Messages from Gaza Now

Here are the accounts sent from Gaza by Hossam Madhoun, and some by his daughter, Salma, in the period since October 7th.  There is also an account from Shouq Alnajjar in Gaza.

Hossam is a co-director of Theatre for Everybody in Gaza.  This is the company Az Theatre in London have been working with since 2002 and have been in bilateral partnership with since 2009 – see GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM

These accounts have been read at many events including at P21 Gallery in London MESSAGES FROM GAZA NOW on Tuesday 24th October 2023, Tuesday 7th November 2023 and Tuesday 5th December and many more.  The MESSAGES have also been read at other events and have been published in journals and newspapers in other countries.

These are available to be read at events.  Please contact Az at info@aztheatre.org.uk

  1. Third Day of the Bombing

2. Sixth day of the Bombing

3. Day 8

4. Day 9

5. Don’t Know What Day

6. In the Market again

7. 20th October 2023

8. Friends

9. 21st October 2023

10. Buddy

11. 22nd October 2023

12. War Crimes and extra information

13. Another Day

14. Think of a title if you can!

15.  Salma’s Message – after 30 hours

16. Early Warning, Hallucinations and Insomnia

17. Shouq’s message

18. Number 4 with zeros and without 1

19. Number 4 with zeros and without 2

20. Sounds

21. What to write about?

22. The Valley of Death

23. My Mother Once Again

24. Disabled Words

25. Queue

26.  At the doors of the UNWRA offices

27.  Suffocating Traffic Jam

28. Like Every Day

29. Apprehension

30. Gaza between the sea and the fence

31. I arrive at the market after a journey of an hour

32.  There are hundreds of beggars

33. Queuing for cooking gas.

34. Fire Belt

35. Annoying Words

36. Survival Recipe

37. Untold story from Olympus

38.  Butterfly Effect

39.  A Young Political and Military Strategist

40.  Bad Son

41. Back from Market

42. Schindler’s List

43. Mother Courage (not Bertolt Brecht)

44.  Fuel, Bread and Fear

45. Fear, loneliness.

46. The Third displacement, to Rafah

47. Terror and Torture

48. Day and Night

49. Horror and Relief

50. Abo Khaled Abdel’al

51. Agony

52. Back to Sawarha Again

53.  Writing Again

54. Solidarity and other things

55. Game of Death

56. Writing and Painting

57. Abu Hamza

58. Miracles

59. Another day under war

60. Winter, wind and water

61. Message from a dear friend

62. Empty head, full heart

63. In Rafah

64. The Last Shelter / The Last Resort

65. Hospital

66.  Not a Diary, just statistics

67. On the Road

68.  Scarface

69. Appeals

70. Sleepless

71. Little Dreams

72. Shrapnel – Splinters

73. Unaccompanied child

74. In the news/not in the news

75. Air strikes kill, air food drops kill more

76.  Little stories

77.  What to answer when you have no answer

78. A memory

79. We used to have Ramadan

80. Two million meals

81. White page

82.  Talking about me

83. I lived

84. Birds in paradise

85. Why does this happen to me and my family?

86.  Small Battles in a Big War

87. Bad Omen

88. World Theatre Day

89.  What remains for us?  What remains us?

90. Sisyphus

91. Escaping

92. Counting

93.  Not Comparing

94. New Task

95. My Colleague

96. Six Months

97. Hypocrisy

98. Buddy and the Drone

99. To Egypt

100. In Egypt, in Gaza

101. Left Gaza but Gaza did not leave me

102.  Lost

103.  Out of reach

104. Left Gaza but Gaza did not leave me (2)

105. A city on the run

106.  What does Gaza feel

107. Divine intervention

108. Gaza in and out

109. When is it enough?

110. Missing Hope

111. Here and There

112. 46 minutes

113. Open your eyes

 

Hossam Madhoun in Gaza

Third day of the war 

2.22 am 

Trying to sleep

Don’t know how, bombing all the time, sounds of bombing mixed, sounds of bombing far away, sounds even further away, sounds not far away but not nearby, sounds nearby but no impact on the building, sounds very nearby and the building is shaking, the windows want to move out, but something, I don’t know what, is holding them in place. Maybe with the next bombing they won’t hold in place and blow broken all at once, but so far, not yet.

After three days with the same horrifying atmosphere, no sleep, my eyes are falling closed. Yet my head is shaking me to keep awake, never knowing what will happen, never knowing if the next bombing will get us, or force us to evacuate like thousands who have already evacuated their homes. 

We’ve prepared an ‘escape’ bag, but the scenario of evacuating is a nightmare. With my disabled 83 year old mother in a wheel chair, my terrified dog, but of course with my strong wife.

But we haven’t prepared yet where to evacuate to. Where to go? Choices are zero. Any movement toward any other family members in other cities is already a suicide attempt. Nearby, friends are already hosting many of their family members. Maybe staying inside the car would be an option? We really don’t know. 

Yes, I started with trying to get to sleep. Ok, again trying to sleep at 2.22 am. 

I think I succeeded. At 4:37am my wife Abeer was calling my name, I heard my name as if it came from a far distance, again Abeer is calling my name. ‘What?’ I said, still keeping my eyes closed.  

‘There is knocking at the door’. I open my eyes, I see nothing, complete darkness. No electricity, no stand-by generator, no slight light from the street. Dark. 

I said : ‘There is no knocking’. She said: ‘Listen’. I listened. There was soft knocking at the door. Took my mobile, opened the torch option and moved toward the front door. The soft knocking continued. 

  • ‘Who is it?’ 
  • ‘Saleh’s mother’ (our neighbour from the fifth floor) 
  • (Without opening the door) ‘What’s up Om Saleh?’
  • ‘It is Salma your daughter in Lebanon, she was trying to reach you for hours, and when she could not, she called my niece in Jordan who called me, asking to reach you, she is so panicked as you do not reply’. 
  • ‘Thanks, Om Saleh’

Trying to call Salma, it is impossible, no internet, no mobiles since 11 pm last night when the Israeli air force bombed the telecommunication company.

Salma, our sole daughter, who is away from us for the first time in her life, in Lebanon since a month ago, for her Masters degree. I get very frustrated, I must find a way to contact her, to cool her, I know she will collapse if she doesn’t hear from us, she has already thought about leaving her Masters and coming back to be with us. 

Bombing continues while this is happening, the dog sticks to me out of fear, my mother wakes up asking to go to the rest room. And I am trying to think what to do? 

Trying to call Salma by mobile, all calls failed. 

I went down to the basement of the building where at least six families from the upper storeys of the building took refuge. 

I asked if there is any alternative way for internet or communication, they say, ‘no we all lost this privilege’. 

The building guard said: ‘If you go out of the building you might get a signal.’ 

Going out?? in this dark?  In the street? While there’s bombing every single second and no one knows where it’s happening and what the targets are? 

It took me zero time though. I moved out away from the building in the direction the guard told me to go, trying to call, failed, moving further and trying again, failed, moving and trying again, after at least 17 times, the mobile rang at the other end. Salma, yes, finally. She said nothing. She fell into deep crying, I understood, I could imagine what she went through during these hours without reaching us. I let her cry, I wanted very much to cry, I could not, I should not. 

‘What’s up Salma, we are ok, we are alive, you know communication is interrupted’. 

 I really don’t know what I said until she calmed down. 

Then she went to her University, and I went back, to think through with Abeer: if we had to evacuate, where to go????

It is 9:45 am. I’ve finished writing this post. 

 

Messages from Salma Madhoun in Beirut to Jonathan Chadwick in London

My family hasn’t had internet since yesterday, so we decided they would send me a text message every two hours to reassure me that they’re fine.  

Until I get the message, I’ll be vomiting up my organs out of terror. May Allah protect them and keep them safe.

Then later:

I feel guilty that I’m safe!

Then later:

I am thinking that the pigeons flying by my window are missiles that are about to murder me.

Then she wrote: 

There is no media coverage, more than seven journalists have been killed, there is no electricity, internet, helplines, or water, and all aid is forbidden from entering the Gaza Strip. Today, Gaza is more than just an open-air prison; it is also a locked area of genocide.

This aggression is not excluding anyone, not even children. I wonder how they are threatening such an aggressive occupation presence. Innocent people, civilians, women, and children are being killed in the worst ways possible. They’re seeing their families, and their beloved ones dying in front of them.

Healthcare workers see their family members’ dead bodies among the victims that they are attempting to help. Numerous hospitals in the Gaza Strip have completely stopped working due to bombing the actual hospitals, and even the ambulances have been targeted. This hostile occupation does not want the injured to be treated; their explicit purpose is to vanish the city and the civilians living in it. The Civil Defense and the Red Cross are unable to reach the massacres and are unable to help the amount of people who are exposed to this aggression. People are crying and asking for help under the rubble without any assistance.

Where is the international community that is seeking to implement the International Humanitarian Law? Why are the boot-lickers still scared, covering their eyes and keeping their mouths shut? What should move countries and the general will other than a wholesale slaughter??

I left Gaza a month ago to study for a Masters in Lebanon. This decision was difficult to make because anything can happen to anyone at any time in Gaza, but my parents backed me and I travelled to pursue a better education at an outstanding college.

And now I’m 300 kilometres away from my parents, but it feels like millions since returning to Gaza is nearly impossible. The distance heightens my sense of powerlessness, as I yearn to be with my family.

WHY DID I THINK THAT TRAVELING TO SEEK BETTER EDUCATION A GOOD IDEA? MEANWHILE MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE UNDER ATTACK AND MY DESTINY OF BEING UNDER THIS HOSTILE OCCUPATION WILL NEVER LEAVE ME. 

Sixth Day of the war 

2:22 am 

What a coincidence!

How come it’s the same time as day 3? 

At 2:22am Abeer, my wife, is waking me up. I went to sleep at 1:45. 

‘What’s up?’

‘Get up and come and see this’

‘What?’

She shows me a message she received by mobile.  

The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) sent their staff a message asking all of them to evacuate from the North of Gaza and Gaza City to the middle area of Gaza, as the Israeli army is planning to destroy the North.

Every resident in the two northern municipalities must leave between daylight and 2 pm 

What? Two municipalities out of the five municipalities to be completely destroyed, 1.1 million people to move out toward the middle and the south? 

The message came with a Gaza map showing areas to be evacuated. 

Due to the continuous bombing, many families in the building where we live are spending the night in the building’s basement, the building is 7 floors and contains 32 apartments. 

I put on some clothes and went down to see if anybody else received such a message.

In the basement, on a big carpet and a few mattresses, 8 men and 13 male children are asleep. 

I woke up one of the neighbours. I start chatting with him about the message. The rest of the men woke up, some start calling, in a few minutes the message is confirmed by several people, UN staff also received the same message.

What to do???

For more than 30 minutes every one is moving back to their flats, then coming back, some more neighbours gather, a question hangs in the air with no answer: what did you decide?

It is 5:30 in the morning, still dark, no daylight yet. 

I went back home to consult with Abeer. She is working for an international humanitarian organization, Humanity and Inclusion. She’s already received the same message from her NGO. 

Where to go? The second question hangs in the air without answer, what about my old mother who can’t move? what about our dog? What about our home? What is going to happen to our home? we spent 25 years of our lives working like hell to save enough money to have our own home. 

From 2:22 am until 6:30am we were unable to think straight. 

We don’t trust the Israelis, they commit massacres, they already did, many, and we witnessed it. We can’t risk staying here. 

‘Evacuation’ bags were already ready since the first day of the war on Gaza. We decide to move to the middle area, to Nuseirat camp to get refuge at Abeer’s family. Abeer’s family is already hosting her sister’s family (2 girls, father and mother) 

6:45 am while filling the car with extra stuff that we might need, Salma my daughter who is taking a masters degree in Lebanon was calling.  She received the news, she was panicked, weeping, we tried to calm her, no words could calm anyone in this situation, finally she understood that we are still alive  and we are moving. 

Salma is taking her masters degree in human rights and democracy, she studies IHL and IHRL (majestic abbreviations for very deep meanings) –  IHRL (International Human Rights Law)  IHL (International Humanitarian Law). Laws that can bring any criminals against humanity to accountability through the International Criminal Court. 

Yet these big words do not apply to every one. They can apply to weak, small countries, but never to countries of the West, and for sure, will never ever apply to Israel, no matter what they do

The military occupation of other nations is already a crime against humanity, yet Israel occupying Palestine for decades has never been questioned. 

Israel committed more than 5 wars on Gaza, killing thousands of people, men, women, children, destroying houses, buildings, schools, hospitals and yet, Israel is never held accountable.

Now and today Israel is practicing a genocide and ethnic cleansing of 1.1 million people, dispossessing them of their safe homes to face the unknown, and yet the world is watching, moreover it is justifying what Israel is doing.

More than 2500 killed including at least 800 children and 450 women and injuring over 8000 people, destroying thousands of civilian homes and buildings. Yet Israeli hands are free to get deeper in our blood. 

55 years I lived on this earth and witnessed nothing but violence, prison, death, blood, bombing, airstrikes, blockade, restriction of movement, no hope, no safety,  and why? Why all of this? Because accidentally, geographically I was born in Gaza. What guilt? What an accusation? Born in Gaza from the first breath labeled a terrorist by the Israelis, with a green light from the West to do what ever they want to us. 

6:55am the mobile is ringing, the son of my friend whose home was severely damaged 2 days ago due to the bombing of a nearby building. 

Answering the call: ‘Yes Yousif, tell me.’ 

Yousif: ‘We must leave now for Khan Younis. Since our home is damaged, we moved to the NGO where my father is working. And now I have too many people to move to Khan Younis. Do you have a place in your car for two or three people?’ 

I know that a big part of Yousif’s family moved to his home from Khozaa – a village east of Khan Younis which was heavily bombed in the first 2 days of the war. 

I could not give any other answer but yes. 

Talked to Abeer, we already filled half of the back seat with stuff to take with us, but we can’t leave my friend’s family without help, we start to reorganize our things by priority, we moved half of the stuff back to the house. 

7:25 am, on the move towards my friend’s home, my old mother in the front seat and Abeer with our dog in the back seat, freeing up space to take another two persons. 

My friend’s family were still packing, they are more than 25 persons in 2 big cars, they squeezed themselves into the cars. We took with us another old lady and a young man. 

Huge sound of bombing, not far but don’t know where.

Before we start moving, we had to discuss what road to take: which road would be safer? 

Gaza, 42 kilometers in length and 6 to 12 Kilometers in width is connected from the north to the south by only 2 main roads, the sea road which is exposed to Israeli navy shelling and Salahaddeen road which is also exposed to airstrikes and artillery shelling from the east. 

Not much time for big thinking, the chances of which is safer is 50 – 50. 

We start driving, the sea road, empty, very few cars passing by, some driving reluctantly and some driving very fast. From time to time we see destroyed buildings on the roadside by the sea, rubble blocking the road and we have to move around it from time to time. 

Looking at the sea, navy boats on the horizon, the old lady praying loudly, Abeer is trying to chat with the old ladies to calm them down, while our dog is completely silent, as if he knows that there is something wrong.  

Sound of bombing 

Our plan was to stop in the middle area, only a 14 kilometre drive but we can’t leave our friends, we continue with them to Khan Younis – 32 kilometers. We arrived safe. They asked us to stay with them and not to drive back as it could be very dangerous. It was an option, but there was not enough space, we asked around if we can rent a flat, but it was too late    thousands of families arriving before us from east of Khan Younis and many other places have filled every single corner of Khan Younis including schools, sports clubs, wedding halls, restaurants, NGO premises, every empty space was filled with new refugees. Another diaspora of Palestinians, another migration, another catastrophe. 

Sounds of bombing from many directions 

My mother is weeping with pain, more than one and half hours in the car, her body can’t tolerate it. 

We start our trip back to the middle area, Nuseirat camp, where my wife’s family lives.

Driving north and now many more cars coming from the north to the south, cars full of people and stuff, almost every car has mattresses tied on top. Some mattresses and blankets were falling off and we could  see them in the road from time to time. 

Sounds of bombing all the time 

9:42 am arriving at Nuseirat.  

Every one starts to empty the car, the food we brought from our fridge we had to throw away, meat and chicken were rotten as the electricity was cut for the last 2 days.

‘Do you have enough cooking gas?’ I asked as I know that they might not have. ‘We have some.’ ‘Do you have enough mattresses?’ ‘We have some.’ ‘Do you have enough drinking water?’ ‘We have some’.

Sounds of bombing do not stop. 

As the car is empty, I start moving, Abeer is shouting: ‘What are you doing? Where are you going?’ 

‘Back home to Gaza to bring what we moved back into the house. We won’t survive without it.’ I answered and moved ahead ignoring her screams of objection. 

I knew that driving back to Gaza could be a suicidal attempt, the Israelis wants us to move south out of Gaza not north back to Gaza. 

In less than 12 minutes I was at home, I believe I drove above 140 kilometers an hour, not out of courage but out of fear.

I filled the car with whatever I could fill it with, water bottles, mattresses, blankets, 2 cooking gas cylinders of 12 kilograms each, even the biscuits I saw in front of me I took, I believe involuntarily, thinking about the children there.   

While writing,  sounds of bombing and drones all the time. 

Now it is the second day at my father-in-law’s home, 

Don’t know what to do, trying to call our daughter in Lebanon from time to time, no internet, no electricity, water is running out, it might be enough for the coming 3 days with very rationed use. 

Bombing continues. 

Day 8

Sitting doing nothing with a head full of horrible scenarios. My brother in law who also took refuge at our wives’ family in Nuseirat with his wife and 2 daughters is sitting on the ground talking on the mobile, checking the safety of his brothers who took refuge at a school some 2 kilometers away from us.

He asks: ‘Where was the last bombing you heard?’

:—–

‘Are there any dead people from the bombing ?’

:—–

‘Are you away from that place now?’

:——

He puts down the mobile, everyone starts asking him, ‘Where?, what happened? Who is the target? How many dead? Are they ok, your brothers?’

‘They are ok’, Mohammed answers. The bombing was near them, targeting a house, leaving 30 persons dead, men, women, children, babies.

As they are all from Nuseirat they start to question whom it could be, the house of whom was bombed. I just sat there listening and watching.

The drone in the sky is never silent, the noise is drilling inside my head. Sound of bombing far away.

Suddenly Abeer took me out of my silence saying:  ‘You were dreaming last night! You don’t know what happened?’

‘What happened?’

‘You really don’t know?’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘You had a nightmare last night’

‘Me???!! Really?’

Note: all the family sleeps on the first floor, me and my mother sleep on the second floor.

‘Yes, you did, you were screaming – mother, mother, oh my God, my mother, – Mohammed and his wife ran up thinking that something happened to your mother, you were asleep and your mother too, they tried to wake you up, but they couldn’t. You stayed asleep.’

‘I really don’t know what you are talking about.’

Anyway, no shame, this is the least that could happen to anyone in our situation.

Sound of bombing, not close but not far

After this story they all start chatting, darkness falls, we light a candle.

Day 9

9:52 pm

On my mattress, alone in the darkness, using the light of my mobile, risking losing the battery,  hoping to finish putting what I have in my head on paper, yes, I am now rewriting what I already wrote on paper, as yesterday I succeeded in charging part of the laptop battery at the nearby mosque which has solar panels.

Sitting on the mattress trying to recall what happened during this strange day.

Bombing from time to time, and the awful sound of the drone all the time above my head.

At 10 in the morning, I went to Nuseirat market.

Nuseirat camp is in the middle area of Gaza Strip where I took refuge with my wife and my disabled 83 year old mother after leaving my home in Gaza City looking for unguaranteed safety at my wife’s family’s home.

The camp has one main street cutting through the middle from Salahaddeen Road to the sea road.

The main market located in the middle of this street is about 200 meters in length, on both sides are stores, supermarkets, groceries, vegetable sellers, meat, chicken, home needs, clothes stores, second hand items, everything is in this market.

Nuseirat camp has 35,000 inhabitants. Suddenly, within two days it received more than 100,000 people who ran away from the north and Gaza City seeking refuge and safety. The majority took refuge in the 13 schools of the camp, with nothing, absolutely nothing but what they were able to bring with them. No means of life, no food, no water, no beds, blankets, mattresses, carpets, nothing. Hoping that UNRWA and International Non-governmental Organisations would supply them with basic needs.

I know Nuseirat camp, it’s always busy. It only consists of this street that is 200 meters long and 20 meters wide.

Arriving at the market at 10:20 am. It’s only 5 minutes drive from the home of my father-in-law.

What I saw? This is not the market I know! Thousands and thousands of people everywhere, men, women, boys, girls, old people, mothers carrying their children, all ages. Moving back and forth, left and right, going in and out of the stores on both sides of the street trying to buy some bread or basic items.

Looking at the people’s faces, there is something wrong, not normal, the faces are very gloomy, men with their heads down, you feel immediately that they are broken, weak, defeated, unable to provide safety for their children, the first thing that fathers should be able to provide for their families, they’ve lost it. You walk between the people and you feel the fear, the panic, the despair, you feel the darkness they move through, it is daylight –  in the morning, and it feels very dark, darkness that’s turned into something material, something you can touch by hand.

Everybody’s moving fast, you would think they are in a hurry to buy food or essential needs. But with a close look you realize they go fast wanting to hide their feelings of shame and fear, shame that they are not entitled to feel, but they do.  They want to hide their helplessness, their worries, their concerns, their anger and frustration.

It is judgment day.

They left their homes not knowing if ever they will return again, the stories of their fathers and grandfathers, about the displacement and forced migration in 1948 and 1967 is flashing in their heads.  Palestinians lost their homes, their lands, and many lost their lives in that genocide. They are so panicked that it is a new genocide. Is this our destiny as Palestinians? Every once in a while, we should go through a new genocide???

Trying to focus. Why did I come to the market? Yes, I need to buy some bread and food. At the bakery a line of more than 100 people, it will take hours to get some bread. I asked my brother in law to get in the queue and I go to the supermarket to buy the other needs.

Sound of nearby bombing, very loud. Every single person in the market frozen including me for a single moment, as if some one put us on freeze by a remote control, and then took it off again. People continue doing what they were doing, no one stops to know where the bombing is, as every 5 minutes there is a bombing. Hundreds of bombings every day, everywhere, stories of houses destroyed on the top of their inhabitants.

We are cut off from the world, no internet, no radios, no TV, no news. We are the news, but we don’t know about ourselves, we only have mobiles that connect with difficulty after several attempts.  No one can catch up with what is happening.

While collecting what I need in the supermarket, the mobile rang, it is my wife Abeer, she shouts:

‘Come back now, Salma our daughter had a panic attack, she is weeping without control.’

Salma our sole daughter is in Lebanon.

I drove back fast, took my brother-in-law without getting any bread,

On the way home we saw an ambulance and some people gathering near a destroyed home, adjacent to the cemetery which is located between our home and the market 300 meters from each.

Two covered bodies lay on the side of the road, and paramedics were carrying another body bringing it beside the other two.

We arrived:

‘What happen?’  I asked.

Abeer answered: Salma heard on the news in Lebanon that a bombing took place at a home near the cemetery, she knows that our home is not far away, she panicked, she thought that we might have got hurt.

I called Salma. After at least 13 times trying to call and the call collapsing, Salma finally answered.

‘My beloved daughter, we are safe, it was away from us.’

It took me 5 minutes to calm her down.

Me and Abeer are in Nuseirat, the cemetery was 300 meters away from her and 300 meters from me, yet we did not know what happened. My daughter, 270 kilometers  away in Lebanon, got the news about us before we did. They keep us in the dark.

Well, enough for tonight, my mobile battery is running out and the pain in my back is not bearable any more.

Don’t know what Day

I don’t know which day it is in this damn war

Sitting at the desk of the UNRWA clinic in Nuseirat

My wife decided yesterday that she can’t stay doing nothing, she is working for Humanity and Inclusion. They have a stock of assistive devices, medical supplies, wheel-chairs and similar things.

She contacted her colleague, Osama; he was already in the field looking for any extra hands to help.

We went to the UNRWA schools where displaced people took refuge.

We visited four schools to count how many disabled persons, pregnant women, old sick people, lactating babies, and the injured are in need of medical supplies.

The crowds in the schools were hell, more than 4000 people in each school.

The schools consist of 22 classrooms, 2 administration rooms and 12 bathrooms, with a front yard of about 120 meters squared.

Inside the rooms, women and children were squeezed in

Men are all in the front yard, no one can imagine how they manage, if they manage?!!

No water supply, skin diseases start to spread like a pandemic.

We met the volunteers and those responsible for the shelter to get the information about the people in need and what types of need.  Hundreds gathered and surrounded us hoping that we can help to bring food or any other basic needs. Crowd, noise, 5000 people talk, scream, fight, argue at the same time in a very limited space, children crying, the smell is unbearable.

In 3 hours, we gathered the needed information.

278 disabled persons,

301 pregnant women

167 lactating babies

77 injured in need of medical supplies

198 old men and women in need of assistive devices, wheel-chairs, crutches and so on

Back to the UNRWA clinic were Abeer’s colleague coordinated bringing all the stock from Deir Al Balah to Nuseirat.

Abeer started the crosscheck with the UNRWA team to avoid duplication in the distribution.

Osama arrived with a big truck full of materials, we needed to bring it down into the store of the clinic. It was me, Osama, Abeer, two female volunteers and two male UNRWA staff.

Two hours to download the truck, we were all exhausted, it is late, darkness is in less than 45 minutes, absolutely dangerous to move at dark, we were really afraid, we decide to postpone the distribution for tomorrow.

It is tomorrow when I am writing this. Osama arrived with a new truck needing to be unloaded. There is enough people to help, it is 11 in the morning.

In the market again

Thursday 19th October 2023

At 9am moving toward the UNWRA clinic with my wife to co-ordinate and distribute the available assistive devices, dignity kits for women, crutches, and wheelchairs for the people we identified yesterday in the four shelter-schools.

Arriving at the market, no day is like any other day, each day is different.

In the market there is a huge crowd.  The people are the same, gloomy faces, heads down.  Some changes have happened.  People are not in a hurry anymore.  People are walking like zombies.  People are walking as if with no purpose.

While walking like all the others, a man bumped into me.  My reading glasses, which I hang at my chest, attached to my shirt, fall on the ground and break.  The man continues walking without saying anything, not even looking back to see who he bumped into.

My plan was to arrive at the UNWRA clinic, leave Abeer there and go to get some shopping. Now a new item on the list, reading glasses.  How can I read or write without them?

Anyway another item to buy today beside bread and vegetables, maybe a chicken if I find one.  No fruit in the market of any kind at all.

On Tuesday at 4.30am the Israeli air force struck one of the only two bakeries in the camp.  Nine people killed in the bombing, the workers there were working and preparing as much bread as possible.

The line waiting at the bakery has doubled. There were a few hundred people, 50 metres along the side of the street.  Now the people in the line are countless.

Forget about bread.  It will take half a day to get enough bread for one day.  You can’t buy the quantity you want – limited quantities allowed so every one can get some.

What to do?  I will buy bread flour and cook at home.  But how?  The same way our grandparents used to do 80 years ago in our homeland in Almajdal  (which has now become an Israeli city called Ashkelon).  On a fire!

Luckily my in laws are living in a semi-rural area.  We can find wood for a fire.  Don’t know how long it will last, but let’s plan day by day.

Went to all the supermarkets and grocery stores looking for bread flour.  There is none. Nil.  Nothing.

A few hours passed and I see a man carrying a bag of 30 kilos of bread flour.  I ask him where he got it.

‘Albaba Supermarket!’

‘Where’s that?’

‘In Bureij Camp!’

Bureij Camp is also in the middle area of the Gaza Strip.  It is on the east side of Salahaddeen street while Nuseirat is on the west side, adjacent to the sea.

What a dilemma?!!  Going towards and along Salahaddeen road is not safe at all.  But there’s no choice.  I drove directly to Bureij.  The supermarket was in the middle of the camp.  Luckily there was still bread flour.  I bought 30 kilos.  The man refuses to sell me more, saying that other people also need it –  ‘I have my own customers and I don’t want to let them down if they come to buy’  Fair enough!

Back to the UNWRA clinic.  Abeer and her sister, who decided to volunteer with her, and some other colleagues were there after a long day in the shelters.  They were tired, exhausted, it was obvious.

I asked, did you eat or drink anything?

They said no.

I went to the nearby grocery and bought some juice and biscuits.  I was very hungry and thirsty as well.  While walking back I took out a biscuit and started to eat it when I saw a chid sitting on the pavement looking at me.  He looked poor with unclean clothes, barefoot.  I took a biscuit and offered it to him.  He didn’t want to take it at the beginning but I insisted and he took it.

I decide never to do it again.  I mean never to eat biscuit in the street.

20th October 2023

I’m walking towards the market.  Abeer’s cousin lives there and has internet access.

Walking – no fuel anymore in my car, and, of course, no fuel at all in the gas stations

as quantities entering Gaza from Israel (like all the goods from Israel) are limited and never enough for more than just one week.  It’s part of the blockade and collective punishment against Gaza.

Walking and trying to find any vehicle to give us a ride.

After 10 minutes walking, a big van stopped and took us with him.  He was a

gentle man.  In the van there was a woman sitting in the back seat, she was also being provided a ride by the van owner.

About 100 metres from the market, near a shelter-school in a narrow side street leading to the main road where the market is – a big explosion behind us.  A huge black smoke cloud rises to the sky.  The van trembles, dust fills the car.  The driver stops,  many people start to run out of the school,  As we leave the car, another big explosion in front of us, much closer, same wave of smoke and fire, people screaming, shouting, crying, running…I don’t know where to go, confused…

Shall I go back? Shall I continue? Maybe the market would be safer, as thousands of people are in the street there.  Safety??!!!!

Immediately another explosion to the west side, and much closer to us, rubble above us, many people fall on the ground, some people injured by the flying rubble.  I was beside the wall of the school.  I could not breathe.  Nizar, Abeer’s cousin, is selling tomato and onion in the market, could not think,  ran like hell toward where he is located, absolutely stupid move, absolutely not rational. Who is rational in this mad war?  Who is rational in this slaughter house, yes, it is a slaughter house.  The Israeli butchers are using every single minute to slaughter like sheep as many Palestinians as possible, before the world wakes up.

The bombing was on a side street off the main market street, rubble, sand, mud, broken glass everywhere.  The dust cloud was still in the sky, making the noon-time light look like sunset,  yes, it is a sunset, no light in our life.

Arriving at Nizar’s spot, all his merchandise full of dust and sand, Nizar as well.  He is OK,  he has a small cut on his hand,  never mind,  he is alive.

I thought to call Abeer, so she won’t worry for us.  She was OK,  She didn’t think these bombings were near us.  We hear bombing every minute.  We have no access to news, we can’t know what is happening or where the bombing is taking place,  there is no way. That’s why Abeer heard the bombing and continued whatever she was doing, as usual.

