an Egyptian mother-in-law, and was asked to pay $4,000, whereas Samar was asked to pay $2,000. As of the time of writing, neither of them has been let out of Gaza, even though they have been in communication with coordinators since the start of the war. Only Samar’s Egyptian mother-in-law has been given permission to leave Gaza, but she refuses to leave behind her two sons, their wives and children, and her daughter, along with her daughter’s children.
“My parents’ apartment was bombed,” Samar told me. “Thank God, none of my family members were hurt. But the bombing itself made me very anxious and very desperate to leave Gaza. What we are witnessing today is much more cruel and intense than any war ever before on Gaza.”
As for myself, I cannot leave Gaza. My family’s financial situation cannot cover such high “coordination” expenses. I am reluctant to launch a GoFundMe campaign due to all the stories I’ve heard — none of the people I know who paid coordination fees to travel to Egypt have truly been able to leave Gaza. Maybe if one of the families sheltering with us were given actual permission to leave, I would consider launching my own fundraising campaign. Until then, I don’t believe there is a real way out, and I don’t see the outside world pressuring Israel for a ceasefire.
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