For Zena and Hiba, two Palestinian Australian women, the past few weeks watching the Israeli offensive in Gaza conflict unfold from afar have been extremely difficult.
“A lot of the feelings we feel now are not new ones,” says Zena, a Politics and International Relations student in Melbourne. “The fear, the frustration — that’s something a lot of us feel on a day-to-day basis. We’re glued to our phones at the moment. Every day we wait with baited breath for any information.”
“It’s really hard to get in contact with loved ones because they [they being Israeli armed forces] have cut connection. Half of the time we can’t reach them,” says Hiba, a Board Member for the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network. “I personally lost close to 41 members of my family — last we counted was 38, but then we lost contact and there are lots of people under the rubble so we don’t know the exact number yet.”
“A lot of Palestinians [in Australia] can’t feel this raw grief because there is this burden of education and informing the people in our communities that falls on us due to the gap in Palestinian voices,” Zena points out.
Hiba echoes the same experience. “Do we have time to mourn them? Absolutely not. We don’t have that privilege. If we stop for a second to mourn, we might stop advocating for the ones that are still alive. I don’t think we have a choice but to be strong. We’ve been living in this injustice for 75 years. We’ve inherited resilience from our parents and grandparents.
"It’s a hard thing to be a Palestinian living in the West. You see the dehumanisation of your people before your eyes in the media. Our narrative is definitely missing. When the media says the ‘Israel-Hamas war’, Palestinians aren’t in the picture at all, but the people that are being killed are the Palestinian people. The war is on kids, and women, and the elderly. Half of the people who’ve died are children."
“I will always lead with pride and gratitude for being Palestinian,” says Zena. “A lot of us feel a shift in the tide and the growing support from the general public. Yet, peace cannot be synonymous with not challenging the status quo. The conditions that Palestinians were living in pre October 7th… they weren’t living. They were surviving. We’re not advocating for a return to before October 7th. We’re advocating for real change.”
“Before anything, we need to call for a ceasefire,” Hiba urges. “Every minute makes a huge difference. I do have hope in the people. There were half a million in London protesting for Palestine; this is huge. People, by nature, don’t accept injustice and will fight for it to end.”
“Don’t let this get swept away with the media cycle,” Zena implores. “Support in public forums is paramount right now so we can see that translated in political and media spaces. We’re in it for the long haul. Don’t forget the human stories at the centre of this.”
Sara, based in Melbourne, is half-Palestinian. Reflecting on her upbringing, she says "Growing up as a mixed-race kid - there's a lot of confusion around connecting to a homeland. You're told it's political and controversial to say where you're from. It's difficult when you're almost not allowed to connect to your homeland."
Watching what has been unfolding has been distressing. "It's so easy to feel helpless. What can you do? I feel like I can't do anything. You're supposed to go on with daily life. I have to go to work and university, but my eyes are glued to my phone, waiting for an update....You're just not given the chance to grieve."