Derek Stoffel: Amid Israeli offensive, Gaza life goes on

Israeli strikes in Gaza have led to sleepless nights and anxious Palestinian children, CBC's Derek Stoffel reports from a refugee camp in Gaza City.

'I am used to the bombings, but my children are worried,' Palestinian father says

Awad al-Komi, who mans this stall in a Gaza market, said his children are finding it difficult to sleep through the explosions from Israeli strikes. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

When she hears an Israeli fighter jet, or more likely the explosion from one of the bombs it drops, Um al-Abed rushes out to her balcony to check things out.

"I want to see what they have hit," says the 72-year-old grandmother, who lives in the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City.

Um al-Abed has had four sleepless nights, since Israel launched its offensive early Tuesday aimed at stopping Gaza militants from firing rockets at its territory. Like most Palestinians here, she has not been directly affected by the escalation — her family has not been injured and their property, so far, is unscathed.

Um al-Abed, a 72-year-old grandmother living at the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, has had trouble sleeping since Israel's offensive began on Tuesday. Even so, she said life goes on in the coastal enclave. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

But life has certainly changed for every one of the 1.8 million Gazans who live in the coastal enclave.

Um al-Abed finds it hard to sleep. She worries for her grandchildren. But she refuses to stay locked in her home. I met her as she was shopping for tomatoes and onions in the very busy market in her neighbourhood.

I am used to the bombings, but my children are worried. So I have to keep reassuring them.- Awad al-Komi, vegetable stand operator

"I have my faith! Israel does not scare me. I know we will prevail," she said.

While I visited the Beach camp market, two loud explosions rung out. Hardly anyone flinched. A group of teenage boys did their best to ignore the big booms.

Awad al-Komi’s vegetable stall sits in the middle of the market. He points to the tomatoes he sells, and says the price he charges has not risen since the Israeli operation began on Tuesday.

'I try to pacify her'

"Life is normal here. We have no shortages. The prices are still the same," al-Komi said.

He admits, however, at home the situation is somewhat different.

Samah al-Masri waits in Gaza's al-Shifa hospital with her four-year-old niece Shayma. Although some Gaza residents no longer flinch at the sounds of explosions, some parents find themselves trying to calm their frightened children. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Some of al-Komi’s relatives are staying with him for a few days. They normally live in northern Gaza and worry about Israeli strikes. Twenty-three people now sleep in his home – most on the floor on styrofoam mattresses.

His children can’t sleep with all the explosions.

"I am used to the bombings, but my children are worried. So I have to keep reassuring them."

Explaining what is happening in the skies to children sometimes proves difficult for some Palestinian parents.

"When my child becomes scared I try to pacify her," said Yasir Fatih. "I tell her the noise is far away and it’s not dangerous. Or sometimes I tell her it’s not real, it’s a game."

But for many Gaza families, what is happening is all too real.

When Shayma al-Masri is released from Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, she will go home to a house that is almost empty.

Shayma’s mother, sister and brother were killed on Wednesday morning when walking through their Gaza neighbourhood. The four-year-old was knocked to the ground by the blast.

"[The Israelis] only hit those who walk in the streets — civilians," said Shayma’s aunt, Samah al-Masri. "Someone who walks alone, they will hit him. Even the children."

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


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