I decided not to tell her what happened.  And went back home walking.

Walking is not the same as driving.  While driving I see on both sides of the road

destroyed houses, many destroyed houses and, every day, newly destroyed houses.

While walking it’s different,  I see these houses much more closely, I see more details than I can see while driving,  I see how  buildings of 3 or 4 floors are crushed on top each other, ceilings attached to the ceilings below, with people’s furniture and belongings spread over the street,  some houses are cut in half,  Could see half a bed, part of a kitchen, a bathroom with private clothes all around, books, school bags torn and full of dust.

The majority of these houses were bombed full of residents, many were brought out dead,  maybe many still are dead under the rubble as there are no machines to remove it and reveal what is beneath.  What a destiny, what a way to leave this unjust world!

Finally at home after 25 minutes walking,  did not buy anything today from the market,  we will manage with what we have at home for today.

Ending this episode with some good news from my daughter, Salma, in Lebanon, where she is studying for her Masters degree,  the university granted her a full tuition scholarship.

Friends

I called a friend today.  He moved from Gaza City to Rafah with his family.  Rafah is the last place in the Gaza Strip before you get to the border with Egypt.

‘How are you?’

‘I am ok’

‘The family?’

‘We are all ok’.

‘Where are you?’

‘At a school in Tel Elsultan in Rafah’.

‘Why in a school?  I can find you an apartment.  A friend of mine in Rafah offered to receive me and my family there.  He will gladly receive you.’

‘No. No thanks, I am good here.’

‘What are you talking about?  I know how people in the schools are.’

‘Don’t worry.  I’m fine here.  Many friends have offered me apartments but I’m staying here in the school.’

‘OK, my friend, as you wish. Be safe’.

End of call.

What a stubborn man!  He refuses help.  One day his pride will kill him!

Wait.  Why judge him?  Thousands of homes were bombed without warning.  Maybe he was afraid to go to a home that he doesn’t know.  Maybe he believed it’s more safe in the shelter-school.

These schools were designated as shelters in an emergency by UNRWA and the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office in coordination with the Israelis years ago after the 2014 war.  They should be protected.

Yet, in Khan Younis, three days ago a bombing took place at the gate of one of these shelter-schools and five people were killed, twenty two people injured. Five days ago another shelters-school in Maghazi Camp was bombed and three were killed.

Anyway, each person is trying to survive in the way they think is best for them.

I called another friend, Majed, who has also moved from North Gaza to Khan Younis to another shelter-school.

‘How are you?’

‘I am good!’

‘How is the situation in the school?’

‘I am no longer there.  I came back to my home in Gaza.’

‘What?! But it’s very dangerous.’

‘Whatever.  It’s much better than staying in that school.  4000 people in a very limited space, women and children are squeezed inside 22 rooms.  Men are on the ground in the front yard of the school, queues waiting to use the very dirty bathroom, no water, no food, no electricity, no light at night, no privacy, lots of tension, people fight and argue over anything.  I can’t tolerate this life.  Here I am at my home and I’m not going anywhere. If I survive, I survive.  If I die let it be with some dignity.’

I could say nothing but:

‘Be well, my friend, stay safe, hope to see you soon’.

He was outraged when he was speaking, I can understand.

Another friend, Jaber, he went to Egypt two days before the war.  He couldn’t come back as the border with Egypt is closed.

His extended family moved from east Khan Younis to take refuge at his home in Gaza on the second day of the war.  A small apartment with 32 people: old mothers, women, young people and little children.

The third day there was a bombing of a home, on the other side of the 20 meter wide street from his home, while his family were inside.  The whole front of the house was completely destroyed. Like a miracle, not one of his family was dead or injured.  I am unable to realise or imagine what he would feel or think.  Can any of you?

21st  October 2023

3.55 pm

Sitting in the street beside the front door of a neighbour’s who has solar panels. Since arriving in Nuseirat ten days ago I come to this neighbour bringing my laptop, my mobile and a power bank to charge them. He is a very gentle and nice man. In his front yard at his home, he’s installed several electricity cables and connections, on the ground you see many phones, small batteries, power banks connected to be charged, all the neighbours in the area bring their devices to be charged every day.

He receives people from 8 in the morning until sunset, three of his sons are serving people, receiving every one, helping as much as they can, very polite. What a wonderful solidarity.

I took my laptop, fully charged, and put my mobile on charge instead. I decide to wait half an hour instead of going home and coming back later. While sitting outside his door on the pavement, I wrote this.

 

Buddy

My dog, Buddy, he is a small white lovely dog, most of the time playing and jumping around, barking with his soft voice, running after street cats if they dare to enter the home. He is a courageous dog. But not when there is bombing, he has no courage, not at all, he’s not a coward, but he is afraid of the bombing, who isn’t??

He is always able to hear the bombing moments before us, he runs toward me or Abeer and hides behind us, and if we lay on the bed at night he jumps over our heads and rounds his body around my head or Abeer’s head and starts trembling and breathing fast as if he had been running for hours. Nothing can calm him, his body becomes very tense, it’s not easy to move him away from my head. I feel helpless, don’t know what to do to release his fear.

Buddy, like hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza who are afraid, panicked, unable to express their feelings, no one is able to help them or release their fear. Their parents are also helpless. as they also feel afraid and panicked. Is there any end soon for this nightmare????

 

22nd October 2023

After a terrifying and dreadful night of bombardment and explosions all around us, never knowing where or when they could hit us, I had to focus on my mother.

My 83 year old bedridden mother has a 12 centimeter tear inside her stomach. She takes Nexium granules twice a day before eating, to protect her stomach from itself. It doesn’t always work. Once every 2-3 months she starts to have severe pain and vomiting, continuous, painful. When it happens she stops eating anything, she stops drinking anything, even water,  because anything that enters her stomach is immediately thrown out with pain. Sometimes it stops by itself in two to three days, sometimes it gets worse when her oesophagus herniates due to the vomiting and starts to bleed inside her stomach, then she vomits dark brown liquid, this is internal bleeding. This is a red light to take her to hospital. From experience I know the process, they give her Nexium powder mixed with saline into her vein.

She must go to the hospital!

What hospital? Which one? One of those which have been completely destroyed? One of those which are receiving hundreds of injured all the time? Who is going to have time for an old lady with a stomach problem while there are hundreds in need of life-saving interventions?

I decided to go to the market and UNRWA Primary Health Care Unit to look for the items I need in order to do the procedure here at home. Powdered Nexium, saline, cannula, syringe, alcohol and dressing.

Walking from home to the market, traces of last night’s bombing on both sides of the street, houses and buildings completely damaged, destroyed, above the heads of residents. No prior warning. Absolute massacre.

Passing by an olive orchard, poor olives, it is the cultivating season, no one will cultivate the olives this year, olives will fall on the ground, dry and rotten, olive trees will dry and all the branches will fall and be scattered by the autumn wind, birds and doves will not find olive branches to build their nests for future generations.

Bombing very nearby, behind the olive orchard. Felt the bombing, the sound is very loud, a wave of hot wind passes over my body, moves me from my place. I stop and get close to the fence of the orchard. After a few minutes I hear screaming, people crying and shouting. I move fast, past the orchard and on the right side of a narrow street. At the end of the street, a house bombed, people pulling out bodies form under the rubble, a small car passes by me very fast, the driver is hooting the horn of the car, passing by me I saw, for a single moment a woman in the back seat holding an injured child, a girl maybe 7 or 9 years old, it was very fast, could not know what type of injury or the exact age of the girl. But I saw blood and dust all over her body.

It is too much, I’ve had enough, I can’t continue anymore, 55 years full of violence, blood, death, agony displacement, poverty, sadness. helplessness, despair, I can’t take it anymore, I have no days left in me for such a situation, no more, I want to give up, I mean it, I am really ready to leave.

In times like these days, in war times like these, in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022, 2023, when my daughter Salma said she couldn’t take it any more I told her to listen to the Peter Gabriel song, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up because you know you can’.

Peter Gabriel helped me a lot before, he doesn’t help me now, sorry Peter, I can’t handle it any more.

There is my mother, there is my daughter, there are my sisters and brothers who all believe I can, who all believe I should be there for them.

I continue walking toward the market, could not stop my tears, I wanted to shout, to scream, to curse. I wanted a hug, I really need a hug.

Arriving at the UNRWA Primary Health Care Unit where I am volunteering with Humanity and Inclusion, I saw a doctor, I approached him explaining my mother’s situation and needs.

‘Sorry, there is no Nexium in the pharmacy, no cannulas. It’s all been distributed to the shelters for caring for the injured who were prematurely discharged from hospital to free up places for the more recently injured. But I can get you the saline.

War crimes and other extra information

Hossam in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, south of Gaza City

Every day, every night, bombing, striking, shelling does not stop, sometimes heavy and continuous, sometimes with a break, each day we say to ourselves: ‘This is the worst day since the war started on Gaza’ Another day comes to tell us: ‘You did not see the worst yet!’

Yes, yesterday, bombing and mainly shelling from land and sea starting around noon, with no stop until today 7 am. Bombing that shakes the air, shakes the walls, shakes the trees and shakes our hearts and minds.

23 days and we are still counting: dead, injured, destruction, agony, humiliation, starvation, disease. 23 days and every day we lose part of our hope, part of our strength, part of our humanity.

Hamas killed civilians. A war crime. They must be brought to accountability at the International Court of Justice. Based on International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law.

Can we talk about the other side?

20 years ago, Israel released secret documents from 1948 and before. They admit, they confess that they committed massacres against Palestinians in many villages, killing in cold blood hundreds of innocent people including men, women and children, in Tantora, in Deir Yaseen, in Kafr Qasem, and in many other villages. Besides these documents, many of their former soldiers went on the media and confessed that they participated in killing civilians, raping women and killing them. Some spoke with regret and some spoke with pride for what they did. These are crimes against humanity based on the same International Human Rights law and International Humanitarian Law. Are they going to be brought to justice?

Israelis dismissed Palestinians from their lands, dispossessed them, cleansing all cities and villages, clear and obvious genocide. Destroying 800 villages, creating a catastrophe for a whole nation. Forcing them to be refugees in many countries all over the world, but mainly in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.    

For many years Israel kept chasing the Nazi criminals who escaped and hid after World War 2 and brought them to justice. That is great; that makes me happy. Criminals must be brought to justice. All criminals, without differentiation, without exceptions.   

Are those Israeli criminals from 1948 and before – those who admit and confess – going to be brought to justice? They already admitted, they confessed!

Now Israel has declared a war against Hamas; all the western countries are supporting them.

Let’s have a look at this war:

302 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between 6pm on 28th October and noon on 29th October. This brings the cumulative reported fatality toll in Gaza since the start of the assault to 8,005, of whom 67 per cent are children and women.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Israel destroyed and damaged 55% of the Gaza Strip housing units around 200,000 housing units destroyed or damaged, including the destruction of the water, sewage, electricity and phone infrastructure, forcing 2.1 million people to squeeze into a place where 1 million already live.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

On 28th and 29th October, the neighbourhoods of Al Shifa and Al Quds hospitals in Gaza City and of the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza have been reportedly bombarded, causing damage. Thousands of patients and medical staff, as well as about 117,000 Internally Displaced Persons  are staying in these facilities.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

As of 29th October, more than 1.4 million people in Gaza out of 2.1 million were internally displaced, with some 671,000 sheltering in 150 UNRWA facilities. The average number of Internally Displaced Persons per shelter is over three times their intended capacity.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Israel prevents entry of any kind of fuel and has cut the water supply and electricity for 2.1 million residents in Gaza Strip.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

The telecommunications shutdown by the Israelis has brought the already challenging delivery of humanitarian assistance to a complete halt, and is depriving people of life-saving information. As noted on 28th October by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk:

‘The bombing of the telecommunications infrastructure places the civilian population in grave danger. Ambulances and civil defence teams are no longer able to locate the injured, or the thousands of people estimated to be still under the rubble. Civilians are no longer able to receive updated information on where they can access humanitarian relief and where they may be in less danger.’ What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Over 40 per cent of Gaza’s education facilities have been hit since the assault on Gaza started, including 38 schools destroyed and/or severely damaged, 75 of which have sustained moderate damage and another 108 with minor damage.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Israel is preventing all food, aid, medical or any other supplies from getting to the 2.1 million residents of the Gaza Strip. The normal daily truckloads of goods entering Gaza are 450 – 500 truckloads per day of all kinds of vital materials. Only 81 trucks with some food and medical supplies have been allowed in over the last 23 days.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

No one can leave or enter Gaza, in clear violation of the human right to free movement.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Cutting the electricity made many sewage pump stations stop operating and sewage is leaking in the streets everywhere, causing the danger of water borne diseases.

What has this to do with fighting Hamas?

Cleansing Gaza City and the northern villages and camps by forcing all the residents to flee their homes in clear violation of International Humanitarian Law; for more than 30 years I have been working in the humanitarian field with Save The Children International, Action Against Hunger and many other organisations. My wife also, who worked at the International Committee of the Red Cross, Humanity and Inclusion and many other international humanitarian organisations, we studied International Humanitarian Law. We believed in it, we learned that these laws should provide justice and the prevention of any harm to civilians and innocent people. Especially in war time.

Our daughter is following in our footsteps. She studied Law at university and now she is abroad studying for a Masters Degree in Human Rights and Democracy.

Why should only we abide and adhere to International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law? Why not the others: the strong, the ones who kill, the ones who have the ability to prevent civilians and innocent people from accessing basic needs? Just because they can? Why?

Another day

Hossam in Gaza

Like any other day, I went to the market. It is no longer the market I know, more than half of the stores, the buildings on both sides of the street, were destroyed and damaged. The street is very black, full of dust and rubble, broken glass, bits of doors and windows, electricity and phone cables spread out along the road, fallen from the poles. Dirty water mixed with sewage, as the infrastructure was hit and many underground pipes were damaged. Piles of garbage everywhere, no garbage collection, no municipal staff to repair the damaged water and sewage pipes.

Passing by the bakery, no-one is waiting in line, people are in one big crowd shouting at each other, fighting over the line order. Some men and women are fighting, beating each other with their hands, other people try to calm down the crowd with no success, the bakery owner closes the bakery door. It’s made people even more angry.

Passing by a school, another fight and more shouting, people have lost their tempers, people get angry for any small reason, or even for no reason. Who can blame them? No water, no food, no bathrooms, no privacy, no dignity, no hope. Just despair and fear.

Continued walking down toward Salahaddeen Street, with no purpose.

Some men were carrying bread flour bags of 35 kilos each, I asked one of them where he had bought his from.

‘There is a flour mill on street 20’

‘Can I still find some there? Or maybe it’s finished?’

‘I believe you can find some’.

Here I am now, walking with a purpose. For the last 3 days we have no cooking gas, we have started to cook our food and bread on a fire.

Remembered a colleague living on street 20, I call him saying that I am nearby. He tells me to continue on to his place and that he will catch up with me in 15 minutes, as he is now in the supermarket.

Passed by the mill and bought the bread flour. I carried it approximately 70 metres to his home. His father, who knows me, was very kind, he was very welcoming and provided me with coffee and biscuits. He brought out some plastic chairs and we sat in front of his home. We chatted, mainly about the war, and the struggle people have to secure the minimum basic needs. We talked about the people we both know who have been killed, or injured, or have lost a sibling or a home.

15 minutes later, when my colleague arrived, he looked terrified, full of dust and sand. He had just left the supermarket when it was bombed by an Israeli airstrike. He survived but he saw many people around him that were dead or injured. He could not stop, fearing another bombing could take place. It’s happened many times before, people running toward injured people to help and there is another strike at the same spot killing and injuring more people.

15 minutes until he was calm again and able to speak and breathe normally. I felt I must leave. I asked them if I could leave the bread flour at their place until I find a way to bring it to my father-in-law’s home. The distance is more than 3 kilometres; I don’t believe I can do it carrying 35 kilos.

Abeer and her sister were waiting for me at the home of her cousin, who is living in the middle of the camp near the main market. She had just finished her work at the shelter-school, she’d changed the dirty bandages of injured people, she’d helped a mother giving birth and distributed some assistive devices. Her cousin is hosting two displaced families of friends and colleagues from his work at the Gaza power plant. As I arrived at his home, there was shouting and screaming. The two families were fighting inside over a clash between their children.

Abeer and her sister came out and we walked home.

Arriving home, my mother had been calling for me many times. She wanted to go to the bathroom. No-one there could carry her from bed to bathroom. She could not hold it in, she did it in the bed. I was very frustrated. I took her to the bathroom, cleaned her with cold water. She cursed me, she shouted at me, she did not know that warm water is a luxury we can’t provide now. I was really angry but held myself and did not react. I finished washing her, put on her clean clothes, brought her to bed, brought her some food and gave her her medication. Back to the bathroom, washing her clothes, no electricity, no washing machine, so washing by hand in a plastic jerry can. Filling water from the barrel on the first floor, bringing it up to the second floor several times.

While sitting on the ground washing her clothes trying to control my anger and frustration, I remembered my childhood. There was no electricity in town when I was a child, for sure there were no washing machines. We were 5 brothers and 4 sisters and my father and my mother.

My mother at that time was doing all the washing for all the family, not only the washing, the cooking, the cleaning, the hugging and much more. I felt so bad, but not angry anymore, not frustrated anymore. Just exhausted.

Think of a title if you can

Hossam in Gaza

October 28th 2023  8:30 am,

We woke up realising that the cellular mobiles are without signal. We usually call Salma in Lebanon first thing in the morning. She will get very worried if we don’t call her. I decided to go to the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency aka UNWRA Primary Health Care Unit in the middle of Nuseirat Camp market. There I can find internet to contact her via WhatsApp.

Walking with my laptop bag on my back, 2:25 km from home to the clinic.

Destruction on both sides of the street. Every day I go to the market using this road and every day new homes are destroyed or damaged; many of these homes were bombed over the residents, many bodies brought out, many corpses still under the rubble. More than 2000 people are missing including 830 children; they are all under rubble, there’s no machinery to remove the rubble.  After 15 minutes walking, there was a donkey pulling a wooden cart and a man sitting riding, I asked if I could join him, he welcomed me. I thought to myself I will take a photo riding the donkey. I did. I thought maybe I should take some photos of the street. I did.  Then I took a selfie. I looked at my photo. I look good. Maybe I need a haircut, but I look good. Despite everything and anything, I look good. I felt good. I thought to myself, hey, I am still alive, my family as well. I will not give up. The market as usual full of people, but obviously not full of life, I ignored this idea, I am alive.

Arriving at the clinic, no internet, no phones, no mobiles, the Israelis cut them all. My God, my daughter?!!! She will know from the news that we can’t, she can’t reach us. ’My heart is with you my baby, I think of you, I wish my thoughts of you will reach you, and assure you that we love you and we are still alive.’ A sole daughter overseas has no one in the world but her parents. Salma.

I left my laptop at the clinic to be charged and went back to the market; goods are getting less in the market, what you can find today you may not find tomorrow, prices are getting higher and higher. I have with me a list of purchases I should make, some items I could not find any more: candles, lentils, and bread flower. Each store I ask they say don’t bother searching, there aren’t any, no goods of any kind entering Gaza for 21 days. I bought more quantities of rice and cooking oil, cans of beans and cans of meat for my dog, Buddy.

Went to the bank, I mean the cash machine, banks are not operating since October 7th. The machine is closed. Still have some cash at home, it will cover our needs for a few days more, I will try the cash machine another day.

I wasn’t far from my colleague’s home where I’d left the bread flour a few days ago. I continued walking, arrived and his uncle, who is an old friend, was there, sitting outside; he’d taken refuge at his brother’s home after his apartment was destroyed, when they bombed the building where he lives in Gaza.

It was a pleasant surprise to see him safe and sound with all of his family. They left one day before the bombing of the building, he said

‘Do you know what happened to Nael?’ He asked

‘No, what?’

‘On the 18th, he was still at home, when very heavy bombing took place in his neighbourhood. They decided to leave although it was dark. They jumped into the car with nothing, drove until Al Shifa Hospital to take temporary shelter till daylight.  As they arrived, they realized that his older son was not there. His 23 year old son wasn’t in the car, he was left behind. They got hysterical; no way to go back, an absolute suicide. They start calling the son, the mobile was ringing, but no answer. Dark and bad thoughts filled their heads, the mother fainted, the father started to call everyone to say ‘I lost my son, I forgot my son at home’. Several friends, including me, kept calling. The mobile was ringing but no answer.  This is a very bad sign. It means something happened to him. Hours seemed like an age until daylight. The father drove back home, the home was still standing, he entered the home calling loudly the name of his son. Finally he heard his son answering with a very weak voice: ‘I am here’. He moved toward the voice. His son was rounding his body, making himself as small as possible, under the stairs leading to the second floor. His mobile was 2 meters away from him. He was in shock, such complete fear that he could not crawl to get the mobile and answer. With no words, he took his son, left and drove to Al Shifa hospital, got the rest of the family and drove to Rafah’.

I had my hair cut in the evening.

Salma Madhoun in Beirut

After 30 hours

Hossam’s daughter, Salma, in Beirut: message to Jonathan Chadwick in London

Yesterday night, after 30 hours of not hearing from my parents, I found my father’s documentation of this Gaza War while surfing social media for any glimpse of hope to hold on to. I requested him to send me these documents from the beginning of the war, he didn’t because he didn’t want me to read about their misery and suffering. But, I found them by coincidence, when a foreign family friend uploaded them so people might understand what is going on in Gaza.

Maybe hundreds of others have seen my father’s documents, but it felt like I was the only one who did; the only one who has been enduring the pain with them. I’m the only one who feels and understands them; I’m the only one who might wish to be in their shoes while they are in mine, to be the one in danger while they are safe.

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.

Message from Shouq Alnajjar in Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip

Note:  Shouq is working with Az Theatre and Theatre for Everybody on the next phase of our collaboration – AUGUST 9th PROJECT – engaging with young talent in Gaza to create a new production reflecting the concerns of young people and old! The title is the date the Al Mishal Cultural Centre was destroyed by aerial bombardment in 2018. Jonathan Chadwick is Director of Az Theatre in London.

Dear Jonathan,

I apologize again for missing your calls. I wrote something, I will share it with you now.

I don’t know where to start. We have been stuck in this nightmare for 26 days now.

Around three weeks ago, the airstrikes devastated our neighbourhood in Gaza city, and like many others, we had to flee, leaving our house. My husband and I started our married life a year ago in that house which now lies in ruins. We could only take essential documents, leaving behind the memories and meaningful gifts that made our house a home. It was heartbreaking to leave everything behind just like that. But shedding tears over this loss seems small compared to the lives that have been taken; families being wiped out; children losing their lives or becoming orphans.

We’re currently in Khan Younis, staying at my family’s place and sharing a space with over 150 relatives and friends, including at least 30 kids.

Words fail to describe the situation. Daily life is a struggle for essentials, with no running water, electricity, or access to clean water. Local bakeries and stores are overwhelmed, struggling to keep up with the demand for bread and other food supplies.

We are witnessing the unimaginable. Our hearts are broken, souls hurting, and we’re drained, tired, stressed, and frustrated. We barely get any sleep. We’re living in constant fear, and survival feels uncertain. Drones in the air buzzing non-stop like a constant reminder of the danger.

Bombings and airstrikes happen from time to time everywhere. The nights are the scariest and longest as the bombs rain over Gaza continuously. We don’t know when our turn is but we expect to get bombed any minute.

Every bombing sends shivers down our spines, especially the kids who don’t understand why their world has turned into a nightmare. Mums feel helpless, powerless, trying to comfort their little ones. But kids can see the terror in their mothers’ eyes

Around 1.4 million people fled their homes; half of them staying at shelter spaces like UNRWA schools and hospitals, with no access to food, running water, drinking water, medicine, or warm clothes.

No-one and nowhere is safe..

Places that were once a safe haven and a sanctuary for those in need, as recognized by international laws, such as hospitals, schools, mosques and churches are constantly threatened and bombed by the Israeli occupation

How many lives need to be lost for the world to stop and hold Israel responsible for its crimes across decades?!

For those that say they can’t believe this is happening in 2023, I would like to say, do not be surprised because the Israeli occupation has been getting away with breaking endless international laws, committing crimes against humanity and countless massacres.

The suffering of Palestinians extends far beyond the current crisis, reaching back over 75 years of occupation and apartheid. Gaza, in particular, is a stark reminder of this ongoing injustice. The world’s silence on the massacres and genocide happening in Gaza and Palestine is a heartbreaking reminder that, in the eyes of many, the lives lost in Palestine are somehow less significant.

This barbaric Israeli attack is tearing apart our lives, turning my beloved Gaza into ruins and leaving scars that will last a lifetime. Our beloved Gaza is bleeding, and we’re screaming for the world to hear our cries…

Number 4, with zeros and without.

For 2 days I wrote nothing. I don’t know why. Maybe I do! I don’t feel like doing it, it doesn’t help, it doesn’t change anything, waste of time and thinking, exposing myself, my feelings, my pain, my emotions, my privacy, my tears. Why? What for?

Whatever we do, nothing changes; whatever we don’t do, nothing changes.  The killing machine continues chasing us wherever we go, no place to go, no way to escape, just sit and wait for your turn to be slaughtered. Every day we learn about someone we know who was killed in bed, killed walking in the street, killed taking a shower in his bathroom, killed while cooking for her family, killed while playing at home or in the street.

But I know that I am not writing to change something. I am not writing to change anything. I am writing for myself. I am writing because I am still alive. I am writing because it makes me feel alive. I will write, until I close my eyes for the last time, or until I won’t be able to write for some other reason. I will keep writing.

Yesterday, the Israelis bombed a neighbourhood inside Jabalia Camp, a whole block. Block 6. Jabalia Camp, 1 kilometre square, with 115,000 inhabitants, the most densely populated spot on earth. 400 people killed and injured within a blink of an eye, vanished, disappeared, do not exist anymore. 400 people in one shot. Hundreds of injured, no hospital has the capacity to treat them.  More than 40 houses destroyed completely and many people were killed while walking in the streets. It was 4am when they were struck with 6 explosive missiles by the airforce.

400 people of all ages, foetuses in the bellies of their mothers, lactating babies, little children, boys and girls, teenagers and youths, men and women, elderly people and people with disabilities. A whole community. Disappeared. Just like that, because someone in Israel believed that he could do it, so he did it.

I was listening to the news on the radio, live, people shouting, screaming, the reporter is speaking loudly to be heard above the noise and chaos around him, one of the reporters  who lives there, screaming that his family members are among the 400.

My family around me were talking all at the same time about it. I was the only one who said nothing. What can be said in such a situation? What words would express what I feel?

I left the family downstairs and went up to my room and my mattress. I laid down, closed my eyes, tears on my cheeks, and suddenly I am there, in that neighbourhood, just a few minutes before the strike….

I am walking in the narrow streets of the camp, lots of children playing, men, women passing by, going out or coming back. I walk and look at these poor houses, houses that were built 71 years ago by UNRWA for the Palestinian refugees, who were obliged to leave their houses in their homeland, in what is now Israel. Low roofs, no space between the homes, the street is  maximum 4 meters wide, some other streets just big enough for cars to pass through slowly with some effort. Windows are at the eye level of an average man. Easy to hear the chat of people inside their homes, on both sides of the walls laundry ropes are hung with children’s clothes. The streets are sandy, sewage leakage every few meters as there is no sewage infrastructure in the camp. People have dug soak-away wells for the sewage, with time they fill and leak into the streets.

Huge noise coming from the nearby market.

I stopped. I opened the first door. I entered. I was invisible, people inside the home did not see me, did not feel that I was there. It was a front yard. A woman of around 37 years old besides a small gas cooker with a pot on it, she was cooking, it is cabbage in the pot. Nice smile, 3 children around her playing, a 7 year old girl playing with a doll and 2 older boys running after each other and the mother calling for them to be quiet.  On the other side of the front yard, another woman is washing clothes in three buckets, one with soap and the other two with clean water. Another woman is taking the cleaned clothes and hanging them on a laundry rope hung between a window on the right hand side, all the way across the front yard and then attached to the outside of the home.

In the corner of the front yard, a small room. The door is opened, it is an outside toilet, a man of 42 years old comes out asking: ‘How long until we eat?’ ’10 minutes’ the woman answers.  ‘Did you get the medicine for your father?’  she asks. ‘I will get it after lunch, it is not 4 yet’. He moves inside the home. I followed him.

Inside the home, a living room and two small rooms on both sides. In the living room, a line of mattresses right up against each other, an old man lying down, 4 young men in a corner playing cards. The man went out and closed the door. He continued into one of the rooms, inside the room, a cradle with a baby sleeping, the man entered quietly so the baby continued sleeping, he changed his shirt, he put on some deodorant. He moved to the second room, 4 men were asleep, he woke them up, ‘Food will be served in 10 minutes. Get up’. 2 stirred lazily, the other two acted as if they did not hear, the man called again: ‘Get up all of you. It’s 3:55 pm. You can’t keep sleeping’. With a lazy voice, one of the 4 answered: ‘But we only just fell asleep. The bombing and explosions don’t let us sleep. All night, all day, bombing’. He left. The old man in the living room asked him: ‘Did you bring my asthma medicine? I should take it after lunch, not later than 4 o’clock’.  ‘Not yet’ he answered. ‘I’ll go to the pharmacy after lunch, I promise I won’t be later than 4 o’clock, I promise’.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…. 4 pm. Booooom!

Let’s return to 3:45 pm

I left and went into the next home, …

To be continued…

Number 4, with zeros and without. Part 2

Today I received a message from my sister, who took refuge at an UNRWA shelter-school in Deir El Balah Camp in the middle area of Gaza Strip, 10 km from my place, as distant as the Earth from the Moon. No way to reach her without risking my life. She and her 4 sons, a little boy 8 years old, a teenager 15 years old, 2 youths 22 and 21 years old, and her mother-in-law, 82 years old, have not eaten for 2 days. Her little son is sick with stomach pain, no doctors, no primary health care unit, only the hospital which prioritises its services for the hundreds of severely injured. I called one of my colleagues who lives in Deir El Balah; he went and provided her with whatever he could.

I called my brother who has stayed at home in Gaza. He did not leave, he did not want to leave home despite the danger. He told me that he left home 2 days ago and moved to the nearby school. He received an SMS from the Israeli army asking him to evacuate his home because they were going to bomb it. He ran out with his family, his wife, 3 sons of 7, 16 and 17 years old and 2 daughters of 12 and 14 years old. As they were running out, another building not far from them was bombed. A flying stone from the bombing impact hit his little daughter in the leg and broke it. He carried his daughter, brought the family to the school and continued carrying his daughter to the hospital. They treated the girl; they put plaster of paris all over her leg. He decided to return home. He received the warning message two days ago, but he doesn’t want to stay at the school.

