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“Flour to Make Bread Is Not for You,” Says Palestinian Mother Surviving in Gaza

A mother describes starvation, dirty water and pre-planned trips to the bathroom as she survives in Gaza with her child.

Palestinian families try to survive under harsh conditions in makeshift tents set up on empty fields after being forced to leave their homes due to Israeli attacks, as they seek a final safe refuge in southern city of Rafah, Gaza, on January 1, 2024.

Despite the constant Israeli bombing, shelling, terror in the air from close by and far afield, somehow being a creature of habit, I wake up at the call to prayer, every early morning. And after prostrating myself in the direction of Mecca, in the direction of my faith in the almighty, the following immediate question on the top of my mind, every Fajr prayer time is: how and from where will I, a young Palestinian woman, a young Palestinian mother, secure essential food and precious water for myself and for my six-year-old daughter today. That is, if we make it alive to sunset and beyond, with the grace of the almighty, to whom I’m so deeply faithful and an observant Muslim.

Then it’s a mad rush to fill our gallon-sized plastic jerry cans with water. My family’s allocated portion has been a few gallons of filthy, dirty water for the coming day. We are six adults, in addition to the young ones, the children, huddled together in this one small, dilapidated apartment. This is our current place of refuge from all the surrounding death, destruction, and unimaginable, simply unspeakable human suffering. We use this precious allocated water for a quick sponge bath and some essential laundry, which feels like some great extravagant luxury. It is a seemingly extravagant affair, which costs me a daily back-breaking climb from the ground floor, all the way to the fifth floor of the building, with no electricity and no functioning elevator. Dragging all this heavy but precious water like some beast of burden and constantly keeping an ever-vigilant watch on my child grasping, clasping onto some part of my cloth, tagging along. This constant nagging fear that there could very possibly and very likely be a missile strike from the air, and it would be all over in no time. Not just for me but for all from the ground up to the fifth floor.

A normal visit to the toilet has to be planned, pre-planned, and precisely thought out so that one does not spend more water — it’s a constant balance between normal human urge, maintaining one’s sanity, and losing it all in a jiffy (water, life, and loved ones).

The six adults in this two-room apartment take turns to go to the bath, to take sponge baths of sorts, take care of their respective children, maintain some human dignity, and some minimum hygiene. There is this undeclared competition for the bath water. There is competition for whatever bread comes our way, a very distasteful competition, a very inhumane way of life — that so many adults have to eye, prey upon each other’s meager slices of bread and lentils, if they are even available that day. The price of wheat flour is sky-high if at all available, you can’t afford wheat flour in Gaza today if you are a typical average, ordinary Jack or Jill. Flour to make bread, to feed your hungry stomach, is not for you.

Just yesterday, my child was so hungry, so starving, and I was not able to get anything from any of the relief workers, who turn up in this area less and less often. And ashamedly, I did ask her to rush to the neighboring apartment on the same floor and ask for some bread. The six-year-old, on her mother’s nudging, did walk up to the neighbors but came back as swiftly. Came back crying and said, “Mummy, the neighbors have strictly forbade me from showing up at their door, asking for something as precious as bread to eat.”

It seems all the more likely, almost assured, that we will not make it alive from here, given the barrage of weapons and bombings directed at us from every imaginable direction. In case we don’t, I hope when we are physically gone, someone out there will appreciate and comprehend the hell my child and I went through in our last days, just hoping for some pieces of fresh bread, some hot soup, some delicious fruit, and yearning the most for some clean water to drink and clean ourselves, wash ourselves — our so basic and so earthly human desires.

And what kept me going till the very last are three things: my faith in Allah, my love for my young daughter, and the Palestinian blood in my veins.

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