What is it like to be blind in Gaza and Israel?
- 23 July 2014
As fighting continues in Gaza and Israel, two blind women, one Israeli and one Palestinian, describe how they experience war through hearing it, and how it affects their lives.
"The sounds that come are different", says Dalal Al-Taji, a blind Palestinian woman from the Gaza strip. She lived through three previous wars, one in Lebanon and two in Gaza, prior to the current troubles and has become used to the noises of war. "I know when the bombings are coming from the sea," she says, "And I know when bombings are coming from planes because it's closer, high above your head.
"Another thing we have are drones. We call them zannana in Arabic because they go zin, zin, zin. I can hear them all the time."
On the other side of the divide, warnings via Twitter and the sound of air raid sirens alert Naama Shang when trouble is near.
Shang lives with her husband in the central Israeli city of Raanana, just north of Tel Aviv and almost 99km (61m) from the Gaza strip. They are both blind and so rely on their hearing to know what's happening and what action they should take.
"If we can hear [the air raid siren] - and there were instances where we couldn't hear it - we have 90 seconds to get to a bomb shelter", says Shang, who was recently asked by her local social services if she needs help to get to one. She doesn't, because newer buildings in Israel have integrated shelters and she has one in her flat.
Al-Taji says that while some Palestinians in Gaza get flyers and phone calls telling them to leave the area, for her, the sound of bombing is the only warning that trouble is getting close. She says that at 45km (28m) long with a population of 1.6 million, Gaza is so densely populated that there's no place for shelters. Keeping safe is difficult for her.
"Either you have to stay in your house, or you have to try to go somewhere far from the border", she says. Al-Taji chooses to stay in her house, she says: "We have to keep windows open because if any bombing happens and it shakes, then the glass doesn't break."
Although they are on opposite sides, the conflict has affected the women's day to day lives in similar ways and both have felt unable to leave their homes.
In usual circumstances, Shang has good mobility and can get around her town. Due to the troubles, she moved a planned trip forward and left Israel for the UK late last week.
Before the trip, she says she stayed home unless absolutely necessary. "I didn't want to be caught out and not know where to go. It's very hard to just follow other people or to see signs."
Al-Taji hasn't been out of her house for two weeks now. She works as a teacher but never travels unaccompanied because she says Gaza's infrastructure is not that well developed. "you never know what might happen," she says, "If I need anything, I just try to get someone to help."
Unlike Shang, Al-Taji has no plans to get out any time soon. "First of all, the border is closed, you can't really leave. Secondly, and most importantly, I can't just leave my house, my friends, my family, my people."
Shang and Al-Taji have a lot in common besides living in a conflict zone. They have both spent time in Scotland and are both music enthusiasts.
"One thing that keeps going through my mind is that Dalal and I are on the same side," says Shang. "We say the same things, we experience the same things. It brings the point even closer to home. We both want peace. We want to live and be with our loved ones."
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