Could not say anything, could not advise him anything, what do I know?

Back to my room, and the image of Block 6 in Jabalia Camp does not leave my head, seeing it at all times, trying to forget about it and continue, but no way.

Again, in the camp, Block 6….

 

Past the first home and outside the second home, a man urges his family members to hurry up, asking his sons:

‘The taxi will be here at 4, we need to speed up, did you get everything?

‘Here are the bags of clothes. Here are the mattresses. Here is the food left at home. Here’s your bag with all the important documents and ID’s. What else?’

‘Where are the others?

‘They’re inside.’

‘What are they doing inside?’ (he asks, frustrated)  ‘The taxi will be here in 10 minutes for God’s sake.’

He goes in. Inside the home, his wife is arguing with her daughter-in-law,.

‘I can’t leave these dresses, they were a gift from my mother when I gave birth to my first child’.

‘But there’s no space in the bag’.

‘I don’t care, I’m taking them with me’.

‘And you’ (to her son) ‘Do you really need to take 3 pair of shoes?  There’s no space.’

‘These are not shoes, this is my laptop’

‘Shall we take the cooking gas cylinder? They might not have enough’

‘If there’s space in the taxi, we’ll take it’

Sameer and Fatma, the 11 and 12 year olds, arguing over things they want to take; Sameer wants to take his bicycle and Fatma wants to take her school bag and favourite doll.

The father trying to control himself, speaking quietly but sharply:

‘Is this really what we need to do now? Argue over things to take and not take? Didn’t we agree all that this morning? Are we leaving for good? We’re coming back in a few days, so please stop and all come out now. 3 minutes and the taxi will be here.’

They all go out, the father closes the front door, a next door neighbour comes out and sees all the bags and luggage on the street.

‘What’s up Abu Ahmad? Where are you going?

‘We’re leaving for Rafah, to my brother’s home. The whole family is displaced there; we want to be together. It’s  safer’

‘Are you sure it’s safer in Rafah? They’re  bombing everywhere.’

‘This is what we’ve decided. we’ll all be together, live together or die together, here’s the taxi.’

‘Where?’

‘There it is, at the entrance to the street.

Tick tock, tick tock, 4 pm.….. Boooom.

400 people killed and injured.

Sounds

Hossam in Gaza

Lay down on the mattress, complete darkness but for the slight light of a poor, small candle. Closing my eyes, hoping to fall asleep, it doesn’t work. 2 days and nights, not a single minute of sleep.

It is amazing how human senses become stronger and more sensitive when you lose one, like people who have no eyesight, their hearing becomes sharper. This is what happens to me while closing my eyes.

During the day, lots of noise, lots of sounds, mixed sounds of people, chats, speaking, shouting, bombing, explosions, drones, airforce planes cutting the sky in pieces. All mixed so I can’t and don’t concentrate on any one sound.

In the dark, in the supposedly complete silence, and while laying down with eyes closed, I started to focus more on the sounds surrounding me, the sound of a plastic sheet covering the window which has lost its glass, moving in the night breeze, the breathing and sighs of my mother beside me, my heart beats, the squeak of the field cockroaches, the sound of a bird back late to his nest, or flying out of his nest due to an explosive sound, a little baby crying at the nearby neighbour’s home and his mother cradling him, the swish of branches in the trees, moving slightly, a whoop of an owl coming from the distance, street dogs getting crazy and barking when bombs happen, sounds of some cats fighting.

All those sounds mean life, mean hope, mean tomorrow will come despite anything.

Other sounds are coming, over all other sounds, making all other sounds vanish, occupying the air and the atmosphere, invading the silence to say death is coming. The sound of the military drone, the only similar sound is the electric shaving machine doubled a hundred times, filling the space with its annoying noise that no one can ignore even for a moment. Every live creature is obliged to hear it, at all times. Humans, animals, birds, trees, even stones could crack out of the madness the sound causes. It reminds me only of one thing, the Middle Ages’ slow killing by torture.

The passing military airplanes – F 15 – F 16 – F 32 –  F I don’t know what, cutting the sky like a knife goes through a piece of butter, carrying death wherever they go.

The sound of the artillery shelling, boom. Each shell makes three sounds, the echo of the sound repeated:  boom, boom, boom, starts huge and echos out three times.

The sound of the rocket strikes, very loud, very sharp. If you hear it, then you are alive. It is so fast that if it hits you, you won’t hear it. Anyone in Gaza who hears the rocket, immediately knows that it has hit some other people, leaving death and destruction behind it.  We all know that by experience; we learnt the hard way through several wars against Gaza.

Sitting in the dark, trying to ignore the loud sounds of death and concentrate on the little  life sounds. Not easy, but this is my way to pass the night, hoping to overcome the insomnia for a few hours.

What to write about?

Hossam in Gaza

Four days without writing my diaries during this war. My head is boiling with things I want to write about, but what to start with? 

About my daily efforts to secure drinking water, household water, food, diapers for my bedridden mother, winter clothes (as we left home with light clothes not thinking it would take this long), my mother’s medicine (which, each time I find some, the price is higher)?

About people’s frustration and anger which turn into fighting and disputes; dispute over a piece of bread, dispute over 20cm of space inside the shelter, dispute over a drop of water, dispute over the waiting line for the bathroom, dispute over a word said or a word not said?

About the hospitals which were bombed and shut down due to absence of operational power systems? About the continuous bombing and killing, and the injured who don’t find help? About hospitals running out of all essential medical supplies so that they now do amputations on injured people without any type of anaesthesia?

About scarcity of food and life’s basic needs, leading to real starvation?

About the destruction of homes which increases every single day?

About my daily struggle to find any source of power to charge my laptop and mobile?

About the garbage filling the streets everywhere as the garbage collection is paralysed. About sewage and water leakage in the streets due to the destruction of the weak infrastructure?

About the world which has no mercy for 2 million civilians?

About the psychosocial support activities we’ve started to provide in some shelters?

About my sister who I can’t help. About the rest of my family, my brothers and sisters and their children in Gaza City and the north who I can’t reach even by phone to know if they are dead or still alive?

About the mothers and fathers who are not able to provide milk for their babies, water and food for their children, shelter or any type of safety?

About the education of the new generation which is frozen, and no one can anticipate when and how it will resume?

About my home in Gaza City, the apartment that I worked 40 years for, to save enough money to buy it so I could call it home?

About the kind of life we will have after all of this destruction and damage to entities, facilities, streets, homes, people and souls?

What to write about – where to start?

I will write about Jonathan Chadwick, Jonathan Daitch, Steven Williams, Sami, Mohammed, Rafat, Emad, Baha’a, Philipe Dumoulin,  Marianne Blume, Brigitte Fosder, Ines Abdelrazeq, Lisa Shultz, Heather Bailey, Gerhard, Eli, Peter Van Lo, Zohra, Inas, Jean Luc Bansard, Jan, Kathleen, Redouan, Marko Torjanak, Sanne and many others whose humanity remains, those who give me hope, strength and the ability to continue, with their words, with their support. Those who make me believe there is humanity somewhere in this world, there is hope, life stronger than death. Their words make me able to defeat the darkness.

My dear friends, I love you all, I wish that I will meet you all again.

The valley of death.

An introduction may be needed!

Israeli army obviously determined to empty all the hospitals of Gaza City and the north no matter the cost. 

No matter how many lives lost, 

No matter how many injured people and regular patients won’t receive treatment, 

No matter how many tumour and cancer patients die, 

No matter how many patients in the Intensive Care Units will die, 

No matter how many patients will choke without oxygen, 

No matter how many people in need of urgent surgery will not get it, 

No matter how many premature babies, not completely born yet, won’t see life, as they will suffocate in their incubators – two died already according to the Ministry of Health,

No matter what International Humanitarian Law and the 4th Geneva Convention say,

Israeli army cut the electricity completely from day one of the war, then prevented the entry of any fuel that could operate the electricity of stand-by generators and also bombed all solar panels on the roofs of the hospitals: 

Al Shifa in Gaza City, 

The Indonesian Hospital in the north, 

Kamal Adwan in Beit Lahia,

Al Rantisi, the only children’s cancer hospital in all of the Gaza Strip – three died already, according to the Ministry of Health, 

Al Nasr Hospital in Gaza City, the specialised paediatric hospital. 

The Psychiatric Hospital, the only psychiatric hospital in the Gaza Strip. 

All these hospitals were obliged to stop operating, some were bombed, others damaged.

Al Shifa hospital is the main hospital in Gaza Strip and the biggest. It was a target for the Israeli army from the beginning. They bombed the baby delivery section, they bombed the outdoor clinics, they bombed the main gate several times and, each time, people were killed and injured. They bombed ambulances carrying injured people at the hospital gate. Yesterday they got very close to the hospital, bombing and shooting around it as if a gate of hell opened, bombing and destroying most of the houses and buildings surrounding the hospital.

My eldest brother, 60 years old, with his 2 sons, Mohammed, 23 years and Hisham,15 years old and his sick, blind wife took refuge at Al Shifa Hospital on 12th October 2023. My brother’s wife suffers from kidney failure. She needs hospital treatment 3 times a week; she needs to be connected to a machine through her veins in order to clean her blood. Each time the machine functions as a kidney for 4 hours. As a matter of fact, that’s why they chose to take refuge at Al Shifa Hospital. Many of the 50,000 displaced people inside Al Shifa Hospital are families of sick people with chronic diseases. They’re there so they can get health services more easily. Many of them are families of people injured during the war.

Yesterday, my brother and his family decided to leave. They were certain of being killed if they stayed. They go south, out of Gaza City. My brother, carrying 60 years of agony, poverty, hard work and pain on his shoulders, his son Mohammed pulling the wheelchair with his mother on it, the mother holding a bag of stuff, clothes and some food, on her lap, and Hisham, the young boy, carrying a backpack and a handbag. With the bombing, the shooting, the drone noise, the airforce passing, the sound of the crowd surrounding them, they walk out.

They need to go to the Zeitoun area, a distance of 3 kilometres, in order to reach Salah Al-Deen Road which connects Gaza from north to south. They walk. Streets are empty except for some people also carrying what they can of their belongings, heading toward Salah Al-Deen Road. 

Streets? Destroyed, damaged, big holes, water leakage, sewage leakage.

For 200 meters, for my brother and his family, it was absolutely similar to walking through a mine-field, walking side by side with death. They’d already seen dead bodies along the road.

Passing tanks, soldiers, they continue another 2 km before arriving at an area where there are people, just 1km from Bureij and Nuseirat Camps. They finally found a donkey cart to give them a ride to Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al Balah, 18km from Gaza City.

This was no different from Dante’s Inferno in The Divine Comedy, maybe Dante would be even more inspired if he walked this route.

Mohammed, most of the time and whenever possible, was trying to call me. Mobiles did not work. At 9pm my mobile was ringing, it was Mohammed,

   – ‘Where are you? Are you safe? Could never reach you while you were in Gaza’.

   – ‘We are in Al Aqsa Hospital, with nothing’.

   – ‘Try to manage tonight, I will be there in the morning’.

There is nothing to be done at this time; no movement at dark.

First thing in the morning, I went to Deir Al Balah. It was early. Walked. Walking total today is 11.5 km.

I arrived, people everywhere. The front and back yards of the hospital are full of displaced people, injured people and their families. At the gate of the hospital, they were laying out 3 dead bodies, just arrived from Nuseirat, from a bombing of a house there.

I start to ask people about the new arrivals from Gaza City. There were many. I kept asking and looking until I found them, in a small space of 2 metres square, provided by a family who’d been taking 4 metres square.

Mohammed was not there, he’d gone to get some medicine for his mother. My brother has aged 50 years in these few days and since I last saw him 40 days ago. Hisham was sitting beside his mother, doing nothing, saying nothing, his eye balls do not move, looking to one side, looking at nothing. I tried to talk to him. He did not respond. Hisham, the boy who I love the most, the boy who loves me the most. Hisham, who every time I visit, runs towards me and asks for a hug. Hisham is not responding to me. What happened my boy?

I don’t know if it is the psychological first aid techniques that I learned during my work as a Child Protection Officer, or the power of love, after 15 minutes Hisham looked at me, jumped into my arms and cried, cried as he never did, cried and cried, his body moved and shook in my arms. I did not cry. I hold back my tears, my tears that wanted very much to come out. I hold back so it burns me inside. Cry, baby, cry my son, no shame, cry as much as you want, cry as much as you were afraid, cry until your cries reach the sky or reach a moving heart somewhere in this mad world.

My mother once again

With the tear in her stomach, vomiting happening from time to time, eating nothing for 2-3 days and bleeding in her gastro-intestinal system, the hospital is a must, just to stop the bleeding. Nexium 40mm twice a day in her veins. I bought everything as we did last time, when we asked a neighbour who is a nurse to do the procedure.

The neighbour nurse is not there. She lives in the house next to my father-in-law’s house that was warned it would be bombed. They evacuated.

What can I do? Went out in the street. I don’t know the people; it is not my neighbourhood, I am a stranger here.

I asked people on the street if they know of a nurse nearby. Amazing, at the third house a man said:

  – My wife is a nurse.

I explained to him what we needed. He entered his house and within 5 minutes came out with his wife. We went to our home. She did what needed to be done but my mother’s veins are closed up, they do not absorb the medicine. The nurse said sharply: 

  – She must be taken to hospital!

I’ve kept some fuel, enough for 50km, inside my car for an emergency. Enough to drive us to Rafah. 

This is an emergency. I took my mother to a community hospital in Nuseirat Camp. While driving there the bombing did not stop, as usual, at every minute.

Arrived at the hospital. Outside they have installed a big tent like a field hospital. Some beds inside with some injured people and doctors treating them. Many people moving on all sides, an ambulance arrives, people automatically clear a space for the ambulance. 3 Bodies covered with blankets. Another ambulance arrives, 4 injured; a woman, a young man and 2 children. The young man lost a leg, lots of blood. I did not know what to do. My mother can’t be a priority in this situation. While standing by the entrance, a gentle nurse approached me asking if he could help. I explained my mother’s situation. He said: 

   – Normally we must make a haemoglobin blood test, heart and blood pressure tests, but you see how messy the situation is. I’ll get the Nexium and syringe, inject it with 40mm saline. Come inside.

I went into the first corridor; many people, blood on the floor, a lady is busy cleaning, a bucket of clear water, in 2 minutes it became red, she took it, disappeared for 5 minutes and came back with the bucket refilled with clear water. Some people crying in sorrow, nurses and doctors moving at speed all over the place. The nurse left me, I had been there for 20 minutes when he came back with the cannula, dressing, syringe and the Nexium. He was very good. In 2 minutes he did all that was needed.

My mother slept in her wheelchair. I took her out, lifted her into the car and drove back home.

Night fell. Usually I am a man who likes evenings and night-time, it is my relaxing time, I play cards with my friends, watch favourite movies, lie down lazily on my couch. Now I am unable to like evenings or nights. As darkness falls, life stops, frozen, no movement, no activities, no sounds but the sound of bombing and drones which double in the silence a million times.

My mother woke up with her hallucinations again, her internal fear that I can’t help. She sees people and things, people that provoke her and things that frighten her. She screams out of fear, she sees me doing bad things and she curses me, and I am helpless. The calming pills do not help this time. From 5pm until the following morning at 8.20am she suffers from her hallucinations and I suffer from insomnia and helplessness. I went downstairs to get her breakfast. 10 minutes later, I came up and she was asleep. I did not wake her, she needs to sleep. She needs to rest.

I called Dr Yasser Abu Jamei. He is a psychiatrist and the General Manager of Gaza Mental Health Program. Explained to him my mother’s case, he sent a message with the name of a medicine that I should give her, one pill every evening. I left my mother asleep, or maybe unconscious and went to the UNRWA clinic. No internet, could do nothing, just wrote part of this piece, bought the medicine and went back home. Back at home my mum was still asleep. It is 6.13pm. She is still asleep. The breakfast is still there, untouched. Is this good? Is this bad? Shall I wake her up and give her the medicine? But I am afraid that she’ll wake up with her hallucinations and spend another night of fear and insomnia. Is it ok to let her sleep this much? I don’t know. I will wait. I took some food, my first meal of the day. I washed my body with some water, a shower is an unavailable luxury. It is 8.15pm. She slept 12 hours. 11.25pm, 15 hours! Finally I decided (selfishly) to leave her asleep and see what would happen.

By the way, now I only have fuel in my car for 40km. 

Disabled Words

Hossam in Gaza

23 November 2023

What can words do when you feel they are unable to describe, explain, to express a feeling or an event?

It is almost 10 days now without writing anything. There are many things I want to talk about but words are disabled, words will not reflect what I see, what I feel, what I want to tell about.

Yesterday I was at the clinic waiting for my colleagues, the counsellors, to hand over to them their duties and distribute them to the shelter/schools to provide some psychological support for the children.  One of them was not there.  I asked about him.  Someone told me that something happened: 2 people they host were killed in a bombing.  The person we were talking about, I know his uncle.  His uncle is my friend and I know that he took refuge at their home.  I panicked.  I finished with my colleagues and went there fast to see my friend and find out what has happened.  I arrived.  My friend and my colleague were there sitting outside the house.  Their faces were talking. Their faces said everything.  Their faces told me that something terrible had happened.

My friend told me what happened.  His daughter’s husband and his grandson were killed.  They were taking refuge at the same home but yesterday his daughter’s husband went to see his mother in another home with his extended family.  He took his oldest son, Waseem, a six year old boy.

The home, a building of four floors hosting 37 people was bombed.  They died.  They all died; men, women, boys, girls are dead, all of them.

While he was speaking, his daughter, the one I have known since she was 7 years old was not far away.  She was hanging the clothes of her dead child on the laundry line, as if nothing had happened.  She washed the clothes of her dead son and she put them out to dry in the sun so when he came back he could put them on.

I looked at her and I looked for the words that would explain what she feels, what she thinks.  I did not find the words.  What words can describe this? Damn it, where are the words? Why don’t words help? Words are weak. Words are disabled. Words are crippled.  No words can explain what she feels or thinks.  She lost her husband and her 6 year old son.  The son was found and buried, and the husband was still under the rubble with another 14 out of the 37.

I hate words.  It makes me feel helpless, makes me feel stupid even to think of talking with words about this.

And while we talk they mention Mahmoud, Mahmoud, my friend.  He is the uncle of the husband.  He took refuge at the big family home with his wife and children, his brother and wife and children and their parents.  They were all there.  They all died.

No!  Please, no! Not Mahmoud!  No, he can’t be dead.  I can’t accept this.  Mahmoud did not die.  Mahmoud is alive.  Please tell me he is not dead.  Please.

I met him in Nuseirat market 3 days ago.  We hugged, we talked, we laughed.  You can’t meet Mahmoud and not laugh.  He looks so good, so smart, well-dressed, always with shaved face and shaved head, and a big smile never leaves his face for a single minute.  His beautiful smile fills the air with joy and happiness.  He is the one who makes everybody feel good and relaxed.  Mahmoud’s smile opens all the windows for hope and comfort.  His heart is so big, bigger than the world itself.  He can take all the world in his heart.  He is the one who is always available to help, to support, to solve problems, to be beside people, people that he knows or people that he never met before, he is just available for anyone, as if God created him for others.  He can’t die. Oh God, Mahmoud, my friend.  Why? Why? Why?

After writing this about Mahmoud I feel so bad, very bad.  All these words are nothing.  It tells nothing about my friend.  It makes him small and he is much more.

Words are cursed.  Words are weak.  Words are helpless.  No words can tell what I feel now.  Words won’t say what I want to say about Mahmoud.

 

QUEUE

During the fifty days, there were many queues.

Queues started, then disappeared.  There were queues, and there still are.  New queues started when the truce began.

A queue for bread, the first queue. Thousands of people standing in a queue in front of the bakery to get the permitted amount of bread, barely enough for one day for a family of 5 people. An orderly queue.

But from time to time, there is a selfish person who pushes himself in front of others, so problems arise.  It ends up with him being shoved far away until he takes his proper place in the queue.

These queues disappeared bit by bit.  In Nuseirat, for example, there were four bread bakeries. The Israelis bombed two of them.  So there were bigger queues at the remaining bakeries until there was no more flour in the market and the gas, upon which the baking and dough-making machines depended, was all used up.

What happened in Nuseirat happened in all the cities of the Gaza Strip.

Half the bakeries in the Gaza Strip were bombed and collapsed on the heads of those working all night long, preparing the bread to answer the needs of the people.  And some closed their doors when there was no more flour left in the market.

And so, in a scheduled way, the people were driven towards famine.

 

 

At the doors of the UNWRA Office – a queue to register to receive flour

Queues of hundreds of people to register and obtain a number and appointment to receive flour.  It’s an ongoing daily queue.

Queues at the doors of the supermarket and commercial shops…stampedes and traffic jams.  The queues continued to form at the entrances of the shops until the goods ran out.  Then these queues disappeared.

Queues at the Bank

A daily queue at the ATM to withdraw cash.  Short queues of a few dozen people.  Most people don’t even have cash in the banks.  Only those who are employed and some rich people….Several thousand out of millions of people in the Gaza Strip stand in front of the ATMs. These are daily queues.

Current Queues:

Current queues started with the truce, queues for cooking gas, for solar power and for petrol, delivered in limited amounts to several gas stations.

Hundreds of cars and carts arrive and line up in a queue stretching for a more than a kilometre, hoping to get fuel whose price has leapt up on the black market.

War is ruin, war is destruction, war is death.  War steals from human beings the most important thing that distinguishes them.  War steals their humanity.  This is something that Israel knows.  This is what Israel is doing in Gaza.

Suffocating Traffic Jam

Thousands in the streets of the market.   As far as you can see, there are heads and bodies jamming and closing the way.  Walking between the people in Nuseirat camp which had a population of 35,000 people and now has an extra 150,000, is exhausting and annoying. It seems as if most of them have agreed to meet each other in the market; young men and young women, children, adolescents, boys and girls…

Women, men, children, the elderly with and without walking sticks, some in wheelchairs. Pregnant women, women carrying their nursing babies.  Young men and women bumping into each other, walking up and down…some carry on walking in silence.  The smell of perspiration comes from them. No exaggeration. No-one complains about anyone else.

Including me. Like them, I have no chance to wash everyday.  Water is scarce. 

The market street is itself dirty.  No one clears away the rubbish from the shops.  It piles up day after day, emitting all sorts of smells.  All of them are harmful.  I think many diseases will start to appear. 

People have started to sell the contents of their houses, reckoning that others might need them.  An old mattress, used clothes, worn out shoes…some people are more creative.

Nearby there is a man who sells chickens.  When there is no electricity for him to run the machine that cleans the chickens, he lights a fire on which he puts a big pot of water.  He kills and cleans the chickens by hand and puts them in the boiling water for a few minutes and then plucks the feathers and goes out into the middle of the market. No one minds. No one blames anyone else.  There are no alternatives.

 

Like every day

I wake up at 6am.  My wife’s father, a kind 70 year-old man, wakes up before me.

And the fire has been lit and the pot of tea and a kettle full of warm water are on the fire. Also a pot of water awaits me to place 3 eggs in it so they can continue cooking on the fire. 2 of the eggs are for my mother and one is for my dog, Buddy.

After washing and drinking a cup of cheap Nescafé, which I managed to get from a proper shop before it was emptied, it’s time for my mother.  I change her diaper.  I clear the bits of food which have fallen around her and I prepare an egg for her and a piece of bread, and cup of tea.  Tea is readily available because it is part of the supplies from UNRWA which are sold in the market at reduced prices.

I feed my dog the third egg.  I put on whatever clothes I can reach.  I’m not bothered about what colour, or if my shirt is ironed.  These are concerns we’ve given up on completely after 51 days.

I get ready to go out.  My mother’s prayers follow me. The road is 2.5 kilometres to Nuseirat market from the house in Sawarha, an agricultural area between Nuseirat refugee camp and Al Zuwayda village on the sea.  The house is 600 meters from the sea, more or less.  But these days, it feels like China is nearer than the sea. When Israel launches its rockets towards the West, it points its tanks towards the beach or wherever suits them.  The horizon of the sea is the only horizon available to the people of Gaza.  In narrowed Gaza, there is no horizon only buildings and streets veiling the horizon, and some even veil the sky.

Apprehension

People who have left their houses because of the threats of the Israeli army, steal what they can.  They rip the doors of companies off their hinges and steal whatever they can.

This is happening in Gaza now. And it’s not surprising when you create famine in people who are under siege in a small area and the rule of law disappears.  No accountability, no police.

Survival begins by justifying every action

Fear is now everywhere.

Fear of death from the Israeli bombing, fear of your inability to find shelter, water and food, fear of robbery, or of being injured, or being killed.

The biggest fear is the delayed fear, a fear of what will happen after this war.

The Gaza Strip has been entirely destroyed – every building, from the foundations up, the roads, communications.

More than 200,000 houses were demolished.  The war starts again.  More than a million people have no house to return to.  What kind of life awaits us?  What future awaits our children? What authority will rule in Gaza? An Israeli military occupation? A return of the Hamas government to power?  Will it be the return of the corrupt Palestine Authority?

Or International forces to enjoy our humiliation? When will you have enough of the humiliation of our people by Hamas and the Authority?

When will we have had enough of the humiliation and violence of the occupation?

What are we waiting for from tomorrow?  I mean, what will we wait for, what is left of us, tomorrow?

 

 

Gaza between the sea and the fence

The sea to the west and the fence to the east, and the north and the south.

I walk towards the east, not the west.

The sea is not mine.  I have no horizon.  The road is long and exhausting.  A long section of this dusty road, old-tarmacked road. A part is full of holes and a part is alright. We pass onto a street with a shrine on the wall of the central cemetery of the camp.  Piles of rubbish stretch along the length of the cemetery wall. The road is painful.  The sewage runs in the streets because the foundations of buildings in many areas have been destroyed. There are piles of garbage on both sides of the road.  The foul smells fill your nose and infect the land.

We travel on a broken journey.  We come across holes dug in the road, sewage and garbage. You try to avoid it.  We don’t always succeed.  Sewage sometimes mixes with clean water when the road widens, and sometimes overwhelms it completely. There is no escape from your heels sinking into the shit.  You feel nauseated, sad, angry, but you carry on.

There’s no alternative.  Bombed houses, demolished on both sides of the road.  From them, the smell of gunfire mixed with the smell of concrete, rubble or the smell of a water tank filling with sewage.

The houses were bombed day after day, till bit by bit there was no more room for the cars on the road.  The road was reduced to one lane.

 If it rains, once or twice, the hole left by the demolished house fills and overflows until it divides the road completely.  There has been no replacement, no alternative to what exists.

 

I arrive at the market after a journey of an hour (more or less)

The market.  Market Street which divides the camp from Salahaddin Street in the east all the way to the west and the sea. The market stops there.  Many of the buildings have been bombed: two bakeries, a supermarket, clothes shops, electrical goods shops, a pharmacy, an apothecary.  Between each bombed house and another one, is a house partially or completely destroyed. Most of the shops are closed after 50 days of no goods getting through.  The shops ran out of everything.  They were completely empty.

Another market was shut down, only street vendors walking up and down or people spreading their goods on the ground, or on cardboard boxes or small tables, or on a donkey cart.  The only available goods were four types of vegetables: potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, lemons.  The prices rose daily – day after day. Some of the materials distributed by UNRWA to the displaced in the schools – tinned beans, meat, tuna fish, sugar and rice and lentils, sweet potatoes, a piece of plastic 4 or 5 meters long to cover the roofs dripping rainwater onto the heads of those living in poor houses.  Displaced people eat what they could of the UNRWA food, then spread blankets on the ground in the market so they can sell what they have left or have denied themselves and their children to make the money they need to buy the essentials that UNRWA doesn’t distribute, like winter clothes for their children, sanitary towels for the women, medicines for the sick, cigarettes and coffee for selfish fathers, who prefer cigarettes and a cup of coffee to proper food for their children.

 

There are hundreds of beggars

There are hundreds of beggars, of all ages, boys and girls, women and men. They cling to those they think may be able to spare a bit of money. They ask for money insistently. Hunger drives them. Hunger is humiliating. People are hungry. Before the war 48% of the population was unemployed. Now life has stopped completely, and no-one is working. The businesses, factories, shops, cafés, restaurants are all closed. Even the 40,000 employees who receive their wages from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have not been paid.  Israel cut the budget of the Palestinian Authority by the amount used to pay civilian employees in Gaza.

Israel is strangling us by any means.  They turned off our water, electricity, communications, stopped the cash and the money from the Palestinian Authority which is meant to be sent by Israel through their crossings and not kept by them.

Survival is what drives the people of Gaza – like animals in the jungle, and as in the jungle, there are the weak and there are the strong, the one who lives with the tribe and the one who lives alone.

With hunger and pride and need, terrifying things start to appear: robberies, shops robbed night and day. A gang appears in a shop shouting and screaming in a savage way and start taking whatever comes into their hands, ransacking as they flee. 

When a house comes under bombardment, people are terrified, hoping they don’t die under the rubble. Someone will sneak in between and steal whatever he can.

 

Queuing for Cooking Gas

I left the market and headed toward Salahaddin Street. There was no transport in the market between the thousands of people and the crowds. I walked in the direction of Khan Younis to meet my colleagues to prepare a report on their work providing psychological support to children in the schools where they had sought refuge.  There were a few old, battered cars working on cooking gas or cooking oil mixed with petrol. A choking smell came out of them.  No alternative.  The prices were a joke. No stable prices but no price was less than three times normal.  And if you complain, there is a ready answer.  The gas has been cut. Cooking oil costs three times its normal price, like everything else.  Everything sold in the market costs at least three or four times the normal price. In a cart in which four people fit, the driver will stuff 5 or 6 passengers.  You have no right to complain. That’s what’s available. Shall I take it, or shall I leave it? You arrive with your muscles aching with the pressure on them from the journey.

The road from Nuseirat to Khan Younis, Salahaddin Street, remains in tact.  It hasn’t yet been destroyed. On both sides of the street, from time to time, you see demolished buildings, houses, factories, bakeries or a bank, all bombed and destroyed. Some of the rubble from the destroyed buildings is scattered on the road.  Cars avoid it easily because the road is wide.  

On the horizon you see a long line.  As the car gets closer you can make out that they are cooking gas cylinders weighing 12 kilograms and next to each cylinder stands its owner.  The queue stretches for more than a kilometre till it reaches the filling station on Salahaddin Road. Hundreds of those queuing will not get their turn for days.

 

Fire belt

When the Israeli Occupation Army hit, strike and destroy a row of 20-30 buildings, which would include hundreds of apartments, homes and houses, stores and markets, a journalist appearing with his bullet proof vest and helmet or a political analyst with a tie round his neck, describe the action by saying that the Israeli army created a fire belt in Yarmouk Street.

