Editor’s note: WANN writer Aseel Zeineddin is a representative from Gaza to the Youth Advisory Panel for Palestine (YAP), created in 2021 under the auspices of the United Nations to address issues facing Palestinian youth and advocate for positive social change. In early November 2023, as the air and ground assault on northern Gaza intensified, Aseel lost both phone and internet service. On December 20, her YAP and WANN colleagues, increasingly concerned for her whereabouts and wellbeing, shared an urgent appeal on their social media accounts seeking any information about her. By coincidence, Aseel ran into another WANN writer on the street near her home in Gaza City that same day, who alerted her to the appeal. He assisted her in activating the E-sim a friend had donated, which enabled her to connect to telecommunications services; she surfaced online several days later. Aseel wrote this letter of appreciation, which a team of YAP members translated into English.
My heartfelt greetings to my colleagues and friends,
After being cut off from the world for nearly 50 days, my phone finally connected to the internet yesterday for five minutes. I downloaded the WhatsApp messages of your anxiety and worry for me and your eagerness, even through a small sign, for news about me and my family.
I don’t know how I could show my gratitude for your love, worry and prayers. You let me know that if I was destined to be one of the victims, I would not have been forgotten, and I would not have been a number whose body could not be reached.
My family and I have evacuated our home more than 10 times, but have survived with God’s grace. I would be lying to you if I said we are truly fine; a proper description is that we have escaped death many times, most recently last week. We were awakened, along with the displaced relatives living with us, when the house next to us was bombed, raining glass, rubble, and thick clouds of dust down on our heads. We tried to catch our breath and rinse the dust from our faces, mouths, and noses. This situation is hardly the best remedy for my asthma!
We left our home in a panic; an Israeli military tank stood right ahead on our street. As we ran, the sound of artilleries, bullets, and planes filled the air. We were the last family to escape the threatened area. I cannot believe that I survived to write this letter.
On the topic of weapons, I have some good news. I have gained new skills in distinguishing between the sounds of explosions from planes, bombs fired from tanks, and machine guns and drones. I have become accustomed to the smell of internationally prohibited weapons. Speaking of international prohibitions, I’ve become completely certain that my unforgivable sin was studying law and having faith in human rights. How could a Gazan believe in the system of international law anymore? It has failed us.
You know what? I’ve witnessed each frightening situation we’ve experienced so far as the scariest I have seen in my life, and I cannot imagine that I am still destined to witness more of these frightening scenes. Horror shocks us every minute and robs me of my ability to express myself in writing, speaking, and even crying. Since the beginning of the full-fledged genocide, I have spent long hours reading from the Qur’an or clearing the entrance of my house of rubble from the bombarded adjacent houses. The angrier I get, the rougher I become in clearing rubble, though my hands are already afflicted with eczema.
Since the war started, I have been compelled to take on what is ordinarily men’s work. As I heave rubble away from the house or haul water for the family, I say to myself, “Hopefully, God, the gender equality groups will be satisfied!” I tread on rough stones while wandering the ruined streets I see everywhere. Nearby markets are filled with vendors who have looted many stores and come to resell goods at five or ten times their original price.
Despite all this, I still have the ability to feel sad for the cats and dogs in the street who spend their days scavenging through the tons of garbage piled in front of destroyed houses. I jokingly tell them, “Oh my, if only the climate justice groups could see you.” The whole city is sad, though sadness is a word that does not adequately describe this tragic reality. But Gaza is still trying to live.
I will not tell you more about my risky and tragic journey. Forgive me if I eventually do, but for now, I do not think I will write again. Perhaps your search for me has helped renew my will to survive. Look at what I’m doing now. I’m writing, for God’s sake! I’m treating some of these written lines from this tragedy as a great legacy! Oh, who knows?! Maybe you’ll use some of them in my eulogy.
I do not know if despair has entered my language, but I wake up every day asking Palestine and Gaza: How much more will you be taking from us?! Forgive me for taking so long, my dears. I will soften any upcoming message with reassurance.
Encompass us in your prayers. God is the only one who remains with us, which is enough for us. Please stay away from harm and stay well. I extend my greetings to everyone with love.