Newshub Nation: What it's like to grow up in the Gaza Strip and have family stuck there

With the conflict between Israel and Gaza escalating, conditions for civilians in the line of fire continue to deteriorate.    

Newshub Nation spoke to Ahmed Abusaleeq, a Palestinian who now lives in Dunedin, to understand what life is like in the Gaza Strip.   

Abusaleeq is a third-year medical student at Otago University who also spends time as a bilingual youth worker.    

He moved to New Zealand in 2018 with his father and siblings and he now considers it home, but the first part of Abusaleeq's life was spent in the Gaza Strip, where his mother, half-sisters, extended family, and friends still live.

"I've spent 19 years in Gaza and even though I'm here in New Zealand, I'm living every memory with them.   

"Just thinking about the situation and conflict being back one more time brings back a lot of bad memories. It brings back a lot of nightmares and it brings back a lot of fear," he said.    

"Whatever comes into Gaza, whatever leaves, is closely monitored and regulated by the Israeli's occupation forces, so there is a shortage of everything you can think of, food, water, electricity."   

As a result of limited supplies and high unemployment, Abusaleeq said that much of the population lives in "significant poverty".   

Growing up in Gaza meant that Abusaleeq came dangerously close to death on multiple occasions.

When he was 15, he went to go and buy some bread as there was no electricity to bake at home. He walked to the city centre and waited in line for an hour with his mother, who he was not living with at the time. As she was walking him home, multiple airstrikes came down in the area they were walking through.   

"My mum held my hand so tightly; I could see the fear in her eyes," he said.   

"We started running towards the direction of my house.   

"I arrived home safely, and my mom left on her own. I was so worried something bad might happen to her."   

Abusaleeq described similar brushes with death while growing up in Gaza that were simply part of life. Due to a nearby explosion when he was nine years old, he now suffers from "mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear".   

The recent escalation of the conflict has dramatically increased the danger that civilians face, and Abusaleeq said that now, "Nowhere in Gaza is safe. It has never been like that before".   

"On the first day of the conflict, my cousin was killed and a few days after some of my friends were killed," he said.   

Abusaleeq said that some of his friends who are still there have "just given up on life".   

"They've said to me, 'We live everything but life'.   

"You can't go anywhere, you're stuck, and there is no one there to help you."   

Last week, his mother and the rest of his family left their homes due to intense airstrikes. Sixteen people, eight of them children, were living in their two-bedroom house at the time.    

"Everyone's struggling significantly to afford food at the moment and to also secure water that can be used for drinking," Abusaleeq said.   

Leaving Gaza and reaching New Zealand was a trial in and of itself for Abusaleeq. He was granted residency in 2016 but was only able to leave two-and-a-half years later, after "many attempts to cross the borders".   

Abusaleeq's time in Gaza is what inspired him to go into medicine.    

"There were times where I felt helpless, and I've seen people going through a lot and losing many," he said.    

"I've always wanted to become a doctor and it's part of my experience growing up in the Gaza Strip."   

Despite the adversity civilians in Gaza are facing, Abusaleeq said that his family and friends are "quite resilient".   

"When you grow up in an open-air prison, you get used to things that aren't normal for us living here in New Zealand."   

On October 12, Abusaleeq lost the ability to contact his family and friends who remained there reliably. 

Limited access to electricity and the internet means that the ability of those in Gaza to communicate with the outside world is severely limited. When he does try to call, he is often met with static and sounds he cannot make sense of.    

On Saturday, Gaza's besieged people had next to no contact with the outside world as Israeli jets dropped more bombs and suggested a long-threatened ground offensive against Hamas militants was starting.   

Abusaleeq is calling for a ceasefire to the fighting and wants the New Zealand Government to do more.  

He said that this "would be a great moment for the newly-elected Government to request a ceasefire immediately because a lot of people's lives are at stake, including my family".   

He also wants New Zealand to have pathways allowing for the resettlement of people in high-risk areas, like the Gaza Strip.    

Abusaleeq said that without urgent international action, "things will get worse".   

"They are the worst they can be at the moment, but they're getting worse every single day because there's been a lot of silence from across the world."   

He fears that the humanitarian side of the conflict is being lost amongst political and religious narratives.   

"Palestinians are being treated as subhuman, and this collective punishment isn't a solution.   

"This is no longer about self-defence for Israel," he said.   

On Monday, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general for the main United Nations agency in Palestine, the UNRWA, told the UN Security Council that the entire population of Gaza is becoming "dehumanised". 

With his family stuck in Gaza for the foreseeable future, Abusaleeq said: "All I hope is that they are coping well, but there's nothing I can do for them and there's nothing that they can do for themselves, they're stuck."

Watch the full video for more. 

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