What? ‘fire belt’???!!!

It is homes, it is belongings, it is shelters, it is the warm places, it is the comfort after a long day’s work, it is memories, it is all that people have, it is their beds and sofas, it is their TVs and kitchens, it is their favourite cups and plates. In every corner of these hundreds of houses they have memories, everything they have they chose themselves, over years and years of working hard to save money and buy it, in order to use it, and enjoy it. It is the beds of their children, it is the blanket they chose because they liked its colour, it is their photos on the walls and where they plan their children’s futures. It is their past and their planned future.

Screw ‘fire belt’.

Annoying words

The most annoying words I hear are coming from journalists and politicians and official representatives of UN Agencies and political analysts when they describe things in Gaza.

Words such as ‘difficult’.

For example:

When the Shifa Hospital was surrounded by the Israeli army and bombed after depriving it from water, electricity, oxygen, food,

when injured people in the ICU are dying one after another,

when new born babies in the incubators are dying one after another,

when sick people suffocated because there is no oxygen,

when corpses are rotting in the sun and no-one can bury them or move them, 

a clever representative of the WHO, or a smart journalist broadcasting the situation say: ‘It is a difficult situation at Shifa Hospital’.

What????? Difficult!!!

Sir, when you have an argument with your wife you come and say it was difficult. When you don’t find milk for your morning coffee you say it is a difficult situation. When you look for a taxi to get to work on time and don’t find one, then it is difficult. When you try to convince your son to stay with the baby-sitter and he is stubborn and does not listen you can say it is difficult.

What is happening at Shifa Hospital is not difficult. It is a massacre. It is a crime against humanity. It is terror in its worst form.

Screw difficult.

 

Survival Recipe

How can one survive war in a very small place, where bombing, shelling, bombardment, striking, shooting is everywhere? Where there is no way to predict the next strike, especially when civilians are the main target?

How to find a safe place?

How to secure food and water when there is no food or water allowed in?

How to get health treatment when you get sick while hospitals are targeted and no medical supplies are allowed in?

How to provide safety and comfort for your children when you can’t even have it for yourself?

How to find shelter when homes, houses, buildings are deliberately hit?

How to keep warm when there is no electricity to put on a heater, or no winter clothes available in the market, or when you have no money to buy them even if some are available?

How to cook your food when cooking gas is not allowed in?

How to escape? To leave the city which becomes a battlefield and is locked and closed and there is no way out but to your grave, if you can find a grave and find someone to put you in it?

The answer is: I DON’T KNOW.

 

Untold story from Olympus

While sitting bored on his throne at the top of Olympus, Zeus ran his fingers through his long beard, looking down at Earth. There were lights in many places on Earth, there was darkness in many places as well. But he noticed a spot of light shining more than any other place. It was not artificial light, it was not sunlight, nor moon or starlight. He looked closer. It is coming from there, from a tiny place on the Mediterranean, a place called Gaza.

He wonders, what is shining there? There should be darkness in that place so what is shining?

Lucifer was not far and he heard the wonderings of Zeus. He said in his deep, low voice – these are the children and women of Gaza. They always shine. How does the God of Gods not know that?!

Zeus, frustrated that he did not know, said: ‘I want some of them here. Whoever can bring some of them now will be rewarded’.

Lucifer said: ‘Only the Army of the Dead can bring you these children and women’.

Zeus was shaken, ‘ No! Not this army! They are brutal. They are gruesome, fierce, horrifying, inexorable, merciless, hideous.’

Lucifer: ‘This is the only army that can make your wish come true’.

Other Gods: ‘Please, no, not this army. Not the Army of the Dead. Take any other army. Send the Amazons, they are good and strong. Send the Trojan army or send any one of us and we will bring you them. Send Mars, Neptune or Hera. Send Hercules or Ajax but not this army.’

Zeus, as usual, acts as he always acts. He acts selfishly. His will is an order, his dreams must come true, his wish must be met.

Zeus with his loud voice, holding high his lightning rod to spread fear among the other Gods, said:

‘Silence. No comment. No-one speak. Let it be. Send the Army of the Dead. Get me some children and some women from that Gaza. My desire is a demand and my demands are orders. Send the Army of the Dead now.’

All the Gods looked angrily at Lucifer. They wanted to kill him. But he is protected by the God of Gods.

Lucifer said: ‘Lord, you know that the Army of the Dead has demands too’.

Zeus: ‘What demands?’

Lucifer: ‘No-one should ask or question the means they will use to get you the children and women and no-one can ask them to stop until they stop. Do you swear to do this’

Zeus: ‘This is an Oath of Zeus, the God of all Gods.’

The Army of Dead was waiting with anxiety and joy, waiting for Lucifer to give them the good news. He was not late, he arrived with the happy news.

Lucifer said in his deep voice: ‘Go, my friends, put the Palestinian to the sword. You are free, with no questioning, don’t stop until you quench your thirst with their blood.

The Army of the Dead did not wait until he finished his speech. They launched their heavy hammers, their swords and spheres, their daggers and knives into the bodies of the Palestinian children and women.

Palestinian men were there, helpless, unable to do anything but to weep in pain and sorrow. Just like Prometheus in his chains.

Hundreds and hundreds of children and women ascended to the Throne Hall of Zeus. Group after group.

Zeus looks at them. They are not shining anymore, they have lost their beauty, they are not as he saw them from the top of Olympus. They are arriving in pieces, some are beheaded, some are without arms or legs, some are cut in half. Zeus starts to get frustrated, this is not what he wanted.

The Gods said with one voice: ‘Yes, this is what you wanted’.

Zeus: I asked for some, for a few children and women. Some means three to four, ten but not tens, not hundreds, not thousands.

All the Gods: ‘You get what you ask for.’

Zeus: Why do they slaughter their men? Why do they destroy their homes? Why do they cut their trees down? Why do they burn their fields? Why do they kill their cattle? Why do they deprive them of food and water? Why?

All the Gods: ‘You get what you ask for.’

He called for Lucifer but Lucifer had disappeared. Lucifer hid among the Army of the Dead. Zeus became angry. He shouted ‘Enough.’ But his loud voice was covered by the screams of the Palestinians and the roars of the Army of the Dead. Children and women continued ascending with no light, with no shine, ascending dead. The Throne Hall started to be filled with their bodies. The huge hall which could contain all the Gods, half-Gods, their wives and children and even their servants became full. Completely full up to the ceiling with piles of bodies. Thousands of Palestinian children, thousands of Palestinian women and thousands of Palestinian men.

Zeus on his throne astonished, speechless, unable to break his oath. And while all the Gods were watching him sadly, helplessly, they saw something they had never seen before, they saw Zeus with tears in his eyes. Tears of regret. Tears of sorrow, tears of weakness. The God of all Gods is crying for this blood shed and yet the Army of the Dead continue putting the sword into the soft flesh of Palestinian children and women.

 

Butterfly effect

I was lucky yesterday; I secured a sack of 25kg of bread flour (5 times the original price). It is enough for 2 weeks for the 18 people at home. I even expect to have, hopefully, half a cylinder of cooking gas, 6kg, also could be good for 10 days (also triple the original price).

Wood for fire is rare. Gaza Strip is so small and the agricultural area very limited; no woods or jungles. People have started to cut living trees to get wood for fire although fresh trees are wet and do not burn and do not make fire. Yet, people are desperate so they do whatever they can to survive. Poor Gaza. No trees will remain. Olive trees are slaughtered, trees in the streets are all shaved. Who can blame people who have no alternatives?  Desperate situations are always driving people to desperate measures.

Going back home from the market on a wooden cart pulled by a poor, weak donkey, I saw a small, white butterfly flying side by side with the donkey for more than 5 minutes. It was so lovely to see something of beauty in the middle of this darkness. It made me smile until I remembered reading that in some cultures, the white butterfly is a sign of death coming. Personally I do not believe in such superstitions, but to be honest, the idea did not leave my head.

At night more than 500 human beings killed in Gaza, from north to south. The majority were children and women.

Writing this piece, around me intense bombing and shelling did not stop at all. Hundreds of people are being killed at this time. Maybe me and my family will be among them, who knows? All those who were killed, more than 22,000 human beings who have been killed during the last 55 days, did not know that they were going to be killed in this brutal way.

Poor butterfly, I don’t blame you at all. You are beautiful. I know it is not you or your effect. I know that it is the Israeli Occupation Army who killed, mercilessly, all these people.

P.S. I like butterflies.

 

A young, political and military analyst

My wife, Abeer, is doing great work, managing, facilitating and supporting a big team of counsellors, social workers, nurses, physiotherapists, animators, occupational therapists and rehabilitation workers in the shelters of the middle area, through her work with Humanity and Inclusion. I also follow up and support a team of counsellors and social workers in the middle area and the south through my work at MAAN Development Centre.

Dr Raafat Alyadi, the director of Al Wafa Hospital in Nuseirat Camp is our host. He is a great man. You feel that he never sleeps, he’s moving all the time, managing a huge crew of doctors, nurses employees, securing everything the hospital needs as much as he can, contacting all the NGOs and donors every day, making sure to secure food and basic needs for all of his staff.

As there were no branches of our organisations in Nuseirat, he did not hesitate to offer us a place with power and internet to facilitate our work.

After a long day at Al Wafa Hospital, we walked to the market to buy whatever we could find for tomorrow’s lunch. As there is no electricity, no fridge, we can’t store any fresh vegetables, we have to buy what we need day by day. After a long day, it’s a 2.5km walk home. Sometimes we find a donkey pulling a wooden cart so we take a ride. Sometimes we don’t and we walk, carrying our bags with the laptops and whatever we have bought for the next day.

Lucky us, after 20 minutes walking we found a donkey going to the Sawarha Area where we live. The donkey pulling the cart was driven by 2 children. One around 13 years old and the other around 9 years old.

They said the fees were 3 shekels each. We agreed. After a few minutes we heard a huge explosion. It shook us. Abeer said : ‘It’s very nearby’

The young donkey rider who was very relaxed said: ‘No, it’s a least 1km to the South. It is far.’

Abeer said:   ‘How do you know?’

The boy:   ‘I know. You should know.’

Abeer:   ‘Why should we?’

The boy:   ‘Is this the first time you witness a war in Gaza? Are you not from here?’

Abeer:   ‘Yes, we are from here.’

The boy:  ‘Strange. You should be able to identify the sound of explosions and calculate where they could be. You should also be able to differentiate between rocket and shelling sounds.’

Abeer:   ‘What’s your name?’

The boy:   ‘Ahmad.’

Abeer:   ‘How old are you?’

Ahmad:   ‘9 years old.’ 

Abeer:    ‘Do you go to school?’

Ahmad:   ‘Not now, as they all became shelters, but sure, I am in 4th Primary Grade at school.’

Abeer:    ‘And now? What do you do?’

Ahmad:   ‘As you can see, helping my family to get an income after the death of my father.’

Abeer:    ‘When did he die?’

Ahmad:   ‘Two weeks ago, when they struck the supermarket at Nuseirat Market. He was passing by when it happened.’

Abeer:   ‘Do you have brothers?’

Ahmad:   ‘Yes, (pointing at the other boy). This is Hasan, my older brother, and two younger sisters at home and my mother.’

Abeer:   ‘What do you think will happen Ahmad?’

Ahmad:   ‘Well, the Israelis dream is to see Gaza empty by any means. They will keep striking, bombing, destroying, killing until they push us out or kill us all.’

Abeer:    ‘And what do you think we should do?’

Ahmad:   ‘Do what we do now. Stay and live.’

 

Bad son

Yes, my mother is angry at me, and she is right, she should be, I am a bad son.

I came back from work today and she was crying. Yes, my 83 year old, bed-ridden mother was crying. At first she refused to say why, she kept saying: ‘I want to go back home. Bring me back to my home.’

I explained to her many times that this had become impossible since we left our home in Gaza City on October 12th and came here to Nuseirat. I told her many times that the Israeli army isolated Gaza City and the north by cutting off the road at Netzarim Junction, the junction between North Gaza and the middle area of Gaza Strip.

She doesn’t believe me. She says Netzarim is in Jabaliya, it has nothing to do with Gaza City. Whatever I say makes her more angry and she does not believe me. She doesn’t know that maybe reaching the moon is easier than reaching Gaza City without being shot by a sniper or killed by shelling or a bomb strike.

I gave up trying to convince her. I sat on my mattress in front of her bed and listened to her complaints. 

“You are not the same son I used to have, since we came here you prevented me from seeing my daughters, sons and grandsons. At home they would pass by every day, I was able to see them every day. Now I see no one, I call no one. You deprived me of everything, you don’t bring me coffee or sweets, candies or even fruit, not any kind of fruit. You used to bring me bananas, peaches, dates, apples, strawberries, many fruits, now you bring me nothing. You claim it it the Israelis preventing it from reaching Gaza. How come? How do you want me to believe you? 

When Aroki comes I will tell him how you have changed. He used to bring me namoura (eastern sweets). How long has it been since you got me some? You know I like it. It’s your friend, Aroki, who remembers and when he visits, he always brings me 2kg not 1. Wait until he comes back. I will tell him how you changed. How you became bad. This can’t be. You are not the son you used to be.”

How can I blame my mother? I don’t. I understand that this can’t be easy to believe. How could any sane person believe that we can’t reach our home which is only 9km from here? How?

How could it be that I can’t find coffee in the market? How?

How could it be that there are no candies, sweets, fruits in the market? How?

I don’t blame my mother, I blame myself for being unable to fly and cross all the borders and get to a place where I can find fruit, chocolates, candies, coffee and all that my mother wishes for.

I blame myself for not having the ability to reach Khan Younis or Deir El Balah or Rafah to bring my brothers and sisters so my mother can see them.

I blame myself for not having a magic wand so I can fix the communication network with a magic touch.

Sorry, mother. Please forgive me for being a bad son. 

 

Back from market

My sister in Deir Al Balah called me last night begging for some blankets. She has only one for her and her mother-in-law. She sleeps in a classroom of one of the schools nearby the sea, her three sons sleeping in a plastic tent in the front yard of the school also have only one blanket between the three of them. I don’t have much either. Luckily I bought 2 good, heavy blankets two months ago in preparation for the cold days of winter. Abeer told me that there are 3 extra blankets her family do not use and can give out. Old, not heavy, but we can give them out.

In the morning we went out. Abeer to Al Awda Hospital and I to Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al Balah. I messaged my sister to meet me there so I can also see my brother and his family who took refuge in the empty hospital courtyard like thousands of other people.

I arrived there around 9.20, walking halfway, a ride on a donkey cart for 1km and finally a taxi for the rest of the distance.

The tent of my brother and his family is 2m square. No mattresses, some cheap blankets, some pieces or cardboard below the blankets. The 2m space includes all their belongings beside the 2 sleeping spaces. They are 5 people. The sleeping space is divided between them by time. 2 people sleep at a time and then they change over. No mattress, a blanket on the floor and a  blanket on their bodies. This is all that they have. Helplessness is a deathly feeling. My sister had not yet arrived. I could not stay. I told them to take one of the three blankets and to give two to my sister and left. Left fast, feeling ashamed that I do have a good blanket, that I have a roof over my head, I have a mattress below my body. No place for more people at my parents-in-law’s house, they host me, my mother, my wife, my wife’s sister and her husband and children, two of her female cousins and their children, and, of course, her family; her parents and her sisters.

No internet in Nuseriat for three days, difficult mobile communications, almost zero. There was not much to do at Al Awda Hospital, it was a short day of work.

We passed by the market, me and my wife, Abeer. We purchased some vegetables and some medicine for flu. It was a rainy day. It did not stop. Light rain and heavy rain. We could only find a ride with a donkey cart which has no roof, of course. The donkey’s speed is no faster than a man’s speed, pulling this heavy weight of passengers with their groceries, the distance of 2.5km from the market to home takes at least half an hour. After ten minutes of slow walking, it started raining, light at first, then heavy rain, very heavy, the raindrops hurt. Nothing we could do. We kept sitting on the cart, not talking, not a word, until we arrived, wet, completely wet to the bone. We went in, took off our clothes, dried our bodies and put on new, warm, clean clothes. We emptied our laptop bags. There was water in them. My laptop screen swallowed some water, I’m so worried that it will be corrupted. I hope not.

I went to my mattress, pulled the heavy, soft blanket over my body and thought about my brother’s family, my sister’s family and the thousands of families who are there, outside, in plastic tents that don’t prevent water coming in, don’t prevent wind, don’t prevent cold. There are thousands of families who don’t even have such a tent in Deir Al Balah, in Khan Younis, in Rafah, in Gaza City, in Jabaliya, in Beit Lahia, in Zaytoun, in Shujaiya, in Mawasi. I don’t feel guilty but I feel very bad, very helpless, very weak. I feel I am nothing.

 

Schindler’s list

Is there any Schindler for the Palestinians of Gaza?

Pause

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Pause

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No. There is no Schindler for the Palestinians of Gaza.

 

Mother Courage (not Bertolt Brecht)

By the wall of the school, the shelter, many sellers lay out their small amount of merchandise on a small, old, wooden table, or a cardboard box, or even on a plastic sheet on the ground. Small quantities of cans of meat, cans of tuna, cans of beans, cigarettes, sugar, rice. Some have  quantities worth $200 and others, all their merchandise is worth no more than $30. Trying to make enough profit to feed themselves for a day or two.

Among them a lady, a middle-aged woman with a veil completely covering most of her hair, is busy cooking bread in an oven made of mud. A line of people standing to buy a piece of bread or two or whatever. Calling to her 7 or 8 year old son from time to time to feed the fire under the oven with some bits of wood – a normal scene in Gaza, mainly around the shelter-schools. 

I took my place in the line to buy some bread, when a journalist approached the lady asking her for an interview. Without looking at him she said, “You can see that I’m busy.” The journalist was  patient and polite. He asked if he could film her as a part of the market and life in the shelters. She shrugged with a sense of not caring if he did or he didn’t. The reporter made a gesture to the cameraman to start filming.

The journalist:   

 Have you been doing this for a long time?

The woman: 

Cooking bread? One month.

Journalist:          

You built the mud oven?

The woman:        

No, I bought it from someone who built it but could not work on it. He was too old for this work.

Journalist:            

Are you from here? I mean Nuseirat Camp?

The woman: 

(whilst working, putting a piece of dough in the oven, turning it over from time to time using a wooden stick): 

No. Not from here.

 

(talking to a customer) 

I haven’t change for a hundred shekels. Find some change and come back.

Jounalist: 

Where did you come from?

The woman:

From many places since the 12th of October.

Journalist:

Like where?

The woman:

From Beit Hanoun. When they started bombing, my eldest son and father-in-law were killed. The bombing was targeting a neighbours’s home. They were all killed. 

She stopped talking and continued her work. The journalist did not rush her. She raised her head again, looked at the journalist for a second, then turned back to the oven and continued talking.

The woman:

We moved to my family home in Shati Camp, ‘Beach Camp’, I was at the market with this little son, when we heard a huge explosion from an air strike. I went home with some vegetables. They bombed a nearby home and my parents and my husband were killed. They were all under the rubble. I recognised my husband from his feet that appeared out of the rubble. He was missing a toe, he lost it in a work accident in Israel two years ago. He used to work in construction. When the accident happened his boss did not do anything for him, he sent him home and never allowed him to work again. Of course, no compensation. In Israel they don’t register Palestinian workers as a legal workforce, so no one can claim any compensation. They just use us as cheap labour, that’s all. My poor husband did not rest until he died.

(to her little son):

Enough wood, we’re almost finished.

(to a customer):

This will cost you 4 Shekels.

She looked at the journalist. He was still there holding the mic towards her, the cameraman was focused on her.

The woman:

So, we moved to Zahra City, to my sister who is married and lives there. They followed us with the bombing. My daughter and my mother in-law were killed. We came here; myself and this little boy, my sister’s son and my injured sister. We are at this school. (She pointed at the school behind her).

Journalist:

How do you manage? Does UNRWA distribute food at the school?

The woman:

Yes. They come every few days, give each family some cans of food, some biscuits, some soap, food barely enough for one day. Anyway we are still alive,

Journalist:

What about water? Hygiene? Toilet?

The woman:

This is another story.  I wake up at 4 in the morning to join the queue for the toilet. At this time there will be a line of 7-15 people. If I’m late, I’ll find a line of 50 or 60. I take my injured sister, her daughter, and my little son. We do our business there and go back to sleep again. They distribute mineral water bottles. I don’t use them. I sell them to get some money. Here we are surviving.

Journalist:

What do other women do?

The woman:

Other women? Yes, there was a pregnant woman, we helped her to give birth inside the classroom. She was lucky, her delivery went smoothly, she did not need a hospital. We care for each other in our classroom. Not like in other classes, all day you hear screaming, shouting, cursing, disputes. We are lucky. They look after my sister and her 2 year old daughter when I’m out.

Journalist:

How do you get the wood for your oven?

The woman:

It was easy in the beginning, I collected bits of wood from the streets, from the nearby olive orchards. Then I started to buy it from wood sellers. It was 1.2 shekels/kilo to begin with and then the price rose, like all prices, now it is 3 shekels/kilo. Everyone is using fire now as there is no cooking gas or fuel. Scarcity in everything.

The woman started to clear up, put out the fire, collect the bits of wood which were not burnt yet, and covered the oven with a piece of material.  She carried her son and went towards the school. The camera man followed her with his camera lens until she disappeared inside the school.

 

Fuel, bread and fear

Yesterday I decided to drive my car, despite the fact that there is no fuel to replace what I use.

I made sure I had enough fuel left for 68km of driving, according to the fuel gauge.

But yesterday was special. Finally I got some cooking gas, half a cylinder with 6kg of gas, enough for 2 weeks. It will spare my wife Abeer and her father and sisters from using fire for cooking and for other daily needs, especially as it’s winter and some days are rainy, making building a fire impossible. Another thing, it’s my father-in-law’s turn to receive bread flour from UNWRA – 2 bags of 25kg – also enough for 2 weeks. 

But wait, I think I need to elaborate a little bit about Number 6 Block, Nuseirat Camp and bread flour distribution.

UNRWA started this distribution of bread flour in late October for all families of the Gaza Strip. But as there is not enough and food aid is entering Gaza in limited quantities, UNRWA decided to prioritise. So, in late October they announced that they would distribute to families of 11 members and above. After 2 weeks, they start to distribute to families of 8-10 members. After 3 weeks they distributed to families of 7 members.

And here, we are only talking about one of the items distributed to all the people in this system.

A few days ago they started to distribute to families of 6 members. And here comes my father-in-law’s turn; his family are 6. My own family is 3 members; myself, my wife Abeer and my daughter Salma. I don’t know when I will receive bread flour, which will only be a bag of 25kg.

It’s a good plan to prioritise, but those under 10 members, under 7, under 6, under 4, how will they manage to live, to eat, until they receive this treasure? While all types of work are completely frozen, zero work, zero jobs, zero income, as life has stopped and nothing is happening but the war and the long search for daily meals, I mean something, anything to eat daily.

Anyway, Abeer was waiting at Al Awda Hospital finishing her work, I bought some food for tomorrow and went to get Abeer and go home. 

Starting the car!!! Doesn’t work. 

Try again and again until Abeer asks me to stop otherwise I’ll damage something. All I know about cars is how to drive. But, I know that those working as drivers know everything about cars so I approached one of the Al Awda Hospital ambulance drivers and asked for help.

In less than a minute he said: ‘No fuel.’

What? No fuel?!! But I’d kept some in the car.

He asked: ‘What type of fuel does your car take?’

I said: ‘Benzene’

‘When did you last drive your car?’

‘Almost 2 monks ago’

‘You know that benzene evaporates? Slowly evaporates.’

Oh my God. How had I not considered this simple, physical fact? What is the solution? There is no fuel left at all in the market.

Abeer said: ‘Why don’t you ask Dr Rafaat, the director of Al Awda Hospital? They should have some.’

I was so shy, embarrassed, but I did. Dr Rafaat as usual was more than helpful. He provided me with 1 litre which was all I needed to drive the 3km back home and park my car for good.

The second day, arriving at the hospital at 8am as usual, I felt something was wrong. People moving fast, many speaking about areas ordered to evacuate, talking about a map and SMSs.

Went to Dr Rafat’s office. Many people. One of the staff connected his laptop to the big TV screen.  There was a map of blocks on the screen. Within a few minutes I understood the situation. The Israeli army dropped letters of warning on Bureij Camp and part of Nuseirat Camp and sent messages randomly to many people in these areas asking everyone to leave, completely, and to go to Deir Al Balah. The hospital staff were trying to understand whether the hospital falls within the threatened area or not.

Where will people go? Deir Al Balah is completely full. The houses, the school, the public institutions, the mosques. Tents in the streets everywhere. The area to be evacuated marked out on the map is hosting at least 150,000 people. Where will they go?

And do you realise what it means to evacuate an area and call it a war zone? The Israelis will start making a so called fire belt. You remember what a fire belt is? It is striking, bombing and destroying entire areas, many buildings, completely clearing entire neighbourhoods, flattening them to the ground, above the heads of people who have nowhere to go.

Dr Rafaat said sharply: ‘Even if we fall within this area the hospital will not close. We stay. We are here to help the sick and injured and this is what we will continue doing.’

Note 1: The main branch of Al Awda Hospital in the north of Gaza was attacked, invaded, destroyed and 3 doctors were killed. Many other people were killed there. The hospital was their cemetery.

Note 2: I am still in Nuseirat Camp. My father-in-law’s home is out of the threatened area but it soon won’t be, and truly, I won’t know what to do then, with 2 bedridden old women, another 22 people; children, women, men and my wife, Abeer.

Note 3: I am truly afraid.

 

Fear, loneliness

Since the start of this brutal massacre and killing of the Gazan people, I was always afraid. The kind of fear that you think you control by caring for your family, by keeping busy, securing their needs, by following up on the work of my colleagues, the counsellors and social workers at the shelters, by writing my diaries and sharing them with friends around the world. The kind of fear that you keep in and ignore, although all reasons for fear and panic are there – the random bombing, shelling, shooting, destruction, the number of people killed and injured reaching more than 27,000 killed and more than 54,000 injured. Yet I keep it deep inside.

Since yesterday my feelings are different. My fear is different. Since the Israeli army ordered people in Bureij Camp and part of Nuseirat Camp, where I am displaced, to leave, I don’t feel the same. I could have been killed before, at any minute, by any of these bombardments, yet now I feel it coming towards me and my family.

There are only three of my friends from Gaza City displaced to Bureij and Nuseirat. Th three of them are in the areas ordered to evacuate and leave. Yesterday I tried to reach them by mobile. Did not work. I walked to one of them. He was not there. It was too late to walk to the others – one in Bureij and the other in Nuseirat near Bureij, the Salahaldeen Road separating them. Bureij, east of Salahaldeen, borders Israel, and Nuseirat is west of it.

Today I went to Al Awda Hospital. The first message was from my friend and colleague, Mohammed:

Dear Hossam, 

I am preparing to leave with my family for Rafah. I am now busy searching for materials to build a tent there in Rafah. I don’t know when we will communicate or meet again. I hope soon.

Stay safe until then,

Mohammed.

I don’t know why after reading this message, the feeling of fear came up to the surface and overrode my ability to tolerate it. 

I could not stay. I thought about going to Bureij to check on my friend Eyad. Bombing and heavy targeting started last night. I rejected the idea, I felt like a coward.

Then I thought about Maher. He is in Nuseirat. I will go. I walked 2km, arrived to find there are no cars in front of his home. It’s a building of 3 floors. Up to yesterday it was hosting more than 80 people. Maher’s brother, the home owner, was there, taking things from the house and loading them into a mini-bus. Mattresses, blankets, bead flour, suitcases, bags…

  • What’s up? I said
  • We’re leaving.
  • Where’s Maher?
  • He left yesterday with his family, they all left, myself and my wife are the last.
  • Where to?
  • Rafah. We’ve a brother living there, Maher and his family went there Myself and my wife will go to my daughter’s home in Zawayda.

There was nothing to be said. The man was busy and rushing to load his stuff.

I said: ‘Goodbye, be safe.’

Walking back to Al Awda Hospital, holding my mobile the whole way and trying to call Eyad. I tried more than 50 times and all the calls failed.

Suddenly I stopped. I feel something is wrong. I feel dizzy, unable to walk properly. The fear invades me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I don’t feel well. I continue walking. Arrived at the hospital, went to the office. I started to collect my stuff; the laptop, the mobile charger, the small battery that I use to light some led lights. I finished and got ready to leave. Then I sat down again. I don’t want to go home with these feelings, in this condition. I must control myself.

Arriving home, talking to Abeer about what we shall do.

She has a sister in Rafah, a widow with 5 girls living not far from Alnajjar Hospital, living in a very small house of two rooms with a small living room. Shall we go there? Shall we send some of us so if something happens here we can move more easily and lighter? We are around 22 people. Maybe her mother and sister and her sister’s family can go tomorrow and then we can figure out what to do next.

We do not decide yet. We are still discussing the options when her brother, his wife and 3 children arrive with their luggage. They were in Nuseirat, not far form the area ordered to evacuate. So he is seeking refuge at his father’s home. Fair enough.

What next? We finished our talk without deciding anything. No safe place in Gaza Strip. People moving from place to place seeking non-existent safety. I am one of them. There is a storm outside, the wind is screaming, heavy rain and the cold is reaching my bones while the bombing is continuing and this time not far at all.

I am afraid. I feel so lonely.

 

The third displacement, to Rafah

Finally, I must decide – my wife Abeer’s brother and his family, Abeer’s female cousins and their daughter arrived at my parents-in-law’s home. A full house of women and children, some of us must move to Rafah, the next destination after Gaza City and Nuseirat. They are all one family. I am the outsider. I decided to take my mother and leave. Abeer decided to stay with her parents and sisters. Now we have to separate. I don’t know how long for. I don’t know if we are going to meet again. 

Finding a taxi to Rafah was not easy, I had to walk from Sawarha to Salahaldeen Road where taxis are found, 5km walking, in fact almost running. It was 14.40, dark falls in less than 3 hours. I must be in Rafah before dark. Dark is another fear, another uncertainty.

Found a taxi, asking for lots of money. No choice, I agreed. $100, almost 20 times the normal price. We drove back to Sawarha, I loaded our stuff, 2 mattresses, 2 blankets, 2 bags of clothes. A half full cylinder of cooking gas enough for 2 weeks.

I did not know even then where to go in Rafah. I called a friend there asking him to find me a place. I know that I am giving him an impossible task. More than 1 million people displaced to Rafah, a city of less than 100,000 people now hosting 10 times the original population.

