The day Yara Abushab left her home in Gaza Strip, for her internship, never could she have imagined that would probably be the last time she would see her family, or her home.

Abushab is a 22-year-old Palestinian fifth-year medical student at Al Azhar University in Gaza. For her, getting into medical school was the first step towards achieving the goal of being a doctor. Which was why when the opportunity of internship presented itself, in Italy, her family supported and encouraged her.

“I came here as a part of an exchange programme. I have always tried to help my community in a volunteer way and was also the reason why I was selected,” Abushab added.

Having lived her whole life in Gaza, Italy was an opportunity Abushab and her family welcomed. “I left for Italy on October 1, the last time I physically saw my family,” she said.

Yara outside her university that was bombed by Israeli Army

Back home, Yara said her life was good despite the constant violence they have had to endure. “I had the best life with my family and in Gaza,” she told The Citizen over the phone.

Abushab has not been able to have a stable connection with her family due to constant bombing. Her family lives in Khan Younis in South Gaza, which has been witnessing heavy bombardment from the Israeli Occupation since October 7.

“I have spent all my life in Gaza. I know every single corner of Gaza. So, seeing my beautiful city becoming a ghost town just shatters my heart. I can’t describe how I am feeling.

“It is a mix of emotions like sadness along with the inability to do anything. I am not able to focus, I am watching the news 24X7. I don’t even care if I am eating or drinking. All my focus is on the news and making sure that my family is alive because I am unable to connect with them.

“I am always checking the name of the area they are staying at and checking for the name of the martyrs when the list is shared,” Abushab said.

Displaced at the moment, she said that her parents message her once a week to let her know “they are alive”.

“The last time I saw my family was on October 6 when they had Wi-Fi. Right now, I only get a message now and then – one message in three days or a week – from my mom or dad when they have a connection.

“The message is always like ‘yeah, we are alive, don’t worry about us’ and I can’t video call them as there is no connection,” Abushab added.

It is said that in Palestine, a child is born as a fighter. It was the same for Yara Abushab.

The reality that her beautiful home is under danger came young. Without even understanding the word war, Abushab realised that they don’t have a normal life.

“I survived 2008, 2014, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Every aggression that happened in Gaza this year, that the western media also doesn’t cover, aggressions that happen on a daily basis, in Gaza and in Palestine, so I know what a war is like,” she said.

What Abushab didn’t anticipate was the isolation from organisations like the United Nations, which has not been able to pressurise Israel and the United States to stop the violence.

“I knew this was going to be a big one because they were targeting everyone. But then I had some hope in humanity and I said to myself the United Nations would definitely do something. I thought the world would not let this pass, because whatever is happening is unbelievable.

“I kept giving myself hope until the Israeli Army bombed the hospital that killed thousands of Palestinians and no one in the world did anything to stop it. That time, I knew Gaza would fight this war all alone. I knew we would lose our civilians, our beautiful mosques, churches, universities and schools.

“As Palestinians we get a feeling of what is going to happen. We have gut feelings about our country,” Abushab said as she repeated how everyone and everything is being targeted.

Abushab, who is passionate about medicine, said that she was just seven years old when she realised becoming a doctor would help her community. For it was the first time she had witnessed death closely.

“It was during the war of 2008, when I was 7-years-old. I remember winning first position in my class and as my house was nearby, I went to the house to get candies for my classmates.

“I reached home, picked up the candies and ran towards the school, but as soon as I reached the door of the school, we heard a huge bombing out of nowhere.

“I saw my mother running towards me from our house and yelling ‘Yara come here’ and I was crying, confused as to what was happening. We manage to go back home and we all are crying, not knowing what was happening. See, we had no idea what a war was like that time,” she recalled.

From that day on, Abushab saw a genocide in front of her eyes.

“They were bombing Gaza brutally; people evacuated their houses. My extended family, who lived closer to the border, had to run and come live with us. I still remember we all slept together in the living room and it was winter, but there was no fuel and food,” she recalled.

Abushab said the sight of so many injured and martyrs ignited something in her. “I think it was then I decided I wanted to become a doctor to help my people who were suffering. That day I was mentally able to understand what was happening around me,” she added.

In the middle of conversations, Abushab kept talking about her family out of concern. She kept saying how difficult it is for her this time as she is far away.

“I miss knowing the details about my family, like right now I know that they are alive out there somewhere, but have no idea where, how or what are they eating, what are they doing.

“There is no food, barely any bread available and the water is polluted. My mother is sick and needs proper care,” she said.

In a tone that was unrecognisable she said that if she was with her family, at least there would have been a solace that if they die, they would be at least together. “There would have been this consolation that just in case our house is bombed and we all die, no one would suffer the loss of anyone in the family,” Abushab said.

She said that the fear of being left alone in a foreign land lingers on her mind a lot. There are a hundred other thoughts that have consumed her mind. Like the fact that the place she was getting her education, does not exist anymore.

Abushab’s university, where her father is also a professor, has been bombed. The university is now just rubbles as the Israeli Occupation attacked the university with air strikes in the early month of October.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claiming it to be Hamas operational ground bombed the university, along with the future and dreams of thousands of students studying in it.

As the sole earning member, Yara said her father is now also out of job and while the bombing continues, their whole future stays uncertain.

“I feel my life is at a standstill. My friends here and even doctors console me and I am thankful but my mind and heart is in Gaza all the time. In a blink of an eye, every single goal I had in my mind demolished. I feel like only my body is in Italy,” Abushab said.

On October 7, life took an unexpected turn for her, just like it did for millions of Palestinians. However, despite the helplessness, Abushab said that Palestinians are known for their strength and she believes that will not deter them and her.

It was hard, she said sighing, but Palestinians are strong. “As Palestinians we are very powerful people. Back in 2008, the day war ended, we went back to our schools, even in the rubbles, because we wanted to learn.

“Because we also know that education is a path for liberation. If we are educated, we are going to make this country great. Years have passed and we have witnessed lots of aggression and each event was making me determined that I would become a doctor and help my people,” Abushab said.

Despite a temporary pause between Israel and Hamas, the former has intensified its bombing with various reports suggesting that the truce will start on Friday, which was initially supposed to start on Thursday.

For Yara Abushab the only hope is ceasefire and temporary pause is not the solution. “I want this to stop right now. I don’t understand. Are they telling us that they would refresh the people for five days before killing them again? This is a genocide and it needs to stop right now,” she said.

Amidst the fear and stress of not being able to connect with her family, to see her city being turned to ashes and to see her people suffering, Abushab talks about the oceans of Gaza.

“The only privilege I have is to go back and look at my beautiful Gaza in my photo gallery. Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem are going to liberate our country. Our country deserves freedom, we deserve freedom and we deserve to live as humans. We deserve to have our rights and we will get it, I have faith,” she added.

More than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, while hundreds have been arrested in the West Bank. While many feel that a truce will help humanitarian aid reach the people, experts say a ceasefire is the only way to stop more killings.

A view of the Mediterranean sea from Gaza city, before the Israeli assault Photo clicked by Yara Abushab