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Palestinian Women in Gaza: Resiliently Crafting a Life through Determination

Six months back, Wafaa Abu Irjilia was a homemaker joyfully caring for her expanding family with her spouse, Ahmed, at her side, providing support.

Presently, she finds herself a widow, tending to four children aged between 2 and 7, residing in a tent with her two sisters and six other young relatives.

Rationale Behind This Narrative

In any conflict, women bear a disproportionate share of the burden, and the Israel-Hamas conflict is no different. These glimpses from the Gaza Strip illustrate how Palestinian women are the linchpins holding families and communities together.

“It’s an immense weight on my shoulders,” she expresses.

Ms. Abu Irjilia is among approximately 3,000 Palestinian women widowed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, as reported by United Nations Women. An estimated one million women and girls have been displaced, compelled to establish a semblance of home and stability in tents or overcrowded evacuee centers where privacy is non-existent and sanitation is minimal. Many have been displaced multiple times.

Nevertheless, the women in Gaza are admirably confronting challenges that only seem to intensify with time, encompassing issues like hunger, disease, and even the perilous nature of pregnancy.

Their determination to survive and safeguard their families propels Palestinian women in Gaza forward, even as they grapple with the unfamiliarity of their altered identities.

Wisam Hamdan, once a fitness trainer, now transports containers of seawater to bathe her family, transitioning from her gym routines to basic survival tasks. “I long for the person I was before the conflict,” she reflects.

Wafaa Abu Irjilia never envisioned herself as a single parent.

Half a year ago, she relished her role as a homemaker, content to nurture her family alongside her husband, Ahmed – her pillar of strength.

Today, she is a widow raising four children aged 2 to 7 in a tent with her sisters and young relatives. “If I must step out of the tent,” she notes, “I must do so cautiously to avoid disturbing the others.”

The Motivation Behind This Account

During any conflict, women face extraordinary challenges. The Israel-Hamas conflict is no exception. Through these snapshots from the Gaza Strip, we witness Palestinian women shouldering immense responsibilities to uphold their families and communities.

There is little time for mourning her husband, whom she describes as “the most compassionate and generous person I knew.” Her focus is now on the daily essentials: food, water, and ensuring her children’s safety.

Across the Gaza Strip, Palestinian women describe a relentless battle for survival and adaptation since Israel’s retaliatory strikes following Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault.

Ms. Abu Irjilia is one of about 3,000 Palestinian widows who have swiftly transitioned to heads of households, as per United Nations Women. An estimated one million women and girls have been displaced, struggling to establish a sense of home and stability amidst desert tents or congested evacuee centers where privacy is a luxury and sanitation is scarce. Many have been displaced repeatedly as each refuge becomes increasingly unsafe.

Despite these unimaginable challenges, the women of Gaza exhibit remarkable resilience in the face of mounting adversities such as inadequate sanitation, single parenthood, hunger, and disease. Even the act of pregnancy has transformed into a perilous ordeal.

Their determination to survive and safeguard their families propels Palestinian women in Gaza forward, even as they grapple with the unfamiliarity of their altered identities.

Unrecognized Fortitude

Strength has always been a central tenet of Wisam Hamdan’s life.

As a fitness trainer in Khan Yunis, she empowered other women to achieve their fitness goals. Today, she resides in a makeshift tent on Rafah’s outskirts with her family, transitioning from weightlifting at the gym to carrying containers of seawater for bathing.

“The burdens of this conflict weigh heavily on Gaza’s women,” she remarks, clad in the same prayer attire she has worn for months.

Having shed weight and lost much of her once-toned muscles, Ms. Hamdan feels disconnected from her body. Her hands ache, her body is fatigued, and her steps are weary. It’s as though she inhabits a body that no longer feels like her own.

Through sheer willpower and determination, she summons a different kind of strength, one that enables her to persevere.

Yet, “I yearn for the woman I was before the conflict,” she laments.

Upholding Dignity

Since fleeing her home barefoot amidst the threat of incoming Israeli missile strikes, Basma Hamdan has shared a space with her parents, siblings, and their children in an evacuee center accommodating thousands.

