Gaza City – It has been almost eight months since Yara Eid returned to Gaza to study international relations after six years in the UK.
Because of the 15-year Israeli blockade of the coastal enclave and travel restrictions, the 22-year-old was unable to return home once during her studies to visit her family in Gaza. Eid said she experienced “difficult times” during her time abroad after repeated Israeli attacks on Gaza.
“While I was in the UK, every time there was a bomb attack on Gaza, my heart literally stopped,” Eid told Al Jazeera. “I was glued to my phone 24/7 trying to call my family to see if they were okay. It’s never peaceful there.”
Particularly distressing, she said, were attacks upon her return home – three days of Israeli strikes that began on August 5.
49 Palestinians were killed in an operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group active in the Gaza Strip. Almost half of the dead were civilians, Palestinian officials said.
At the time, Eid felt she had to do something, so she decided to use her cell phone, take to the streets to speak out about Israel’s air strikes on Gaza, and try to make her voice heard.
“I’m usually very scared of the sound of bombs,” Eid said. “After the 2014 Gaza War, I suffered from post-traumatic symptoms that led to health complications and kept me hospitalized for years. I was 14 at the time.”
“It was different this time. I decided to overcome my fears. I have many connections and friends in the UK and a good command of English, so I chose to use this to convey the message of Gaza and the injustice, oppression and constant bombing that is taking place against the people here.”
Eid used her Instagram account to report what was going on. She visited several bombed areas and hospitals, and her followers grew to 40,000 in just a few days.
“Unfortunately, in Gaza, we lack English speakers to report on events on the ground, so I decided to use my voice and give a voice to the voiceless,” she said.
“It was my first time ever on the floor [as a reporter]. I just did what my instinct told me. If I saw people running, I’d run with them and tell other people, ‘We’re running because there’s a bomb going off somewhere nearby.’”
Eid’s activity on Instagram has been well received by followers around the world. They asked for more coverage and said what she was doing was important.
“It’s so important to me to document what happened because I want people to live the experience that I went through,” Eid said. “We’re becoming increasingly desensitized to the images on TV, and I wanted to share a real-life experience of mine.”
“People in the UK know Yara as an ordinary citizen living and studying in the UK and she is a student who has returned to visit her family and suddenly she is on the spot sharing dangerous life experiences that tell the whole story of life in Gaza.”
Bisan Odeh, 23, works on projects supporting Gaza’s youth, community initiatives and the content production industry. She writes stories that embody the reality of her society and produces social videos.
“For me, creating content on my Instagram page is the cutest thing I do in life and recently I’ve been producing social media programs, the last one called ‘Hakawatiyia’. [Storyteller].”
During the recent offensive on Gaza, Bisan felt that the besieged area had been forgotten, that the casualties – many children and women – had only been reported in numbers.
Bisan told Al Jazeera that she started recording videos after examining the people killed in the Israeli attacks. She said they included the mother of a groom killed on her son’s wedding day and other innocent civilians, including 16 children.
“The list goes on,” she said. “It was then that I decided to release a video talking about the victims in Gaza. They are not numbers and what is happening to us is enough.”
The video, which Bisan shot in English, went viral on social media platforms and was shared by many followers.
“Talking about Gaza is always different, but on social media all it needs is balanced reporting. We cannot always paint a rosy picture of life here, nor can we just speak of bombing and destruction.”
Bisan said the psychological scars caused by the wars in Gaza are mounting day by day and she herself is still struggling.
“Since the end of the war I have not been able to go on with my life normally. Even when creating new content. I just think that as Palestinians we don’t exist in Gaza and don’t matter to the world. And that’s what tires me out the most mentally.”
For dental student Salma Shurrab, 20, her activity on social media is far removed from world politics. She specializes in marketing, fashion, advertising and travel.
Shurrab said when she first traveled to attend an international conference in Turkey, she witnessed the diversity of cultures and nationalities.
“What struck me is that I’m no different from them at all,” she said. “I’m a cultured, educated and conscious girl who even follows fashion and the latest styles, but after meeting many contestants, it became clear.”there is a part of Gaza that is unknown to the world.”
After the August War broke out, Shurrab said she felt she should let her friends and new acquaintances know what was happening.
“I had just come back from the trip trying to ignore the difficult reality of Gaza and as soon as I came back the aggression started,” Shurrab said.
“Here I found that I must accept my reality and help reveal it, not overlay it with the image that belongs to the world. I wanted to tell the world that life in Gaza is not normal and that it could change in an instant.”
Shurrab made a video showing her life during the Israeli attack to convey the message that the lives of the people of Gaza could be turned upside down at any moment.
“The video went viral and was shared by many friends. Everyone sent me lovely messages of support and I was glad I helped even a little to get the message across,” she said.
Despite the psychological impact of the Israeli attack, Shurrab said her ambition to produce advertising, travel and fashion content hasn’t changed, but it clashes with the difficult reality of suffering in Gaza.
“I am ashamed to share travel and fashion. I feel like I just need to talk about our suffering and try to clarify what is happening to people on a daily basis – whether it’s through military escalations or restrictions on travel and movement,” she said.
“We cannot escape the reality of Gaza. We cannot even go as far as we want with our dreams and ambitions.”