Hossam Madhoun in Gaza
Early warning, hallucination and insomnia
A neighbour 20 meters from my father-in-law’s home received a call from the Israeli army to evacuate his home, as they will bomb and destroy it. He has until 4 pm to leave. It was 12:30 pm. All surrounding neighbours started to leave, carrying whatever they can carry, the minimum basic needs. Abeer was cooking bread and I was washing my mum when we learned the news. We got confused. What to do? Abeer asked me to hurry up and prepare my mother, she continues baking. Giving orders at the same time to her sisters to prepare for leaving. I put the evacuation bags, which we had previously prepared, inside the car and drove it 2 streets away from our home.
Everyone is moving hysterically, in all directions, afraid, silent. I put my mum in her wheelchair, my brother-in-law puts our mother-in-law in her wheelchair. Abeer finishes baking, she wraps the bread in a piece of cloth and we left the house. Abeer’s father asked us to follow him. 80 meters from his home is his friend’s home, a big house with a front yard and a garden with some trees and plants. The friend, with his family, received us very warmly. Women and girls sat on the left side of the garden, men sat on the right side. It was 2:22pm. The landlord offered us coffee and the women some coffee and biscuits.
Waiting, one of the most unpreferable words for me. I hate waiting. Now it is like sitting on fire.
I must find a safer place. Going back home to Gaza is impossible, absolute suicide. Going south to Khan Younis or Rafah. In Khan Younis, I know no one. Also, schools are already overcrowded, we won’t find any place at all. A friend in Rafah 2 weeks ago, on the 12th of October when we left home, was calling me to offer an apartment he has, empty since the death of his older brother. I remembered him. That was 13 days ago, things are not the same since then. I expect that he’s received family members. I did not want to embarrass him so I sent him a message instead of a phone call. As I expected, his home is more than filled with displaced relatives, aunts, uncles, nieces.
Calling another friend, and another, no place, all home units, all schools are overwhelmed with displaced people. After the destruction of 50% or more of the home units of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army during the last 2 weeks, squeezing 2.1 million into a space for only 1 million. What I can expect?
We sit, in the garden, I smoke, and smoke, my thinking ability is paralysed. It is 4 pm, nothing happens, 4:30, nothing happened! What to do? Darkness will fall soon; no movement is possible after dark. The voice of my mother coming from the other side of the garden telling stories about everything and nothing. She is unable to realise the reality of our situation.
There was no sign from the neighbour that we could stay. We understand, we can see how many people he hosts; many women came from inside to greet and receive our ladies, many men came to receive us; there are many children around us, his sons and their wives and children, his daughters and their husbands and children.
I talked to my father-in-law and my wife. We must decide what to do now, we can’t wait until dark as it will be too late to act.
It is not certain that they will bomb it tonight; the supermarket in the market, which was bombed 3 days ago, received the same warning call 4 days before the strike happened.
We decide we will go back. We will all sleep at the far east side of the room, away from windows, and tomorrow we will look for another solution, if we survive the night.
The night is a nightmare here, under attack, the bombing escalating during the night.
We brought my mother’s bed from the second floor, we put her in the corner of the room. It is dark. My mother has started, since yesterday night, seeing images and people, hallucinations. She tells people to go out, she asks these dancers to stop dancing, she called out to children to stop splashing water on her, she keeps telling this lady to keep away from her. This lady putting her face too close to my mother’s face, terrifies my mother and makes her scream. Looking at my mother’s face at these moments, her eyes are very wide open, staring into the vacuum. Her face looks so panicked. I try to calm her down, nothing works, especially if I say that there is no one here, she shouts: ‘How come you don’t see them? Why don’t you help me? Why don’t you ask them to leave? Are you taking sides with them?’ I can do nothing but cry.
At 2:00 am it was too much for every one. I carried her again to the second floor. Maybe her shouts and screaming will not reach the others so they can sleep. The hallucinations continue.
It is 6:30am, dawn, not fully daylight yet, and my mum still with wide open eyes and I am falling apart. I forgot about the risk I put her and myself in by being on the vulnerable second floor, which would be the most damaged if the strike on our neighbour’s took place.
7:45am. Finally, my mother is calmer and more silent, she asks for breakfast. Abeer came to serve her and I fall asleep on the second floor.