The New Humanitarian welcomes new CEO Ebele Okobi.

Find out more.
  1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Palestine

People in Gaza remember a time before the war, and plead for it to end

‘The biggest challenge is continuing life. Every detail, small or big, is a challenge and obstacle.’

This is a vertical collage of five people set side by side. Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

The statistics describing the toll that Israel’s bombardment, siege, and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip has taken in a little over 100 days are staggering. But for more than two million people in Gaza, the war isn’t about abstract numbers; it’s an intimate, daily struggle that threatens their survival and obscures their dreams.

To get a better sense of the impact of the war at a human level, The New Humanitarian spoke to five residents of Gaza about their lives before it began, their daily challenges, and their hopes for the future.

“The most important wish is for the war to stop and for us to return to our homes and find them undestroyed. After that, we wish for nothing more than to not have to experience this war and this hell again, so that our children can live peaceful and dignified lives,” Ahmed Abu Kamil, a photojournalist and father of four, told The New Humanitarian. 

The current hostilities began after Hamas, the Palestinian political and militant group that governs Gaza, launched a raid into Israel on 7 October, killing around 1,140 people – two thirds of them civilians – and taking around 240 hostages. Since then, Israel’s bombing and military campaign has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, including over 17,000 children and women, according to health authorities in the enclave.

The assessment from UN agencies, experts, and NGOs about conditions on the ground is stark. Out of a population of around 2.3 million, more than 1.7 million people have been forcibly displaced, many more than once. Every single resident of Gaza is hungry, and a quarter of the population is starving. The health system is collapsing; disease is spreading; nowhere is safe from bombing; the amount of humanitarian assistance being delivered and distributed is insufficient; and the basic infrastructure needed to sustain life is being deliberately and systematically destroyed.

On 23 January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “The entire population of Gaza is enduring destruction at a scale and speed without parallel in recent history.”

This is what that means for five people in Gaza. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

This is a portrait of Dr. Amira Salem Muslim Qadeeh. She is pictured in the interior of a hospital. She wears a lab coat, a stethoscope is around her neck and she wears a beige headscarf. She smiles at the camera.
Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Dr Amira Qadeeh

Age: 24 

Profession: Intern physician at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis

Marital status: Single

Place of residence before the war: Downtown Gaza City

Currently: A school-turned-shelter in Khan Younis

The New Humanitarian: Can you share a happy memory from before the war?

Qadeeh: Our life before the war is a happy memory. We lived our lives in calm and peace, without bombing, killing, or destruction. We used to walk in the streets and stroll on the seaside promenade. Life was happy and joyful.

But the happiest occasion was my graduation from the Faculty of Medicine at Al-Azhar University. That moment, when I was standing on the podium and wearing my graduation gown, is one I will cherish forever – a childhood dream coming true.

The New Humanitarian: How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?

Qadeeh: Big changes have happened to me and everyone I know. Before, I was in the safety and comfort of my home, leading a quiet life, moving to and from work, and running errands without fear of death or bombing. I was eating delicious food, drinking water, showering, going to the bathroom, and doing all the things that are normal for any human being.

Now, we need a miracle to get clean drinking water, enough healthy food, a blanket that warms us in the bitter cold, and above all, safe shelter. Everything has been turned upside down. Like the rest of the residents of the Gaza Strip, my old daily routine is gone.

In the hospital, I am experiencing endless tragedy, and shocking and horrific scenes of people arriving with war injuries, their bodies torn to pieces, in extremely dangerous conditions.

I work in the reception and emergency department. There are moments of overwhelming confusion due to the high number of injured people. I am there with families when they experience the shock of learning that their relatives have been killed. I see the tears in their eyes.

The New Humanitarian: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

Qadeeh: The biggest challenge is finding a place that is safe from bombing. The other challenge is finding a shelter that has even the bare minimum human necessities for my 11-member family. We are currently all displaced in a single shed inside a school that is now a shelter, and we are facing all kinds of suffering.

Imagine, cooking food has become a dilemma and going to the bathroom or showering has turned into a burden and great challenge.

The New Humanitarian: What do you wish for in the future?

