Testimony: Living in Gaza in the shadow of hostilities: Amani Nawajha, 30, eight-months pregnant and mother of toddler

I am eight months pregnant. We – my husband, Ayman Muhammad al-Jabali, 40, my two-and-a-half year old daughter Rama and I – live in an apartment building in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood.

Since the fighting began on 14 November 2012 I haven't been able to sleep because I’m afraid of the bombings. I hold my daughter Rama, and read the Quran and pray to God to protect us. Rama keeps waking up, frightened by the bombings, and cries a lot. I can't get her to sleep. I became so exhausted that I phoned a pediatrician for consultation. She told me that I could give Rama a children’s sleep medicine, but that prolonged use is not recommended because then children have trouble falling asleep without it. Yet I have no choice since my daughter can't sleep because of the bombardments that shake the walls of the house so much that it feels like an earthquake. After the bombing of the building of the Palestinian civil administration, which is responsible for coordination with Israel and is located about 100 meters from our house, cracks appeared in our walls. Despite the cold, I have to leave the windows open, so that the windowpanes won’t shatter during the bombardments. We wear many layers and stay covered up to keep warm. In the previous war, 2008-2009, the glass in the windows shattered in our apartment and in all the other apartments in our building. A few passersby in the street were injured by the flying shards of glass. .

Since the war began, life has come to a complete standstill. I am a teacher in a government school. On ordinary days, when I go to work, I leave Rama with my parents who live seven, eight kilometers away from us, in the a-Sheikh Radwan neighborhood. Rama is very attached to them. Now she cries a lot and asks to go to her grandpa and grandma, and repeats the names of her uncles and aunts. She goes to her closet, takes out her clothes and her little bag and walks to the door. I don’t know what to say to her, how to explain that we cannot go to grandpa and grandma, and I try to distract her with games and drawing. Sometimes, so that she won’t cry all the time, her father takes her out and buys her a few sweets in the shop next door, and then brings her back home, even though it’s dangerous to go outside. Rama has begun saying new words that she didn’t know before, like “bombing,” “missile” and “airplane.” When I watch the news on television, she says “Wow, blood, missile.” She already understands that missiles causes pain and blood. I cry a lot when I look at her. I think to myself, "This is not her fault... What if she ends up as one of the dead children that we see among the rubble on television?" .

My husband Ayman is a taxi driver and he has to work, in spite of the danger, because otherwise we won’t be able to make ends meet. Rama and I anxiously wait for him to come home. I spend a lot of time on the balcony that overlooks the street, and from there I can see my husband in the taxi company office when he is waiting for calls. When I see him leave, I become consumed with fear that I won’t see him ever again, because his taxi or the area where he's driving might be bombed, and then I’d lose him forever. I stay on the balcony all through his workday. I can’t sit in the house when he's away, even though it’s dangerous to be on the balcony. Every time I hear planes approaching, I grab Rama and hurry inside the house to hide. .

Although there is nearly no traffic now, there are still people who have to get places urgently, to the hospital for instance, and my husband has to work, despite the danger. We need the money to live, and in wartime all the prices go up. During the last war, a kilo of tomatoes reached the mind-boggling price of 80 shekels [approximately 20USD]. Things are expensive now, too. Even bread is hard to get because people are afraid that the war will go on for a long time, so they buy and hoard bread, in case the bakeries run out of flour. .

Last night I fell asleep for a little while and woke up in a panic. I looked about me for my husband and daughter and thanked God that we were still in our house and not lying in rubble. I felt guilty for having fallen asleep, because I'm afraid that we'll be bombed while I'm asleep and then I won’t be able to protect my daughter and hide with her in the only shelter we have - under the table in the living room. That’s the safest spot we have. My husband, who always tries to reassure me, suggested that we sleep in rotation so that I can rest a little, especially because I am eight-months pregnant. I sleep for two hours and he stays awake and then we switch, he sleeps for two hours and I stay awake. The imminent birth frightens me very much. I don't know how I'll get to the hospital, even though my husband is a taxi driver. The very thought of getting into a car is frightening because cars have been bombed. In the last war, the nearest hospital was also hit and there’s no safe place where I can go. I thought of going to my parents’ house and staying there until the war is over, so that I won’t be alone if the birth begins when my husband is at work. I packed my bags at night and in the morning heard about further bombardments and decided not to leave the house. It’s upsetting to hear my husband say that if something happens to our daughter he'll go crazy, and that I shouldn't worry about the baby I’m carrying, the main thing is that I should be all right. I'm afraid that he feels that something bad is going to happen and doesn’t want to tell me. .

Even telephone communication has become impossible, because the telephone lines in our area have been bombed. We rely only on our cell phones, and even they don’t always work because the network is so overloaded. Everyone constantly wants to call their relatives and friends to make sure they’re okay. The worst is when the battery runs out, because we don’t have electricity all the time, only for a few hours a day. I have to wait until the power comes back on to recharge the cell phones and only then can I call my parents and my sisters, especially my sister Asmaa who lives in the West Bank, and worries about us every time she hears about bombings in the area. She cries every time I call her after the network was down or the battery in my phone ran out. She tells me, “Thank God I can hear your voice. Thank God you are all still alive,” and cries bitterly. This is our life – we did not choose it and we are not to blame; it’s only because we were born here, in the Gaza Strip.

Amani Nawajha, 30, is married, eight-months pregnant and the mother of a toddler. Her testimony taken by Salma a-Deb’i on 18 November 2012, by telephone.