Maghazi refugee camp, Gaza Strip – As Imtithal, a mother of six, stokes the wood fire she has built up to bake bread for her family, her thoughts take her back to her usual morning routine at home in the Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood in western Gaza, before the relentless Israeli bombardment began on the enclave on October 7.
Imtithal and her family were forced to flee to the Maghazi camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip after Israeli forces ordered civilians to evacuate northern Gaza and move south in the early days of the war. She and her family could see that there was a grave danger that the Israeli bombing could wipe out entire areas in north and west Gaza.
She is thankful that they did. Soon after they left, their house was badly damaged in a bombing on their neighbourhood.
“My house was severely damaged due to a violent Israeli bombing next to it,” Imtithal says. “Our neighbour, Saleem, who works for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, sent me videos showing the extent of the destruction that befell my house. I feel very sad and do not know whether it is fit for habitation after today or not.”
To cope with the worry, Imtithal takes comfort in the memories of her safe, normal routine before the war began. She would wake up at dawn for Fajr prayers. Then, she would wake her younger children, Hammoud, 13, and Nour, 16, to get ready for school.
“I always enjoyed making their breakfast and lunch boxes. I would make sure I put their favourite foods in there,” she remembers.
The morning’s work would be far from over yet.
A small amount of ‘me time’
“Then, it’s time for my husband and older sons to go to work,” she says. “I make their coffee, but my daughter, Aseel, likes fresh juice, so I make that too while we talk about my plans for the day.”
Once they were all fed, ready to go and, finally, out of the door, it would be Imtithal’s “me time”.
“I go to the gym and spend about two hours exercising with my friends,” she says. After that, she would go home to drink something hot with her neighbour, Sarah.
Next, Imtithal says, she prepares lunch, spends a bit of time reading books on the sciences of the Quran, and logs on for her religious lessons through an academy that she joins via Zoom.
Finally, it would be time for the familiar family chaos to begin again.
“After my children return from their schools and work, I spend quality time with them, listening to their stories, following up on schoolwork with my son, Hammoud, and then preparing him to go to the boxing club, which he enjoys spending time in.”
Imtithal used to call her son Adham, who lives in the United States, every day to check in on him as well. But, since the bombing began, she has been unable to communicate with him much. Israel’s blockade on fuel means electricity and the internet have been severely restricted – often non-existent – in the Gaza Strip. She has barely managed a few minutes with him on the phone every few days.
‘I couldn’t even say goodbye’
Once such a normal, sometimes even mundane, part of her day, these are the things Imtithal says she longs for now.
“I miss being at home and quietly practising my simple daily routine.
“Daily household tasks were not as arduous as they are today. Now, I wash the laundry in buckets with very small amounts of water when I used to use an automatic washing machine. I also struggle to prepare food due to the lack of cooking gas, so we resort to cooking food over a wood fire now.”
Imtithal adds: “The situation in Gaza is tragic. I cannot communicate with my sisters, nor can I visit them. I used to go out for walks with them constantly. Even the entertainment places we used to go have all been bombed.”
Imtithal worries terribly about the family and friends she has been separated from in her community.
Israeli planes bombed her cousin’s house, killing her. She says: “I couldn’t even say goodbye to her! I can’t leave the refugee house I’m in. Her family couldn’t even hold a funeral for her, and they told me that they took her to bury her using their own car.”
She also worries greatly about the toll this war is taking on her family.
“Everything is exhausting us. What is happening in Gaza is genocide. I miss the spirit of my young son. I am keen to take care of his mental health due to the harsh situation in the Gaza Strip. I find him sitting alone a lot, so I try to make him relax and listen to everything that is on his mind and try to reassure him.”
(This account was written by Imtithal’s daughter, Aseel.)