Qadeeh: The most important wish now, before the future, is for the war to stop and for Gaza to live in peace and tranquillity; for the people here to feel that their children are safe and that they are not raising them until they are all grown up only for the Israeli occupation to kill them in another war; for the people to build a house and not have it bombed and destroyed, costing them their life’s work, past, present, and future.

I hope that the wars will end, once and for all; for us and future generations to never go through this very harsh experience again.

Professionally, I hope that I will succeed in completing my specialty in general surgery in the coming years so that I can leave Gaza and join a university abroad that will enable me to acquire the education, knowledge, and skills for this specialty.

This is a portrait of Doaa Qita. She is pictured wearing a yellow sweater with Mickey Mouse at the center. She wears a beige headscarf over a black head covering. In he background we see a settlement and clothes hanging from a clothing line.
Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Doaa Qita

Age: 25

Occupation: Housewife, with a bachelor’s degree in medical equipment engineering

Marital status: Married with three daughters

Place of residence before the war: West of Gaza City

Currently: In a tent near a vocational training centre run by the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) that is serving as a shelter on the outskirts of Khan Younis

The New Humanitarian: Can you share a happy memory before the war?

Qita: All the days were beautiful compared to what we are living now. Sitting at home, sleeping, waking up, eating and drinking. Every moment was a beautiful and joyful memory. Life was filled with beautiful occasions that we created with our own hands. Perhaps the last of them was celebrating my husband Jawdat’s birthday a few days before the war. We celebrated it with cake, sweets, songs, and being happy with each other. 

Every moment we lived before the war could be considered a memory of joy and happiness that cannot be forgotten. We were extremely happy.

The New Humanitarian: How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?

Qita: My whole life has changed completely, from calm, tranquillity, comfort, and safety to fear, bombing, and the sounds of explosions and tanks. It went from our house with its many rooms – bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living room – and its luxury and comfort to a shed made of nylon, wood, and dirt, and a life filled with torment and bitterness.

Now, the situation is very difficult: living is unbearable, and life is miserable. I gave birth just days ago and returned from the hospital to the shelter without any healthcare or nutritious food. I have to light a fire to make tea or cook. I’ve been washing our clothes by hand without a washing machine due to the power outage since the first days of the war.

Everything turned into the most difficult, saddest, and worst circumstances. We are deprived of good food, clean water, peaceful sleep, and adequate bedding and blankets. We are deprived of privacy in a shared camp. We are deprived of going to the bathroom or showering without having other displaced persons waiting for you outside. Our lives are now an unbearable hell.

The New Humanitarian: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

Qita: The biggest challenge is how to protect my newborn, who is a few days old, from getting infected with diseases that are common among infants, and from getting sick from the poor conditions and lack of hygiene and overcrowding in this place. The biggest challenge is to protect my twin daughters and husband from the danger of Israeli bombing. We heard the sounds of the tanks nearby a few days ago. It was frightening. What would it be like if that bombing was here? I fear for my family day and night.

The New Humanitarian: What do you wish for in the future?

Qita: Like everyone in Gaza, I am hoping for an end to the war and a peaceful exit [for my family] from it. Then, I hope to return to my home as soon as possible and resume our previous life. Living through war and displacement, we realised our life was very beautiful, even with all its difficulties. I pray to God that I get a job, especially since my specialty [of medical equipment engineering] is in demand.

This is a portrait of Ahmed Muhammad Fayyad Abu Kamil. He is pictured wearing a dark, long-sleeve shirt and over it a press vest. Around his neck is a camera. He holds the camera with both his hands in front of his stomach. In the background we see the ocean and blue skies.
Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Ahmed Abu Kamil

Age: 37

Profession: Photojournalist, with a bachelor’s degree in sociology

Marital status: Married and father to four children

Place of residence: Al-Mughraqa, central Gaza

Currently: In a tent in al-Mawasi, Rafah, southern Gaza

The New Humanitarian: Can you share a happy memory from before the war?

Abu Kamil: Holidays, occasions such as weddings, birthdays, engagements, and parties are all happy memories. The last of them was my daughter Shams’ birthday days before the war. We celebrated five years of her life with sweets, songs, and toys. 

