Categories

AOAV: all our reportsExplosive violence in GazaExplosive violence by the Israeli Defense Forces

Visually impaired activist Shireen chronicles Gaza’s struggles amidst conflict

Shireen is a visually impaired 37 year old woman living in the Gaza Strip. She is a student and part of a disability activist group working to expose the disastrous effects of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip which began on October 7, 2023, and especially its impact on people with disability. Shireen gave her consent to share her story with us and disseminate it as well. Shireen wanted to tell her story and the stories of many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, shedding light on the terrible difficulties the population in general, and people with disabilities in particular, face in daily life. As she puts it, “What we are trying to convey does not exceed 1% of the true situation we endure.”

The current situation escalated when the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a significant assault on Israel on October 7. This resulted in the tragic death of over 1,400 Israelis, with 230 others, including women and children, taken as hostages to Gaza. In retaliation, the Israeli military conducted air and artillery strikes, leading to the death of more than 9,000 Palestinians in Gaza, as per figures from the Hamas-run health ministry at time of writing.

In the wake of these events, Israel imposed severe restrictions, cutting off electricity and water supplies and halting the import of essential goods like food and medicine. A very small amount of aid was permitted through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. The region remains tense, with Israeli troops positioned near the Gaza boundary and Palestinians preparing for the possibility of a significant ground operation.

The following interview was given to Centre for Lebanese Studies (CLS) who has shared it with AOAV. The above contextualising of the war are the words of AOAV and not of CLS or the interviewer or interviewee.

Facing the Daunting Reality: Falling Asleep in 2023, Only to Wake Up in 1948

Shireen’s story takes us back to the year 1948 as she recounts the harrowing experiences of her grandparents who once resided inBir al-Sab’ or what is called Beersheba currently,but were compelled to flee to the Gaza Strip that fateful year. Her grandmother vividly described to her the immense suffering they endured when she was just a ten year old child. The memories of displacement and the horrors of war, etched deeply in her grandmother’s mind, have not faded with the passing years. Even at the age of 85, her grandmother continues to talk about the tragedies of 1948 and the forced displacement as if they were unfolding in the present moment. Shireen emphasized, “Before the current war, my grandmother used to recount the tragedies of the 1948 Nakba and the adversities they faced – the displacement and the calamities. She never forgot; she spoke about the catastrophe and displacement as if they were unfolding right now.” With a heavy sigh, Shireen continued to discuss the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, expressing her uncertainty about ever forgetting the horrors witnessed in this war. She asked, “When will we forget, or will we ever forget? What we endured is far worse than what my grandmother speaks of… Honestly, it’s much graver.”

Shireen reminisces about when she was fifteen years old, cherishing moments of happiness shared with her family in Gaza’s Zaitoun neighborhood before Israeli forces targeted the area surrounding their home. She said: “I used to live in the Zaitoun area, not where I live now, but my home was razed by the Israeli army in 2003. This was the first time Shireen experienced forced displacement. She and her family had to leave the Zaitoun district, leaving behind cherished memories of childhood, school, and friends, relocating to Deir El-Balah and adapting to a new life away from home, relatives, and loved ones.

Years passed after this displacement, and just as Shireen completed her university studies in journalism, eagerly looking forward to her life in her future, Israeli airstrikes struck again, resulting in an injury which resulted in a stroke that caused her to lose her vision in late 2008. That year, Shireen not only lost her sight but also lost several relatives in the attack. But Shireen’s blindness did not stop her. In early 2009, at the age of twenty, she continued her professional journey as a media producer and presenter, unveiling the realities of life in the Gaza Strip through her programs. Her objective, as she declared, was to “persevere in resistance through words.”

Since October 7, 2023, amidst the devastating Israeli airstrikes that have ravaged the Gaza Strip, and as a person with visual impairment, Shireen reported that she keenly understands the severe difficulties faced by people with disabilities during times of war. While acknowledging the dire circumstances faced by all under attack in the Gaza Strip, she emphasizes that people with disabilities endure even greater struggles than those without.

“God forbid, if my home, or the home of someone with disability, is bombarded; the suffering becomes immeasurable. Due to my visual impairment, I would be left in complete darkness, incapable of comprehending the turmoil around me. My senses would be limited to auditory cues. At best, I would yearn for any inkling of information about the safety of my family. In contrast, a person without disability would have the capacity to visually gauge the situation, distinguishing those killed, the wounded, and those who survived the attack. However, for someone like me, who grapples with blindness, such insights remain elusive. Even if a family member were in close proximity, suffering from injuries, I would be tragically oblivious to their condition, uncertain of their need for assistance, medical attention, or whether they had, in fact, become a martyr or managed to evade the peril.”

Shireen, who remains under siege and attack to this day, draws a poignant comparison between the living conditions in the Gaza Strip and those in developed countries. She astutely highlights the paradox of Western countries’ remarkable progress in scientific research, including the successful implantation of stem cells and various body organs in 2023. However, tragically and in contrast, the entire population of the Gaza Strip finds itself engulfed in suffering, isolated on a remote ‘island.’

She solemnly observes, ” We are like an enigmatic black box; the world remains ignorant of our plight. However, when this box is eventually opened, the world will recoil in shock at the concealed truths, the deceitful cover-ups, and the media censorship.”

Her fervent wish is for us to convey her story with unwavering truthfulness, “so that… the world shall be fully aware of everything that is happening in Gaza.”