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Signing The War In Gaza: Overcoming Deafness And Displacement

Bassem Al-Habal carried a large bag of flour
provided by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA,
inside one of the shelters in the city of Deir Al-Balah in
the central Gaza Strip, part of his daily journey to find
food and water for his family while overcoming displacement,
bombardment and the challenges of being deaf and mute in a
war zone.

From the room he and his family
call home inside the school-turned-shelter, he felt a duty
to let the world know what life is really like for them,
through daily videos he shares on social media as the
ongoing war approaches its eighth month.

’s correspondent in Gaza, Ziad Talib, spoke to Mr.
Al-Habal with help from his sister-in-law, Ghalia Al-Kilani,
who learned sign language so she could communicate with her
sister, who is also from the deaf community.

Sign of
the times

“I wanted to send a message to the deaf
community all over the world, so I decided to film my normal
life, when houses are being bombed,” Mr. Al-Habal
explained. “I use European sign language so that the idea
reaches them and so that people see what is happening in

He likened what he does to journalistic work,
tailored to people with disabilities who are

What encouraged him to continue reporting
everything that happens in Gaza is the increase in the
number of followers online every day.

“They began to
support me and support Gaza and the Palestinian cause,” he

Daily struggles

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this social media outlet, he continues to suffer, like many
displaced people in Gaza. After fleeing northern Gaza seven
months ago, he still struggles to find food, water and work
to support his family.

Around 1.7 million Gazans have
been internally displaced, more than half of whom are
children, and they do not have access to sufficient water,
food, fuel and medicine.

Currently, some one million
people have sought safety in UNRWA facilities that have
been turned into shelters, and about two million people in
Gaza depend on the UN agency’s lifesaving support even as
it faces great difficulties and delays in getting its
supplies into the Strip.

“I am very tired, and I am
very afraid,” Mr. Al-Habal told UN News. “I fear
for my wife and daughter.”

But, that does not
prevent him from extending a helping hand to everyone who
needs it.

“When I see children in the street, I help
them until they smile and forget the bombing,” he said.
“What is important is that the children are happy and that
they stay away from fear.”

Silent bombs

continuation of hostilities in Gaza puts Mr. Al-Habal in
constant fear for his family. He does not hear the sounds of
bombing, and a hearing aid helps him pick up only a weak
echo of what is happening around him.

“Whenever my
daughter cries, I hug her and reassure her,” he

Yet, despite the difficult circumstances and the
daily hardship he experiences in finding food and water, his
efforts to search for a job opportunity do not

Challenges for the deaf

Ms. Al-Kilani
helps her brother-in-law convey what he says to those who do
not understand sign language.

However, she said, there
is a great challenge for the deaf community in Gaza in
recognising the bombing and shooting that is happening
around them, which puts their lives in extra

She also emphasised the extreme difficulty
faced by deaf persons with disabilities, to make a living
now in Gaza. That’s why she began helping him communicate
his voice and message through social media.

Al-Kilani began helping him translate and communicate
everything he observed and photographed around him, and
right now, Mr. Al-Habal has more than 25,000 followers on

Stories from the north

speaking to UN News, Mr. Al-Habal explained to his
social media followers the predicament faced by friends who
are deaf with disabilities in northern Gaza, which seven
months ago he called home.

Some of them were killed
because they did not hear the bombing and the instructions
of the Israeli forces, and when others tried to move their
bodies, some were hit by gunfire, he said.

Back at the
small room in the shelter, Mr. Al-Habal said he will
continue to publish daily videos so that the world can see
what is really happening to them.

“Why does the
world watch what is happening to us and remains silent?”
he asked, expressing hope that “the war will stop, and
life will return to normal in

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