From Nuseirat taking the sea road, anxious, not comfortable, the Israeli navy on the horizon, we heard many stories of shelling and killing of people on the sea road. Arriving at Khan Younis, west of Khan Younis, Mawasi area, the area which is mostly uninhabited, agricultural land. We used to drive and spend our weekends there running away from the crowds and noise of the city, Gaza City. It is unbelievable how it has become, thousands and thousands of people on the main road, which became similar to a flea market, selling some food items, second-hand clothes and other stuff. On both sides of the main road, hundreds of tents made from cheap plastic sheets.

Arrived in Rafah, same image, same situation doubled. Crowds everywhere, tents everywhere, small sellers everywhere. People moving all ways, back and forth, huge chaos. Dirt, garbage everywhere, destruction everywhere, bombed houses everywhere. Grey and black are the dominant colours, as if the colours of life have been taken away from Gaza. Trees in the street are all cut, people cut them to use for fire. No green colour anymore, even the sky in this season hides its blue colour and shows its grey, gloomy colour.

Some of my friends who arrived in Rafah earlier are in tents in the streets, tents that don’t prevent the cold or rain, but this was their only option, their only possibility. What will I do with my 83 year old bedridden mother?

Calling my friend all the way and the connection is not going through. More than 60 times trying until finally it works. He asked me to come to his family house in Rafah. I know already they have no place, no room for any more people. I know they are hosting more than 100 people there. 

Arrived at his place and he received me with a big smile.

  • Are you lucky or are you lucky?
  • Why? What?
  • I asked a friend who has good connections to look for an apartment for rent. He is a wealthy business man but he could not find any place for rent.
  • So, what is the news then?
  • He asked me again, ‘Who wants the place?’ and I told him it’s for my friend and his bedridden mother. He decided to host you and your mother in his home.
  • Really?! I don’t want to bother people.
  • Don’t worry, let’s go.

He took a ride with us, guiding the driver to his friend’s address.

Arrived at a fancy building of three floors, with a side yard with a decorated, wooden roof.

The man was there waiting for us with a big smile, very friendly and welcoming.

He asked his sons to unload my stuff, they did not let me carry anything. The ground floor had a big living room and one bedroom with a toilet beside it. The man said: ‘I hope this is ok for you.’

I was speechless. Could not express my feelings of appreciation but kept saying: ‘Thank you, thank you.’

I put my mother to bed. They brought food and offered for me to take a shower. A shower? Wow. A hot shower. The first time for three months, since then, I have been washing my body using a plastic can with cold water.

My mother was so tired from the journey. She slept.

After the shower I went to the side yard. There were some men around the fire, brewing a pot of tea. We sat, chatted until 8pm. Then we all went to bed. They did not stop asking me if I needed anything, they did not stop saying ‘ Your mother is our mother, you should not worry about her.’

I slept. My mother slept.

 

Terror and torture

After two days in Rafah I relax, I’m more involved in work and I don’t worry about my mother for the 5 hours I leave her at Abu Khaled’s home. This wonderful family who had never met me yet received me and my mother, treating us as part of their family, caring for my mother when I am out and even when I am in. 

Communication has been cut for one and half days. Could not reach my wife and her family. Strikes and bombing are concentrated against the middle area; mainly Bureij, Maghazi and Nuseirat where I left my wife. Words do not help to explain how I feel. Trying to reach her family by mobile, trying thousands of times every day. It doesn’t work.

My brother and sister with their families and other relatives, around 25 people, remain in Gaza City. They did not want to leave home. 5 families gathered in 2 apartments in the middle of Saftawi Street, north of Gaza City, where for more than a month communication has been cut. I know nothing about them; they know nothing about me.

Today my brother’s son called me from Al Aqsa Hospital where he and his brother, his father – my eldest brother – and his mother took refuge in a plastic tent in the courtyard of the hospital. HIs voice was not normal:

  • I’ve been trying to call you since this morning. (It was 16.50)
  • What’s up? How is your mother? Your father, your brother?
  • Uncle Sofian, Aunt Taghrid…
  • What about them? What happened?
  • (Crying) I don’t know.
  • What do you mean? Please tell me
  • I met a neighbour from where uncle lives, he said the tall building behind their home was bombed and fell onto the house. The house collapsed and was completely damaged.
  • What about your uncle, your aunt, their families? Were they inside? Did they leave before?(begins crying)
  • Please answer me.
  • I don’t know.
  • What do you mean? Ask the man.
  • He doesn’t know – 

The call ended. I tried calling his mobile again and again, his brother’s and his father’s mobiles.

It is 10.25pm and I am still trying to reach anyone to know anything.

 

Day and night

I wake at 6.30 am every day. My host is amazing. At 6 he is in the side yard of the house lighting the fire, preparing breakfast and hot tea. I am not allowed to leave without breakfast. He asks about my mother, repeatedly asking if she or I need anything.

Leaving at 8 am for the office of my organisation, Ma’an Development Agency, in Rafah. Full house, people from everywhere, from many associations that have no offices, trying to follow up on the interventions they are making for people. 

Rafah, which used to have 170,000 inhabitants is now hosting more than a million, at least half of them on the streets, building tents from plastic sheets which do not prevent cold or rain. But this is what is available. The market in the town centre is over-busy. It feels like the million people are gathered in this town centre. 

I’ve realised that there is plenty of work that we do besides providing psychosocial support; we distribute food, we build kitchens and distribute hot meals, we distribute hygiene and dignity kits to displaced people, we distribute water tanks to shelters and random collectives of displaced people, we distribute clothes for children, we are trying to bring in better tents for people, we employ staff to clean the schools and mainly the toilets on a daily basis. All of this, as well as what the UNRWA do, as well as what all the humanitarian organisations offer, meets almost zero of people’s real needs. With the stoppage of normal life, no-one has any kind of income in Gaza, all that people look for is shelter and food. 2.2 million people. But above all, people are in need of safety and dignity. It is not there anymore. 

I got involved in all of this as a team member of Ma’an emergency team. I have no chance to think about anything. It’s like a bees’ cell. But I can’t stay at the office more than 5 hours; I must go back to my mother who gets panicked if she doesn’t find me around her at 2 pm.

Back home, I go directly to be with my mother who must blame me for being late whether I am early or late. I provide her with what she needs, then try to rest.

Rest!!! I hate it. While trying to rest, thinking starts. What has happened to my brother and sister’s families? Are they alive? Did they survive? Maybe some died and some survived. My wife Abeer and her family – no contact for the last 3 days. I will go to Nuseriat tomorrow to check on them. I wanted to go earlier but could not.

When will this nightmare end? Does it have an end? What kind of end? What will life look like when it ends, with completely destroyed cities and towns? Who is going to be the ruling authority? A new Israeli military occupation? The corrupt authority of Ramallah? Hamas again?

As much as I try to get busy with the family hosting me in order to avoid thinking, night is coming. Dark thoughts invading my head, falling asleep I don’t know how, and waking up in the morning so tired as if I did not sleep or rest at all.

 

Horror and relief

It is 6 days without any news about my brother’s and sister’s families. Since my nephew told me that the building behind their house was bombed and collapsed on their home. No news about whether they were inside or had left before. I did not stop trying to reach them but communication between the south and north is cut.

Today more horrific news: in the morning, calling my daughter in Lebanon, which is much easier than calling my wife in the middle area, she told me that her mother, my wife, Abeer, is in a panic. She saw a video of an injured person taken to Al Aqsa Hospital who died before reaching the operating room and she believes it is her brother. She shared the video with me. There was no way to tell who this person was; his face was mostly covered; his body is similar to my wife’s brother, but wait!! My wife’s brother is in Gaza City, even if he is injured he won’t be brought to Al Aqsa Hospital in the middle area. The road between Gaza City and the middle area has been completely cut for more than a month and a half. 

Calling Abeer, can’t reach her. She told Salma that she is going to Al Aqsa Hospital to check. I called my nephew, the son of my other brother who took refuge in the aforementioned hospital with his family. After several attempts I finally reached him. I asked him to go to the morgue to check if Abeer’s brother is among the martyrs there. He calls back after an hour. He says that the 30 bodies that arrived yesterday and this morning are without names and he does not know my wife’s brother so he could not help. Yet he continues talking. He says that finally he got news form Gaza City; my brother and sister with their families are safe. They left home a day before the invasion of their area and before the bombing of the building behind their home. 

  • How do you know?

A neighbour who had a Cellcom communication sim (Israeli communication company), called him and told him that my brother went to a shelter-school far from the area and that my sister went to another shelter-school in the north.

I keep calling Abeer with no success. Contacted Selma. Finally Abeer had called her and told her that the body she believed to be her brother is not her brother, yet she had no news from her brother for more than a month.

Some relief after a time of heaviness and horror. Keeping hope. 

 

Abo Khaled Abdel’Al

A 50 year old man, tall, big, fat; looks like a giant but with a babyface. He is from a very respected family in Rafah. Started his life as a construction worker in Israel, then a hairdresser, but he was an ambitious man. He had a dream to one day be a businessman. He followed his dream and he became what he wanted to be. Today he is a well-known and respected businessman in the Gaza Strip.

He lives with his family in a big house. Three floors, the first floor is a big living room with one bedroom and bathroom.

His front yard is as long as the house. He made a place where he receives guests; a fire for making tea and coffee is alight from 6am until 9pm. The door to the front yard is always open; any person passing by is invited to rest and drink tea. He receives hundreds of people every day.

The family live on the second and third floor. The basement of the home is a big storage area. He is a man with principles, honest, respectful and generous.

 

Agony

Today I went to Sawarha to see my wife Abeer and bring her some food and hygiene items which became very difficult to secure in Sawarha. I left home at 8.30 am.

In Rafah, the crowds are unbelievable. Moving, walking 100 metres takes at least 10 minutes. A city of 200,000 inhabitants with very weak infrastructure, received 1 million people. (I will late about Rafah at another time).

Looking for a taxi to Sawarha. The normal cost of one is $1.5. The first taxi asked for $150. I left him for another one, arguing the price, finally there was no-one cheaper than $65 with the condition that he would take other passengers on the way. I have no choice. We start moving. 30 minutes to get out of the city toward Khan Younis but not really reaching Khan Younis as there is the Israeli invasion there. Before reaching Khan Younis City, the driver rook roads that I never knew about, until we reached the coast road. 

Tents everywhere, people everywhere, street sellers of food items received from humanitarian aid are everywhere, making the road busy and crowded. The car on many occasions moved at the speed of a man walking.  We reached Deir Al Balah, then Zawaida, then Sawarha. A distance of less than 3km took more than 1hour and 20 minutes. A long line of cars, trucks, donkey carts, all types of vehicles are full of people, mattresses, stuff, cooking gas cylinders, jerrycans for water, bread flour, vehicles full to bursting, stuff tied with ropes, all are moving to the south, evacuated from Nuseirat. The image is like Judgement Day. People look very tired, very desperate, very unclean. Men are unshaven, young children crying everywhere, very afraid. You could feel the fear. You could touch the fear. They are going to Rafah, not knowing what they are going to do there. Everybody knows that Rafah is completely full; not only the houses, buildings or the public institutions but the streets, the parks, the side roads are completely full with tents and people. They are escaping from the bombing and the military invasion. They are running for their lives but have no idea where and what could happen to them. 

Some volunteers were trying to help facilitate the traffic but it was an almost impossible mission. Some cars stopped due to engine problems; no side roads to push them into out of the line of traffic. The road also passes by shelter-schools on the sea road which makes it more difficult; hundreds of street sellers in front of the schools, thousands of people move in and out, blocking the road. I am worried about being late. I must be back at 1pm otherwise my mother will worry.

From Rafah to Sawarha normally takes 20 minutes even with a normal traffic jam. Arrived at 11.30. Sawarha was quiet. It is 2.5km from the centre of Nuseirat, but the invasion continues. The Israeli army started the invasion in a small part of Nuseirat 2 weeks ago. Now they’ve almost invaded the whole camp, leaving behind them huge destruction and hundreds of people killed. Bombing, shelling, heavy shooting. 

I agreed with the taxi driver to take me to Sawarha and bring me back to Rafah, so I met Abeer for less than 10 minutes. Checked on her and the family, everyone is still alive but no-one is ok.

Buddy, my dog, was so happy to see me. I was so happy to see him too. He kept jumping on me and running around. I don’t want to leave. iIwant to stay with my wife and my dog. I want to go back home. I want to settle down, to lay down on my bed or sit on my balcony with my wife, my daughter and my dog as we used to to every evening, having some coffee. I need some rest and tranquility. Nothing more.

I discussed with Abeer the plan of their arrival to Rafah. Her parents completely refuse to leave until they see all the people in the area leaving. Abeer is unable to leave them alone, I don’t know what to do. What a complex situation. Trying to convince them is not helping. I understand that they are tired of moving and being displaced. They are too old for more agony. It is their only way to show that they are giving up. Time is running out. It will take me at least another 2 hours back to Rafah, to my mother. I left the stuff at the front door and left with the agreement of Abeer to communicate further on the mobile. 

The journey back to Rafah was the same, the same crowd, the same sad people, the same traffic of displaced people in cars and vehicles full of their basic needs, full of hundreds of street sellers of food aid items, full of agony.

 

Back to Sawarha again

On Thursday I went to Sawarha with some supplies for my wife and her family – some food and hygiene items.

On Friday Abeer called, very anxious and panicked. The bombing, shelling and air strikes did not stop in Nuseirat near Sawarha. People started to evacuate from there. There was random bombing near the house, they did not sleep. The news is that the sea road is safe from north to south but no-one is allowed to move from south to north or the middle area. 

They can’t leave alone. Our car is there but with no fuel. I spent all day looking for 6 litres of benzene, just enough to drive from Sawarha to Rafah in the south. Knowing the risk I am going to take by going north, I did not think for a single minute not to go. They can’t manage, they are 10: 3 children, 4 women, an old man and a young man, paralysed with fear – I know that he won’t be able to help. Could not secure the fuel until 9pm, never mind the price, (normal price is $2/litre, I paid $34/litre for 6 litres).

A friend of Abu Khaled, his business partner, a man I had never met before these days, offered to take me in his mini-jeep to help bring the family and whatever belongings we can bring such as mattresses, blankets, food, cooking gas and a gas cylinder and the gas itself, some kitchen items. If we don’t bring these things we will not find any at all in Rafah.

I can never thank him enough. He knew the risk. He could lose his car in a bombing, yet he did not hesitate. He even said that it was full of diesel so I shouldn’t worry about it.

Driving very early Saturday morning at 6am, the main road between Rafah and Khan Younis is completely empty. Avoiding Khan Younis city as there is the military invasion there, we turn west 2km before Khan Younis towards the sea road.

Since I was here the day before yesterday, new homes and buildings were destroyed. Parts of the roads were almost blocked by fallen rubble. But we managed.

Along the sea road, some movement – all kinds of cars, vehicles, trucks, jeeps, full of belongings and people all going south. Some people are in the streets. Driving and expecting the worst, but no choice. We continue. By Deir Al Balah, the city in the middle area, huge crowds of people are blocking the road, moving everywhere, looking for something called safety and shelter. Many can’t find it.

Normally it is only 22km from Rafah to Sawarha and takes 30 minutes to drive but today is different. I arrived at 8.25am. They were asleep after a long night of bombing, shelling and heavy shooting shaking the house all night. They fell asleep out of tiredness and fear. The good thing was they had prepared everything. All the stuff they need to take was packed and ready to be loaded on the cars. I put the benzene in our car, packed the stuff, distributed the people in the 2 cars and started the trip to Rafah. Rafah, where there is no place at all any more.

Rafah, the last city in the south of Gaza with borders with Egypt, inhabited by 200,000 with poor infrastructure, similar to all Gaza Strip cities and camps. Now hosting one million two hundred thousand people. Don’t ask how. For sure not in the houses – they are completely full. Wherever you look, in every empty space, at every roadside: tents, all kinds of tents, tents (good ones) received from humanitarian aid organisations, tents made from plastic and nylon sheets, tents made from pieces of fabric. More than 1 million people in tents, without toilets. People, mainly women, knock on doors asking to use the toilet, men are in lines at the mosques waiting to use the toilets. Without any facilities, in front of some tents, people make small fires to heat or cook. Hundreds of families on the streets did not receive a tent. They don’t have money to buy wood and plastic sheets to make their own – these cheap materials became more expensive than gold for poor people. 

Here in Rafah I must bring my wife and her family. I think I was an angel in another life – I don’t know. I don’t really believe that.  But I was planning a meeting with my staff who are providing psycho-social support in shelter-schools for children. I was planning to meet them on Saturday to hear from them and to provide them with some support, to check if there is anything I can do to facilitate their work. So I called one of them to ask him to postpone the meeting for another day. I’m busy bringing my wife. 

This wonderful colleague from Rafah started to call people, looking for a place for them to stay. I was driving back, near Deir Al Balah, when he called me to say that he’d found a store, 6m by 2.5m square, including a toilet. It is in the centre of Rafah, in the middle of the main market. What luck! It is a 15 minute walk from where I am staying at Abu Khaled’s home. Adjacent to Al Awda Hospital in Rafah. We arrived around 2pm. In front of the store, a bombed house, rubble in the street. The owner had brought some workers to clean up. The door of the store was damaged. He brought a blacksmith to fix it. The family waited in the cars for an hour until the place was almost ready. Some works still need to be done inside, never mind, Abeer’s brother will do it. They were exhausted. I brought them some food and left. I could not stay any longer, I should go and check on my mother.

Two hours later, I passed by to see how they are. For sure no-one is happy. They are all so tired. Even our dog Buddy was quiet, sitting in the corner, and did not come to me when I arrived as he would usually. The place is hell. Not good, not comfortable, no light, some candles, yet a million times better than a tent on the street. No complaints.

I left them around 5pm. It gets dark, I could not stay. I must be beside my mother now. 

Next day….another story…

 

Writing Again

For a while I’ve been trying to write but something is pushing me back. Am I busy? Yes, but over the last days I was over-busy yet I was able to write.

In Rafah I could not write more than 5 or 6 times. Something prevented me. I think the situation around me here in Rafah is beyond words or description. When one million people are squeezed and pushed into less than 5km square, the image cannot be reflected in words.

Thousands of tents with thousands of families everywhere, in every empty space, in the streets, on the pavements, without water, without toilets, without food, without blankets, without beds or mattresses, without privacy and without dignity. Walking around I can see nothing but misery and heartbreak. Thousands of children in the streets, thousands of street sellers and the majority are children and young people. Mosques, almost every hour, are calling out names of lost children looking for their families. Crowds and crowds. Walking 100 metres takes more than 30 minutes. Using a car is impossible and there is no fuel anyway. Some cars are using cooking oil instead of fuel making the price of cooking oil increase by treble the original price, like everything in the market. Scarcity in all types of basic needs.

10 days since Abeer arrived with her family and I found them this terrible place, a closed store, like a prison cell. At least they have a roof above their heads. I left them there and went back to Abu Khaled Abdelal’s home to stay there with my mother. The second day I passed by them, brought them some food and went to the UNRWA clinic in Tel Al Sultan in west Rafah. The UN agencies are taking a space there for humanitarian coordination meetings. I went to one of these meetings. No point in mentioning anything about it – complete catastrophe and helplessness – all UN agencies are unable to help or do what they should be doing. UNICEF, the WHO, the World Food Program and many other agencies and International Humanitarian Organisations – they do their best and their best meets almost 5% of the real needs of the people. They are weak, they have no power over the Israelis, to oblige them to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, so they coordinate and distribute whatever the Israelis allow into Gaza.

I went out, walking, in the place that has become the most crowded spot on Earth. Tel Al Sultan neighbourhood in Rafah – almost half a million in 1km square – and in this crowd, from nowhere, someone is calling my name. It is the oldest son of my brother who I left in Deir Al Balah at Al Aqsa Hospital.

  • What’s up?
  • They are bombing beside the hospital and sent messages to people to leave. We left yesterday, we spent the night in the street near Alnajjar Hospital in Rafah.
  • Where are your mother, father and brothers now?
  • They are still there.
  • What are you doing here?
  • Some people advised me to come to Tel Al Sultan to look for a place.
  • Ok. I will leave you for now, I will call you back.

I did not know what to do  I must find something. I start calling friends, looking for a tent. In the afternoon, a friend working for a local organisation called me to say that there is a small tent available.

I went to him and called my nephew. He came and took the tent. I gave him some food and some money, asking him to find a place to install the tent and call me back about the place he found.

The next three days trying to call my brother, his sons, could not reach them. I got so worried. Finally, he appeared, for three days he was busy looking for a spot in Rafah to install the tent. He had not found a place yet. He was also busy with his mother’s dialysis treatment which takes hours and hours of waiting as all the dialysis patients are gathered in one hospital in Rafah.

 

Solidarity and other things

Since I arrived in Rafah, I’ve witnessed all types of solidarity; welcoming support. Hundreds of families opened their homes for displaced people from Gaza and the North, for free, sharing all that they have with them. Abu Khaled Abdelal, the man who received me with my mother, was no exception, hundreds like him. Hundreds of landowners gave their land for displaced people to build their tents. Hearing such stories makes you feel good, relieved; you believe that humanity is still there despite the war, despite the fact that these homeowners are also suffering the war, the famine, the agony and the daily search for food and basic needs.

I said hundreds. In Rafah, there are thousands of homes that are not the same. Again like in every crisis, in every war, there are always the ‘war advantage takers’. Many homes are provided for free, many other homes are rented for huge amounts of money and those who have the ability to pay are very limited. Normal rental price in Rafah is $100 – $150. Some ask for $1000, like the homeowner who rented me this flat. Some even ask for much more.

This is only one image of ‘war advantage takers’. Since mid-November, some local businesses were allowed by the Israelis to import food items and all that they brought was sold at 10 times the original price. Moreover, they did not think about what people need, they thought about what is more profitable for them. While there is bread flour scarcity, they import biscuits, selling a $0.5 biscuit bar for $2. Instead of importing cooking oil, they import the cheapest cans of juice, selling them for 5 or 6 times the original price. Those businesses are an extra burden on the starving people. And while the authorities have collapsed – no monitoring, no accountability – they do what they want.

 

Game of death

When the life of a whole nation becomes only the quest for food and shelter, running away from death that chases them from place to place, from Gaza City and the North to Nuseirat, from Nuseirat to Deir Al Balah, from Deir Al Balah to Khan Younis, from Khan Younis to Rafah, from Rafah to nowhere. No escape anymore. 1.2 million people squeezed into a very tiny place, and still the bombing, the shelling, the air strikes following them, killing them, cutting them in pieces, deprived from shelter, from food, from healthcare, from water, from safety.

Then what is the purpose of life?

Our life reminds me of cheap movies about some rich businessmen who pay to have the chance to chase and hunt to death some poor people. The organiser of these games makes it easy for the rich to succeed and never easy for the poor to escape. In the end, the rich men succeed and kill the poor ones.

We are the poor people. We run. We try to escape. We look for a place to hide, to survive, and during this odyssey many fall dead, many fall injured, many fall sick, many fall hungry, many fall handicapped, children become traumatised, dignity becomes a luxury, having a shower becomes a dream, using a toilet like a human is a myth, sleeping on a mattress is difficult, finding a blanket is a challenge. Agony and death are the only sounds in the air.

 

Writing and painting

Basil Marquosi, my life-long friend, the artist, the painter, put a statement on Facebook saying: 

I am painting to feel alive.

It seems I am doing the same; I am writing to feel alive when life has stopped having any meaning, when life is only a daily journey to look for food and water like any animal in the wild. When life has no purpose, writing gives me some purpose, a kind of reason to stay alive.

Basil lives with his family, his wife, 3 or 4 children, a daughter-in-law and her baby child and 2 strangers, friends of his son, who have lost contact with their parents for more than 2 months and have no place or anyone to take care of them. They all live in a tent, a poor plastic sheet tent. He has no income, has no money, spending his whole day trying to secure some food from charity or humanitarian aid. 

At night, by the light of his mobile, he paints. He has no colours, he has no canvas, he has no paint brush, he uses whatever paper he finds and with a pencil or a pen he paints. This is the time he feels alive still.

I am in the rented flat, writing, trying to describe what I witness or what I passed through during my day.

In the morning, I took my wife to her work, it’s in Zorob Square, normally a 7 minute drive from where I am in Junaina neighbourhood in Rafah. It took at least 40 minutes due to the huge crowds on the roads, especially outside shelter-schools. Thousands of people in the street, making driving almost impossible.

Not far from Abeer’s workplace at Humanity and Inclusion Organisation, there is an aid distribution store. Yesterday, I received a message to go to that address to get a food parcel. I went there, they gave me some vegetables and some tins of food – 2 kg of tomatoes, 3kg of potatoes, 1kg of eggplant, 5kg of green peppers and 1 kg of lemons, 2 tins of brown beans, 2 tins of white beans, 2 tins of tuna. They compared my name on the list with my name and ID number, then asked me to sign. This is the first time I receive a food parcel since I arrived in Rafah. I asked:

  • Is this a regular food parcel? Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? 

They answered:

  • There is no schedule. We can’t guarantee receiving this aid and we try to reach as many displaced people as we can.

Displaced people? They are more than a million. There were about 200 parcels in the store. When will they be able to reach all the displaced people? And what will people do until they reach them? How are they going to eat? And if the food parcel is finished, when can they get another one?

I left with my food parcel back to Rafah town. My older brother is calling:

  • Yes?
  • Our middle brother and his family, 4 boys and 1 girl, escaped from Khan Younis and they are on the streets.
  • Oh God, not again. What can I do?
  • They are in need of a tent.
  • Is there a space for the tent? It took you 3 days to find your space.
  • I reserved a place near me for them.
  • But I have no access to tents.
  • Please try.
  • I will do my best.

I don’t know what to do. This is too much. Where can I get a tent? The first one was a challenge, not easy. I must call some people, I don’t know if I will succeed this time. Also the mattresses. the blankets, the food??!!

My nephew is calling:

  • Yes dear?

  My mother (the one who has kidney failure) has a chest infection and we can’t find the medicine

  • What medicine?
  • Lorex, Augmentin, Azcir – any of these three.
  • Ok my dear, I will try my best.

Oh God, is there any end to this nightmare?

 

Abu Hamza

Like every evening, some people gather in the side yard of Abu Khaled’s home. The fire is lit, the tea pot on the fire, men come, men go until 8 or 9pm, until the last guest leaves.

Abu Hamza was one of the guests this evening. A 55 year old man, tall, big, with a beard. I entered while they were talking. Abu Hamza was telling them what happened to him last night in Khan Younis.

He has a 3 storey home near the Mawasi area in Khan Younis not far from the sea. The area that the Israeli army kept telling people to go to and considered a safe area. 

Abu Hamza speaking:

“It was a hell of a night. Bombing, shelling, striking, heavy shooting did not stop for a single minute, very near to our home.

   

We are about 70 people. Several families gathered together after many of us were displaced                                from Gaza and the middle area. The oldest of us is over 80 years old and the youngest is 3 months. Boys, girls, men, women, all ages. 

Out of fear, we gathered in two rooms on the second floor. Suddenly, around 2am, we heard a huge noise. Crash. A bulldozer broke through the wall of the house on the first floor. Heavy shooting inside our home from more than an hour. We don’t know how this hour passed.

After an hour, we heard movement inside the house. Many people are invading the house, climbing the stairs, the doors of the rooms where we hide are broken by a group of Israeli soldiers. Shouting in a strange language, the soldiers started to push us downstairs. Children scream, women cry, men pray and soldiers kept shouting and pushing us downstairs and out of the house. In the street there were several tanks and armoured vehicles. They separated us; the women and children on one side, the men on the other. A soldier speaking Arabic, addressed us shouting all the time:

  • Take off your clothes. All your clothes.

Another 2 soldiers beside him were shouting around us and in the air. We started taking our clothes off except for our underwear. He kept shouting:

  • Everything, take off everything.

Some soldiers started beating us randomly with their feet and guns. 

  • Lie down! Lie down!

He kept shouting,

  • Face down! Everyone lie face down! Hands behind your backs! Hands behind your backs!

Our faces to the ground and the screaming, the crying of our women and children, is passing through our ears like knives cutting our hearts.

They left us for around an hour in this position. Then they start to retreat. We could not see; it was one of the darkest nights, no moon, no stars and of course no light. As they left, the one who spoke Arabic kept shouting:

  • Go to Rafah! Don’t stay! You will die if you stay! Go to Rafah!

And this is what we did. We came to Rafah. 

It was 4am, the very slightest light of dawn when we entered our home. We entered through the front door, we ignored the big hole in the wall they had made, we considered there to still be a wall there. We gathered whatever we could; mattresses, blankets. personal things and we moved to Rafah.

We arrived at 6.30am. Now we are in several different houses, temporarily separated. Full houses that can only receive us for a few hours. We need to rent some flats. At least two.”

Abu Khaled was, as usual, doing what he knows best, trying to help, calling people he knew to see if they had empty flats for rent. It became late. They did not find a place today, maybe tomorrow.

Abu Khaled said:

  • Abu Hamza, please bring all the women and children here to my home for tonight. I think the men can manage. I wish I had enough place for all of you, but you know that the house is already full of displaced people. We can receive the women and children here until you can manage.

And this is what happened. All 30 women with their children came and spent the night at Abu Khaled’s home. Don’t ask how they managed without mattresses or blankets or even enough space to absorb them. They managed.

 

Miracles

Miracles are countless in the bible, in the Quran. In methodologies, the saviour always appears to rescue the poor ones; the sea is separated by a touch of a stick to save poor people;  heroes and prophets appear from nowhere to save them.

In Gaza: no saviours, no heroes, no prophets.

Children are dying and no miracle; men, women and old people are dying and no miracles!  People displaced once, twice, four times, twelve times and each time they have to start from scratch, looking for shelter, food, water and no miracles.  Diseases spread among people with no cure or health services and no miracles.  Fields are destroyed and no miracles; factories are bombed and no miracles;  roads damaged and no miracles; animals slaughtered and no miracles; trees grasped from the roots and no miracles;  graves destroyed and corpses brought up and no miracles; life stopped and no miracles;  schools and universities destroyed and no miracles.  How does God see this and do nothing?

I hate miracles

 

Another day under war

My nephew called me yesterday, his mother who is receiving dialysis treatment got a chest infection.  She is at the hospital.  She is in need of medicine that is not available at the hospital.  He can’t find it.  I spent half a day moving from pharmacy to pharmacy, from UNWRA clinic to a government clinic and did not find it either.

Today my nephew called me again.  His younger brother got an infection, hepatitis A, like thousands of other people due to lack of clean water and hygiene.  Medication is not available. Doctors asked him to give his brother honey and sweet things that don’t include oil.  I don’t know if this is an alternative cure or what.  They can’t afford it.  I will buy it tomorrow.  There is a kind of low-quality honey in the market that arrived with some humanitarian aid and is sold at double the price or more.

