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Digital green whispers of life

With over 13,000 killed, children have borne the brunt of Israel’s genocidal violence in Gaza.

It was Mohammed’s love and hope that brought me into his classroom.

Mohammed A. is a teacher in Gaza who was determined to replace the despair found there with hope for his young students.

Today, the world knows Gaza; knows about life and death in Gaza. It knows the name Jabaliya, the poorest refugee camp in northern Gaza and one of the first to be destroyed in this current genocide.

Jabaliya is where Mohammed and his students had lived and dreamed.

In October 2021, I came across a simple Facebook post asking if someone would be interested in helping his students in Gaza improve their English by giving feedback on their video and voice message assignments.

“It would take just 5 to 10 minutes of your precious time but it would have a great impact on my students,” the post read.

The impact would be twofold – help advance their skills and connect the students to a world outside Gaza.

It also allowed me to share Gaza with my friends, families, colleagues and anyone I met in social situations during the usual “what do you do” chitchat. I took any opportunity to segue the conversation to Palestine and my students. It was my way to humanize them and all Palestinians to anyone who would listen.

I responded and became a mentor for the Al-Fakhoura English Club for young teens (although a few were younger).

In reality the kids would become my teachers. I would learn about resilience and I would bear witness to their humanity and courage.

Elephant in the room

I watched and listened, on Telegram, to them talk about their daily routines, their favorite foods, their hobbies, their dreams.

I watched bright faces with sparkling eyes and big smiles enjoy creating videos and challenging themselves.

I encouraged them with feedback that praised their dedication, their confidence, their vocabulary and creativity. I encouraged them to study because they are Gaza’s future hope and leaders.

Other times we just chatted on Telegram, saying hello and sending love in both directions.

We never spoke about – and I never asked about – their fears or feelings of hopelessness. I knew from Mohammed that these young souls wondered if there was any point to education in a place like Gaza. I never brought up the subject. I just did not feel equipped to deal with such things or their trauma.

The trauma of growing up isolated, poor and on the receiving end of Israel’s endless wrath. The trauma of being born in an open-air concentration camp with no way out.

It was my personal elephant in the room that I carried throughout the two years before 7 October.

In my time with them I chose to focus instead on their dreams – mostly their longing to connect with the outside world from which they felt abandoned. Simple things for most children, like going to the beach, playing professional soccer or traveling. And our shared dream that one day we would meet and hug each other.

Mohammed often asked me to share videos of my life but I simply could not. I held back, sharing only impersonal content. Sharing things like music and jokes, dogs playing off leash, interesting garden sculptures from my walks, display of autumn leaves or the mountain of snow at my door.

Fun content, yes, but not me.

I see now, two years later, under the most brutal conditions imaginable, that I allowed the guilt of my privilege to build a wall between us. Now I feel immense regret that I did not connect with them as deeply as I should have.

Green is my favorite color

Today, when it is possible, I visit the “communication hub,” which was once filled with laughter and is now filled with silence or words of despair and images of slaughter.

I cling to our hub, looking for signs of life and continuity. These days green is my favorite color. On Facebook and Telegram green means online activity; this digital green whispers life.

When I see green, I send Mohammed a message or emojis letting him know that I know he survived another night.

I started with 140 students. Five months into the genocide, I know that two of my students were killed. The online status of 20 of the original students now bears the ominous message: last seen a long time ago.

I have some contact with just 49 students and limited communication with only eight: Issa, Ghazal, Yazan, Ahmed, Muhammad, Ibrahim, Mahmoud, and Atef. Every day, I tell them how much I love them and ask them to hold on to hope.

I speak to Mohammed, their teacher, almost every day. He was forced to flee to Rafah in mid-November.

I make only the promises I know I can keep. I promise to never forget them and to preserve their names with me. I promise to never let the world forget what is happening to Gaza. I promise that I will work for justice until the day I die. And I also asked for forgiveness.

Issa is 16 and his sister Ghazal is 15. Atef is 14. The others are younger, so Issa, Ghazal and Atef have taken up the mission to spread news of the group’s destruction.

Issa has many dreams and longings.

“I don’t want to die, I just want to live a quiet life in peace, complete my education, and dream like all children dream.”