“The conflict is dehumanizing. I try to use the bathroom early in the morning to avoid long queues,” she shares.

Previously, Ms. Hamdan, an aspiring educator, followed a nightly routine of showering and applying night and hand creams. Now, “bathing is a luxury.”

In disarray, clad in worn prayer attire, Ms. Hamdan scours for soap to sanitize the bathroom before her elderly mother’s use. This gesture symbolizes both love and a quest for dignity amidst dire sanitary conditions and a hepatitis outbreak.

Amidst hundreds of displaced families, she confesses, “I have never felt more isolated.”

Seeking solace, she wanders alone by the sea. “I wish I could escape this conflict,” she murmurs.


Just weeks before the eruption of the Israel-Hamas conflict on Oct. 7, Asma Abu Daqqa discovered her pregnancy. Initially, she envisioned the new addition to her joyful family while diligently preparing lunchboxes for her four young children.

Now, she finds herself in a makeshift tent in the al-Mawasi region, her home demolished, her husband wounded, grappling daily to secure water, limited food, and washing laundry with seawater.

“No one in my family was aware of my pregnancy until recently, not even my parents,” Ms. Abu Daqqa discloses while baking bread over an open flame, tears welling from the smoke.

Her belly appears smaller compared to previous pregnancies, lacking a visible bulge. Like numerous Palestinians in Gaza, she resorts to drinking contaminated water and consuming meager portions of canned food to endure.

Deprived of prenatal care, “I have never monitored my baby’s health,” she reveals. “I fear I am unjustly jeopardizing my baby’s well-being.”

Defying the Odds

Walaa Abu Eliyyan’s labor commenced at 1 a.m. on March 2.

The nearest Emirati hospital lay a kilometer away. Carried by her husband and mother-in-law through tents in the pitch-black night, they navigated amidst shelling, airstrikes, and stray dogs.

“Childbirth during conflict is fraught with danger,” she asserts.

Approximately 50,000 pregnant women reside in Gaza, with over 160 deliveries daily, as estimated by the U.N. The conflict has tripled miscarriages, while reports indicate a rise in stillbirths, premature births, and postpartum depression, per the World Health Organization.

Fortunately, Ms. Abu Eliyyan’s labor, though prolonged, culminated in the birth of a baby boy, Qais – amid Israeli drone surveillance overhead and nearby airstrikes rattling the ground.

The “recovery room” teemed with evacuees. Visitors plugged phone chargers into the outlet above her head, while strangers filled jerrycans with water.

Due to limited space, Ms. Abu Eliyyan had to return to her tent mere hours after delivery. There was scant time to revel in her newborn’s arrival, no opportunity for a baby shower or communal celebrations customary in Islamic traditions. Instead, it was an immediate reversion to the struggle for survival.

“Becoming a mother should be a joyous occasion,” she reflects from her tent outside Rafah.

Nourishing Rafah

Amira Asy, a mother of three and former proprietor of a flourishing restaurant and catering enterprise in Khan Yunis, catered to wedding banquets, funerals, and graduations.

Following an Israeli airstrike that razed her kitchen, the heart of her culinary endeavors, Ms. Asy salvaged utensils and kitchenware from the debris.

She lends her oversized pots to local residents and displaced families. With the aid of local entities, she resumes cooking.

Local NGOs and charities commission Ms. Asy to prepare meals for hundreds of displaced families in Rafah, providing ample supplies of flour – a scarce commodity in the besieged enclave.

Throughout the past Ramadan, awakening before dawn, she prepared a staggering 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of maftool, a traditional dish of hand-rolled wheat balls. By midday, she boiled them in large vessels for distribution across Rafah before the 6 p.m. sunset prayer, marking the end of the daily fast.

“I aspire to survive,” she declares resolutely, “to recuperate, to support my family.”

In a conflict that has exacted a heavy toll, “I cannot fathom standing idle and not taking action.”

Taylor Luck contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.