The deterioration of life for students in Gaza, from being cut off from their parents and having little to eat to detailing the alleged execution of family members by Israeli soldiers, is being documented in increasingly distressing podcasts by a children’s charity that taught them prior to the war.
The Hands Up Project, a UK-based ELT charity that helps Palestinian children to develop their English through connecting remotely with schools in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Pakistan, has been unable to hold its classes since the conflict began three months ago, but continues to receive reports from some of its pupils.
In one podcast learning coordinator Sara Wood relays a series of messages received just days before Christmas from Ghazal, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Beit Hanoun Prep girls’ school, who has been evacuated to an asylum school in the South of Gaza.
“I talked to my parents after seven days of trying to call them, thank God they are all fine,” she said. “The [Israel Defence Forces] soldiers took my father and brother, beat them, stripped them of their clothes, left them in the cold for two full days, prevented them from going to the bathroom and took their cell phones.
“Despite all this humiliation and torment they suffered we thank God that they returned to us well and were not taken prisoner.
Today we received the news of my cousin. The soldiers stabbed him in the head and buried him this morning.
“The situation is still the same. They are in the north and I am in the south and now it has been more than a month for me that I have not seen my mother, father or sisters. Today we have 76 days since the beginning of the war and I have great hope that the war will end before the end of this year.
“I can’t imagine that we will start a new year while the war is still ongoing. Things will have a negative impact on all of us and it will be the beginning of a miserable year for the Palestinian people.”
Later in the podcast Wood narrates Ghazal’s most recent Facebook message, sent on Christmas Eve.
“Today we received the news of my cousin,” she said. “The soldiers stabbed him in the head and buried him this morning. When my aunt heard the news she had a stroke and we are devastated and unable to reach her and console her for the loss of her eldest son.
“Unfortunately all the news I tell you during these days is bad and every day the situation gets worse and we lose a new member of our family.”
Since the start of the conflict, triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 Israelis, more than 21,000 Palestinians have been killed – two thirds of them women and children – and more than 60,000 buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.
Hands Up has worked with thousands of Palestinian children since launching in 2015 and, as well as teaching English language, also helps with drama and storytelling skills. The charity said at least three of its students had been killed in the conflict including a nine-year-old girl called Fatima, who was killed in an Israeli air strike alongside her family. A poem by the schoolgirl was read out by Hands Up founder Nick Bilbrough on Armistice Day to an audience of 15,000 people in Glasgow.
“After more than 70 days of the war on Gaza, and of endless suffering and trauma, we’re still asking how it’s possible that the world has turned its back on these children,” Wood told Central News.
“We have witnessed their creativity, their talent, their incredible love of life and generosity toward the world and the world has not responded in kind. All of us at the Hands Up Project feel a terrible sadness for the beautiful kids we work with – we have lost touch with most of them and even their teachers in Gaza have been unable to contact them.
“We know that two of the children who had their poems and illustrations published in our book of poems Moon Tell Me Truth were killed at the beginning of October, and of course we dread receiving the news of more casualties and deaths which are inevitable.”
In another podcast, simply titled Basem, Wood relates how the young boy from Mae’n Prep boys school in Gaza had performed a play at the Islamic University of Gaza, while learning with the charity, adding that the university was destroyed on October 11, days into Israel’s war. English language teacher Jamie Keddie described Basem, now aged 17, as having a “cheeky little smile” that reminded him of his nephew.
In his bleak recorded message to Hands Up, sent on December 23, however, Basem tells of the displacement of his family and the destruction of his entire neighbourhood.
“We were sitting in our homes and suddenly we heard lots and lots of bombing and massive destruction that was around us,” he said.
“The Israel occupation contacted us and asked us to leave our homes after a week of war. We had to leave our home and go to a school next to the Nasser medical complex.
“We sat in [the] school for more than 40 days suffering from lack of food… we had to drink polluted water. We only eat one meal a day due to lack of food.
“We were sleeping in the middle of the schoolyard in the rainy weather and we felt cold and could not find a cover or place to take refuge from the cold weather, and we were unable to reach our house.
“We were threatened with bombing even though we were civilians and then a humanitarian truce took place for a week. After the end of the humanitarian truce period we were surprised by the amount of bombing and destruction around us while we were at school.
We don’t have enough money to meet our needs and we don’t have flour to eat. We barely get food.
“A few days later we heard that the neighbourhood in which we lived had been destroyed. After the bombing continued we were forced to flee to the city of Rafah because the Israel occupation claimed that it was a safe area.
“We are there and we live in a small tent. We suffer in the city of Rafah from the lack of water, food, medicine and the high prices. We don’t have enough money to meet our needs and we don’t have flour to eat. We barely get food.”
Wood said the charity hoped the world would take meaningful action to “stop the brutal war on Gaza’s children”, adding that a play Basem had co-written as a child was “an extraordinary expression of self-realisation of Palestinian children’s faith in their future and their own ability to change things”.
“That faith is being eroded every single day as they are murdered, maimed, starved and deprived of every single human right in plain sight.”
Due to some Australian media organisations penalising or discriminating against reporters for complaining about an anti-Palestinian bias in reporting on the conflict, as well as online trolling of student social media accounts, the author of this story has chosen to remain anonymous.
Central News provides a platform for students to write stories they want to write. If any students want to report on the Israeli perspective then we welcome that too. This platform is driven by the students and is for the students. Our aim is to support but also protect all our students.
Main image Gaza screenshot courtesy Al Jazeera, with filter.