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Young Gazans tell of a familiar fear

With a median age of just 18 in Gaza, many young people on Tuesday described terrifying, yet familiar, scenes from their windows
At least 17 people died in air strikes on Tuesday in a familiar tale for the people of Gaza (AFP)

After largely sleepless nights in Gaza as Israel launched 'Operation Protective Edge', Tuesday brought a familiar fear back to Gaza's households where many young people sheltered with their families, around televisions and radios, and away from windows, in a paralysing waiting game.

Blasts were audible in many of Middle East Eye's phone conversations with young Gazan residents on Tuesday as they recounted events in their neighbourhoods and inside their homes from where many said they were too scared to leave. 

With a median age of just 18 in Gaza, many also described an anxiety familiar that never seems to fade for those who have grown up among bombs and rocket fire.

“They started Operation Protective Edge at 2 am last night,” Maisam Abumorr, a graduate of the Islamic University of Gaza, told MEE. “They started by hitting empty lands near civilian houses, and then they started targeting houses, and now after a few hours, they started targeting actual people like at civilian gatherings, and people on motorcycles."

"There was a minivan that sells ice cream and smoothies for kids, it was targeted, and the owner was killed . . . and many children were wounded,” she added.

'It's just a mess everywhere. We're helpless'

Talking from under her bed where she had taken shelter in Gaza City, Areej Ali al-Ashhab, a field coordinator for an international organisation, told MEE three bombs had fallen in her neighbourhood on Tuesday.

“We thought our home had been bombed because the sound was so close,” al-Ashhab said by phone. “It’s just a mess everywhere. We’re helpless.”

When it felt safer to come out from under her bed, Al-Ashhab said she and her family – nine people in total - would likely remain glued to the television or listen to the radio to find out what was going on in the rest of Gaza – until electricity was cut, as usual, at 10pm.

Then, they planned to sleep in the same room, away from windows that might shatter in the night. Without light, sitting in her dark house, Al-Ashhab said the sound of the shelling and bombing is “really scary.”

‘Every bomb that falls is like the first time’

For Hana, a 23-year old graduate from Gaza City, children of the Strip know just too much about the difference between a bomb and a rocket.

“All the little girls and boys can distinguish between the noise of a rocket being fired from Gaza and bombs falling on us,” said Hana, who works part-time at a charity organisation. “I have a cousin, he was three during the last attack in 2012, and he knew right away. When there were rockets fired by the resistance, he cheered ‘it’s ours’ and did not feel afraid.”

“But my two-year-old niece, Susu, has no clue what’s going on. She only says ‘boom boom’ when there is a loud noise. She clings to her mother and cries all the time,” she added.

Hana has lived through a bombing campaign before, but says the feeling of fear never leaves you.

“I don’t feel like whining, but it’s the third time we are going through this,” she said. “Each time you think that eventually you will get used to it. That one day, you stop feeling afraid, but you never do.”

“Gazans are strong people, but we still worry about our friends and families. Every bomb that falls is like the first time. You always ask yourself: whose time came? It is mine? My brother’s? My sister’s?”

Hana is hoping to study at The School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is currently on a waiting list for a scholarship. 

‘It’s too dangerous to go outside’

North of Gaza City, in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood, Maram said bombs were falling close to her house. 

“There are attacks going on all around us as I speak" Maram told MEE, "I can see smoke outside of the window."

“I have two sisters, they are children under 14-years-old, and the situation is terrifying for them,” she added.

Maram said she had witnessed a bombing on a field where children were playing football.

“The sounds of the bombs are very loud,” she said. “Two hours ago there was a bombing in the street behind our house, where there was some empty land, but on it three children were playing football.”

“One of the children was killed and the other two were injured. They are in a critical condition now. When Israel bombs places like this they are clearly targeting civilians, as these are the only people who die and are injured,” she added.

As the evening drew to a close, and with bombings still taking place across Gaza, Maram said her family could not go out to buy food to eat their evening meal.

“It’s too dangerous to go outside, even to buy food and break our fast now that we are in Ramadan. Tonight, we cannot go out to get the food we need to eat our dinner.”