Issa loves bees, his father is a beekeeper.

“Bees are great creatures. They are very similar to humans, even better than humans in terms of discipline and order. And they are evolving everyday.”

He paused for a moment before continuing: “Our bees are probably dead by now.”

We changed the subject.


Issa wants to be a doctor for the “benefit of my community.” He explained with great pride that he has knowledge of first aid and recently attended to his own wounds. But then the tone inevitably turned somber.

“If we are not killed by missiles by the Israeli army, we will be killed by white phosphorus and starvation,” Issa wrote. “We ask you to always be there for Palestinian children and women. What is the fault of the young children and these innocent people? Perhaps in the coming hours I will not be able to talk to you. I hope you will pray for us. Because I might be dead.”

Issa, in all of his pain and terror, while waiting for death, remembered to forgive others.

“Every night, we say goodbye to each other and forgive ourselves and others.”

I imagine Ghazal growing up to be a writer, a poet.

“We are human beings in the end, and we have feelings and humanity,” she wrote. “The world has abandoned us, but we have not lost hope. YOU are here, hope, to help us.”

Me. I am hope? Her words haunt me. How? And who will help me? I am in Canada and I feel powerless.

Ghazal continued:

“The bombing is very scary, and we do not have shelters. We are displaced in the streets. We have no place to live, and the water is about to run out, and the gas is suffocating us. And hunger will kill us. Israel seeks to isolate us from the world.”

She added: “I don’t know what to do. Why is the world evil? We were deprived of our childhood. Our families were killed and our homes were destroyed. We have nothing left. What do they want from us? We suffer and die, and they enjoy and kill us.”

I reassure her not all is lost and they are not abandoned. I am here and others care. People are doing their best – they are protesting in the street, writing letters to politicians and media, sharing across social media and making donations.

And finally – she asks, probably what every child in Gaza is asking: “Why is the world with them, what did we do wrong?”

Young Ghazal is resilient and speaks her truth: “We did not do anything, and if we did, we do not deserve to be tortured in this way.”

How are you?

Our conversations often begin with them asking me, “How are you?”

At first, I didn’t know how to answer. How to express my pain and grief while they are surrounded by death and destruction. I say to myself “bombs aren’t dropping on my home, so I am fine.”

But I am not fine. I am thousands of miles away, but the daily carnage lives beside me 24/7. My mind is with them full-time, ever watching and waiting for online activity. Long periods of communication blackouts are agony. It is impossible to focus on anything else.

I cannot comprehend fully-funded, militarily-assisted, genocide with impunity. I must be in the twilight zone.

It’s now over five months into the genocide. Christmas and the start of 2024 came with an unexpected gift. Twenty more students surfaced. And with every revived connection, I relive every day of their trauma as I listen to them recount what they have survived. As long as my kids in Gaza are alive, I will be beside them to hear their stories of hope and also of despair.

And as time passes, I’ve also passed the point of avoidance, delusion and illusion. No topic is off limits anymore. The fragility of life does not allow indulgences. Resentment is replacing uncertainty and rage is overcoming fear.

Atef holds on to his truth. Israel’s aggression cannot silence him.

“I am always optimistic and my heart beats with love and life but this does not change reality. I don’t ask you for anything except to not make me just a number. Spread my pictures everywhere and talk about my dreams, my wishes.”

Unlike Atef, my voice is lodged in my throat. I respond with a broken heart emoji and promise to do my best to honor his wishes. I tell him, “Your souls are eternal in God’s hands and in our hearts.”

Recently Ghazal wrote:

“There is no need to be afraid. In the end, everyone will die and no one will remain. Everyone knows the truth and realizes that Israel killed children and women, destroyed homes, and committed the most horrific massacres, and no one stopped them. There is no value in what I am living. It is just a waste of time until I die.”

My heart broke at reading her words but I am not ready to accept them. My heart rejects every word. I wrote back:

“Dearest Ghazal, in my heart I feel we will meet and I will hug you. I believe God put this feeling in my heart as the truth. I will see you with my eyes. For now, I have to be satisfied with seeing you with my heart.”

Nida Marji is a Canadian TV documentary producer.