THE ongoing conflict in Gaza, which shows no sign of stopping, has tragically claimed over 11 240 people to date, including 4 630 children. The relentless bombings have not only targeted civilians and their infrastructure but have also struck public spaces, flouting the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). This aggression is severely affecting the people of Gaza, and its repercussions are particularly profound for young Palestinians studying abroad. Zimbabwe Independent’s correspondent, Tendai Makaripe (TM), recently interviewed Basma Almaza (BA), a 22-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, who is currently pursuing a Business Administration degree at Albukhary International University in Malaysia. The interview aimed to gain insight into Basma's life amidst the turmoil and how she is managing her studies while coping with the distance from her family, which she last heard from more than a month ago.
TM: You wrote a moving article describing the shocking initial moments of receiving news about the events in Gaza. How are you coping with the emotional weight of updates in Gaza, especially being so far away from home?
BA: Coping with the emotional weight of news from Gaza, especially being far away from home, is challenging. As I sleep at night, the persistent feeling of betraying my people continues to gnaw at me. I have managed only a scant few hours of rest since the onset of the aggression.
I typically use a combination of strategies, such as staying informed through images and stories, connecting with my Palestinian community abroad for support, and engaging in advocacy work to raise awareness about the situation in Gaza. It is important to balance the need for information with self-care and emotional well-being.
TM: When was the last time you heard from your mother, has there been any communication between the two of you?
BA: The last message I received from my mother was on October 12, 2023. Unfortunately, there has been no communication since then, and I only know that they are in the north.
I have recently learned the tragic news that my uncle, along with his son, his wife, and their three grandchildren, were victims in the recent attack on Jabalia Camp. This is so heart-breaking.
TM: How are you feeling about this?
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BA: It is an indescribable feeling and requires a long time to heal from it. It is a blend of sadness, anger, and a profound sense of displacement. It is as if my life has turned dark and I am finding it hard to carry on as usual. I feel like I am a young child yearning for her mother.
After really long days, I no longer have any idea about what I should do to hear the voices of my family members. It is now over a month without hearing from them and I am filled with a lot of guilt which is stifling me. Everything is getting worse by the day.
TM: Are there plans to go back home any time soon?
BA: Returning home is not an option at the moment as getting into Gaza is nearly impossible. They are barely allowing people to leave so how about getting in? I am in my final year and honestly, I do not know where to go after learning that our entire neighbourhood has been destroyed.
TM: In the article, you mentioned the stark difference between your experience in Malaysia and the ongoing conflict in Gaza. How has your stay in Malaysia changed your perspective or understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
BA: My experience in Malaysia has given me a broader perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It has allowed me to see that there are places in the world where people of different backgrounds can support the right side, no matter what it costs them.
This perspective has emphasised the importance of dialogue, diplomacy, and the potential for logical solutions, taking into account the history since 1917 when Britain allocated land it did not own to people who did not have land, which they bring to understanding of the conflict. The embrace of the Malaysian people and their sympathy for Palestine and the suffering of Palestinians is unparalleled
TM: The loss of your home and the emotional memories tied to it are particularly heart-wrenching. How do you find the strength to rebuild, mentally and emotionally, after such profound losses?
BA: The process of healing is a lengthy one. I used to reside in residential towers, and in the blink of an eye, all seven towers were reduced to rubble. Rebuilding after profound losses, like the destruction of my home and cherished memories, is a complex and enduring journey. What keeps me going is the hope that my family members are still alive. I recall my mother's words, "If it is about a stone, we can rebuild it, but what truly matters are souls".
Drawing strength from the resilience of my people, I focus on forging new memories and a sense of belonging wherever I find myself. Additionally, seeking professional assistance is vital for addressing the emotional toll of such losses.
TM: Your mother’s message painted a traumatic picture of life in Gaza during the conflict. Can you shed light on how these situations impact daily life for Gazans, beyond what the international media might show?
BA: Life in Gaza during the conflict goes beyond what the media may show. It involves daily struggles for basic necessities like clean water, food, and electricity, which results in high rates of poverty and unemployment, despite being an area of highly educated people.
The constant threat of violence and the destruction of infrastructure makes normal life incredibly difficult. Gazans always live in fear, with limited access to healthcare and education, which has long-term consequences for their well-being and development.
Also, traveling outside the region presents a considerable challenge, given the arduous and time-consuming procedures involving numerous checkpoints and extended waiting times. The situation is undeniably complex and far from easy.
I vividly recall my experience at the Rafah border when I was compelled to plead with my family to return home with them. Their response has remained with me ever since, as they told me, "Endure today's suffering to secure a better life for the future".
TM: How do you navigate the duality of living a somewhat normal life in Malaysia, while simultaneously being connected to the traumas and events unfolding in Gaza?
BA: When the aggression started, I looked to the sky through my window and said, "Now I know how the world sees us, and it is not fair".
Navigating the duality of living a somewhat normal life in Malaysia while staying connected to Gaza's traumas is a delicate balance. Hearing the sound of thunder is deafening and scary, so I always wake up terrified, thinking that it is a bombing. However, I am trying to be normal as I had the gift of being in a safe place and trying to help my people with anything, I can do.
TM: The destruction of entire families is a devastating reality. How do the surviving members of such families cope, and what can be done to support them?
BA: Losing the life of someone you know and are close to is a sad and impactful experience. However, losing someone from your immediate family (father, mother, spouse, husband, son, brother, sister) is even more painful and terrifying. It is a loss that is unimaginable, incomprehensible, and even unbelievable.
But when the day comes when you lose every member of your family at once, in a single moment, and you are the only one left alive among all your family members, this is something that no one can describe or even contemplate. This person has died along with their family and did not live a single day after them.
TM: What would you want to say to the Palestinian people?
BA: My beloved Gaza, I understand your feelings, and I know it might seem like the world has let you down. But remember, your children around the globe stand with you. We can see you, and hear your cries, and even if our efforts may not always be visible, please know that we are trying.
Your strong faith in God has made us feel humbled for not expressing gratitude for everything, even the clean air. Even when the world appears unresponsive, do not forget that people in the diaspora across the world are still fighting for you with unwavering strength. Your resilience and unwavering determination will help ensure that justice prevails in the end.
Know that we are learning a great deal from your enduring. We will rebuild our city together and make it beautiful than it was before.