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War on Gaza: Palestinian mothers express hope and fear on Mother's Day

Bereaved, under siege and struggling to feed their children, the mothers of Gaza talk about their lives and hopes as the Arab world marks a Mother's Day at war
The mother of eight-year-old twins Ahmed and Jihan Nasser, who were killed during Israeli bombardment, kisses their hands as she mourns over their bodies in Gaza, 29 December 2023 (AFP)
By Maha Hussaini in Gaza, occupied Palestine

Rajaa Jendiya’s husband was killed by Israeli forces on 14 March, in the latest “flour massacre” to afflict Gaza. 

Aged 29, Jendiya was suddenly now both a mother and father to their young three children. 

With no milk available and the last bag of wheat flour her husband brought home before his death running out, the Palestinian mother is grappling with the challenge of how to feed her family.

“I found myself responsible alone for these three. Before my husband was martyred, I did not think about how I would get them food: he used to go out at the beginning of the day and come back at night with whatever he found,” Jendiya, a resident of Shujaiya neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City, told Middle East Eye, as the Arab world marked Mother’s Day.

“I cannot rely on anyone, my brothers-in-law have evacuated to Rafah [in southern Gaza] and my only brother is trapped [by the Israeli army] near the Shifa Hospital. I have no one and I need to recover from the shock of losing my husband as soon as possible so I can think about how to feed my children.”

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Jendiya’s husband, Fayez Jendiya, was among thousands of Palestinians who went to collect flour from aid trucks entering Gaza through the Kuwait roundabout in the southwest of the city, when Israeli forces opened fire on the crowd.

According to eyewitnesses, over 20 Palestinians were killed on that Thursday, with 100 others injured in the incident, which has recurred multiple times since aid trucks began entering the tightly besieged city.

'She is around five months old, I used to breastfeed her, but due to the lack of food and my deep sadness, my breasts have almost run out of milk'

Rajaa Jendiya, Palestinian mother

Today, Jendiya is unable to feed her youngest child, Mona, who was born during Israel’s ongoing war on the blockaded enclave, which began after the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel. 

“She is around five months old. I used to breastfeed her, but due to the lack of food and my deep sadness, my breasts have almost run out of milk,” the Palestinian mother said. “She gets very small amounts and keeps crying all day and night. Also, she now needs to eat other kinds of food, but I cannot find any.”

Jendiya said she wanted to find sweets for her baby daughter just to give her some energy, but that there was no sugar in Gaza anymore.

She told MEE she could not buy milk for her children, the eldest of whom is three years old, because of its scarcity, which has also sent prices skyrocketing. A bag of milk, which used to cost 15 shekels ($4), now costs 90 shekels ($24.50).

“I am now thinking of evacuating to the south. My husband struggled so that we would not be displaced to the south and not need anyone. But now I have no other choice left, either stay here and starve or go there against the will of my husband,” Jendiya said. 

Since the first week of its attack on Gaza, the Israeli military has been ordering the residents of Gaza City and northern Gaza to evacuate to the southern parts of the blockaded enclave, while imposing severe restrictions on the entry of aid. 

The World Bank warned on Tuesday that half the population of Gaza is at imminent risk of famine, as food shortages reach catastrophic levels for more than a million Palestinians. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “famine is projected to occur anytime” between now and May. 

“I only hope I can secure food for my children without having to beg for help, without asking anyone for food or money,” Jendiya said.

A missing son

Om Ahmed Seyam will spend Mother’s Day this year without her only son Ahmed, 16, who has been missing since the beginning of Israel’s assault.

“An Israeli air strike hit our neighbour’s home and Ahmed rushed to the scene. Around half an hour later, more Israeli air strikes hit the building, nearby buildings, and the adjacent areas, they were carpet-bombing the area,” Seyam, 49, told MEE.

'I sometimes look into my baby’s eyes and I cry. I want to apologise to him for bringing him into this life'

- Nada Abu Aita, Palestinian mother

“Ahmed has not returned home since then. We asked about him everywhere and all over the hospitals of the Strip, they told us they had not received him. I believe he was killed and is still missing under the rubble, but the civil defence has been unable to remove the rubble of the targeted buildings or retrieve his body.”

Seyam, who is a widow, is originally a resident of Tuffah, a neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City, but is currently staying in a tent in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, along with her four daughters.

Over 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced to the city, which sits on Gaza’s border with Egypt. Many of them are living without any real shelter and face the prospect of a full-scale Israeli invasion. 

“Our home of two floors was completely destroyed, but I don’t care about it, I cannot even think of it when I am not sure whether my son is dead or alive, whether he was detained or injured,” Seyam told MEE.

“If my son was with me, I wouldn’t even care about all this war, I am not worried except about him.”

A 'mother missing her mother'

Nada Abu Aita, who stayed in Gaza with her husband and in-laws, says she is a “mother missing her mother,” as she was separated from her parents who were displaced to Rafah.

The 32-year-old mother gave birth to her first son a month before the war began, and she is struggling to “keep him alive, or stay alive for him”.

“I did not notice that Mother’s Day was approaching until you told me. Prior to the war, I used to memorise international days due to my work, and I would start preparing for Mother’s Day weeks earlier.

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"Since the beginning of this war, I only know the calendar of war, days have been only linked to the number of war days, not to their actual dates,” Abu Aita, who works at a human rights organisation, told MEE.

“I sometimes look into my baby’s eyes and I cry. I want to apologise to him for bringing him into this life because I am helpless trying to keep him safe… I am afraid I will lose him, and I am terrified I will be killed because he would be left alone,” she said.

But Abu Aita said she had done everything she could as a mother to give her child the best she could.

“I wrapped my body around him like a ball as we took shelter in the home corridor while the artillery shelling was targeting our neighbourhood,” she said. 

“I only took the bag where I keep his food and clothes with me every time we had to evacuate. I could change his diaper and cover him with blankets at lightning speed when the Israeli army ordered us to evacuate our home at midnight, and me and his father spent all our savings, which we had kept to buy a new house, to buy as much milk and as many diapers as possible for him.”

Under heavy shelling, Abu Aita took her baby son to get vaccinated at the clinic. “I don’t know whether we will survive or not, but I am, despite all of this, grateful for the experience of being a mother,” she said.

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