On May 21, the Israeli government and the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, agreed to a ceasefire. Over the course of 11 days, over 290 people — 277 Palestinians, including 65 children, and at least 12 people in Israel, including two children — were killed. The Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which began in 1948 following the establishment of the state of Israel, has been ongoing for 73 years. Her Campus spoke to two college-aged women, Shir, 21, based in Tel Aviv, and Shatha, 24, from Gaza, about their experiences living in the crisis zone.
The first night was the worst. I was sitting at a bar and my phone was on silent. Suddenly I heard the sirens, and people screaming.
My neighborhood is very old, therefore my building doesn’t have a bomb shelter. I ran to a friend’s building, and hid in the stairwell with the other residents. The whole building was shaking, the sirens wouldn’t stop, my parents weren’t answering, and the bombs were deafening.
I had a panic attack. I couldn’t breath, or feel my arms or face. I remember a stranger tried to calm me down. My roommate called me crying, begging me to come home because she was there alone, so I did.
I was able to reach my parents and two younger brothers, who were at a wedding. They were hysterical. The rest of the night was a blur. I woke up every hour to sirens. When there was a bombardment, I had to go to the building’s stairwell, waiting, crying, and panicking. This continued for the next nine days.
The bombs were extremely loud. When I was in bed, trying to sleep, I could hear the sound in my ear. On Friday, while I was driving a motorcycle to my parents’ house, part of a rocket fell about 300 meters from me. I lost my balance, fell and broke my left arm.
I personally couldn’t survive another day. After many nights of insomnia, I can finally go to sleep without fearing that a siren will wake me up. I have hope for a better future.
Fear is a simple word to describe how I felt. There was never a safe spot. My family and I spent our entire days and nights in our living room, preparing for a bombing. We wanted to stay together at all times.
I used to spend most of my time watching and reading the news, focusing on the areas around us to check if we’d have to leave our home. I’d also look for updates on other areas to check if one of my friends, family members or colleagues were injured or killed.
We had no appetite. If we were hungry, we’d simply eat a snack to be able to continue with our day.
I don’t think I slept for more than two or three hours. I’d spend the entire night waiting for a missile to fall on my home. I remember thinking that the sound was so loud, as if it was in our house.
The sound of the missiles falling from the warplane resembles the sound of a motorcycle speeding, followed by the sound of a large explosion — as if a gas station exploded — and accompanied by an earthquake. I lost my hearing for a few seconds.
There are people who lost all members of their families. They died in front of their eyes. I don’t think that this can be erased from a person’s memory, or that someone can recover from it.
There are many people wounded and in need of assistance at the hospitals in Gaza. It left a lot of us traumatized. I won’t forget or recover from my fear; I won’t forget the sounds of explosions.
I still can’t sleep at night. The sound of a speeding car or the sound of a door suddenly closing will trigger me, and bring me back to those bad memories. I try to spend all of my time working. I work from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm at the DeFacto store, then I go home to eat lunch, take a nap and paint. I’ve started a small art project. My art is a way of coping. I want to prove that I’m a person with fears, goals and dreams. I’ll never be just a number.
Shatha shares her incredible art pieces on social media. If you’d like to support a Palestinian artist, be sure to follow her on Instagram!
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.