Diseases of all kinds spread among people: hepatitis, skin diseases, chicken pox, skin inflammation, fleas, bugs and many other diseases I don’t know the English for.  The spokesman of the Ministry of Health is talking about more than 20 diseases spread among displaced people in shelters, schools, tents, overcrowded homes, with very limited quantities of unsafe water. Gaza used to suffer from scarcity and poor quality of water before 7th October.  Today when most of the people are pushed into a very small place, no electricity to operate desalinisation units, people  are obliged to use whatever water is available and only for life-saving needs such as drinking, cooking and cleaning if possible.

Today I received news of the killing of a father of a colleague in Khan Younis. Today I received news about a bombing of a very respected person, a professional psychiatrist who was on the roof of Al Aqsa University in Khan Younis trying to bring some water to the water tanks on the roof when a drone targeted him.  Today I learned that a theatre colleague in Gaza was killed with his family when Israeli air force struck his home.  Today a man was going back to Bani Suhaila in east Khan Younis to check on his father who remained there and he found him shot dead and wrapped in a carpet inside his home.  He tried to dig a grave at his home but the drones were in the sky.  He was afraid. He left his father’s body inside the house and came back to Rafah.  Today I went back with my wife, Abeer, to Sawarha near Nuseirat to bring her family some food and hygiene materials and what I saw on the road from Rafah was heart-breaking.  I passed by Tel Al Sultan in Rafah, then Mawasi near Khan Younis, then Deir Al Balah, then Sawarha.  Thousands and thousands of tents of all kinds, many were broken and torn by the wind.  These are windy and rainy days.  People looked so sad, desperate, children with very light clothes, many without shoes on their feet, sorrow, sadness and helplessness.

Death and agony, this is Gaza and nothing else.

 

Winter, wind and water

At 2am Abeer was calling me to wake up.  She went to the toilet and felt her feet wet.  She put on the light of her mobile, water everywhere.  Half my mattress, my blanket completely wet, the room full of water, the sitting room too.  We woke up everybody, trying to figure out where the water came from. We wiped up the water.  We moved the wet mattress and blanket.  Luckily it was only my stuff that was wet otherwise it would be a catastrophe; how could we secure mattresses and blankets for 11 people.  I share with Abeer her mattress, 60cm wide and her blanket.

It was very heavy rain last night.  The water entered through the balcony of the room.

Went out, I will visit some NGOs, maybe they can give me a mattress and blanket.

I also bought some honey for my nephew, Hisham, who got hepatitis.  My brother installed his tent in a small area 1km away from where I live.  In that spot there are at least 30 tents.  As I arrive there, people are moving everywhere, crowds and noise, many carrying wet blankets and mattresses, putting them on top of the tents to dry. To dry?? While it is still raining, the small camp of tents drown in the rain, including my brother and his family.  Now I have to look for mattresses and blankets.  I don’t know how.  I don’t know who to address.  Thousands and thousands of tents drown in the rain. What can people do?  Who can help them?  More than half a million people drown in the rain.  Tents did not help.  Poor tents flew away, broken by the wind and the rain.  Children and women everywhere crying, screaming, men moving astonished, helpless, tired, exhausted, sad, angry, unable to do anything, running after pieces of their tents, trying to fix what can’t be fixed, and still the wind and the rain go on.

I saw my problem as very small.  I can still share with Abeer the 60cm wide mattress and one blanket.  I still have a concrete roof over my head.  You see, I’m lucky! Should I be thankful??

 

Message from a dear friend

I am writing some diaries during a war. I share them with many friends in the UK, Belgium, France, USA, Austria, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland and some other countries.  They share them widely. They translate them into their languages and share them more.  Some great old and new friends read them and share them on their FB pages.

One of these friends is Marianne Blume, a very dear and very close friend from 1995, when she came as a teacher of French language to Gaza.  We met.  We became friends.  She connected us with theatre makers in Belgium, Phillipe Dumoulins and Claudine Artz, and through this connection we were able to perform in Belgium, France and Luxembourg for several years.

Marianne is reading my diaries and she sent me this voice message a few days ago.

Marianne:  ‘Hossam, you write a lot but you don’t tell what you feel, how you feel.  Personally, I know that you watch horrible things and you want to tell us how you live but how is Hossam inside?  This is what I want to know.  Big, big kiss.

Dear Marianne, I am trying my best to ignore my feelings. I don’t have the luxury or the opportunity to think of me or my feelings.  I can tell you and you only, that I am afraid. I look strong but I’m very weak, afraid for my family, for Salma, if something happens to me.

For my old mother, what would happen to her if I die?

I try not to think, because thinking will kill me.  I get involved in my job and in helping people so I don’t have time to think.

I am tired and want to rest.

I want to cry and can’t find my tears.

Only now, while writing this to you could I cry, I’m crying now and thank you because I need it.

Marianne:  My dear Hossam, I understand but I was feeling that you were there in your texts but absent from yourself.  Take care.  All my thoughts are with you.

I thought that my other friends should also know how I feel, so I wrote it down and am sharing it with you.

 

Empty head, full heart

My head is empty.  There is nothing in it, like a stone, closed, blocked, do not receive, do not send.  My heart is full, can’t take the pain anymore, can’t be moved anymore.  I am not going to talk about people I meet anymore, like my colleague, Shereen whom I meet today for the first time since October 5th.  I could not recognise her, very thin, very small, very dark face, the very best image of a broken human being.  I am not going to tell any more about how many times she had to evacuate, from Beach Camp to Nasser Street in Gaza,  from Nasser to Bureij Camp in the middle area, to Zawayda, to Khan Younis, to Rafah and with each displacement losing part of her family, losing part of her soul.

What am I doing?  I said I don’t want to talk about these things.  My head is empty and my heart is full, no more space for any sad stories.

I want to dream. Yes. I will dream.  I dream now. I am dreaming that I am having a nice meal, a big meal, a meal with no canned food, only fresh food, fresh chicken, and a steak, a very soft, juicy steak of meat. Beside it a big plate full of all types of fruit, bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries.  And the dessert is a big cup of ice cream, topped with a shiny, red cherry.  Yes, this is what I want.  

I don’t want to think about the dead around me.  I don’t want to know how many were killed today.  I don’t want to know that there is no more blood to spare at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis and that injured people are bleeding to death.  No, I don’t want to talk about people in Gaza City, more than 600,000 people are starving to death because the Israelis do not allow food aid to reach Gaza and the north. I don’t want to talk about people outside with no shelter, no food, no clothes, in the cold, under the rain.  I don’t want to talk about the children who suffer hunger, pain, fear, panic and no-one can assure them safety or secure them food.

I want to dream.  I dream now.  I am with my wife and my daughter driving on the sea road, having hot cups of good coffee, listening to music, recalling nice memories and laughing together, yes, together, myself, my wife, Abeer and my daughter, Salma, having fun, with no fear, no worries, just having a good time.

I am not going to talk about the hundreds of messages I receive every day from people I know and people I don’t know, asking for help, asking for a tent, or plastic sheets, or clothes for their children, or food, or any kind of life-saving items. I am not going to talk about my feelings when I receive these messages and I can’t meet 1% of these needs.

I want to dream, only dream, dream that I am waking up at 6.30 am in my bed, in my home, taking my dog for a walk and then come back, have a shower, have my morning coffee, getting dressed and going to my job.  Nothing more.  This all I dream about.

 

In Rafah

2am, sitting on my mattress unable to sleep, thinking of what is coming and all the threats to invade Rafah. The last few days, the bombing and the shelling on Rafah by the Israeli army increased.

It was silent and quiet since early evening when the silence was broken by air strikes, intensified air strikes on Rafah City, heavy shooting and shelling. How many people died and injured? How many houses destroyed by these strikes? I don’t know. I will know tomorrow from the news, if I’m not one of the dead.

I don’t know what is happening. Did they start the invasion of Rafah? Despite all the warnings of all the world, despite the possibility of committing new, grave massacres? I don’t know. All that I know is that I am terrified, disabled, and have no choice.

The bombing, the shooting and the air strikes continue while I am writing these words.

When I opened the laptop half and hour ago I was planning to write something else. I wanted to tell you about something I heard a child ask his father.

The child said:

  • Dad, what if we stop eating so we get smaller and smaller until we become small enough to get into my mother’s belly and then you take her out of Gaza and she gives birth to us in a safe place where there is no bombing? Is this possible? 

We were 5 men there. We heard the child, we were astonished. Not one of us said anything.

The bombing, the air strikes and the heavy shooting continue and I will stop now so I can send you this episode, just in case…

 

The last shelter / the last resort

“Civilians will not be harmed. We do not intend to harm civilians. This is a war against terrorists. All civilians must leave Gaza City and the north of Gaza and go to the middle area and the south, to Khan Younis and Rafah. These are the safe shelters.”

From most of Gaza City and the north, more than a million people left for what was called ‘safe shelter’.

The middle area, the south, Khan Younis and Rafah. Were they really safe? Bombing and airstrikes followed the civilians, leaving thousands dead and huge destruction.

A month later, all civilians in the middle area were required to go south to Khan Younis and Rafah, safe areas, safe shelters.

People fled from the middle area, dispossessed, forced to leave, to survive. They saw what had happened to those who did not leave Gaza City and the north.

But Khan Younis and Rafah were not any safer. Killing, bombing, shelling, airstrikes followed them, again leaving thousands dead and huge destruction.

A month later, all civilians had to leave Khan Younis and go to Rafah. Rafah is safe.

More than two thirds of the Gaza Strip population is squeezed into Rafah. The last resort, the last safe place for the civilians of Gaza. Is it really safe? Still bombing, shelling, airstrikes follow people, leaving thousands of dead and huge destruction.

Last night was an example of what is coming to Rafah. 162 people killed in 2 hours, as usual the majority women and children.

People are stuck and paralysed. People have no choice at all.

Since they began talking about invading Rafah, the city changed; the market is less crowded, there are fewer street sellers, no one is moving once dark comes.

At home, most of our talk is about what to do, where to go. Shall we stay? Shall we move again? But to where? And we end the conversation without any answer. We are stuck.

Everyone I meet raises the same questions: Are you staying? Are you planning to leave Rafah? Where would you go?

I don’t know.

We called our daughter Salma, who is in Egypt now. For more than fifteen minutes she was only crying, afraid for us, and we are afraid too. She asks the same questions, and we could provide no answers.

We don’t know.

Why should any human being have to go through this horror? Why?

Rafah is the last city, the last resort. Then the border with Egypt; the border with high walls, huge barbed wire, many observation towers, no access.

Now they call for a military operation in Rafah. Where will people go?

The terrifying stories from Gaza, the north, the middle area and Khan Younis leave people in an unbearable state of panic.

People don’t know what to do, where to go.

 

Hospital

In Rafah, there are no real hospitals, only four centres which are called hospitals, but are much less than a real hospital, a bit more like a primary health care centre. One of them is a maternity unit only.

Last night my mother got very sick again, with uncontrolled vomiting causing internal bleeding. It’s a nonstop vomit mixed with blood, comes out dark, the colour of coffee, with pain. It started at 6:25 in the evening, there was nothing to do, it was dark, fear, movement is very risky. No sleep at all, waiting for daylight. At 6:25 the next morning, I went to the nurse, the neighbour, who helped give my mother the medication through her veins. It’s happened twice since I arrived in Rafah, this is the third time. Normally as soon as she gets the medication, the vomiting stops.

I did not find the nurse at home, he is on a night shift at the hospital and he won’t be back before 10 am. I am in a strange city and I don’t know enough. But I know Abu Khaled Abdelal, I approached him, asking for a doctor or a nurse to help my mother. Immediately he called a friend, an old, experienced nurse, Abu Wasfi. In less than 15 minutes he was here, he did what should be done, he gave her the medicine in her vein. The vomiting continued; I thought it would take some time until it worked but it did not work this time. It was now 11 am, and she was still vomiting and bleeding. No choice, I must take her to the hospital. The hospital was not the first choice because we all know that due to the huge demand on hospitals, the huge number of injured people, and the collapse of the health system, doctors are obliged to prioritise to whom they give service. An 83-year-old woman will not be a priority.

I went to the hospital, entered the emergency room. It is so difficult to explain what it looks like. The emergency room is a hall of around 14 x 6 meters with 20 hospital beds. Hundreds of people in the place, all beds are occupied, many patients are on the ground, doctors and nurses are moving everywhere treating injured people and sick people wherever they are, on beds, on the ground, in the corridor. The floor is very dirty, needles, cotton balls and bandages full of blood, dirt, spilt water, making the place dirtier. All the while there are two workers cleaning, doing their best to collect whatever they can, yet the place is a mess. 

The noise is a mix of cries of pain, shouts of people calling doctors to take care of their beloved ones, talks, chats, electronic sounds of medical machines. After more than 30 minutes, I was finally able to talk to a doctor about my mother. She was in her wheelchair, and he walked with me while I was explaining her situation and what we gave her. He looked at her, and then approached a nurse asking her to take some blood from my mother for CBC and chemistry tests. Then he left, the nurse was busy with other patients and injured people, she came back after 20 minutes, checked my mother’s blood pressure, and she inserted the cannula in her vein, took the blood sample and asked us to take it to the lab. The doctor came back 20 minutes later, he checked my mother’s chest, and he asked the nurse to give my mother some medication through a vein. 

After 2 hours, the blood test results came back, there is inflammation in her blood, we need a specialised doctor to decide the right medicine. They ask us to wait until he comes; they said he will be there in 10 minutes. One and a half hours passed, and no one showed up. I kept asking about the doctor who was supposed to check on my mother, but no one had any answer, they don’t know, maybe he is in another section, maybe he left. I searched for him in all the hospital sections but could not find him. All this time my mother was becoming weaker and more tired. She wanted to leave, she could not stay in the wheelchair anymore, it was so painful after more than 3 hours.

Finally, we decided to leave. My mother hadn’t vomited for an hour and a half, so we hoped for the best and decided to look for a private doctor tomorrow.

While I was there at the hospital, three injured people died; two were severely injured, and the third had internal bleeding, while the outside of his body was not hurt.

It is 9:32 pm, I am writing this piece and my mother is on her bed again vomiting and barely able to breathe.

 

Not a diary, just statistics

128 days of war on Gaza.

35,176 people killed and missing under the rubble or not reached yet due to military operations.

28,176 killed people reached the hospitals, among them:

  • 12,300 children
  • 8,400 women
  • 340 medical staff
  • 46 civil defence personnel
  • 124 journalists

7,000 people missing, 71% of them children and women.

67,784 injured, 70% of them children and women.

11,000 injured in need of treatment outside Gaza – dangerous injuries in need of life-saving treatment.

10,000 cancer patients facing death due to lack of treatment.

700,000 infected by contagious diseases.

8000 infected with hepatitis due to displacement and malnutrition and unsafe water.

60,000 pregnant women are at risk due to lack of proper health treatment.

350,000 patients at risk of health deterioration or death due to lack of medication and proper health treatment.

2 million dispossessed people (internally forced displacement).

142 governmental facilities destroyed.

100 schools and universities totally destroyed.

295 universities and schools partially damaged.

184 mosques totally destroyed.

266 mosques partially damaged.

3 churches destroyed.

70,000 housing units totally destroyed (housing around 150,000 people)

290,000 housing units severely damaged (housing around 1,450,000 people)

66,000 tons of explosives hit Gaza.

30 hospitals are out of service because of the Israeli military attacks.

30 primary health care units are out of service because of the Israeli military attacks.

123 ambulances targeted and destroyed.

200 sites / buildings of architectural / historical interest – destroyed.

 

On the road

Going from Junaina area, east of Rafah where I live now, crossing the main road of Rafah, to Tel Al Sultan, west of Rafah, is about eleven kilometres, from the border of Israel towards the sea. The road crosses the main market. Stores are open on both sides, on the pavement on parts of the road and on the central island of the road, are thousands of street sellers.  No regular cars or taxis anymore.  Trucks, big vehicles usually designated for goods or animals, become the normal transportation. Each vehicle is full of at least 50 or 60 people, some sitting on the edge of the truck and many standing in the empty space in the middle. Like other people I use this type of transportation, taking my place I look around at the sellers in the street, the faces of the passengers on the truck, listening to people talk.

The majority of the talk is about when this war will end.  Will there be a truce soon? We’ve had enough. We’ve lost enough. A man gets frustrated.

A: Why don’t they kill us all at once? Why 200 per day?  Why 300 per day?  Why don’t they kill us all and finish our misery?

B: Believe me, they would like to do so. They dream of the day that no Palestinians remain in Gaza or any other place in Palestine.

C: It is all the fault of Hamas. Since they controlled Gaza we never saw a peaceful day.

D: Yes. What they did is not resistance.  The resistance that is the cause of this killing, damage and destruction is not resistance.

E:  Agree, but the Israelis are much more terrorists than Hamas.

B:  No doubt. The Israeli crimes against us have not stopped since 1948 and even before.

F:   Does anyone know where I can get or register for a food parcel?

G:  Many NGOs distribute them.

H:  You should know someone.  They’re all corrupt.  They steal all the aid and sell it to us.  Don’t you see these street sellers.  All that they sell is aid items.

I:  You are right.

J: Is there a distribution of bread flour by UNWRA? 

K: Yes, they are distributing for families of seven now.  

J: My family has five members.

K: You should wait then.  They might start addressing families of five members within the coming two weeks. 

J: How can we live?  What do we eat in these two weeks.

Silence.

A man sitting in the middle of the truck looks familiar.  I said:

‘Hi! Aren’t you the uncle of my cousins?’

Uncle: ’Yes, Hossam.  You forgot me’.

‘No, I did not but you’ve changed’

Uncle: ’The war changed us all.’

‘You are right’

Uncle: ’Where do you live now?’

‘I rented an apartment in Junaina.  You?’

Uncle: ’I’m in a tent in Tel Al Sultan. Did you know that Waleed, the eldest son of your cousin was killed?’

 

‘My god. I didn’t.’

Uncle: ‘How come?  He was killed more than a month ago now.’

‘Where? How?’

Uncle: ’In Gaza. He was out looking for bread flour, when he was targeted by a drone.  He was shot dead.’

‘I’m so sorry.  I lost contact with my brothers, sisters and cousins in Gaza months ago. May he rest in peace.’

Uncle: ’Take care of yourself and your family’

Then he asked the truck driver to stop.

Uncle: ’I’ve arrived at my destination.  Good to see you and hope to see you again.’

He left and left me sad and angry.  I have no words.  Yesterday I learned that the brother of my sister’s husband and his son were also killed, in Jabaliya. How many more people will be killed?

When will it be enough for the Israelis?  If they’re vampires they should have got enough of our blood.  Maybe it will never be enough for them until they see us all dead.

Scarface

18 February 2024

“See yourself for 1 shekel!” A child in the market is holding a 15cm2 piece of mirror, calling people to look at their faces or to see their bodies for 1 shekel.

No, there are no mirrors to purchase in the market. With a million people in tents, with nothing, no means of life, a mirror is absolutely not something you would think to look for or to have when you don’t have food, water, electricity, milk or diapers for children, a washing machine or a fridge, a mattress or blanket, a door for privacy or a toilet, an oven to cook on or a plate to put your food on. A mirror is something you forget about, your look and appearance in front of others is not something that matters.

The boy is trying to make living by offering a very rare service, I have not seen my face since l arrived in Rafah, no mirror. I called to the boy, “Do you really make money out of this service?”

“Yes, many people want it, I make at least 30 shekels per day ($7.50)”

“Good for you.”

“You see that man?” (He pointed to a man 20m from us, walking the other away.}

“What about him?”

“He looked at his face in the mirror and he give it back to me, but he did not pay me anything, he just gave me back the mirror and walked away. I did not stop him. While he was looking into the mirror, I asked him, ‘What is that?’ He had a cut on his face from front of his head down to his chest, a long cut, ugly cut, not healed well yet, a very long ugly scar. I think it was from an injury or shrapnel. He looked at his scar and gave me back the mirror. I saw tears in his eyes, so I let him go, I did not ask for the 1 shekel.”

I did not comment. I took the mirror, looked at my face, it has gotten very skinny. I shave without a mirror, so some of the hairs on my face are longer than the rest, and my face looks like a scar. I did not cry. I gave the child 2 shekels and continued walking.

 

Appeals

19 February 2024

“Mr. Hossam, I got your name from a friend; he told me you can help. We are a family of 11 people, with children and a sick father. We are at Tal Al Sultan in Rafah without shelter, please help us get a tent!”

“Mr. Hossam, I got your name from a friend; he told me you can help. I have been displaced for the fifth time, Jabalia to Gaza, to Burij to Khan Younis, to Rafah. I can’t feed my children, can’t feed my family, please help us with a food parcel or anything, please!”

“I got your name from a friend; he told me you can help. I am a widow living with my disabled father. We are in Rafah, we’ve got nothing, please help us! I urgently need a wheelchair for my father, I can’t move him alone!”

“I got your name from a friend; he told me you can help. We are several families living inside a store 6×3 meters: 37 people, old, children, women, men. We have nothing, we need some clothes for the children, some milk for the babies, please help!”

“I got your name from a friend; he told me you can help. I can’t find any blood pressure medicine. They told us you can get it for us….”

I receive at least 20 similar calls per day. People are desperate. I work for an NGO, we distribute food parcels, some tents, some plastic sheets to make tents, but our capacity is very limited and the demand, the need is so huge. Together, all of the UN agencies and international and national organizations are unable to meet more than 5% of the people’s needs. I really want to help, but who am I? What can I do for all those needy people, while I am also becoming one of them?

I have good connections with many organizations, and I share these demands with others hoping that they will help. But I know that hundreds of thousands of people are left without any help. I know this because I see it every day in the streets, in the tents, in people’s eyes, in the miserable appearances of men and women in the streets, in the sad faces of the children who are not dressed enough for this cold, in the children who walk without shoes, in the huge lines standing in front of bakeries hoping to get some cheap bread, in the thousands of street sellers who are trying to make some income from their few poor, simple goods, in the disputes among people over anything.

People are getting frustrated, angry, nervous, out of control, and who can blame them after all that they have witnessed and have lived through during the last 4 months of killing, destruction, torture, loss of homes and businesses, loss of loved ones, of genocide? 

Who can really blame them? Can you?

 

Sleepless

20 February 2024

In every culture there are old phrases, sayings, tales, and stories. My grandfather used to tell us that there are 3 who cannot sleep: the one who is hungry, the one who feels cold and the one who is afraid.

I am sitting on my mattress unable to sleep, not hungry, not cold, but afraid, afraid of the war, afraid of what might come after the war and what life would be in Gaza after the complete destruction of civil institutions, schools, universities, associations, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure. Afraid of the anarchy which we start to witness nowadays in the absence of any kind of authority.

But also thinking of those hundreds of thousands of families, who have the same fear as mine, but also feel cold in the tents, cold without proper clothes, cold without blankets. Those who are trying to sleep while they have eaten nothing; real starvation is happening in Gaza City and the north. People have finished eating the animal food and now they literally eat the grass. How can they sleep? Are they really able to sleep? I believe the saying of my grandfather.

Like every day, I was walking in the street, I mean the market where you find thousands of street sellers, when a young girl of around 9 years old stopped me and asked me to buy a bracelet from her, a bracelet made of cheap beads, a small bracelet for a young girl. She said, “It is only 4 Shekels, but I will give it for only 3.” Another girl, younger than the first one, also tried to sell me a bracelet, saying, “It is worth 3 Shekels, but I will accept 2 instead” And from nowhere, a boy, even younger appeared with another bracelet asking for 3 Shekels.

I don’t have a young child; my only daughter is 22 and she is not even here in Gaza. But who can send away such angels, their begging eyes could move a stone. Normally I refuse to buy from children because I know that some fathers are using their children, or they are exploited by an older child. But nowadays, I know that everyone is needy. 

I smiled at them and asked if they were sisters and brother, or relatives. They said, no. I wanted to believe them. I took the bracelets and gave them the price they asked for. I am sure I will find three little girls who would be happy to receive these bracelets.

I will try to sleep.

 

Little dreams

22 February 2024

I don’t dream of going back home anymore; it is obviously impossible. Home is only 35 km from Rafah, but passing through the Inferno of Dante looks easier than reaching my home. So, I gave up this dream.

Meeting my daughter in Egypt is also another impossible dream. How can I secure $20.000 to pay the bribe for the Egyptians to let me out of Gaza with my wife and my mother? So, I gave up and I accept calling her by phone or via WhatsApp every few days.

I don’t dream of proper health treatment for my mother while the health system in Gaza has been systematically destroyed, and hospitals are barely able to treat the thousands of injured people. So, l accept treating her at home without proper examinations or blood tests, heart scans, blood pressure tests or chest X-rays. For the time being, she is better.

I don’t dream of waking up in my bed, going out to walk my dog, and returning to prepare myself to go to my job, my office. l accept living in an apartment with nothing but a mattress, blanket, some clothes, and a few kitchen items.

I don’t dream of planning a holiday out of Gaza with my wife and my daughter in the summer. Instead, I accept whatever comes, unable to take any decision in my life as life itself is not guaranteed at all.

My dream now is to see a ceasefire, an end to the killing, bombing frozen, and children’s fears of airstrikes and shelling behind us.

I dream to be able to secure our daily food, whatever food.

I dream of securing a tent in case we are displaced another time, because there is no other place to go any more, and wherever we go, we will need a tent.

I dream!! In fact, I don’t dream. I lost the ability of dreaming I lost a big part of me. Not death, but for sure, not a life. Just living through what comes and what I am forced to go through, day by day, uncertain of anything.

Uncertainty is the enemy of dreams.

 

24th February 2024

Shrapnel – Splinters

Hossam wrote these lines as if it was his friend Basil Marquosi speaking and this accompanies eight drawings by Basil.

Presentation – Basil (border)

Shrapnel all the way, splinters all the time; not only shrapnel, cutting people into pieces, not only splinters cutting buildings in half. People themselves are splintering. Life itself is splintering. Nothing is complete, nothing is perfect, everything is splintered. The human beings, the buildings, the streets, the trees, the tents, Human Rights. Life itself has become shrapnel, splinters and pieces. 

Who is going to collect back into one standing piece, a child who has lost his parents, a man who has lost his beloved wife, a mother who has lost her baby, or a worker whose source of livelihood was lost, or a patient who lost his hospital or a  factory owner whose factory was destroyed, or the owner of a house he built with years of sweat that now he sees in ruins?

All my life as a Palestinian, as an artist, I did my best to draw complete images. Today, with this genocide, I am trying to bring pieces back, shrapnel and splinters, to become a single complete image. Will I succeed?

 

27 February 2024

Unaccompanied child 

Today at 9:25 I received a phone call from a colleague from the Norwegian Refugee Council asking for immediate intervention for an unaccompanied child. She said, 

“There is a child left at Yibna school.” 

According to what she heard; he was brought to the school by the ICRC. 

“This is an absolute urgency!” 

I tried to get more information, but my colleague had nothing but a name and very limited information. The boy had been completely alone in the streets for 11 days, having left Shifa hospital in Gaza more than a month ago. His parents were killed there. He is very skinny, and it is believed that he has severe malnutrition. 

I have a staff member, a counsellor at Yibna school, who I tried to call. But since the war started on Gaza, communications have been very difficult. I could not wait. Yibna school is 20 minutes walking. As I walked, I kept trying to reach my colleague. I arrived at the school-turned-shelter in 15 minutes, went directly to the management office, and introduced myself as a child protection officer from the MA’AN Development Centre. Luckily, they knew of me and my work. 

I did not need to ask about the child, he was there in the room, sitting on a chair eating some rice and cooked beans. He was eating as if he had never eaten before, eating as if it might be the last time he would eat. I moved my eyes away from him, did not want him to feel that he was being watched. 

I addressed the shelter manager: “Did you call the child protection officer at the Ministry of social development?”

The manager: “Should we?” 

“This is the only thing you should do. The Ministry is responsible for unaccompanied children; they will bring him to the SOS Village.”

I called the child protection department, and Mr. Attaf, the shelter manager, told them about the child. They will send a female child protection officer in minutes. 

The child finished eating and started staring at the ceiling. I got close to him. 

“Hi, my name is Hossam.”

He moved his head down slowly, looked at me and said, “I am Ahmad.”

“Where are from, Ahmad?”

“From Gaza.”

“You are alone, where is your family?”

“They are dead.”

I stopped, I could not ask anything more.  The child was speaking flatly, with no feelings, no reactions. 

“How did you get here?”

“They were shot dead.” 

Silence… 

“We left Shifa hospital by the sea road, they shoot at us, my mother, my father, my older brother, people ran everywhere, I ran, I ran, I ran!”

Silence…

“Do you have family in Rafah? Uncles, aunts?”

He looked at me, then looked at the ceiling, not speaking for a while. I kept waiting, not talking. 

“I slept in the streets, in Nuseirat, in Zawaida, in Dir Al Balah. I was afraid, I am not afraid anymore, I am cold.”

“I will get you a jacket now, and shoes.” (He was not wearing shoes, his feet looked very dark, almost black. I hope it is only dirt and not something else…)

“Listen, a good lady will come now from the ministry. She will take care of you. Is that ok?”

Silence…

“Ok.”

“Do you feel any pain?”

“Yes, my head, my legs, my stomach.”

 

“Don’t worry, we will take you to hospital for checkup. Ok?”

“Not Shifa hospital!”

“No, no, not Shifa hospital.”

“Ok.”

 

I really don’t know what this child went through. I don’t know how many days he was walking. I don’t know how many hours he walked. I don’t know what nightmares he had. I did not want to keep talking with him about it.

He lifted his head again to the ceiling. I was speechless. He needs a specialised psychiatrist, and I did not want to take the risk of asking wrong questions. 

“Do you want some tea, hot tea?”

He moved his head with a “yes” gesture. 

The manager of the shelter was clever, while I was talking with the child he went out and came back with a jacket and shoes. He gave them to me, and I gave them to Ahmad, who took them and started putting them on. No reaction, mechanical movements without any reactions. 

The Ministry child protection officer arrived, introduced herself, and showed her badge. I moved aside to give her the space to do her job. Then I left. 

Today I called the ministry to check on Ahmad, he has been taken care of. They took him to the hospital. He was, indeed, malnourished, and they gave him some supplements. Then he was brought to the SOS Village, an organisation hosting orphans and unaccompanied children. He is in good hands for the time being. 

They will start looking for any immediate relatives and try to integrate him into his own family, otherwise he will stay at SOS until further notice. 

To date, SOS has received 66 unaccompanied children. How many children like Ahmad are there who have not been reached and are now left alone? Who knows?

In the news / Not in the news 

In the news:

2 babies died due to dehydration and severe malnutrition in the north of Gaza.

