Gaza: Where the abnormal is becoming normal

Gaza City

Gaza: Where the abnormal is becoming normal


More than eight months into Israel’s war on Gaza, following the October 7th attack by Hamas, and the Arab and international mediation, backed by the US, has so far failed to bring about a lasting ceasefire agreement. Hamas says any deal must bring an end to the war, which could be a way for it to claim victory, as it would not have been eradicated.

Israel, on the other hand, is only ready to agree to temporary pauses in the fighting, while freeing some Palestinian prisoners in exchange for hostages.

It will not sign up to a total cessation of hostilities as it believes Hamas is weakened but not yet finished, meaning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-right government would not have achieved their key goal.

Peace, which the Palestinian people have been waiting for, is therefore likely to remain elusive in a year dominated by electoral calculations across many parts of the world and amid continued discord between the big powers.

The global powers are divided over many geostrategic issues that stretch from the Gaza and Ukraine wars and many conflicts in Africa to nuclear North Korea and Iran, trade, the environment and even technology regulations.

This is why Gazans are feeling that the chances for peace are receding, while their living conditions in tents are becoming more permanent. The trickle of aid entering the Strip for the 2.4 million Palestinians remains at the mercy of Israel and its intermittent closures of land crossings.

And while the Strip teeters on the brink of lawlessness, disorder and famine, with disease rife and infrastructure lacking, testimonies from Gaza inhabitants point to a common fear: that the abnormal could become the normal as their collective punishment drags on.

Gazans are feeling that the chances for peace are receding, while their living conditions are becoming more permanent

Anyone following the situation in Gaza in recent months is surely feeling worn out by the daily grind of bad news about military confrontations, reprisal attacks and casualties, as well as the colossal infrastructure destruction and the razing of homes, farms, industrial plants, schools and hospitals. Gaza has also become the deadliest conflict for journalists in recent history, despite Israel denying any foreign reporters entry to the Strip.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists reports at least 103 Palestinian journalists killed so far. Other sources suggest that the number is even higher.

An investigation by The Guardian published this week suggests that, amid a loosening of the interpretation of the laws of war since the deadly Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, Israel has deliberately sought to silence critical reporting. This investigation identified at least 23 individuals killed since Oct. 7 who worked for the largest Hamas-run media network in Gaza.

However, the abundance of reports that recount the scale of Gaza’s suffering have ceased to have an impact, while the numbers of victims have also ceased to shock, despite their importance and regardless of which side of the conflict one is on.

Save the Children, a UK-based aid group, claimed in a report published this week that 21,000 Palestinian children are missing in Gaza, believed to be trapped beneath the rubble, buried in unmarked graves, harmed beyond recognition by explosives or lost in the chaos of the conflict.

Also this week, the UN has warned that the conflict and the increasing desperation among Gazans is causing civil order to collapse, making aid delivery even harder. In his report to UNRWA’s advisory body, Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini warned that the breakdown of civil order in Gaza had allowed widespread looting and smuggling and blocked aid deliveries, leaving “children dying of malnutrition and dehydration, while food and clean water wait in trucks.”

All that has occurred while Israel is still effectively refusing or obstructing the free flow of sufficient humanitarian aid into Gaza, despite all the Arab and international outcry.

UNICEF reported recently that a third of children in northern Gaza are acutely malnourished or suffering from wasting, citing data from its partners on the ground. Meanwhile, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a global partnership that measures food insecurity, has listed the 2.4 million Gazans among the nearly 166 million people worldwide estimated to need urgent action against hunger.

One can still sense a basic hope and a basic will to persevere as human beings and to dare to hold on to life

Mohamed Chebaro
All the data and surveys, however, fail to convey the full picture of what is happening to the individual Palestinians coping, or rather failing to cope, with this tragedy that has been unfolding for nearly nine months, with no end in sight.

The testimonies collected by brave citizen journalists, activists and media outlets creates a more shocking picture and a less abstract one about what has happened to the Palestinian soul and the crushing impact of the conflict on the everyday life of civilians living in Gaza.

Amid the dust of battles surrounding them, many in Gaza — as in many other conflict zones I have reported on in my years as a journalist — wake up after a sleepless night and it is imperative for them to find water and wood to cook whatever meager canned food is offered to them, as well as find bread. If they are lucky, they can wash, but forget about a fresh set of clothes or a hot shower.

Some of the testimonies scattered around social media offer a crueler view of what Palestinians feel as they wait, week after week, for the end of the violence and a chance to return to their damaged or destroyed homes. But from within this unparalleled state of despair, one can still sense a basic hope and a basic will to persevere as human beings and to dare to hold on to life, through yearning and even dreaming.

Gaza City
Gaza City

However small and benign this dream is, it shows a will to live that the war machine has failed to destroy — and that is through expressing attachment to their homeland, the simple life of Gaza and what it offers them even during its darkest days. All no doubt yearn to return home.

They yearn for clean water to wash their face, a hot shower, a set of clean clothes, a bed, a wall to replace the piece of cloth separating them from the next displaced family, and a deep sleep that shuts out the anxieties and traumas, even if only for an hour.

They yearn to reunite with families and friends and to say sorry to lost loved ones for not giving them the burial and funeral they deserved. They yearn to even have a piece of paper and a pen to write, draw or record their life on the edge of the abyss.

It is that will to live that is likely to rise above all the despair and suffering. Those small dreams demonstrate a deeply rooted hope in humanity, meaning that the long-term inhabitants of Gaza are unlikely to give up and accept that the abnormality of war and violence has become normal, however late that ceasefire comes.

Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.