Voices from Gaza: Nourhan’s story of survival amid airstrikes


Flames and smoke billow during Israeli strikes in Gaza on 9 October 2023.
Flames and smoke billow during Israeli strikes in Gaza on 9 October 2023. Photo WHO/Ahmed Zakot

“The nights in Gaza have been transformed into a never-ending nightmare. Sleep is a luxury we can’t afford, and death lurks around every corner.” 

In the heart of Gaza City, Nourhan, a 29-year-old lawyer and activist, is a symbol of resilience to those around her. She is an active member of the “YV Mic” initiative, a Palestinian youth programme working to achieve peaceful social change through theatre and art, and contributes to Youth Gender Innovation Agora, a UN Women platform established in 2020 to foster gender equality solutions and mobilize youth engagement across the region.

Despite having endured the hardships of four previous Israeli-Gaza conflicts, the present crisis has left her shattered. From her home near the city centre, Nourhan could hear and feel the Israeli airstrikes.

“The walls would tremble, and the world seemed to be crumbling around me”, she said. But Nourhan resisted leaving her home, clinging to the sense of belonging she had created there and finding solace listening to the faint chirping of birds.

Still, the nights were long and filled with fear. When her neighbours’ homes collapsed in airstrikes, she made the painful decision to leave.

“Every step I took away from my beloved house was painful”, she said. “I was leaving behind my memories and my dreams.”

Nourhan sought refuge at her parents’ home in the old city of Gaza, where airstrikes were less frequent—but, she adds, there is no place left in Gaza that is truly safe. When she made a brief return trip to her house to collect belongings a few days later, she said, “families were homeless, children cried, and despair lingered on the streets”.

“It was a harsh reminder of the profound human suffering in Gaza right now”, she added.

As the days unfolded, Nourhan began to feel a return to a sense of safety at her parents’ home. However, that calm was abruptly shattered on 16 October when an airstrike hit nearby, forcing her to flee the building with her niece in her arms.

“Everyone was running in despair, uncertain if we had managed to bring all the children with us”, she said. “The harrowing escape through the dimly lit streets filled with the screams of people in fear will stay with me forever”.

She feared for the safety of her brother, who was at the scene. Nourhan’s spirits were lifted when he later called her and, despite being injured in the blast, was able to make Nourhan feel more secure and less alone.

But hope was fleeting in Gaza. The following day, Nourhan’s world was upturned yet again, when a strike on the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital killed hundreds seeking refuge.

“Survival is only the first step”, she said. “The scars of war would persist long after the Israeli airstrikes fell silent”.

As a lawyer and activist, Nourhan championed humanitarian causes, environmentalism, and political reform. She now faces the harsh reality that the causes she fought for are not able to protect her or her people.

“The laws I learned and fought for could not protect us from the horrors of war, but our enduring spirit and resilience serve as a testament to the people of Gaza”, she said. “We must continue to hope for lasting peace in the face of despair.”