But my happiest memory was when my first child, Amir, was born on 18 May 2012. I will never forget those moments. They remain in my imagination, along with other beautiful memories that help me through the suffering, oppression, and fear I am now living. I scan through photos from those moments on my mobile phone to remember all that was beautiful, to give me the ability to continue and not collapse in the face of the horrors of war.

The New Humanitarian: How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?

Abu Kamil: Everything has completely changed. Our life as we know it before the war has ended. For two months, I lived as a displaced person in the centre of Khan Younis with my family, the families of my three brothers, and my parents. We experienced all kinds of bitterness and deprivation, and struggled to find what we needed to survive. We thought it was the end. 

Then, in early December, the Israeli army forcibly evacuated the area, so we all moved to a shed that we set up in al-Mawasi. It was terrifying to stay there because of Israeli shelling nearby, so we moved to a school that is now a shelter in Nuseirat in the middle of the Gaza Strip. A few days later we were forcibly evacuated again. The Israelis ordered us to leave, so we once again moved to the south, to Rafah, where we currently stay in a tent that is unsuitable for human life.

We have minimal access to food, water, showers, and sleep. We are constantly sick. The cold bites our bodies and our children’s bodies. We feel that we are dead while we are still breathing. 

In addition to this, there are grave risks at work. Before the war, I used to move around easily to take photos. Now, everyone who works in the media is a target. Journalism equates to death. We witness this every day. Imagine having to bid my family goodbye every morning, and when I return many hours later, they welcome me as if I had been away or travelling. My father, wife, and children endlessly remind me to protect myself and to stay away from dangerous places and bombing. But the reality is that my work as a journalist requires me to move around and cover all of these horrific events.

The New Humanitarian: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

Abu Kamil: The biggest challenge is continuing life. Every detail, small or big, is a challenge and obstacle. Providing firewood, water, access to the bathroom, food, and above all, protecting ourselves from bombing and death. This is a common challenge for everyone who lives in the Gaza Strip.

On a professional level, the ability to film and cover what's happening without exposing myself to danger is a major challenge. I have to balance these two things. Add to that the communications blackouts, Internet and electricity cuts, and trying to find ways to charge equipment, which requires me to travel long distances.

The New Humanitarian: What do you wish for in the future?

Abu Kamil: The most important wish is for the war to stop and for us to return to our homes and find them undestroyed. After that, we wish for nothing more than to not have to experience this war and this hell again, so that our children can live peaceful and dignified lives.

We are now in a position where we ask ourselves: “Why did we bring children to the world if they are going to be killed or made to suffer in war?” Our lives have been one war after the next, with no peaceful times, so was it right to bring suffering to others?

The most important wish: We do not want wars; we do not want our children to suffer. We only want a safe future for them.

This is a portrait of Ahmed Montaser Suleiman Abu Nahia. He is pictured wearing a grey puffer jacket with his arms crossed over his stomach. Behind him is a pick-up truck.
Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Ahmed Abu Nahia

Age: 24 years 

Profession: Vegetable seller, completed high school

Marital status: Married

Place of residence: Al-Qarara, north of Khan Younis

Currently: In a tent in al-Mawasi, Rafah, southern Gaza

The New Humanitarian: Can you share a happy memory before the war?

Abu Nahia: The most beautiful occasion was my wedding day, two months before the war. I lived my happiest days from the wedding until before the war. Two months were filled with memories of joy and happiness. My wife, my apartment, my life, my sleep, my nights, waking up, and even my work were all beautiful accomplishments.

The New Humanitarian: How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?

Abu Nahia: There is no life now. My life has flipped from top to rock bottom. Now, I live as a refugee in a tent. I cannot find water to drink or shower or any of the food that I crave. Death haunts us, bombing and fear are everywhere, movement is extremely difficult and dangerous. We cannot find a place to relieve ourselves without waiting in line. I cannot find enough clothes. My whole life now is harsh, and I am barely able to speak with my wife due to overcrowding.

My financial condition has deteriorated, and I can barely make ends meet after my work completely stopped after the war began, leaving me unemployed. I had a regular source of income that was sufficient for us, and I contributed to my parents’ and the rest of my families’ expenses. Today, I can barely provide daily necessities. We miss the taste of life. We are living in an atmosphere of death.

