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How do you think about a future when you're trying to survive the war in Gaza?


We've been speaking to Palestinians about their vision for a future in Gaza. Yesterday you heard from a storyteller, a journalist who left Gaza some two months into the war. Today we turn to a humanitarian, one of the few left in the north of the Gaza Strip, where nearly every building is partially or fully destroyed. On a spotty line from his rooftop, Mahmoud Shalabi of Medical Aid for Palestinians tried to imagine a future while living through this war.

MAHMOUD SHALABI: Now I'm afraid that there will be no schools for two years to come. So, frankly speaking, I'm not sure what the future is looking like for Gaza. When is this going to end is the first question that comes to my mind and my wife's mind because we have been exhausted mentally, physically. We need - all of us in Gaza, no exceptions - we all need psychiatrists after this war ends, because we all have mental scars that will last with us for years. However, as Medical Aid for Palestinians, we are doing our best to try and resume our humanitarian work as much as possible. I'm the only one of all my colleagues who remains in the north of Gaza. However, the needs are humongous, and whatever we do is only going to be a drop in the ocean.

FADEL: Can you tell me a little bit about daily life? What are you going through?

SHALABI: You can imagine the horrors - F-16s, artillery shells, sound bombs, quadcopters, you name it. Everything you hear in the news, we have been able to witness. And it was really something out of a horror movie. If I want to describe the daily life routine that I go through...

FADEL: Yeah.

SHALABI: So there are no water pipes. There are no electricity poles. There are no mobile phone towers, no electricity. So we have to secure water. We walk hundreds of meters to secure potable water - water for just washing your body and, you know, for hygienic purposes. And I was speaking today with a technician, and he said it will take up to five years just to return to the previous status quo of having electricity.


SHALABI: So just - we will have to wait five years to have, like, a single light in our houses.

FADEL: I would love to hear a little bit about the level of need, including mental health care access.

SHALABI: Health has collapsed. Mental health is another story. In general, mental health was an ignored issue in Gaza Strip. It is an urgent need, but again, nobody is thinking about it because people are thinking about how to provide water and food for their children. As humanitarians, we need to be able to find secure places and internet connections, electricity, fuel to run generators and be able to go via taxis to certain location and speak with the health authorities and all of that, which is mission impossible right now. I barely am able to do it.

FADEL: What are your conversations like with your kids right now?

SHALABI: My children have started missing their schools. They have started missing their friends. Some of their friends have actually died during the war, but we didn't tell them. Zak (ph), who is 9 years old, started asking me, like, can we leave the country, Dad, when this is over? Which is really tough. He's 9 years old. He came to me one day with tears in his eyes and asked me, Dad, have I been a bad boy or not? And I said, no, you have been a great boy. And I said, why are you asking this? Because he said, if I die, will I go to hell or heaven? And I honestly didn't know how to answer. And my wife jumped in immediately and she said, we'll all go to heaven, my son.

FADEL: That was Mahmoud Shalabi, senior program manager of Medical Aid for Palestinians, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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