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A child’s cry from Gaza

Sheltering in Deir al-Balah without electricity or running water, Maria Keshawi survives on one cold meal a day

JERUSALEM (ANN/THE JAPAN NEWS) – “I ask myself every day if I will survive until the next day,” lamented 15-year-old Palestinian Maria Keshawi, detailing her harrowing experiences amidst relentless airstrikes in Gaza.

The high school student, now seeking refuge in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, endures dire conditions without running water or electricity.

Severely malnourished, she manages just one meal daily. Maria shared her ordeal in English, responding to inquiries from The Japan News via her mobile phone whenever it found connectivity.

According to Maria, she evacuated from her home in Gaza City after the Israeli army invaded, and went south to a shelter in Khan Younis on October 13. Later her family moved to Deir al-Balah, where they shared a two-bedroom apartment with three other families.

Maria Keshawi, far right, reads a picture book to her younger relatives by the light from a mobile phone in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday. PHOTO: ANN/THE JAPAN NEWS

Maria could only eat cold food because there was no electricity or stove to cook warm meals like pasta or soup.

Her family’s single meal on Monday consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions sandwiched in a piece of round flatbread, which they got after standing in line for five hours.

Because there is no running water nor electricity, Maria cannot take a shower. She occasionally rinses herself off with water from a plastic bottle. Water used to clean people’s hands and dishes is saved and used to flush the toilet.

“This is the most difficult period in my life,” Maria wrote. “I never imagined in my life that I would leave my home, my belongings, my things, my school, and my friends.”

A child walks away with belongings salvaged from the rubble of a building hit in an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 15, 2023. PHOTO: AFP/MOHAMMED ABED

Living as an evacuee amid continued bombing, she cannot go to school. She wrote that at least one of her friends suffered head injuries when her house was bombed.

“I don’t know if I lost any of my friends. I cannot communicate with any of them because the mobile signal is weak and the internet is cut off in some areas,” Maria wrote.

“It saddens me that children of the world currently go to their schools and have a good life, but we the children of Gaza live in shelters with no food, or water, or, electricity, or hospitals, or schools.”

Palestinian children climb on the rubble of a destroyed home the day after an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip on October 30, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. PHOTO: AFP/MOHAMMED ABED

Bombs fall near the apartment where they have taken refuge, and they live in fear.

Maria reads picture books to her younger relatives under the light of her smartphone so they won’t be frightened by the sound of bombs.

“There is no place safe for us … I can’t believe the world is allowing that. This is unjust,” she wrote. “I hope the war will soon end because we became so tired of not knowing if we will be alive or dead when and if it ends.”

When the war ends, Maria wrote, the first thing she will do is to check on her family and friends to see if they survived, and then “start collecting the pieces of whatever [is] left of my past life. I will try to be strong and start again.”

Maria’s dream is to study journalism at university and become a journalist to tell the world about the devastation in Gaza, she said. – Toshiyuki Fukushima

A Palestinian fills a cup with drinking water; and Palestinians arrive to collect drinking water during the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah. PHOTO: AP