I adopted a stray cat, then my world fell apart one week later

I adopted a stray cat, then my world fell apart one week later

Tarneem works for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

Every time I step into a hospital in Gaza, I witness unspeakable atrocities and the most horrendous injuries a human can think of.

Like the time I was standing next to a resuscitation room in Al-Aqsa Hospital where doctors sedated a nine-year-old child to ease his suffering as he died.

His mother’s screams echoed throughout the building. They still echo in my nightmares.

Since the start of Israel’s military bombardment on Gaza in October, I have been working with my colleagues at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) to support our emergency response. Every task is met with its own set of challenges, such as impassable roads or the constant threat of bombing.

But living here has never been easy.

I was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents, but we moved to Gaza when I was 10.

I led a relatively decent life, despite Israel’s occupation and blockade, which routinely caused shortages of water, electricity, medical care, and freedom of movement. This blockade hangs like a shadow over everyone’s work, lives and passions.

Damage caused to Tarneem’s home (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

Gaza still felt like a place of opportunity though, where you could put in effort and make a somewhat normal life happen with an education, career, relationships and some travel if you were lucky. I have been fortunate to visit other parts of the Middle East, the US and the UK.

After earning my Master’s degree at Durham University, I returned home in 2022 and joined MAP.

My work involves advocating for Palestinians’ rights to health and dignity – including visiting our projects, recording stories, presenting research, or talking to journalists and partners.

At the start of October last year, my life seemed settled. I even adopted a cat that I called Beasty.

Tarneem’s cat Beasty has been with her every step of the way (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

But on the seventh day of that month, the current war began, and forced me to become a rapid response humanitarian.

My days are now spent delivering much-needed assistance to our communities. This ranges from distributing hygiene kits, clothes, mattresses, blankets, food, and medical supplies to providing shelter, medical needs, and support to displaced families.

Our water tanks are empty, and the thought of another day without a drop of water to drink weighs heavily on my mind.

Most terrifying of all is the ever-present fear of death. To date, more than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military, according to the health ministry. In fact, the true death toll could be more than 186,000 people, according to correspondence recently published in the journal The Lancet.

Medical Aid for Palestinians

For more information about Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), visit their website here.

Two of my uncles and 13 of my cousins have been killed. Three of them are still buried under the rubble.

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One uncle died with his arms wrapped around his four-year-old son, protecting him from shrapnel that hit their car following an Israeli military airstrike nearby.

The weight of this loss is immeasurable. My uncle did not just leave behind memories, but the responsibility of six young children for our grieving family to protect.

As I was writing this, I received sad news that a cousin in Rafah was killed by a drone missile while searching for bread.

We were never able to properly mourn any of them or have a funeral. We’re just lucky to be able to bury some of them, or at least bury body parts

A destroyed jeep in Gaza (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

One of my war rituals has been keeping a bottle of water within reach while sleeping, which will offer a lifeline if I’m trapped under rubble. There are more than 10,000 people reported missing, many under rubble in Gaza.

Until recently I was in Rafah, which had been designated a ‘safe zone’, but then we were forced to move again due to the most recent invasion.

Every day, I never know if I will return home when I go to work. But once I’m back, I wonder if I will be killed or injured in my sleep. 

On another day when I was at Al-Aqsa Hospital, we heard a huge bombardment nearby.

Ten minutes later, the emergency department was full of patients. There were not enough beds for the enormous number of injuries, so many wounded people were on the floor waiting their turn to be examined.

I clearly remember an old woman, wrapped in a blanket and laying on the floor. Her face was covered in blood, but her eyes were wide open and for one solitary second, we exchanged eye contact. I left the department trying to catch a breath.

Tents in Rafah in February 2024 (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

With me every step of the way has been my cat, Beasty. She has become a survivor, like us.

Sometimes I haven’t had enough food to give her. Despite this, whenever I approach her, Beasty immediately flips onto her back for me to rub her belly.

It’s like she can sense my mental state, always offering comfort and companionship when I need it most. I have needed a lot of comforting through such difficult times.

I haven’t seen my sister or nephews in months, and I really miss them. 

I’m trying to take care of Beasty as best I can (Picture: Tarneem Hammad/Palm Media/MAP)

I also really worry about my mother who requires medical support for a chronic condition, support which isn’t available anywhere. There have been times when she wasn’t able to walk on her leg because of her condition.

The international community needs to know that what is happening in Gaza is not a recent occurrence; it has been ongoing since 1948 when more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homes at the hands of militias during the creation of the state of Israel. We call this the Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe’.

The people of Gaza have endured decades of displacement, oppression, blockade, and violence. I want the world to uphold international law, bring about a ceasefire and end the occupation of Palestine.

Destruction in Gaza in 2024 (Picture: Palm Media/MAP)

Our life-saving humanitarian work depends on the safe, unhindered, movement of aid supplies and workers – which we do not have in Gaza. 

For example, in January a team of our UK doctors and staff were staying in a house in Al-Mawasi that the Israeli army had agreed with us was in a designated ‘safe zone’. The house was later destroyed by an Israeli military airstrike.

Thankfully everyone survived, but other humanitarians in Gaza have not been so lucky.

We have lost so much in this latest war – but hopefully not forever. I hope we will survive this and rebuild Gaza for the sake of our children.

So many close friends and loved ones have been killed.

Will it be my turn tomorrow? Only time will tell.

Until then, I’m going to keep fighting to stay alive and trying to provide aid. And take care of Beasty as best I can, too.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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