By Sonya Rehman
Twenty-three-year-old Nalan Al Sarraj is one of many, young, Palestinian bloggers and activists who have been consistently tweeting about the horrors of the current, never-ending attack on Gaza.
Later, Sarraj conducted a fantastic interview (published on July 22) with Dr. Mads Gilbert, the well-known Norwegian doctor who has been working at Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa ever since the IDF began its operation.
In an exclusive interview, via telephone, with The Diplomat, Sarraj speaks about the harrowing days that have followed since the operation and the importance of social media in bringing to light the tragedy and destruction in Gaza these past few weeks.
Update: A few days after this interview was conducted, Sarraj and her family (her mother and sister) fled Gaza for Egypt along with a group of around 120 Palestinians, “mostly foreigners,” (as stated in a frantic tweet by Sarraj). “We were running crying holding any child [that] could be saved. In numbers towards the Egyptian border,” Sarraj tweeted. However once they got to the border, they found out that it was abandoned.
“The horror we lived! We reached that point [where] we hold each other praying expecting the next airstrike on us,” Sarraj tweeted. Thankfully, the border was opened. “We will be sleeping tonight at their gate hall. Safer than where we were,” Sarraj stated in a tweet.
Nalan, could you tell me what the situation is on the ground right now? How have the past few days been for you?
We’ve been living under a massive attack from the Israeli forces for almost a month now. An operation where over a thousand have been killed. Last night was the worst for everyone. The operation was for two weeks after which they started the ground invasion. Many have been massacred in the last three weeks. The thing is that most of the [casualties] are children and women. They are basically attacking places where there are civilians and children. Yesterday they targeted 10-15 children playing in a park. Last night they targeted a lot of locations that are close to crowded areas, civilian buildings and homes. They target randomly by air strikes and battle ships. It has been very scary…
…How are you, your family and your loved ones coping?
We’re trying to be strong for each other. I live with my mother and sister – I lost my Dad in 2008. It has been getting worse by day and night. I live on the fifth floor of my [apartment building] and what I saw last night was the worst thing I’ve seen in three weeks. There was nothing worse than that. It was supposed to be night but there was light everywhere, you could hear explosions every minute, you could hear children screaming in the building, there was no electricity in my area, but there was light in the sky and smoke everywhere. The situation is very stressful; we live with so much pain. The building next to mine has been targeted; there was an evacuation call in my area last week. We left home for one day but then we found out that every area is [in danger], any place could be targeted. But the thing is where to go? We have nowhere to go. All the schools in my area have been targeted as well.
Nalan, there are many young Palestinians and Gazans like yourself using social media to share with the world what is currently happening in Gaza. How important has social media been for you?
It’s our strongest tool I feel, right now. It’s the way we can just speak our mind and talk about what’s happening without following any agenda. I think that’s the strongest thing about social media and people around the world understand that, that it’s the word of the civilian, not the word of any company or channel. And now I also feel that channels and media companies understand that too because they believe the credibility of social media is high. We’ve been going through a lot and this is not our first time that Israel started a target operation in the Gaza strip. Before, the media wasn’t covering it that much, but now they do because they can hear it, they can see what’s happening by our social media accounts. It’s scary because you don’t know if you’re the next target but we still use social media, we’re still tweeting. For example, whenever I hear an explosion, I go out to take a picture and my mother has pulled me away from the balcony. But I do it because I want the world to see what I’m really seeing, so that the world could relate to me. We’ve been living through the blockade and this horrible situation for more than six years now…and we’re trying to break that by social media, we find it’s the only way that we can make it to the outside world. They need to know that we are humans like them, we have dreams and we want to live happily just like the people outside. We’re not any different.
You interviewed Dr. Mads Gilbert at al-Shifa Hospital this month for DAWN, could you tell me about your meeting with him and comment on how the hospital is functioning since it was recently attacked?
It’s under a lot of pressure; there isn’t enough space so people are on the floor. He [Dr. Mads Gilbert] said the doctors and staff are doing their best and that they have volunteers from the medical schools who are helping out. But more space is needed in addition to medical supplies. But the problem is that yesterday the hospital was targeted, and before that other hospitals were targeted too. They’re living under danger just like us. The hospital is not a safe place, but yes they’re doing their best, they’re working and doing whatever they can to help the injured, the people of Gaza. Most of the injured are women and children. It’s unbelievable, cruel and brutal. Last night I saw a couple of pictures of children who had died because of this new weapon that they [the IDF] are using. The children have really severe injuries because it [the weapon] can burn very deeply into skin. After my interview with Dr. Mads Gilbert, I saw him afterwards and we talked and he said that chemical weapons are being used – weapons that can have [long-term] cancerous affects on people. He said that they are not only concerned about the present, but about killing the [Gazans] even after the war stops. It’s a long-term plan.
Is there anything you’d like to say, any message that you’d like to give the outside world?
I want the world to think of what is happening here; try to relate to what is happening [in Gaza]. Maybe then they could stop the massacres that are happening to my people. This is not how humans should be treated. It’s not a war about religions, it’s not about the Jews or the Muslims or the Christians. They’re targeting women, children and civilians – please stop it. I wish and I hope that the world could just move and help us stop Israel.
*Many thanks to Sara Naqwi for her invaluable contribution towards this interview.
The Diplomat Magazine