Northern Ireland

'It's truly a nightmare that I hope to wake up from' - Missing Palestinian teenagers who visited Belfast are alive but scared for their safety

Students Yara, Malak and Rahaf from Gaza visited Belfast last year. Yara and Rahaf had been missing for a month while Malak's home has been destroyed. All three have since been able to make contact but are deeply afraid for their safety.
Students Yara, Malak and Rahaf from Gaza visited Belfast last year. Yara and Rahaf had been missing for a month while Malak's home has been destroyed. All three have since been able to make contact but are deeply afraid for their safety. Students Yara, Malak and Rahaf from Gaza visited Belfast last year. Yara and Rahaf had been missing for a month while Malak's home has been destroyed. All three have since been able to make contact but are deeply afraid for their safety.

PALESTINIAN teenagers who visited Belfast last year on an exchange programme have made contact after being missing for a month.

Pupils Yara, Rahaf and Malak took part in a theatre programme organised by the Hands Up charity at St Louise’s Comprehensive College in west Belfast along with teachers Rinan and Rajaa.

Last month, the school learned that Yara and Rahaf were missing while Malak’s home had been destroyed.

After an agonising silence, the staff finally received word this week that the girls and their teachers were alive but still fearing for their safety.

The hostilities escalated after Hamas fighters slaughtered 1,200 people and took 240 hostages in southern Israel on October 7.

Pupils Yara, Malak, teacher Rinan (wearing green) and Rahaf shopping in Belfast last year. All of them have managed to make contact from Gaza, but said they are deeply afraid for their safety.
Pupils Yara, Malak, teacher Rinan (wearing green) and Rahaf shopping in Belfast last year. All of them have managed to make contact from Gaza, but said they are deeply afraid for their safety. Pupils Yara, Malak, teacher Rinan (wearing green) and Rahaf shopping in Belfast last year. All of them have managed to make contact from Gaza, but said they are deeply afraid for their safety.

Read more:

  • Strikes on Gaza's southern edge sow fear in one of last areas people can flee to
  • Concerns as Palestinian teenagers who visited Belfast school now missing in Gaza
  • Joy for Belfast-born Palestinian Khalid El-Estal as son and daughter return from Gaza

After a brief ceasefire to exchange prisoners and release hostages, Hamas officials say the Israeli bombardment in Gaza has now killed more than 16,200 people including 7,000 children.

This week, Israeli forces twice struck the southern Gaza town of Rafah creating fear in one of the last places that civilians could seek refuge.

A podcast from the Hands Up project has now been reading out the text messages that the students and teachers have been able to send.

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel (Leo Correa/AP)
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel (Leo Correa/AP) Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel (Leo Correa/AP)

Yara, now aged 16, wrote last week: ““Hello, it’s Yara. I just wanted to thank you and the Hands Up project for all the help for the Palestinians.

“It felt like there was someone who cared. I did not have the internet to communicate with anyone,” she said.

“I am alive but I am not well. They destroyed our house and destroyed all my dreams.

“I still remember every moment and corner of the house. I have become like a homeless person without a homeland.

“I just wish I could live like the rest of the children of the world. I couldn’t even sleep peacefully.

“It’s truly a nightmare that I hope to wake up from.”

Paul Woods from St Louise’s College told The Irish News that other messages they were receiving were “harrowing,” including a short video clip from Rahaf.

Taken from inside a darkened room, gunfire can be heard outside followed by an explosion that is clearly frightening for the people inside.

Rahaf also writes: “We are now trapped in the camp…please do anything, we will die.”

Another message from student Malak Zuhair reads: “I think it will be the end, maybe I will die. If I die don't forget me and always remember me please, love you so.”

Teacher Rajaa spoke of what happened to her house in Gaza city, where she lived with her husband and five children.

Palestinian teacher Rajaa during her visit to Belfast last year.
Palestinian teacher Rajaa during her visit to Belfast last year. Palestinian teacher Rajaa during her visit to Belfast last year.

“On Thursday, November 23, I thought it was nearly the end. My house was targeted by the Israeli tanks and it was severely destroyed,” she said.

“My father and I got injured. The bombing went on for five hours non-stop. My kids were horrified and we started saying our last words to each other.

“We said we loved each other, and we hoped that if we were going to die that we all die together holding each other.

“Luckily, we survived. But 100 others of my husband’s family members weren’t lucky.

“His sister and all of her family were killed. An entire family is now under the rubble of their house and no one could get them out to be properly buried.”

Teacher Rinan said: “I’m here at the UNWRA school in Rafah, thank God I could at least find a place to rest with my own family.

“I am now at Rafah prep B school near the borders with Sinai.

“The situation here is less worrying. Not much bombing, enough food and water.

“Though it’s not good regarding the public toilets and electricity.

“The south is calmer, but there are about 10,000 people in the school. Imagine the crowds, the noise, rubbish.”