At 16 years old, Farah Baker should be enjoying her summer vacation from school. Instead, she spends terrified, sleepless nights watching airstrikes and rockets light up her Gaza neighborhood as her parents attempt to comfort her two young sisters.
Baker shares much in common with thousands of Palestinian teenagers in the coastal strip — where the average age is just 17 — but she rose to prominence on Twitter this week after posting messages, videos and pictures capturing her feelings of horror and defiance to her growing audience, which has reached 39,000 followers.
She spoke to NBC News on Tuesday after one of the heaviest nights of bombardment from Israeli forces in the three weeks of fighting. "I COULD SURVIVE LAST NIGHT!! I AM ALIVE!!" she tweeted from her account @Farah_Gazan after morning finally broke.
"I used to say that the war in 2008 was the worst it has been, but after last night, I would say that this is the worst because I really felt like I could die at any moment," she told NBC News. "I was really thinking I might die tonight.
"My two sisters, who are 14 and 6 years old, stood in the room hugging my mom, and whenever they heard the bombs they started shouting to try to drown out the noise — but it was too loud."
Baker's intensely emotive tweets have drawn a large online audience, personalizing a conflict often dominated by grim statistics. According to TwitterCounter.com, she had 3,789 followers on July 23, but that has grown ten-fold, with around 16,000 coming on Tuesday alone.
She has lived through two Israeli offensives on Gaza: Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, all part of what Israel says is an attempt to quell rockets being fired across the border.
The current push, Operation Protective Edge, has seen more than 1,150 Palestinians die, most of them civilians and many of them women and children. Fifty-three Israelis have been killed, mostly soldiers.
Many of Gaza's 1.8 million people know a friend or family member who has been hurt or killed by the violence. Baker is no different: She was related to the four boys killed when an Israeli naval shell hit a beach earlier this month. Her mother was also hurt when an explosion outside their house opposite Gaza's al-Shifa Hospital shattered glass and cut her hand while she was on the balcony.
"I don’t leave home, it’s unsafe outside," said Baker. "During the ceasefire I was able to go and see some of my friends but apart from that I stay indoors."
The high civilian death toll in Gaza has brought condemnation from several international organizations, including the U.N.'s top human rights official who warned that Israel may have committed war crimes.
Israel justifies its actions by saying Hamas, the group that governs the strip, hides rockets in schools and hospitals and uses its own civilian population as human shields. Hamas has been classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and other Western countries, but Baker is unapologetic in her support for a group that won popular elections in 2006 and attempted to form a unity government with its rival party Fatah in June.
"People say that Hamas hides behind people but it doesn't — Hamas defends people," Baker said. "I do not want this war to end until we become free, because the blockade is killing us."
With no long-term solution to the conflict in sight, she wants to extend this defiant activism beyond 140 characters and train to become a lawyer. "I want to help fight for our rights and help free Palestine."
NBC News' Lou Dubois contributed to this report.
First published July 29 2014, 9:07 AM