18 bodies were collected from the streets of Bani Suheila after the withdrawal of the Israeli army, including 4 women and 7 children.

25 kg of bread flour cost 7000 Shekels ($2000) in Gaza City. 

The office of UN Humanitarian Affairs says that Israeli military operations have completely destroyed the agriculture and food production chain in Gaza.

More than 50,000 people are on the verge of starvation.

40 people are leaving Gaza for Egypt today. Each one paid $5000 to cross the border. 

USA officials: “Israel must make more of an effort to increase humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.” (This is call number 100.)

The UK representative at the Security Council said: “Humanitarian agencies are unable to bring aid to civilians in Gaza. We urge Israel to allow more aid into Gaza.”

Bombardments on several places in Khan Younis, Rafah, Deir El Balah and the north of Gaza.

Local officials: 30 hospitals out of a total of 35 hospitals are out of operation in Gaza due to Israeli military operations.

A man died in a dispute over air-dropped aid in Gaza City.

 

Netanyahu: “I don’t know where Biden got the news about Monday’s ceasefire agreement.”

No humanitarian aid has reached Gaza and the north since 23rd January 2024. 

Qatar foreign affairs minister: “The international community has failed to protect civilians in Gaza.”

The daily counting of Palestinian causalities: 76 killed and 110 injured during the last 24 hours.

Total number of Palestinian causalities since 7 October 2023: 29954 people killed and 70325 injured. 

112 people killed and 700 injured by the Israeli army while they were waiting for aid on the sea road northwest of Gaza city.

 

Not in the news: 

More than 1.3 million pupils and students have not received any kind of education for more than 5 months.

The complete absence of authority and the order of law encourages thieves to steal anything from homes and individuals, as well as humanitarian aid, cars and anything they can get their hands on. 

Gangs and thieves of humanitarian aid control the market and manipulate the prices.

The local authorities and the police do not control anything. In the absence of a system of law, some police have begun to take the law into their own hands. The police have killed at least 56 thieves since early January.

The police appear from time to time in the market bringing with them groups of thieves (most of them young men) and they beat them heavily with sticks, leaving them with broken arms and legs.

There are thousands of children everywhere in the streets with miserable clothes and no shoes, begging for food.

There are hundreds of stories of rape and sexual harassment in shelters and in tents.

Stories of killing with a history of revenge almost every day.

 

Thieves broke into a home and killed the homeowner in front of his children and stole what they wanted from the home.

Air-dropped aid has led to disputes over food with people shooting at each other.

There are allegations of corruption in food aid distribution in many local organisations.

Drivers for UN agencies and municipalities are stealing fuel and reselling it in the market for 20 times the original price. 

To travel out of Gaza, each person must pay $5000 – $7000 for the so-called coordination to get out of Gaza. 

All the trucks carrying aid from the Rafah Crossing to inside the Gaza Strip have broken windows because people stone the trucks to force them to stop. Then they jump on the truck and steal whatever they can (this has become a phenomenon of organized crime).

Local merchants guard their trucks with gunmen, who open fire if ever anyone tries to steal anything. Many people have been injured and several people killed during the last 2 months. 

On a main street in Rafah in daylight, a man and his wife in their car were stopped by gunmen, who forced them to leave the car. They stole their belongings and the car. The looters were not even masked. 

My colleague Wala’a Saada was killed yesterday in a bombing of a mosque. She lived with her parents in a tent nearby the mosque. Wala’a is number 5 of my colleagues who have been killed since the start of this genocide.

I am afraid for my life and for my wife’s life. 

4 March 2024

Air Strikes Kill, Air Food Drops Kill More

Since October 7, 2023, constant air strikes on Gaza have not stopped. When an air strike hits a home, a school, a hospital, a mosque, hundreds of people are killed and injured.

When Jordan, Egypt, France, US, UAE drop food from airplanes, this also kills people instead of feeding them.

How?

Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza City and the north have no access to any food or basic needs. When food aid provided by the UNRWA arrives at one spot on the edge of Gaza City, a few thousand of the hundreds of thousands of people are waiting. As soon as the trucks of aid arrive, people jump on the trucks grabbing the aid, each one taking whatever he can, people start fighting each other, injuring each other, killing each other over a sack of bread flour or any kind of food. No system of distribution of aid in Gaza and the north, no authority, no UNRWA, no entity is able or allowed to manage food distribution. Israel has prevented any such system from being put into place.

The same thing happens with food air drops. They create chaos, anarchy, and disputes, with many people injured and killed. Big families, individuals with guns, people use knives, cutting each other over food. What to expect from hungry people?

Small families, weak people are left behind, they can’t compete, they suffer hunger quietly.

Food air drops kill in another way. They spare the Israelis from their obligation to allow access to food and basic needs for the starving civilians.

Food air drops kill because the quantities dropped are not feeding even hundreds of people.

Food air drops kill because people’s needs are far more than just food; medicine, water, education, safety, freedom and much more, and these are basic human rights.

Food air drops are only a way for some hypocritical regimes to show off. They know very well that this is not the solution, and that they must oblige Israel to allow free access to all human rights for civilians, not only in Gaza and the north, but in all of Palestine.

 

6 March 2024

Little Stories

Since the start of the war, I have been writing only what I see, what I feel, what I witness, avoiding writing what I hear. But there are thousands of little stories that can’t be ignored.

A colleague from Khan Younis told me this: 

“I left home at the beginning of the invasion of Khan Younis and came to Rafah with my family. We spent two days on the street before we managed to find a tent. Yesterday we went back to Khan Younis. There is no home; my home, my street, all the buildings on my street were destroyed. In fact, they were smashed, and no one can recognise the street or the locations of the houses.”

A friend from Abasan, east of Khan Younis village:

 

“As soon as we learned that the Israeli army left the village, we went back. My home was not there. People were in the streets collecting bodies, yes, bodies of people who had been dead for days and even weeks. They were left there. Many had been partly eaten by street dogs and cats. A woman recognised her husband from his shirt, there was no face, no skin.”

A man from Gaza told us: 

“There were some people between Gaza City and Nuseirat camp, in the middle area, on the sea road waiting for people leaving from Gaza City and the north to go south. They were waiting with water and bread and some food to give. A woman arrived, so skinny, very exhausted. They welcomed her and gave her some food. She grabbed a piece of bread and was eating it with tears, repeating the word, — ‘Bread, bread, three weeks without bread! No one knows what it means to feed on grass and animal food, except the ones who must do it! Bread, bread!’ — And she kept crying.”

At the Alnajjar hospital, a 65-year-old man was arrested for 3 weeks by the Israeli army. No one could figure out what type of torture he had been exposed to. The man was not speaking, he had scars on his wrists, on his feet, on his nose, and his eyes were wide open looking everywhere as if he was looking for someone or at somebody with fear. 

According to UNICEF, 17,000 children have been orphaned in Gaza since the 7th October 2023. 

A man said:

“My father refused to leave his home in Khan Younis. When we went back home three weeks later, we found our father shot in the head, dead for more than a week. His body smelled.”

A boy said:

 “When we left Khuza’a (a village of Khan Younis), I could not find my cat, she was hiding somewhere, and we had to leave. We went back yesterday, three weeks later and I found my cat dead in the kitchen.”

Calling my brother in Gaza: 

“How are you?”

“Very bad.” 

“Sorry for the stupid question. How are you doing?”

“Dying with my children, silently.” 

“Did you go where the food was air dropped, maybe you could get something?” 

“I’d rather see my children living one day more even hungry than to see them shot or stabbed over some food that we might or might not get.”

8 March 2024

What to Answer When You Have No Answer

All parents in all cultures struggle with the questions raised by their children at different ages, questions like: where do we come from? What is God? Will we go to hell if we lie?

Some are clever or educated enough to provide some answers, but many get stuck and give no answers or at least provide stupid answers. We parents know that, and even so, we fall into this trap.

In Rafah, although it is still the least destroyed city in the Gaza Strip, you can’t walk 100 meters without passing a destroyed home or a bombed building.

I was walking with my brother-in-law and his 8-year-old daughter towards the market, trying to find some sugar at whatever price to make something sweet for the children on the weekend, when we passed by a huge, destroyed building. Saba, the 8-year-old asked, “How did they bring people out from under this rubble?” Her father was confused, he lied, and said there were no people when the Israelis bombed this building.

“What about that one?” she asked, pointing at another destroyed building. Her father again, said that it was empty, too.

The 8-year-old girl said, “Hmmm… but then, when were all those children killed?!!”

Her father and I were astonished, we had no answer.

Saba said, “I’m 8, but I’m not stupid!”

By the way, we did not find any sugar in the market, and we went back with nothing.

9 March 2024

A Memory

In 1989, l was 19 years old, and I left school for work in Israel. For Palestinians, working in Israel means only manual labor, as farmers, carpenters, mechanics, collies, cleaners, construction workers, washing dishes in restaurants, (no shame at all), and of course we are not registered in the Israeli workers unions. We have no rights other than the agreed salary, no health insurance, not any type of compensation for the end of service or for work injuries. Of course, jobs in engineering, teaching, the medical professions, and so on, are not allowed for Palestinians from Gaza and the West bank.

I had been working in a blacksmith’s. The owner was a very kind and friendly Israeli man, who originally came from Poland as a young man in 1951 with his family. He participated in the 1956 and 1973 wars as well as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Once he told me in a very friendly way, “Hossam, I like you, you are a good young man, you don’t make trouble. But you know, your people are not like you. They make trouble for our army in Gaza and the West Bank. You know that if your people were clever enough and united with us, we could control the world. Your people with their good manual skills and we with our brains, we really could control the world. Just accept the fact that we are cleverer and let us make the strategic decisions.”

The following week I was in Gaza, writing graffiti against the Israeli occupation on the walls of Gaza City, and for that I was arrested for 9 months by the Israeli government.

 

11 March 2024

We Used to Have Ramadan

The month of Ramadan for Muslims is a very special and important month. Muslims around the world celebrate it in many ways, and all Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Who doesn’t know that?

In Gaza too, we used to have a month of Ramadan, and we would begin preparing for it several days in advance. 

We used to buy special decorations and hang them in the streets and inside our homes.

We used to buy special lamps made in Ramadan especially for children.

We used to make Qatayef (very sweet pastry stuffed with nuts and honey) or buy it in Ramadan.

We used to make special meals and invite sisters and brothers and friends to eat and celebrate the month of Ramadan together.

We used to go out and have our sunset meal at the beach if Ramadan fell in the summer or go to restaurants if it was winter.

We used to spend more money in Ramadan because the sunset meal is made up of many different dishes, more than at any other time of the year.

After the sunset meal, children would go out into the streets with their Ramadan lamps celebrating, playing, and arguing over who had the nicest lamp.

Two hours before sunset, we used to take our children to the market to buy the evening’s needs, but mostly to spend and waste the time until sunset.

At Ramadan, families visit each other and exchange gifts between relatives and friends more than at any other time of the year.

At Ramadan people feel more like giving, so poor people receive more charity.

Children love Ramadan and wait for it, especially since it is followed by the festival of Eid, one of the two main feasts for Muslims.

We used to have Ramadan and after the sunset meal, all the families would be stuck in front of their TVs watching soap operas made especially for Ramadan.

Today is the first day of Ramadan.

People do not have any Ramadan decorations.

Children have no Ramadan lamps.

Families do no not have enough food.

There are no markets to purchase things, or to spend time at before sunset.

There are no visits for families or friends.

No gifts are given out.

Poor people do not find any one to give them charity, all people are in need of charity.

Today is the first day of Ramadan and there are no restaurants to have a meal inside, no beach to have a meal outside at sunset.

Ramadan came and there is no electricity, so no TVs and no soap operas to watch.

We used to have Ramadan, but there is no Ramadan this year.

They stole Ramadan from us. They stole the leisure and fun from our children. They stole our lives.

13 March 2024

2 Million Meals

Two million meals will arrive for the Gazan people in 60 days, after the installation of the temporary floating seaport.

Ok people of Gaza, you are superior, everyone knows that! You can wait without food for 60 days, that’s easy!

And yes, 2 million meals should be enough for 2.3 million people.

And yes, one meal per day should be enough, you can survive with it.

And yes, you should be grateful for 2 million meals every day.

We know that we did not mention the water, we believe you can live without it. Palestinians are superior!

No sanitation as well! We believe you can manage.

No health treatment? You have already been without this luxury for 6 months, who needs it? Only soft people in the West. You can live without it.

We did not mention education? Really? Never mind. How has education helped your people before? Most Palestinians are well educated and yet they can’t find jobs, so there is no need to waste time on education.

Yes, shelter. For sure we know you will manage to live in the rubble and in tents. You  have already proved that you can for the last 5 months.

Palestinians of Gaza, enough complaining! We expect your thanks and gratitude for the 2 million meals that you will receive in 60 days.

Stop killing you, your children, and your women? In fact, we can’t guarantee anything.

 

15 March 2024

White Page

Opening my laptop, opening a Word document, trying to write something about our frozen life, a life that is limited to looking for a food parcel or waiting for some news about a ceasefire.

The thoughts in my head are scattered, I am unable to concentrate on one idea or one subject. My dog lays his head in my lap, making the writing difficult. Poor dog, for two days, he has not been feeling good. He has a stomach pain, it is stomach pollution, the doctor said. The food we eat is not healthy. What alternatives do we have? None. I took my medication and tried to sleep. My mother, in the other room, does not stop whining in pain too. She gets worse and her health is deteriorating fast. Nothing can be done. Helplessness is killing!

All talk is about invading Rafah, making the subject the most talked-about by everybody. They are terrified. Where to go? How to survive under the continuous bombing? Every day there is a targeted bombing or a random bombing, people are killed and injured without a stop.

The two little girls living with us (the daughters of Abeer’s sister) are much quieter than usual, they look very sad, most of time sitting doing nothing. What children of 14 and 8 can stay still doing nothing for hours? There is no playing, no going out, no school, no friends, no relatives visiting, no walking in the market, no going to the beach. Just staying at home doing nothing. Nothingness is a slow killer; it kills the spirit and the soul first. What can I do? I brought them some toys, some paper, and colours. Then what?

I received a call from a colleague in one of the shelters, about another unaccompanied child, a 14-year-old girl. She said that she escaped from Gaza, she was 3 days in the street. She is afraid and knows nothing about her family. She wanted to go back to Deir El Balah, where she has relatives, but she could not name them. I called the Ministry of Social Development and SoS. I don’t want to go, it is only heartbreaking, and I can provide nothing. Helplessness is killing!

A mother is carrying a little child, a few months old, holding another child of 3 with her hand. Behind her is another child of 6, begging, asking for food. She is very dirty, and her children too. They look very poor, very skinny, what will a few Shekels do for them? I give her 5, which means almost zero. Helplessness killing!

This page is not white anymore, there are many words in black. I hate black, next time I will use another colour, maybe it will help me feel better.

Good night

 

15 March 2024

Talking about Me

My name is Hossam, I will be 56 years old this coming July. I am married to Abeer, my beloved wife and we have one lovely girl, Salma, 23 years old.

I was born as a Palestinian in Gaza; I did not choose that. I grew up in a large poor family, I did not choose that, either.  My father is a bit educated; my mother is not. I did not choose them, I simply accepted all of that.

I grew up realising that we are under occupation with strange soldiers speaking a strange language in our streets. Stopping people in the streets, searching them, humiliating them, arresting them. My father used to warn us not to get close to the soldiers. Why? I don’t know.  And as a child, I did not understand why and what was happening. I thought that this is life, and that this is how it is all over the world. At that time, as a young boy, to me the whole world was Gaza City. In fact, all that I knew were some streets in Gaza City. So, I had no opinion.

At the age of 16, I wanted to go to Israel, many people did. So, I took a taxi to Tel Aviv. It was that simple in the early 1980s. Tel Aviv, what a city! It is so big, so beautiful, so clean. High buildings, shiny stores, sparkling beaches, new cars, traffic lights, painted pavements! Why wasn’t Gaza like Tel Aviv? I did not know. In Tel Aviv there are people, normal people, yes speaking a strange language but normal people. Why can’t we live there? Why don’t they live among us in Gaza and the West Bank? Why must we get permits to enter Tel Aviv? Why can’t we live together?

They look human like us, we look human like them. 

I grew up more and realised that a military occupation means slavery and no rights for the occupied people.

Then, when I worked in Israel for 5 years from 1985 to 1990, I realised that we are welcomed there, as long as we are obedient under the occupation. We are good, as long as we accept being cheap labourers without rights. We are then well treated like a good slave or a nice pet.

We could not accept this. In 1987 the first Intifada took place, a public uprising against the occupation. It took several forms; throwing stones at soldiers, writing anti-occupation graffiti on the walls, setting fire to car tyres in the middle of the streets to block army vehicles from passing, and calling for a boycott of Israeli products.

This movement was met with severe violence; shooting, killing and arresting thousands of young men.

I was one of these young men, and I was arrested in 1992 for 9 months, accused of protesting against the Occupation and throwing stones at soldiers.

(In 2012, | went to the USA. On arriving at the Washington DC airport, I was stopped by the visa controller and asked if I had ever been arrested, even though I had put the answer in the visa application, so he knew. | said yes, and he asked, why? I said, because I threw stones at Israeli soldiers in 1992. He asked if it was wise to throw stones against a machine gun, and I said, it seemed very wise at that time. He laughed and allowed me in.)

In 1993, I became involved in theatre, and humanitarian work. It changed my life, I decided to continue resisting the occupation as an individual with my own words, by my acting on the stage, by my efforts to help people in need, and by trying to bring awareness of our cause to Europe and any other place I could get to. For all my life since then, I have denounced violence. I can’t see it as a solution to any conflict or disagreement. Yet, for all of our lives we have been exposed to severe violence by the Occupation, all types of violence, killing, injuring, arresting, starvation, depriving us from basic human needs or human rights, treating us as nothing, less than people, less that human beings.

Terror! What is terror if it is not the Occupation?! What is terror if it is not blocking people at checkpoints, depriving them of their identity?!

The first time I ever travelled abroad was to Spain in 1995. We did not yet have the Palestinian passport. Instead, we had something called a ‘Laissez Passer’ issued by the Israeli authorities: Name, ID number, photo, birth date, and the nationality: Unidentified.

This is exactly what they wrote in front of the nationality identification: Unidentified.

It was a shock, it hurt, it was humiliating, it was and still is not fair.

I came to understand more as I witnessed the arrival of the Palestinian Authority; the corrupt one. Are we free? Are soldiers out of Gaza? No! They are there at Nitzareem Junction, south of Gaza City, with their tanks and guns and checkpoints. They are there at Abu Holy in the middle of Gaza Strip, with their tanks and guns and checkpoints and armed observation towers. They are there at Rafah crossing, and they still have full authority to allow or prevent anyone from crossing in or out.

Again, everything is in their hands. Our export, import, travel, movement, taxes, water, electricity, communications, all are controlled by the Israeli occupation.

Realising that this was the result of the Oslo Agreements makes me feel even more humiliated.

In 2000, the second Intifada, again, a public uprising against the Occupation began. This time, some Palestinians had guns, and they used them. Hamas started its terror attacks and suicide bombings. And, as if the Israelis were waiting for this to happen, their retaliation had no limits; bombing, killing, closing whole neighbourhoods, blockades, arresting thousands of people.

Why do they think that any nation will accept to be enslaved forever? Why don’t they realise that the only solution is to set people free so that they can decide and determine their lives and their future for themselves?

And now I have come to see Hamas taking over Gaza, with the same practices of corruption, even worse than with the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, they treat people with clear discrimination, if you are not Hamas, you are a stranger. Speech censorship. How many times have young people protested for unity between Gaza and the West Bank, between Hamas and the Palestine Authority, only to be met with the iron hand of Hamas?

I have come to realise that the main cause of Hamas’ creation is the Occupation itself. Israeli policy for the last 17 years has been to keep Gaza and the West Bank separated so as to undermine any possibility of unity and the development of a Palestinian state. For years they allowed Qatar to fund Hamas. They wanted Hamas there to claim that they can’t negotiate peace while a terror organisation is in control.

I am now witnessing the complete destruction of my city, witnessing the assassination of more than 30,000 of my people, the injuring of more than 70,000 of my people, the destruction of 60% of my town’s houses. Living the fear, the terror, the starvation, the famine and the slow death of 2.3 million people.

The last few days I don’t feel well at all. The least effort I make makes me feel tired, exhausted. Today I found someone with some scales in the market, with a piece of paper on which was written: weigh yourself for 1 Shekel. I did, I am 69 KG. The last time I weighed myself, before the war, it was 85 KG. This is a severe drop, unhealthy, I know, because of the type of food we have; with no meat, no chicken, no fish, no fruit, no nuts, and unsafe water. Yes, I am sick.

 

18 March 2024

I Lived

I consider myself to be a lucky Palestinian, a lucky resident of Gaza. I am 56 years old, and I can consider myself lucky because I have had many opportunities which the majority of Gazans under the age of 35 never had.

Examples:

I have traveled to more than 12 countries, while most Gazans have never seen any place beyond Gaza.

From the age of 17, I have always had work, and was never unemployed. 72% of Gazans under 35 are jobless and unemployed.

I got my own home when I was 40 years old. Most Gazans under 35 years of age do not have their own homes and are still living within their extended families.

I have my own car. 75% of Gazans under 35 have no cars.

I am married and have the most beautiful daughter in the world! The majority of Gazans under 35 can’t afford marriage expenses and can’t raise a family.

I have wonderful, loyal friends in Gaza and in many other countries, including those on this list to whom I send these journals, who think about me, and who support me with what they can. Most Gazans under 35 do have friends for sure, but they are limited to Gaza.

It is no wonder Gazans under 35 are not as lucky as I am, we are under occupation!

We are under fire, under bombardment, under shelling, exposed to famine, starvation, and genocide. We have no means to treat the daily hundreds of injured, and every day we bury hundreds of our children and women and men. We have no way out. We are trapped in Gaza.

So, why should we not sing? Gazans under 35 must sing: “The sky is blue, the grass is green… and I say to myself, what a wonderful world!” 

What a wonderful world…

 

Birds in paradise

When we were young and a child in the family or in the neighbourhood died, adults would tell us that this child is in heaven, he will be transformed into a beautiful bird in paradise. 

We liked the idea, yet we had doubts. If it is something so good, why are mothers and fathers weeping, mourning, crying?  Why do mothers keep wearing black dresses for months, why do they not smile anymore? Why is no-one laughing, and if any of us laugh they tell us to be quiet? 

UNICEF and the Ministry of Health has said that 13,000 children were killed in Gaza by the Israeli army during the last 5 months. 

This is too many birds; I think paradise is full of birds now. 

Isn’t it enough?

 

Why Does This Happen to Me and My Family? 

22 March 2024

A story from Gaza

Hossam tells another man’s story

I am 41 years old, born in Gaza, where I have lived all my life. I have always minded my own business, concentrating on building a career. I was never involved in any political activity, not even political talks, or chats. I spent my life denouncing violence. I worked hard until I built my own home. I got married and had 3 daughters, the oldest is 14 and the youngest is 4 ½. My wife is also well-educated and works in a bank.

 

This genocide started and I stayed at home in the Remal area in Gaza. I have no relatives in Gaza City, nor does my wife.

 

Last night there was heavy shooting and shelling around my home. I took my wife and daughters to the kitchen, away from windows. We lay down. Bullets struck the windows and the walls; my children and wife were screaming. I tried to calm them down. I was not any less afraid, I wanted also to scream! The shooting started at dawn, continued until 9 am the next day, when it became less intensive. Suddenly a knock at the door! Who is it? How could there be knocking at our door? Not opening is not a choice, opening is also a risk. The knocking continued while I was still reluctant.

 

I went to the door, and from inside I asked, “Who is it?” A weeping voice said, “Open please!” It was man crying, a broken voice from a broken human, the voice was carrying pain and agony. I asked again, “Who is it?” He said, “Please open, the Israeli army sent me to you, I have a message!”

 

I panicked! If I don’t open, they could come, and God knows what they would do! At least this is the sound of a man from Gaza. I opened the door. There was this man of around 50 years old, almost naked, in only his underwear, with his hands cuffed behind his back, trembling from fear and cold.

 

He said, “You and all males over 16 years old must come down and go towards the armoured tank on the left side of the street, and all women and children under 16 years old must come down and go to the right side of the street. You must come down to the street naked but for your underwear, otherwise they will treat you as a threat and shoot you on the spot!”

 

For few seconds I froze; frozen from shock, frozen from fear, frozen by a million thoughts and ideas passing through my mind, none of which I could keep in my head! The man was crying: “Please speed up, they gave me only 5 minutes to finish this mission! We must come down together!”

 

Like a robot, I went in, told my wife what was happening and what we should do. I was very neutral. My children were crying from fear, as they had already been doing all night, and I could not do anything to calm them down. I calmly told them the message and went to the door. I looked back at my family wondering if this would be the last look, the last time I would see them? I don’t know what is happening to me, suddenly I feel nothing, and I am telling myself, go hug them, go kiss them! I hear myself, inside my head while my body moves mechanically towards and out the door. As I went out of sight of my wife and children, I took off my clothes and went down with the naked and handcuffed man.

 

Down we went to the left side, where there were several tanks and armoured vehicles, not just one. The street was full of soldiers with guns. There was lots of rubble, I did not realise how many homes had been destroyed, it was like stepping into hell! A fluent Arabic-speaking soldier asked us to stop. I stopped. He told me to lay down with my face on the ground. I did. He told me to put my hands behind my back. I did. All of this while countless guns were pointed at me and my other naked neighbours, who had arrived before me. Suddenly a soldier approached me, pulled my arms brutally, tied them together behind my back, and blindfolded me with a piece of cloth. He told me to stand. It was not easy from my position; the soldier helped me by kicking me in my thigh! It helped; the pain obliged me to jump! They took me a few meters away, put me on my knees facing a wall, and started to ask me about myself, my family, about the activities of armed men in the area, about tunnels. With every answer of “I don’t know,” I was beaten. What could I do? I didn’t know!

 

After 20 minutes, they turned me to face a small drone which was flying near my face, scanning it, and then flew away. Then they put me back on my knees facing the wall. Little stones scratched my knees. A small stone was almost entering my skin under my knee. When I tried to move a bit to avoid it, it didn’t help, I felt more pain! It was not the only pain, they had cuffed my hands with plastic strips, very tight, so that I felt no blood reaching my hands. It felt very cold and painful in my back. Suddenly the pain began to move to every single part of my body, and I felt very cold everywhere. A light rain started, I felt the drops of water on my head and my back first, then my whole body became wet. I could not move, it was very cold, I started to feel freezing. I really don’t know, in fact I can’t remember if I cried during those hours facing the wall, I am trying to remember what I was thinking of during this time, but honestly, I don’t remember.

 

Did I think about death? Did I think that they were going to arrest me or to execute me!? Did I think about my wife and my girls? Did I think about my home, my friends, my job, my past life, or my future? I don’t know. Maybe I thought about all of this and more, I don’t remember….

 

At 4 pm they told me to stand, and God only knows what effort and pain it took for me to stand! I first threw my body to the side, then struggled to be on my back, then I realised this was not helping, so I turned again to face the ground, putting one leg forward and pushing against the ground with all that remained of my strength, until finally I stood, with many new scratches all over my back my chest, my bottom, my legs and my hands. A soldier took the blindfold off my eyes from behind. For few seconds, it was not easy to face the light of day. There was another soldier in front of me, pointing his gun at my face. He said sharply, “Go towards Al Rashid Street, the sea road! Walk towards the middle area! Walk and don’t stop, walk, and don’t look behind you, not a single time! Walk until you reach Nuseirat Camp. Go!

 

It was obvious that there was no possibility to argue or even to ask about anything, not my family, not my home, not my clothes, not even about the plastic cuffs around my hands.

 

It is 13 km from my home to Nuseirat Camp. I started walking. I walked and walked, with nothing around me but destruction, bombed buildings, smashed homes, uprooted roads, water and sewage leakage everywhere, dogs and cats, from time to time, dead human bodies in the streets, some with dogs on them.

 

I walked and walked, naked, cold, the rain was heavy for 15 minutes, then light, then it stopped. I wanted to wipe the water from my eyes and my face, but I could not with my hands cuffed behind me. I walked and walked, from time to time passing by armoured vehicles and tanks. Night fell, it was dark, I could barely see where to put my feet, but I walked, I had no other choice. I started to think, “I am alive, they won’t shoot me, they would have done it already if they wanted me dead, right? Where is my family? My wife and my children? Are they still in Gaza? Were they allowed to go back home? Were they forced to walk like me to Nuseirat? If yes, where would they go? We, they, don’t know anyone outside of Gaza City!”

 

It was 9 pm when I saw on the horizon the shape of a man coming toward me. I had already passed the Gaza Valley, I was near Nuseirat, maybe 1 km only. The man approached me, and I fell into his arms. Another 2 men reached us, they uncuffed me, one of them had a coat and put it on me. I wanted to cry, I looked for tears to cry, I tried to hear myself crying, but no sound came out of my mouth. l think I was crying inside me, my tears were dropping inside my eyes instead of outside. It burned, I felt it burn like hell! They had a small car, they put me in the front seat. We drove for 5 minutes, and reached a school, a shelter, where they provided me with some clothes. They brought me some food, but I could not eat. They insisted, but really, I could not. I asked about my family, my wife, and children. They did not recognise the names. Maybe my family is back home, how can I know? I asked for a mobile to ring my wife. Trying once and again, and again and again, it didn’t work! I did not know what to do! They brought me to a place, a tent in the middle of the school’s front yard. There were 4 men inside the tent, they welcomed me, and they pointed to a mattress that I could use to sleep. I lay down, I slept.

 

Here I am for the 5th day in the school, in the tent, trying to find my family, trying to call. I went to all the schools in Nuseirat, in Deir Al Balah, in Zawaida, in Sawarha, looking for my children and my wife, and I can’t find them! I went to the UNRWA Operation Centre, I went to several NGO’s, I called the ICRC, and yet still can’t find my family! I don’t know if they are alive or dead. Tomorrow I will go to Rafah, to look for my family amongst the 1.3 million people there. Please pray for me that I will find them! Please pray for their safety! Please….

 

Small Battles in a Big War

23 March 2024

“I have visited more than 25 pharmacies and 5 hospitals looking for medicine for my father. I could not find it. He is deteriorating, and I am very worried for his life, please help!”

 

“Since my wife died in the bombing of the Nuseirat market, I don’t know how to care for my little twins, who are 1 ½ years old. I am in a tent, alone with them. I must go out to look for food and to work. I sell recycled food items in the market, making 20 – 25 Shekels a day. My neighbours in the tent nearby visit my children, trying to care for them, but they also have their own problems and life’s complications. I don’t know what to do, please help!”

