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English Teacher Says Strikes On Gaza Put Pressure On Residents' Mental Health


Yesterday, we heard an official from Hamas, Gaza's main ruling group, who defended firing rockets out of Gaza into Israel's populated areas. And then there is Bilal Shbair. Our team first met him when we were reporting in Gaza in 2018. He was working on his English back then. Today, he is an English teacher and the father of a 20-month-old son.

BILAL SHBAIR: I live in the middle area of the Gaza Strip. We almost hear every single, like, 30 minutes, a missile rocketing from Gaza or coming here around us. Today - this morning, I went in the garden to check my chickens and to see my pets. I have a dog. I saw, like, a shrapnel...

INSKEEP: Shrapnel.

SHBAIR: Yeah. I think it's a piece of, like, a missile. It's a hard iron. I found it on the ground around us where my kid Adam (ph) and some other children of the neighborhood play. And also, we sit there having coffee, talking about life as a whole.

INSKEEP: You sit there having coffee, talking about life. And every once in a while, you hear a missile going up or an Israeli bomb coming down.

SHBAIR: Yeah. When this missile, like, hit us, we weren't in that place. But as usually, you know, in normal life, this is our place to sit and have some fun time, tea time and so on.

INSKEEP: How much do you worry about your family's safety?

SHBAIR: We are in panic. We are in desperate need for psychologists and psychiatrists because we are experiencing more danger day after day or even hour after hour. We just don't want to die under the rubbles of our houses.

INSKEEP: What help, if any, would you like from the United States?

SHBAIR: We need, like, psychological help. When you are under that much, even dreams are scary. You get, like, nightmares only. We cannot even sleep one full hour at all. We are just staring and sitting on our mobiles to wait for any sudden harm, like bombing or attacking, here. So I worry about my kid Adam. When he listens to such bombs, he runs away. I embrace him and hug him and said to me, Daddy, (imitating missile firing), boom, boom. How can a child or a kid who is, like, 1 year and a half almost feel this? We are all deeply traumatized.

My wife went through a very bad panic. Yeah, I asked for help from the psychiatrist in the West Bank, but they didn't respond because our psychiatrist in Gaza and psychologists in Gaza needs some help - even themselves need this help. So I managed to find a woman near us here. We found her on the mobile and talked to my wife for only five minutes. She just told her to do some, like, distraction or to do some - to practice some yoga and so on. How can I do this while the drones and the warplanes hovering around us and above us all the time?

INSKEEP: Do you want to leave Gaza?

SHBAIR: For me, I have a job here. But after what I saw here, I need to leave Gaza for just, like, mental health (ph).

INSKEEP: Bilal, thank you very much for taking the time.

SHBAIR: Thank you. You are welcome.

INSKEEP: English teacher Bilal Shbair in Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.