Azaiza (name changed) opened YouTube on his phone, navigated to the ‘favourited videos’ in the home bar, clicked on a news video, and showed footage of people moving from North Gaza to South Gaza.
“That’s my family in that car; that’s my father,” he pointed to a middle-aged man who had wrapped a keffiyeh (traditional Palestinian scarf) around his neck, sitting on top of the bonnet of a moving car filled with people and belongings.
“I didn’t know where my family was for the past week and that’s when I accidentally saw this video on social media. That’s how I found out they were moving,” says the 25-year-old who came to India for his higher studies from Gaza.
“My father texted me once after they were forcefully evicted and said that they have moved out of Gaza and are now living in a refugee camp in Khan Yunis. In the last audio message he sent, he mentioned that he and my four sisters are living in a tent. However, he didn’t say anything about my mother, and it’s making me anxious.”
“All I think about every day is about my family there. I haven’t heard from my family for the past three days. I don’t know if they are alive or not” Azaiza lamented
Approximately 100 to 150 Palestinian students are currently residing in India, as confirmed by the Palestine Embassy of India.
On October 7, life had turned upside down for Palestinians inside and outside the country. Even though Gaza has witnessed multiple wars in its besieged enclave, the latest aggression has been the deadliest.
The genocidal attacks have displaced the entire population from their homes and killed more than 17,000 people, according to the Palestine Health Ministry.
Azaiza arrived in India in 2016, driven by the dream of pursuing higher education and building a better future for himself and his family in their homeland. He graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Computer Application from a university in Karnataka.
“I have seen so many Israeli aggressions in my lifetime. Every year there were bombings, In the years 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2014 Israel bombed Palestine severely. It was in the year 2008 when one of my uncles and a cousin were killed in an airstrike. I clearly remember it was the early morning of 24th December.”
“All these years, we were living in an open-air prison, but this time everything is different. What I’m seeing now through social media is different,” he said.
“How can people watch the cold murders and the blood bath happening in Gaza right now? Why are they not seeing the mothers hugging their children for the last time? How are they not seeing the fathers who are carrying their beloved children’s body pieces in plastic bags? How can one close eye on the terror faced by children?”
He adds “Most of the people whom I meet here say that I’m safe, away from the terror happening in Gaza, but I would have felt a lot better being there than here at the moment so that I wouldn’t have died every day hearing what’s happening in Gaza.”
Amid the ongoing conflict, Palestinian students scattered across the globe have turned to social media as a crucial platform to articulate and share their fears and anxieties and to gather information on what’s currently happening in Palestine.
He questions the reporting done by Western media such as BBC and CNN. Argues that “they don’t even care” about “any Palestinian blood spilling”.
“When the Russia-Ukraine war was happening, every news media had a say on Russia’s act, but nobody is saying anything when it’s Israel acting with the American funds” he noted.
The only news that he consumes now is from media channels like TRT World, Al-Jazeera and the different photojournalists in the field posting on their Instagram accounts.
“They are also censored,” he noted.
No way to return
Azaiza, after completing his studies, wasn’t able to return to Gaza and struggled to secure a job in India
“I’ve tried applying for jobs, but nothing has panned out. I used to work as a translator for Arab visitors in hospitals here in Bangalore, but it was seasonal. Although I would love to continue my studies, everything feels quite challenging now. Especially now, I feel helpless because I want to support my family,” he shared.
“Returning to Gaza is just as difficult as when I first came here. Palestine doesn’t have an embassy in Gaza, and the only functioning embassy is in Ramallah. However, citizens from Gaza cannot enter Ramallah without the approval of the Israeli government, which occupies the region. The only viable way to leave or enter Gaza is through the Rafah border in Egypt, where the documentation process and financial challenges are notoriously difficult,” he explained.
“Of the memories I have of Gaza, I miss the food, culture and people there, I miss my homeland. I love the Olive harvest season and the time when we used to sit on the beaches of Gaza. You know, Gaza is a really beautiful city. Gaza is called the city of war and love. I want to go back, but I don’t know what will happen after the war. May the lord protect us” Azaiza confides in the broken sentences.
Amid the challenges faced by Palestinian students in India, Azaiza sheds light on the apparent absence of support from the Palestinian embassy, revealing a gap in assistance for those stranded far from home.
The symbolic significance of the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a revered site for Muslims worldwide, holds poignant meaning for Azaiza. While Muslims globally aspire to visit this iconic landmark, Azaiza shares the bittersweet revelation that, within his family, only his father had the opportunity to make the pilgrimage.
In his candid conversations, Azaiza silently bears the weight of unfulfilled dreams, expressing his poignant longing for a visit to the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, a dream deferred amidst the uncertainties of conflict and displacement.
Azaiza shows his home on the Google map on his phone, the aerial view of the place where he lived most of his life looks more like a heap of ashes.
“Everything won’t remain the same and nothing will be forever, we believe Palestine will be free. From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free. Insha Allah (if god wills).”
Ayisha Noora Kabeer is a student of Masters in Development at Azim Premji University, Bangalore.