After 11 days of relentless bombing that killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.
To Asma Alkhaldi, a 24-year-old communications professional in Gaza City with a B.A. in architectural engineering, the “ceasefire”—such as it is—is welcome, but the trauma of days of bombing remains.
“I don’t feel well, actually, right now, and I don’t know how long it will take me to get back to normal,” Alkhaldi told me on Friday. “I don’t know.”
“I’m trying to avoid seeing the news or reading people’s stories because I’m on the verge of collapsing and crying,” she added.
“Palestine is under occupation and Gaza is part of that equation”
Palestine’s commitment to the ceasefire has already withstood significant provocations from Israel’s military and police forces. Israeli police are rounding up and imprisoning Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and, in a provocative move, escorted Jewish settlers into Al Aqsa Mosque.
In Gaza, the siege continues.
“I have never been anywhere else to do the comparison, but what I can say or tell you, it is a real big open prison,” said Alkhaldi, who has only left Gaza to travel to the occupied West Bank.
After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2006, Palestinians in the narrow, 25-mile-long territory were penned in. Conditions have only gotten worse as Israel has locked down the territory from the land and sea in what’s effectively a siege. To the south, Egypt also maintains a blockade.
“We got used to what we are having to deal with, such as power outages or the siege or frequent bombing and very high unemployment, trade and all of these like problems, it doesn’t mean they are right or we don’t suffer from them,” said Alkhaldi. “We do suffer for them. But we don’t have any other option to change that or to have a decent life.”
Alkhaldi said she’s unsure of how the economy, already in a very serious crisis, will come back—and what this year’s elections will look like. The war set everything back. Nonetheless, she was heartened by the support from around the world during the most recent attacks and urged people outside of Palestine to continue to pay attention to the occupation. She also urged people to not separate the struggles of Gaza from the struggles of Palestine as a whole.
“Palestine is under occupation and Gaza is part of that equation; Gaza is not separated from that,” said Alkhaldi. “I want people to know that and to act accordingly.”
“It’s a constant state of fear”
Gaza City artist Malak Mattar, who has lived through four wars in her 21 years, told me on May 15 that the relentless bombing, violence, and fear from Israel’s 15-year-long siege on Gaza has left her with severe PTSD.
“It’s a constant state of fear,” Mattar told me. “I fear for my life even when there is no war.”
Uncertainty and fear pervade every aspect of life in the territory. Even the most mundane tasks are affected.
Before this month’s war, Alkhaldi had considered buying a car—an investment that would have allowed her to travel more easily around the territory. But the bombings and destruction put an end to that dream for now, she said.
“It would literally be gone by now, it would be destroyed or bombed,” she said.
And the trauma goes further than just the immediate day-to-day of life in the territory. It affects plans for the future. Alkhaldi told me that the continuing siege, the unpredictability of life in Gaza, and the constant fear of war are keeping her from starting a family.
“Even if I want a family or to create a family here, I am so terrified to do that,” Alkhaldi said.
The people of Gaza are beginning to pick up the pieces from the latest round of bombing. For Alkhaldi, the thought of doing it again is exhausting.
“I don’t know how long it will take me to recover and rebuild,” she said.