The New Humanitarian: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

Abu Nahia: The biggest challenge is being deprived of a comfortable and quiet life with my wife. We had only been married for two months. I have not been able to sit with my wife for the past three and a half months to feel the happiness and joy that we had. We are in a refugee camp and everyone lives with us in the same place. 

The other biggest challenge is not being able to use a clean and adequate bathroom. I have to go from one place to another, three kilometres away, to be able to use the bathroom. Imagine this challenge.

The New Humanitarian: What do you wish for in the future?

Abu Nahia: The most important wish is to find a way to travel to any country outside Gaza so that I can start my life again and make a living. Gaza is uninhabitable after all this destruction. All the necessities of life are no longer there after the destruction of homes, institutions, roads, infrastructure, farms, factories, and everything.

I pray to God to help me to leave. Before my marriage, I lived in a different country, worked hard, and returned with capital. The goal is to earn a living and return to the most precious place in our hearts: Gaza and Palestine.

This is a portrait of Fathia Ahmed Abu Jalhoum. She is pictured smiling without showing teeth at the camera. She wears a black head covering.
Mohamed Soulaimane/TNH

Fathia Abu Jalhoum

Age: 73

Profession: Housewife

Marital status: Married, and a mother of five

Place of residence: Gaza City, after living with her husband in Iraq for 40 years

Currently: In a tent in al-Mawasi, Khan Younis

The New Humanitarian: Can you share a happy memory before the war?

Abu Jalhoum: The most beautiful moment, and a beautiful memory, is when I returned to Palestine [from Iraq] in 2011. I prostrated to God Almighty out of love for my homeland. I cried continuously for the first hours after I entered the Gaza Strip. I was longing for my homeland while I was in Iraq. I spoke to Iraqi women about it and about the kindness, generosity, and integrity of its people. My mother died while I was away from her in Iraq. When I came back to Gaza, I got to see my father in good health before he passed away. 

The New Humanitarian: How has your life changed since the beginning of the war?

Abu Jalhoum: We were living in calm, people were fine, and everyone was getting along, visiting, and supporting each other. We were in our homes enjoying comfort and tranquillity. Now, we are displaced, living in a small shed with my husband, son, his wife, and children. I swear to God the cold bites into our bodies all night. There are no mattresses, blankets, or winter clothes. My four-year-old grandson urinates at night due to the cold, and we cannot find warm water to bathe him. We only find a minimal amount of food and drink. We are deprived of everything. 

Life was acceptable and calm before the war, but now it is full of fear and terror. Both children and grown-ups cannot sleep because of the bombing.

The New Humanitarian: What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?

Abu Jalhoum: Like everyone else, we are facing great difficulties obtaining food. For three months, we have been suffering from a very severe shortage of bread and flour. We were forced to buy it at double the price. We were eating very little, until my son recently received flour from UNRWA.

God is my witness, there is no food or water. Most of the time we are just waiting for aid. We got medicine from UNRWA [before the war for our medical conditions]. Sometimes we are able to find it; other times, it is not available. I had an eye operation a month before the war, and I need constant medical treatment, but it is not always available.

The New Humanitarian: What do you wish for in the future?

Abu Jalhoum: I hope for the war to end. We do not want wars and destruction. We believe in God and Islam and are not against the Jewish religion or Christianity. We are only against the actions of the [Israeli] occupation. We all need to live in peace and love. So why does the Israeli occupation wage all these wars and bring this destruction on us? We are being tortured, and they will not be able to live in peace with the crimes they are committing against the Palestinians. Enough wars, destruction, and disasters. We want to live in our homes with peace of mind.

This piece was published in collaboration with Egab. Edited by Hanan Nasser and Eric Reidy.

Share this article

Get the day’s top headlines in your inbox every morning

Starting at just $5 a month, you can become a member of The New Humanitarian and receive our premium newsletter, DAWNS Digest.

DAWNS Digest has been the trusted essential morning read for global aid and foreign policy professionals for more than 10 years.

Government, media, global governance organisations, NGOs, academics, and more subscribe to DAWNS to receive the day’s top global headlines of news and analysis in their inboxes every weekday morning.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian today and you’ll automatically be subscribed to DAWNS Digest – free of charge.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.

Join