In the midst of the conflict in Gaza, Lebanese Palestinian refugee Fatima al-Ashwah faced the devastating loss of a dozen family members to Israeli airstrikes in the days leading up to the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Al-Ashwah, residing in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp south of Beirut, recounted the horror of receiving news that those dear to her were found "in pieces" after their home was directly hit by a bombing raid.
During a mid-November interview with AFP, the 61-year-old al-Ashwah expressed her fears for her approximately 70 relatives in Gaza, whom she visited last July – a concern that has since turned into grievance. She is among the survivors of the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” marking the displacement of over 760,000 Palestinians following the establishment of Israel in 1948.
She learned that her cousin's daughter, Sanaa Abou Zeid, perished along with her three young children and other family members when their building was targeted. Gaza's Ministry of Health reported approximately 15,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed following a Palestinian Islamic movement's unprecedented attack on Israeli soil on Oct. 7, which prompted severe retaliation from Israel.
Al-Ashwah narrated the tragic story of Abou Zeid's family who initially sought refuge in a Rafah school but eventually returned home due to the children's difficulty adjusting to the shelter. She showed a video of Abou Zeid's six-year-old dancing and pictures of smiling family members – haunting memories preceding their mass burial in a communal grave.
Abou Zeid's husband and three other children survived since they were hospitalized from a previous raid injury, one of them losing a leg. Post-burial, still amidst bombings, they miraculously escaped to Rafah, finding temporary shelter in a garage with Sanaa's mother.
Al-Ashwah hopes for the continuation of the fragile Hamas-Israel truce and reflects on the unprecedented brutality of this war, particularly poignant against the backdrop of approximately 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).