Gaza communication – photo of hands holding a smartphone

We Asked Gazans Living Abroad How They’re Coping

"My life has stopped. I see nothing but tears and blood. I’m physically in Belgium, but my soul is in Gaza.”

This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia.

Over two months have passed since Israel declared war against Hamas and begun an air and ground attack on the Gaza Strip. Day after day, the number of Palestinians killed rises, surpassing 18,000 over the course of just nine weeks. On top of that, 1.7 million people, or about 77 percent of Gaza’s population, have already been displaced – numbers even larger than during the 1948 Nakba.


It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the crisis, even if you’re only following it on the news or social media. But if you’re from Gaza or have loved ones stuck there, living elsewhere – in a society that’s not at war – can feel strange, alienating, and downright impossible. We reached out to three Gazans who live outside of Palestine to ask them how they’re coping.

Malek Qreeqe, 31, has lived in Belgium for the past eight years. When he heard about the Hamas attacks on the 7th of October, he felt immediately feared the potential repercussions. Qreeqe has already lived through three wars in Gaza, and knows all too well what an Israeli response can look like.

“I stopped going to work for a week because my thoughts were paralysed,” he says. “I feared for my family, especially since I’m from the Shejaiya neighbourhood, which is known for its many martyrs.”

It might seem unusual to Western audiences to hear the word “martyr”, instead of victims. In Western media, the term is often associated with suicide bombings. For Arab-speakers, the term is used more broadly to refer to people who gave their lives for a cause. Palestinians, in particular, always refer to people killed by Israel as martyrs, regardless of their faith.


Ever since Qreeqe has been back at work, he’s felt constantly exhausted. “My performance has declined and my life has stopped,” he says. “All I hear is the sound of bombing, children crying, mothers and fathers screaming for help. I see nothing but tears and blood. Sometimes, I’m afraid to get out of bed, because I feel like there’s a bombing outside my house. I’m physically in Belgium, but my soul is in Gaza.”

Saja Eleyan, 26, who’s been in the Emirates for the past four years, shares Qreeqe’s pain. Although she supports Palestinian resistance, she’s been overwhelmed by anxiety ever since the attacks of the 7th of October.

Eleyan is angry. When I spoke to her in late October, she’d already lost 20 friends and family members living in Gaza. None of them were affiliated with Hamas in any way. Things only got worse when both her previous house and workplace were demolished. “Every day, I wake up and hear about new martyrs and I feel a pain in my stomach,” she says. “I want to grieve for everyone and everything we’ve lost, but with the current situation, I don’t even have that luxury.”

On top of their grief, both Qreeqe and Eleyan are frustrated by how hard it is for them to communicate with people stuck in Gaza. Eleyan can only get in touch with her relatives on the phone, because there’s no internet where they live, and even that doesn’t always work. Things deteriorated on the 28th of October, when Israel intensified bombings and cut off all internet and phone services, preventing civilians from communicating with the outside world, and journalists from sharing their reports.


Although Qreeqe and Eleyan have seen many crises in Gaza, they both say this time is different, especially when it comes to media coverage. “We have witnessed the killing of journalists and attempts to silence the voice of the press more than ever before,” Eleyan says. “What we say on social media is also being deleted while Israeli content is widely spread. History is being falsified before our eyes.”

Qreeqe also says he would’ve never thought areas like the one where his family lives, near the Baptist Hospital, would be bombed. He would’ve never thought Israel would target a hospital or church. But it did happen, and he lost several relatives, including his cousin’s children, wife and mother.

Eleyan feels guilty for not being able to help. “I’ve been living in terror since I found out about the details of the daily bombing,’’ she says. “I’m scared for them and feel guilty because I’m not with them.”

Not all Palestinians living abroad are safe and free to exercise their right to protest the response of their countries of residence. Germany has prevented many pro-Palestine demonstrations and supported the deportation of pro-Hamas Palestinians. Despite that, 38-year-old Ali Bakhit, who lives in Germany, has been participating in events in support of Palestine in his new country.


Together with his friends, he tries to educate Germans on the topic, as he believes public awareness is the only way to change the country’s policies on Palestine. His wife and three children are still in Gaza, so just like Qreeqe, Bakhit feels a lot of survivor’s guilt. He spends his day following the news, and thinking about – or trying to get in touch with – his family and friends. He’s fighting to bring his family back together in Germany, too, but that’s understandably difficult.

Ever since the beginning of the war, Israel has been trying to force Gazans into Egypt’s Sinai Desert, and pressuring Egypt into accepting them as refugees. But Eleyan says that her people will always refuse to leave their land for fears they won’t be allowed back in. Most of Gaza’s residents live in the strip because they or their descendants had already been displaced from other Palestinian regions during the Nakba.

Ibtihal Umm Ikrimah, 34, is originally from the West Bank, but moved to Gaza with her husband in 2011. Back then, she’d just been freed from an Israeli prison, as part of a deal to release an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

“We lived in Gaza for nine years, and I felt like I was living among family,” she says. “We witnessed the 2014 war there, which we thought was the toughest.” Umm Ikrimah left Gaza in 2020 and now lives in Turkey with her family. She still considers Gaza home, and cannot imagine living elsewhere forever. “Every war, I wish I was there, in Gaza,” she says.

In the past weeks, she’s been worried sick for her family and everyone she’s met and befriended in Gaza. “We fall asleep and wake up every day with our phone in our hands,” she says. “All we talk about at home are memories of our martyrs, and of our loved ones who are still alive. Are they hungry or thirsty? How do they spend their day with their children? Are they even still alive?”

She, too, feels a deep sense of guilt. “I feel like I’m betraying them because we can sleep safely over here,” she says. “I wish I could take them away and put them in my heart.”