A Letter from Gaza to the World

November 16, 2023

The aid allowed into Gaza barely covers 2% of our needs. Most of the aid goes to UNRWA schools, but can they manage to provide a healthy life to the 750,000 displaced people living in these schools?
Relatives of the victims, died in the Israeli airstrikes, mourn as they take the bodies from the morgue of Nasser Hospital for the funeral ceremony as the Israeli army attacks continue in Khan Yunis, Gaza on November 14, 2023. Photo by Anadolu Images.


uring the current Israeli attack on Gaza, Israel is restricting access to the food we need to live, to flour, fuel, medicine, and water. They shut off our water supply and have banned electricity.

“My father always asks us not to turn off our phones at all, saying ‘We don’t know if Israel will bomb our house, and who they would call to warn us,’” says 20-year-old Sherin.

Sherin lives in the south of Gaza, in Al-Shabora refugee camp in Rafah. She has two sisters, Abir (19) and Hanin (17), and three brothers, Hassan (18), Mohammed (13), and Ahmad (12). They live with their 46-year-old father.

On October 17, Sherin’s brother Hassan went to purchase bread before dawn, as soon as he woke up. He had to wait in line for a long time; the previous day, he waited for five hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This time he arrived as early as possible, hoping he wouldn’t have to wait as long.

Mohammed went out in search of drinkable water, only available from the mosque, waiting in line until he could fill two tanks of water for his family.

Ahmad was sent to purchase rice for the family; in case Hassan didn’t make it to the front of the bread line, they could always cook rice.

Suddenly, in the morning, their house began violently shaking. All the windows were shattered. The reverberations from a powerful bombing struck their home. The family smelt ash from the rockets.

“I thought we were being bombed. The shaking was so strong, the mirrors and windows were all broken; I was terrified our building would fall on top of us, but thank God, that didn’t happen. It was a close call,” says Sherin.

Hanin and her siblings rushed downstairs as soon as the bombing started to find their aunt Salma, who had already evacuated the apartment earlier during the attack.

“When my siblings and I went downstairs, I saw my aunt Salma and many of my cousins. They were also in shock and unable to comprehend what was happening. They were scared and distressed, and so were we,” Sherin adds.

When Sherin’s father came into the building, he assured them they were safe, and that it was the building right next to them that was bombed.

“Even though we have no political affiliations at all, we know we might be killed since many Palestinian families are being wiped out, despite being totally innocent. We could be next,” says Sherin.

They all headed into the living room, where they tried to soothe and comfort each other. They wanted to make sure everyone was fine and, thank God, they all were—but Ahmad was intensely crying, as he felt very close to death. He had been woken up by the broken windows that were above the sofa; he was sleeping at the time, but thankfully no shrapnel reached his body.

His father tried to comfort him, making jokes about how scared he was even though he’s now an adult until the 12-year-old began to laugh.

Ahed, the father, saw three of his neighbors killed by shrapnel from the bombed building.

“My aunt, my sister Abir, and my other cousins cried heavily as they saw the bulldozer—civil defense workers and paramedics—trying to pull torn-apart and dead bodies out from under the rubble,” Sherin recounts.

When the two families overcame the shock, everyone went back to minding their work: Sherin had to wash clothes by hand with cold water. Abir had to take a shower with cold water as well, being as frugal as possible. Ahmad took the phones to charge them at a neighbor who has solar energy. Ahed went to help the workers pull the victims out from under the rubble. At least 13 dead bodies of neighbors were recovered.

In the afternoon, Hassan and Mohammed arrived with bread and water. The family ate lunch and slept, hoping they would wake up to news of a ceasefire and not from the loud sirens of ambulances keeping them trapped inside.

On November 3, Sherin’s neighbor and friend, Wafa Ismail, and her family sought safety in a nearby school, as the family was warned their house would be bombed.

“We thought life in the school would be better than life outside, and that our basic necessities would be provided for. Unfortunately, we were wrong,” says Wafa’s mother.

The aid allowed into Gaza barely covers 2% of our needs. Most of the aid goes to UNRWA schools, but can they manage to provide a healthy life to the 750,000 displaced people living in these schools?

“The electricity barely comes on. We get about 3-4 hours each day, and even that is a luxury in Gaza, since most Gazans don’t have access to electricity at all. Only those with solar energy manage to access it,” Wafa recounts.

Wafa’s family only gets two loaves of bread weekly per person and two bottles of water daily. They are also provided with a few tuna cans, some cheese, a packet of flour, and some beans—all of which are things Gaza is currently running out of—but for Wafa’s family, it isn’t enough. It barely covers their weekly needs.

Even though the family is provided with limited flour, they cannot bake bread unless they make a fire with wood and pieces of cardboard—and they aren’t allowed to light a fire inside the school. They have to find a suitable spot outside in the street if they want to bake.

“When we use the bathroom, we use wet tissue to keep clean as there is no water most days. Sometimes, we spend days without taking showers. When the school is able to provide water, we stand and wait in long lines for the showers. We shower quickly and uncomfortably, considering all the people still waiting their turn. We don’t know when we’ll have the luxury of another shower,” Wafa adds.

“What is the hardest for me is that I’m now living with 39 strangers—the only people I know are my mother and two sisters. It’s always loud and noisy with talk, chitchat, children and women crying and laughing. Even during the night, it’s loud—people hardly sleep. I’m drawn to quiet environments, and sometimes it’s all too much for me. I try to take breaks and walk around the school by myself,” Wafaa shares.

The school recently provided very thin blankets that cannot be washed, even if they are soiled by young children.

It is extremely difficult for Wafa to stay at the school. They can charge their phones, but can’t access the internet. Their only source of news is calling relatives and friends who are lucky to have a few hours, or sometimes minutes, of internet access. This is rare, as telecommunications in Gaza are often completely cut off and our networks aren’t sufficient.

Wafa’s house still hasn’t been bombed. They are desperate to go back, but they worry that if they return, that’ll be when the warning comes true and the house is bombarded from above.