24 May 2024 - Egypt

I am safe and they are not - The anguished reality of a Palestinian in Egypt

Hani, a Palestinian from Gaza who is stranded in Cairo

Hani* (28) is a Palestinian from Gaza who is stranded in Cairo and volunteers with Save the Children. Sacha Myers / Save the Children

For a long time, I was hiding in my room. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. The guilt that I was safe in Egypt while my entire family was in Gaza – displaced and desperate for food and water – was unbearable.

I had gone to Egypt for a holiday and to see friends in Cairo. While I was away, the war started, and I became stranded overnight.

Through brief phone conversations with my family over the past 219 days of war, I’ve followed their treacherous journey as they’ve fled from city to city, from house to house, trying to outrun the bombs.

They’re attempting to hide the situation from me, to protect me from the horrors they’re experiencing, but they really cannot hide it anymore. I know most people are living in tents. The living conditions are awful, even in a tent or in a house. I know water is only available one to two times a week at most, that food is scarce in the markets, and healthcare and medications are almost impossible to find.

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There’s no electricity and there’s cuts all the time. To communicate, they have to go a very long distance to charge their phones and to get network coverage. The internet is also unreliable, and it makes communication hard. It always takes several steps before I manage to reach them.

What’s hit me hardest is the change in my youngest brother, Ahmed*, who is 16. Before the war, he was preparing for school exams and mapping out his career path. He was playing with other kids in the street and gaming with his friends, just like any normal child his age.

I asked for a photo of him, and it took a long time before my family had enough connection to send it. I was shocked when I saw the photo. The war has changed him, and he’s lost a lot of weight. He’s taken on a large amount of responsibility to provide for the family and to support them. It’s too much responsibility for a child who should be in school. This war has added 10 years to the age of every child in Gaza.

I want to go back to my family. I know it’s madness to want to return to a war zone, but as the oldest son, I feel the responsibility to protect my family. And I cannot protect them while I’m in Cairo. But my family refuses. They tell me they take comfort in knowing at least one member of their family will survive. They tell me no one can withstand what’s happening in Gaza.

I’m struggling with my mental health. I’m not afraid to say this. I’m just one of many Palestinians in Egypt who struggle with the enormous guilt of being safe, and the endless fear about what will happen to our loved ones. It’s a special kind of anguish that eats at you and never leaves you.

The past weeks have been some of the hardest times. My family was sheltering in Rafah – along with more than 1 million other Palestinians – when the Israeli forces intensified attacks on the city and issued relocation orders for civilians.

My family fled, along with thousands of other people fleeing to already crowded areas where resources are almost non-existent. I lost contact with them for a number of days, and the panic I felt was unbearable. I eventually heard from them, and I cannot describe the relief I felt.

Hani* (28) is a Palestinian volunteer with Save the Children in Egypt

Hani* (28) is a Palestinian volunteer with Save the Children in EgyptSacha Myers / Save the Children

I also get a sense of relief from volunteering with Save the Children. I can’t directly support anyone in Gaza, but I can take an active role in helping people from Gaza who are now in Cairo. I know what they’re going through, so I know what support they need. Helping them makes me feel useful, and it gives me a purpose. Now, each morning, I get up early and go out and meet people and help people. I don’t stay in bed unable to face the day.

We have a saying in Gaza: “we shall rebuild. I hope this for my country and my people. I hope for everyone to be reunited with their families. I hope I’ll be reunited with my family too.

I can’t wait to be back in Gaza, and for my mum to be calling me on the phone, telling me to come home from work and to have dinner with my family. 

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