Israel-Palestine conflict: Heartbreaking stories of those caught in crossfire
On October 7, the world was left speechless when Hamas staged a surprise attack that kicked off the deadliest part in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
At the time of writing, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that more than 7300 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli retaliatory strikes, with more than 18,900 wounded.
Israeli authorities have claimed that more than 1400 people have been killed with more than 5400 injured since the Hamas attack.
Countless lives have been lost, including aid workers, journalists and innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire.
The past few weeks have been filled with heartbreaking stories from people within both the Israeli and Palestinian communities.
News.com.au has spoken with people in Australia from both communities who have provided insight into the reality of the conflict and the impact it is having on their people and daily lives.
‘Bring Noa home’
For Israeli exchange student Evyatar Kopan, not knowing the fate of his close friend Noa Argamani who was kidnapped at the Supernova music festival has been torture.
“I started following Hamas’ telegram channel because I knew that if anything bad happens to her, I could see it there. I didn’t even know what they were going to do but I am so worried, I just watch all the videos praying to God I wouldn’t see her face,” he said.
At least 260 people were killed and countless others taken hostage when Hamas militants stormed the festival on October 7.
Footage of Noa’s capture was widely shared in the wake of the attack, showing her screaming “don’t kill me” as she was grabbed by militants.
She stretched her arms out towards her boyfriend Avi Natan as she was taken away on a motorbike.
Later, footage showed her drinking from a water bottle in Gaza.
Mr Kopan said he is constantly praying for his friend’s safe return.
“I don’t see any footage [anymore]. They don’t release any video anymore. We can only assume what kind of hell that [the captives] are going through,” he said.
“I’m praying and hoping that she’s alive. I just want to bring Noa home. All I want is for her to be safe.”
‘I often feel helpless’
Jonathan*, who was born in Israel but grew up in Australia, has tried to be strong for his mum who he says is “definitely struggling right now”.
“The first couple of days [since the attack], I know my mum slept in front of the TV on the couch. She just didn’t want to miss anything … because of how raw it was and how close it was to home, how little information there was in the beginning,” he said.
“Everyone is still on edge and trying to work out what’s happening.”
‘We suffer a lot of discrimination.’
As an Australian-Palestinian who often visits the West Bank, Ammar Abu Shamleh told news.com.au that Palestinians are often subjected to targeted discrimination.
“As a Palestinian going into the West Bank, even just at the border we suffer a lot of discrimination and abuse,” he said.
“We’re put through really rough interrogations. We’re made to wait hours sitting at the border. We’re put through really invasive questioning in a way that is racially-profiled. People who go there and don’t have Palestinian names or looks don’t go through that.
“A friend of mine who has an Australian passport and looks more caucasian in appearance doesn’t go through that and just walks straight through. Whereas myself — even the first time I went there, I get racially profiled and discriminated against.”
Mr Abu Shamleh said many of the freedoms and liberties offered in Australia don’t exist for Palestinians living within the West Bank.
“There’s no basic liberties and freedoms that we have here that we sort of take for granted. They [Palestinians] don’t have that and they’ve lived with that for over five decades now,” he said.
“Even to just move around or for someone who wants to go and visit family in a city one hour away or move between towns, it’s all at the mercy of the Israeli military.”
He said the West Bank has been “completely besieged” by Israeli forces since over the past few weeks since the start of this most recent conflict.
‘A lot of funerals’
Israeli exchange student Yotam Raz told news.com.au of his family’s heartbreak.
“In Nahal Oz, in my family’s village, there are a lot of people [who have] died and a lot of people that we know in Gaza that are still absent and [we] don’t know what’s going on with them,” he said.
“Because there are a lot of people [that have been] killed and the process of identification takes a lot of time to do, because there are a lot of bodies. So this is the reason why we still don’t know yet how many people are in Gaza, how many people have died.
“At this moment, Israel has a lot of funerals because there are a lot of bodies. Every day we discover some new names and it’s really hard. It’s a really hard time for me as well.”
‘Every single day, waking up to news of more deaths’
For Jason Damouni it’s been a constant cycle of death, destruction and mourning the lives of those caught in the crossfire.
“Last Sunday [October 22] we mourned the deaths of the Palestinian Christians that were bombed by Israel in the church, in Gaza,” he told news.com.au.
“One of the survivors who has lost both of his legs, is now in critical condition,” he said, revealing the man’s daughter and wife were killed in the attack.
Mr Damouni said losing so many loved ones has been devastating for him and the Palestinian community
“Every single day has just been waking up to news of death, upon death of civilian life,” he said.
“And being Palestinian here in Australia is extremely hard — especially in these last few escalations. We’ve had people calling for the deportation of people who attend the pro-Palestinian rallies.
“People who are advocating or showing solidarity for Palestinians are seen as treacherous or terrorist sympathisers. The level of misinformation around this has made it very hard.”
The suffering of two nations
At the core of this conflict is the continuous suffering of people from two nations, says Western Sydney University (WSU) student Bakar Mohamad, which is something he believes is often forgotten.
“There is [a] definite shared story between the Palestinians and the Jews and that is one of suffering, and it’s one of historic suffering,” the international relations student told news.com.au.
“I think that shared identity gets taken away because of echo chambers, because of the partisan way that the issues are portrayed within a certain media scope.”
Having studied the history of the conflict and created content to explain it to others, Mr Mohamad further broke down the pain and hardship both sides have endured.
“From the Jewish perspective, it’s escaping millennia of persecution and cruelty. The Holocaust didn’t occur as an isolated event, Hitler was just an extension of what was already happening at the time,” he said.
“On the other hand — there’s the Palestinian view point where they see it as, ‘We understand you’re suffering but what has that got to do with us and taking our lands?’
“There’s this idea that, ‘Sure, they’re suffering and should be granted a sovereign land and they should have peace. But why does that have to come at the expense of us? We’re just living peacefully in a land that was promised to us, that we fought with Britain for … we fought for this land’.
“And once that shared history can be understood, that shared story of suffering … I think it’s one of those things that will allow us to move to our next step. Understand that we both suffer, so what do we do now?”