 

“I leave my children in the tent at 7 in the morning until sunset to go and beg in the streets. My husband, my father, my brothers, my husband’s parents and his brothers and sisters, 22 people in all, were killed. I was in the market when they bombed our home. I don’t know how my children spend their time in my absence, they wait for me for food. I can only provide them with one meal per day, I did not receive a food parcel. Do you know how to register for food support? Please help me!”

 

“Mother, why is my bed wet suddenly? I am 16 years old; I never did this! I don’t want to wake up with urine in my clothes! Please help!”

 

“My breasts are dry, I can’t feed my 3-month-old baby, I can’t afford powdered milk. Please help me!”

 

“My name in Ali, I am 9 years old. My family were all killed, no mother, no father, no brothers, no sisters, no grandparents. I am afraid, please help me! “

 

“I am Jamila, I am 12 years old, I can’t sleep at night. I have nightmares, I am afraid of bombing! I don’t know what to do, please help me!”

 

A man fainted out in the street. People helped him to wake up, he opened his eyes, looking around like a lost person. He said with a very weak voice, “I am hungry, I have eaten nothing for three days, nor my children! Please help me!”

 

A man sitting beside a mosque with his wife and 3 children, 2 girls and a boy. The oldest is 13, the youngest is 3. He said, “I have no place to stay, no home, no tent, I have been in the street with my family for 4 days. Please help!”

 

“My son was injured and lost his legs 3 months ago. He is only 16 years old. I can’t find a wheelchair for him, and I can’t carry him to the toilet by myself! Please help me!”

 

I was at the market with my wife buying some locally made sweets, only 250g. This is very expensive. My wife asked me to buy another 250 g. I did, and she took it. There was a little boy who looked very poor. She gave him the sweets and asked him to share it with his brothers and sisters. The boy smiled and moved away fast.

 

I love my wife.

 

Bad Omen

25 March 2024

 

During the last 2 nights, drones were over Rafah, occupying the sky and the space, with their sound, ugly sound, from dawn to sunset, without stop. I can’t sleep, and if I fall asleep for a little, this terrible sound wakes me up over and over again. It is the sound of death and agony. From time to time, besides the drone sound we hear an air strike followed in 10 to 15 minutes with the sounds of ambulance sirens. How many people were killed? How many buildings destroyed? How many people are under the rubble, dead or alive? Are there children among them? I can’t stop thinking about this until the drone sound brings me back from my thoughts to tell me that I am here! You won’t think of anything else; you won’t sleep!

 

My mother in the other room is crying from pain, the bed sores are spreading over her body, on her back, her shoulders, her bottom, and there is no medicine available in Gaza to help. The youngest child here, the daughter of my wife’s sister, is crying too, she wants to sleep and can’t because of the drone noise. It is very loud, very close, you feel the drone inside the house, inside the room, inside your brain, shouting at you! You won’t rest, you won’t sleep! I am here and I am allowed no other sensation but listening. The drone sound reminds me of the crow. The crow’s call is a bad omen in our culture. I used to hear my mother ask God to protect us from the devil when she head the crow call.

 

In Gaza, I lived in the Alutaz building. Several families, around 80 people; men, women, children and old people never left the place. I know all of them, some are friends, and not just neighbours. We would check on them whenever communications were working. They went through fear, panic, starvation, thirst, but they were determined to stay in their homes, and they decided not to leave. Several armed confrontations occurred in the area, and they were stuck in the crossfire. Several buildings around them were bombed and destroyed and yet, they did not want to leave their homes. All the building’s windows were destroyed, several flats were shelled and burnt. They put out the fire and stayed.

 

The mobile connection is very weak, but it gets stronger from midnight until 6 in the morning. I downloaded the messages from the WhatsApp neighbour’s group, which was full of chats. I went over them:

 

19:35

– Does anyone have any news from the neighbours?

– Yes, they are all safe, but the situation is really dangerous, the Israeli army is on the street.

 

20:41

– May God protect them.

– I pray for their safety.

22:52

– I just received an SMS from a neighbour; the Israeli soldiers are entering the building.

 

22:55

– I tried to call my father there, his mobile is off.

– I tried to call Abu Kareem, his mobile is off, too.

 

00:20

– Does anyone have any update from the neighbours?

 

03:07

– All neighbours were forced to leave the building and they are walking on Al Rashid Street (the sea road) towards the south. [This is from the last call with the daughter of Abu Ibraheem]

– Have any of the neighbours been arrested?

– May God bring us good news of their safety

 

03:45

– The latest news about our neighbours, at 8 pm, the Israeli soldiers entered the building forcing all the neighbours out onto the street, ordering men to stand in a row on the left side of the street and women and children on the right side facing each other. They tell all men to take off their clothes, they were guarded by several soldiers pointing guns on them. There were 2 armoured tanks, one at the top of the street and the other down the street, a sniper from each tank was pointing their gun at the neighbours as well.

– From time to time, they heard small explosions inside the building. They believe that the soldiers were exploding the locked doors of the neighbours who’d left their homes at the beginning of the war. The neighbours were kept in that place on the street from 8 pm till 2 am, then they were asked to go to the south using the sea road. Walking without any belongings; no clothes, no food, no money, no Identification, nothing. They walked.

 

04:25

– My father is so sick, he is slowing the others down, they separated. My father, my mom, and my younger brother are at Al Nabulsi roundabout, where the Israeli army killed more than 100 people who were waiting for food supplies 2 weeks ago. The other neighbours already passed my family.

 

04:37

– Do you know where they can find cars or any means of transportation?

– Not before Gaza valley.

– That is 8 km from our home.

– Yes.

– I hope they will make it, children and old people can’t do it.

– They will, by the will of God they will.

– Near Gaza Valley, there is a spot where the World Central Kitchen is receiving people who were forced to leave Gaza City, and is providing them with clothes and hot meals, and there is a primary health care unit there as well.

– I hope they will make it there soon.

 

06:15

– Any updates my dear neighbours? Any news?

– Bakri family just arrived at my place in Zawaida.

– I talked just now to Dr. Nasri, he is ok, with his family, they are still walking toward Dir Al Balah. I believe he will go to his brother there.

 

07:23 

– My father did not make it. He died 1 km before the Gaza Valley. My mother and my brother carried him and made it to the World Central Kitchen.

– May he rest in peace.

– Oh my dear, so sorry for that, may God have Mercy on him.

 

Goodbye Abu Ashraf. God knows how good a neighbour, how good a man you were. Rest in peace, my dear.

 

World Theatre Day

27 March 2024

 

Today, the 27th of March, is World Theatre Day. Since 1962 it has been celebrated by International Theatre Institute Centres, IT Cooperating Members, theatre professionals, theatre organisations, theatre universities, and theatre lovers all over the world. This day is a celebration for those who can see the value and importance of the art form “theatre”. It acts as a wake-up call for governments, politicians and institutions that have not yet recognised theatre’s value to society and to individuals and its potential for economic growth. Theatre makers all over the world celebrate this day in different ways, some go to parties, some continue performing, some make big celebrations with readings of plays and a specially prepared homage written this year by Jon Fosse.

 

Here in Gaza, I mark this day by dreaming. I dream that what is happening to us is no more than a tragedy by Sophocles or Euripides, a play which aims to bring people to the level of purification of Aristotle, and that will end soon. And when it is over, each one will go home. There will be no people who have died, no children killed, no citizens forcibly displaced, no homes destroyed, no trees excavated, no borders closed, no children without milk, no sick people without health treatment, no hungry people without food, no thirsty women without water, no students prevented from reaching their universities, no pupils without schools, no athletes without playgrounds, no intellectuals without cultural centres, no theatre makers without theatre arenas.

 

I dream that all this bombing and shelling and the horrible sounds of the drones are part of the sound effects of this play. I dream that all this destruction around me wherever I look is part of the visual effects of this play.

 

I dream that all these poor, skinny people, all the poor, skinny, dirtily clothed children and women are part of the chorus of the play. I just dream to wake up in my bed, in my home, with my wife and my daughter Salma.

 

I dream.

 

What Remains for Us? What Remains of Us?

29 March 2024

 

Bones covered with skin and some cheap, dirty clothes, faces unshaved for weeks, involuntary slow-motion walking, heads down, dirty hands and faces, childrens’ shoeless feet. Despair is obvious, it is so clear and thick, it fills the air, anyone can feel it, smell it, touch it. Despair moving around, controlling the atmosphere. As if I become a living creature by shouting aloud, I prevail. No place for anything but me, despair.

 

What remains for us? A brutal, savage, murderous occupation army over a doomed land.

 

Broken men, defeated women, destroyed children. No past, no future, but the present, the current moment, survival, if possible, but for sure not life.

 

Are these the people of Gaza? Am I the man I used to be? Did I live? For 55 years? Did I spend good and bad times like any human being? Did I fall in love? Did I go to the beach and spend leisure time there? Did I have a glass of good wine with some beloved friends? Did I become a father and feel all those waves of emotion? Did I feel the tranquility of having my own home after 30 years of hard work? Did I travel and meet new people and enjoy new places?

 

I know I did. I was in Belgium last May, and in Sweden and Jordan. I know that I had a great time with new and old friends. I know that I was so happy to meet with my friend Jonathan after 11 years without meeting each other. I know that I had great fun climbing a mountain.

 

But why don’t I feel anything? Why does the memory come flatly, without feelings? Even the sad memories recalled without feelings? What happened to me? Which part of me was stolen? I feel heavy, very heavy, moving heavy, breathing heavy. Carrying a very heavy heart. It hurts inside my chest.

 

What remains of me? The leftover of a human being. What remains of us? Some bones covered by skin and maybe some blood in the veins. No soul. No life. Just alive until further notice.

 

Sisyphus

2 April 2024

 

Imagine that you had to live the same life, with the same details, with the same emotions, with the same movement, with the same smell, with the same atmosphere, like a minute-long movie, repeated over and over again as a kind of metaphor of the life of Sisyphus.

 

We all know who Sisyphus was, and that he was condemned to forever roll a stone from the bottom to the top of a mountain, only to see it roll back down at the moment he reached the top.

 

Just add to this story that each time he pushes the stone, Sisyphus loses a part of his body; he loses a finger, a piece of skin, a hand, an eye, an ear….

 

This has become the life of Palestinians in Gaza; waking up every day, going everywhere to look for an aid food parcel, or a tent to build for shelter, or selling recycled food items from the food aid, and trying to secure a meal for the family.

 

This is repeated over and over, over and over. But also, each day, they lose a part of their bodies, they lose beloved family members, friends, homes, and hope. They lose, every day, the most beautiful part of their bodies; they lose their children.

 

And the Israeli barbarian army, which believes that it has become Zeus, is just enjoying the results of the horror it made with its own hands.

 

Escaping

3 April 2024

Escaping: A sick man said, “I eat canned food only. I know it makes me sick and that I am slowly dying, but it is the only food I can afford.”

 

Escaping: A husband said, “I divorced my wife and sent her with our only baby to her family, I can’t feed them.” (There have been thousands of divorce cases since last October.)

 

Escaping: A wife said, “My husband disappeared 3 months ago, and we thought he was killed. But today, someone told us that he is in Cairo! He left me alone with 3 children.”

 

Escaping: A middle-aged man said, “I steal, yes, I steal furniture from bombed houses, I steal food aid. I need to feed my children. I don’t feel any shame.”

 

Escaping: A young woman said, “I will give myself to you for 50 Shekels, I need to buy milk and food for my parents and younger sisters.”

 

Escaping: A father said, “I sent my children to beg in the streets, I have no job or money to feed them.”

 

Escaping: A mother said, “I left my baby near the mosque and left. I hope some good people will care for her.

 

Escaping: A bride said, “This is the last piece of gold I have, my groom bought it for me before he was killed in Gaza. Please give me a fair price, I have nothing else! He bought it for $1200, the gold buyer said he would give me $300.”

 

Escaping: The child tore apart his books so his mother could use the paper to make fire to heat some food.

 

Escaping: 200,000 Gazans have registered to leave Gaza.

 

Escaping: I know this is not safe water, it will kill me! Who cares?

 

Escaping: I am writing what I feel, what I witness, what I see, what | observe.

 

Who am I to write to you? What am I writing to you? Who am I to ask you to read what I write? I am nothing but another Arab, another Palestinian, another something from Gaza!

 

I am not blond, I have no blue eyes, I don’t speak your language. I don’t eat your food, I don’t practice your rituals, I don’t have the same religion, I don’t look like you, I am nothing but another Palestinian.

 

And who doesn’t know that Palestinians are an extra load on Earth, that they must be vanished so that Israelis can live in peace?

 

5% of the population of Gaza have been doomed, most Gazan buildings have been smashed. In a few years everything will be done. The mission will be accomplished.

 

For Israel, this is the only solution: the Final Solution.

 

Counting

Waking up after a sleepless night, bombing from time to time disturbs my sleep, my mother whining in the other room wakes me, the thoughts in my head keep me from sleeping. My eyes are shut and images of numbers are running in front of my eyes. 32,000 killed! 75,000 injured! 17,000 children killed! 1000 children amputated!

Nothing happening, the numbers increasing everyday and nothing is happening, the world continues as if nothing wrong is happening.

6 international humanitarian workers killed!!!

Also, nothing is happening but some noise here and there. And then nothing is happening, the world continues as if nothing wrong is happening. 

And I keep counting.

 

Not Comparing, Just Saying

7 April 2024

Israel is using artificial intelligence (Al), to identify targets in Gaza through mobile numbers and sim cards, as a scientific experiment.

Do you know what that means?

Examples: A doctor receives a phone call from a member of Hamas asking for an appointment for health treatment for himself or any one of his family. The doctor is identified by the Al as a target, and he is bombed with all of his family.

A car mechanic calls a client to come and get his car after fixing it. The client is by chance a Hamas member, so the Al identifies the mechanic as a target and then he is bombed along with his family.

A teacher calls a parent to come to the school because his son is a troublemaker. The parent is Hamas, so the teacher is identified by the Al as a target, and he and his family are bombed.

By using this Al scientific experiment, Israel has killed thousands of innocent men, women, boys, girls, old people, and even babies, and has destroyed thousands of houses.

In WW2, and in one of the most horrible and terrifying crimes against humanity, the Nazis used Jewish people in scientific experiments to develop medicine.

Not comparing, just saying….

 

New task

The organisation I work for is receiving funding for a new project, a warranty for 5000 orphaned children. It is to care for and to pay all living and education expenses for the 5000 children until the age of 18 years old.

I will be managing this project.

I’ve been tasked to start collecting the information and the data needed about the orphans.

I asked my staff, my colleagues who are in the field providing psychosocial support for the children in the shelters, to feed me back with the information.

During the last three days I started to receive the information. Every day, every hour, every minute, until this moment, I received 7382 children who have lost one or both of their parents in this genocide.

 

9 April 2024

My Colleague

There are very few vehicles working in Gaza as taxis. To get around there are some buses, a few cars, and many trucks carrying people from place to place.

I had to go to West Rafah to conduct some interviews with new candidates for the counselling work at the projects that I manage at the MAAN Development Center. There are two other colleagues who must be with me as the recruitment committee. They should be arriving from West Khan Younis, only 10km from Rafah.

From Rafah town to West Rafah (7 km) it took me an hour and a half to arrive, half of the way walking, as there was almost no transportation. The candidates, who are mostly displaced in Rafah, had arrived. We were supposed to start at 9:30, but none of my colleagues had arrived, and it is now 10:30 and still no one has arrived, and I couldn’t reach any of them over the mobile. I called the executive manager of MAAN to consult him on the situation, and he said we can’t run the interviews without a committee of 3 people. He is right. I am a manager, but there is also a technical person (a counsellor supervisor) and an HR representative. So, we had to postpone the interviews for another day. I apologised to the candidates. It was not easy, they had made great efforts to arrive. I spent some time with them assuring them that they did not lose their chance to be recruited.

At 10:50, one of my colleagues arrived. She is a program manager, responsible for several projects and with many staff under her supervision. She looks very tired. She started to apologise, explaining how it was almost impossible to find a taxi and how she had to walk for an hour and a half until arriving here. Suddenly, while talking, she started crying, she cried hard. I held her hand, trying to calm her down. She continued crying and talking:

“It is too much! I can’t handle it anymore! I leave my little children crying every day, it is too much! Look at my hands!”

Her hands had burns all over them.

“I had to prepare the bread and the food on a fire, which I am not used to doing. I don’t know how to do it properly! My husband is helping. It is enough, we are not used to it! He carries water from 1 km distance, we had to leave our children with my mother-in-law. But she is sick, she can’t take care of them. l am tired, I need a break!

There is no internet at our place. I come here 3 days a week and each time I find hundreds of emails that I must answer! My staff are complaining, they don’t find time to rest, they told me that they reach home and sleep like donkeys! It is too much!”

She kept talking and crying, and I started to have tears in my eyes holding her hand.

She sat on the chair, took few minutes to control herself. I gave her some tissues.

She looked at me and said, “Thanks.”

I tried to hide my tears and left.

10 April 2024

Six months

Six months?! Has it really already been six months since we lost our normal lives? Since our lives were frozen at a killing point? Six months since we lost our past and present? Six months since we stopped planning for our future?

Six months since the killing machine of the Israeli army has been going through our bodies like a knife goes through butter.

Six months of fear, panic, bleeding, death, destruction, damage to homes and souls.

Six months of famine, thirst, and sickness.

Six months and dead people are buried everywhere but in cemeteries.

Six months and all human feelings and emotions have become limited to fear, sadness, anger, loss, and despair, with no other feelings in Gaza.

Six months and 33,360 people slaughtered in cold blood, more than 15,400 of whom are children.

Six months and 75,993 human beings injured, bleeding, amputated, and no proper health treatment.

Six months and I can’t reach my own home.

Six months holding the key to my front door, wondering when I will be able to use it.

Six months and I can’t meet my brothers and sisters in Gaza and the north.

Six months and my brothers and sisters can’t see their old, sick mother.

Six months and men have no jobs.

Six months and children have become sellers in the streets instead of going to school.

Six months and women are begging in the streets.

Six months and the only wish of 2.3 million people is to be able to secure their daily meal and a proper tent to spend the night in.

Six months with the sleep of 2.3 million people disturbed by the sounds of explosions, bombings, the buzz of drones, and by their fear of now and of then.

Six months and 2.3 million people do not dream at night, they only have nightmares waking them up and disturbing their sleep.

Six months and 2.3 million people hope to sleep for once, in peace and quiet.

Six months… Is there any end to this nightmare?

 

12 April 2024

Hypocrisy

A few months ago, the US president and several members of his administration began saying that Netanyahu is the problem. Now, several countries in the West are repeating this statement. All the world’s media are repeating it blindly.

Dear World, Netanyahu is not the problem, Netanyahu was never the problem! The problem is the long-lasting military occupation. The problem is the mindset of the Israelis, of whom 76% are completely in favour of the daily killing and genocide committed against Palestinians during the last 6 months and over more than 75 years. The problem is the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime. The problem is with the Israeli mentality which has created ministers asking to bomb Gaza with nuclear weapons, and who no one holds accountable. The problem is the hypocritical world which witnesses the daily massacres and purposeful starvation of 2.3 million people, and which does not move a muscle. The problem is a world which every minute witnesses the complete violation of all international human rights and humanitarian law and keeps saying that Israel has the right to defend itself.

The problem is a world with double standards, which does not see Palestinians as human beings.

Shall we Palestinians pray to be Ukrainians with blue eyes and blond hair to be considered human beings?

World, do you know that the Israeli army killed more than 17,000 children in 187 days, an average of almost 100 children every day?

Do you know that the Israeli army, against all humanitarian laws, forcibly displaced more than 1.5 million people inside a very tiny place and now prevents them from going back to their demolished houses? Do you know that the Israeli army, in violation of all international humanitarian laws, destroyed 41 hospitals out of 50 serving 2.3 million people?

World! Do you know that the Israelis have killed more than 33,000 people and injured more than 75,000, 76 percent of whom are women and children?

World! Do you know that the Israeli army systematically destroyed more than 60% of the Gaza Strip housing units, leaving more than 1.5 million people without shelter?

World! Do you know that the Israeli army imposed a blockade on Gaza for more than 16 years making it the biggest prison on earth?

World! Do you know that the Israeli army turned Gaza into the biggest cemetery on earth?

World! I can continue listing thousands of details about the criminal acts of the Israelis against Palestinians in Gaza and the West bank, starting with the more than 400 military checkpoints in the West Bank that turn people’s lives there into hell, and continuing with the daily confiscations of Palestinian land there.

Dear World, Netanyahu is absolutely a problem, but not the problem. Israel itself, with its racist mentality and the hypocrisy of the Western countries are the main problems.

 

Buddy and the drone

As every dog needs to walk, I have to walk my dog, Buddy. Buddy is a naughty dog, not friendly with strangers or children. If anyone approaches him, he will bark aggressively. So, I had to walk with him at times when the streets are almost empty. And due to the war and bombing and fear of people, early mornings and early evenings, the streets are empty. People are afraid to go out, waiting until full daylight to start moving out. They are afraid of being targets by unseen, but very well heard drones.

I am not less afraid than others, but I have no choice.  Buddy needs to go out, to walk, and to do his natural business.

At six in the morning and at 7 in the evening I take Buddy and go out. The streets are empty, dismal, not comfortable at all. Drone noise in the sky, getting close, feels as if it is inside my ears. I walk with Buddy and feel the fear and uncertainty. How many people, civilians, were targeted by these drones? The soldiers behind the screen controlling the drones are using it as a video game. They see the Palestinians as images not humans, and they treat Palestinians as if they are the evil ones in a video game. They target them and shoot them to record more scores,

I walk and can’t stop thinking of those soldiers behind the screen controlling the drones, who are watching me! What do they think about me? Will they consider me as a target? Maybe the image of a human with a dog in the cursed land of Gaza will provoke them. Maybe they will feel that this image must not exist in Gaza. I walk and I have these thoughts in my head, increasing my fear. It happened several times that I had to cut short the walk after a few minutes because of the feeling of anxiety and of not being safe. Poor Buddy, what he has to go through! Poor us, what we have to go through!

 

To Egypt

Friday 11th April after one month of very anxious waiting, our names were on the HALA list to travel.  Left home at 6.30am, arriving at the border in 15 minutes.  The Palestinian side started the process of letting people in the Departures Hall at 8.  Have no idea why they asked us to arrive at 7am!

The hall was very full, complete anarchy, no order, official staff are shouting at people here and there.  It took us 2 hours to get out after the passport check and to get the bus to the Egyptian side.

At the Egyptian side everything is absurd and nothing is normal.

We were on the first bus to enter the Egyptian side, yet they kept us waiting one hour inside the bus; we can never know or ask why.

Entering the Welcome Hall.  It’s supposed to be a VIP space with VIP services.  The hall with good chairs, enough for 50-70 people, yet there were 500 people.  There was the cafeteria which is supposed to provide free drinks and snacks.  The servants were shouting at people, treating us impolitely and we don’t know why.

The passport checks normally take 30 minutes to an hour.  They kept us waiting until 4pm.  We don’t know why!

We had our dog, Buddy, with us inside a special animal box.  He was barking sadly from time to time, and the comments we receive from people are really tough.  It seems no-one saw it as normal to take a dog out.

We arrived at 10.30pm.  That’s good, some people were arriving after midnight.  

Salma, our daughter, Salma was there in the street waiting for us.  I don’t know and I cant find the words to explain how it was, the next hour with Salma, after six months under the bombing without seeing her.  I leave this to your imagination.

I went to take a shower.  There was this big mirror in the bathroom.  First time I see my full body for six months.  This is not me.  Much older than I used to be, as if it were years that had passed since I saw my face, my arms, my body, my legs, very thin, looking like Joaquin Pheonix in the movie, Joker.

I thought to myself, maybe better to see a doctor.  I told Abeer.  She and Salma said, you must.

I already know that my sudden weight loss is mostly because of stress.

We went to a doctor.  He asked for several blood analyses and an abdomen ultrasound scan.

The second day the results were ready; we went back to the doctor.

Due to severe malnutrition, I had anaemia and vitamin D deficiency.

He prescribed some medications, vitamin D injections, multi-vitamin supplements and a list of foods that I should increase in my diet.

That’s not a big deal.  I can afford, find and take them and things will be ok.

How many people are malnourished in Gaza now?  How many children are anaemic in Gaza now? UNICEF said that 1 in 3 children in Gaza are suffering severe malnutrition.  I believe this is a conservative estimate.  I believe there are 3 out of 3 children in Gaza are malnourished and suffering from many other diseases as well as anaemia.

What about those orphan children, more than 20,000 orphans in Gaza?  Are they being taken care of?  Are they provided with proper food by their new carers?

Is there any end to this genocide?

 

20 April 2024

In Egypt, in Gaza 

In Egypt

Sleeping in a comfortable bed, the mobile alarm waking me up at 6:30 in the morning, taking Buddy for the morning walk, 20 minutes of calm and joyful walking. Back home, taking a hot shower, having the morning coffee, eating a light breakfast, putting on my outdoor clothes. On my way to the office, meeting smiling people, enjoying or annoyed by the street noise, arguing the taxi price, Fayrooz singing on the taxi radio, nice start of the day. Streets full of cars, people everywhere, normal people, walking, talking. Arrive at the office, welcome colleagues, have a break for lunch at 1:30 with a sandwich at a nearby cafeteria, back to the office, work, send emails, reply to emails, prepare plans for the next day.  

Going back home, hot day, the driver puts on the air conditioning, a song of Om Kalthoum on the radio, covering the street noise. Arriving home, Abeer and Salma are waiting for me, they spent the day in the mall, went to a movie and did some shopping therapy. They are smiling and relaxed. Having a warm shower, changing clothes, putting on soft clothes, lying down on the sofa, putting on the TV, not watching anything in particular, just having the TV on, moving lazily between channels. Abeer and Salma calling me for lunch, big meal, salads and main dish with meat and rice, eating and chatting, cleaning the dishes.  Make some coffee, sit on the terrace, smoking and listening to some music. Abeer is on her laptop following up some of her work, Salma in her room studying for her master’s degree, and I pet and tap on the back of my dog, Buddy.   

In Gaza   

Sleeping on a very hard, uncomfortable mattress, waking up at 22h00 to the sound of bombing, trying to sleep again. Waking us at 12:30 am, a drone is very close with its harmful sound. Trying to sleep again, waking up due to backache, trying to sleep, waking up to my bedridden mother calling to move her body to another side, trying to sleep. An air strike nearby wakes me up again, trying to sleep, the dawn prayer calling in the mosque prevents me from sleeping. It is 4:50 am, trying to sleep, my mother calls again. Still trying to sleep… gave up sleeping, going out with Buddy for a walk, no joy, not comfortable, obliged to fight my inner fear and anxiety. Back home in 7 – 8 minutes. No shower, no clothes to change, no breakfast, just eat whatever is available. 

I put on my shoes, go to the office, no regular taxis, walking 20 minutes to get there. People in the streets are walking silently, heads down and faces unshaven, like me. Shoeless children. During the night new homes were damaged. On my way to the office, it is quiet, no noise but the sound of the drones in the sky, until I arrive at the market. There, there is loud noise, huge crowds, thousands of salesmen and children selling food and aid items. Arriving at the office, I open my laptop and wait for emails to download. It takes time, the internet is very weak. I look at the emails, have no desire to work, ignoring many of them, responding to the most urgent emails only. I feel sick, uncomfortable, leave the office, go down to the market with no purpose, walking, looking at the people around me, trying to find one face with a smile, even a fake smile; there are none.

Buying whatever is available of food for lunch, back to the office, not making any effort to see if there are any new emails, close my laptop, say goodbye, leave the office, go back home. Out of the market area, away from the noise, in the street going home, there are no sounds any more but the sound of the drone, as if it is following me, in fact it does; it follows each and every one in Gaza, everyone feels the same. 

Arriving home, doing nothing, waiting for the time to pass until sunset, taking Buddy for the evening walk, and again, no joy, not comfortable, back home in 5 minutes. Dark falls and all fear of darkness fills my heart and my head. Trying to sleep, dreaming of sleep. Can’t sleep. 

 

23 April 2024

Left Gaza but Gaza Did Not Leave Me 

Since the war against Gaza started, many WhatsApp groups have been created and I was added to several; the group of the 28 neighbours in our building, the neighbourhood  group with hundreds of members, the Rafah crossing group with thousands of members, the Gaza people in Egypt group with thousands of members, and the Egyptians for Gaza group with thousands of members.

These groups are good for communicating common information, but they are also channels for very bad, very stressful information, as well. 

In the building group there were neighbours who decided to stay in Gaza City and not leave on the 13th of October, staying until they were forced to leave in late March. The only good information was that they were still alive; the rest of the information was something like, “the nearby buildings have been destroyed,” “a flat on the sixth flour is on fire due to a shelling from the Israeli army,” “the Israeli army is shooting at the building from all sides, we are in the basement for safety, all windows of the building blasted due to the explosion of the nearby home,” “we can’t find any food anymore,” and, “the Israeli army forced men to go out naked and then forced all the neighbours to leave to go south via the sea road. Before they did that, they entered the building and blasted all the closed doors. The building with 28 flats is now open with no one to protect it from thieves and looters.” 

At the neighbourhood group, all the news is bad. It is a record of who was killed and which home, or building was destroyed. I could not stay in this group for long, and I left it. 

Several Rafah crossing groups have information about the lists of passengers leaving Gaza to Egypt, updated daily. There is the list of the Hala Company (300 – 500 people) each one of whom paid $5000 to leave Gaza, a list of people coordinated by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry (100 – 150 persons) each of whom paid $8000, and a list of patients and injured (70 – 100 persons) who paid nothing.  

In addition, there is information or questions from the members of the groups like: 

  • My name and my children’s names are on the Hala list but not my husband’s, what can we do?
  • I entered the Egyptian border, but they sent me back with no reason, what shall I do?
  • Is there any way cheaper than Hala to cross to Egypt?
  • My father is very sick, his name is on the patients list, but they won’t allow me to accompany him, what shall I do? 
  • How do you register at Hala Company?
  • How much will they charge for my mother, father and 3 children under the age of 18?

Then the groups of Gaza people in Egypt and Egyptians welcoming Gaza people:

  • How do I register my children in schools?
  • We left Gaza but we have no income to live, help us please!
  • Can one get a visa from an embassy if one doesn’t have an Egyptian residency? 
  • I am a teacher of English and looking for a job.
  • Where do we get a stamp for our passports to make our stay in Egypt legal? 
  • List of Egyptian doctors providing free services to Gazans.
  • Why are you here in our country, you are a coward, go back to Gaza!
  • I am looking for a chef from Gaza to work at my new restaurant, it will be a restaurant with Palestinian recipes.
  • News from Gaza, bombing in Rafah, bombing in Nuseirat, bombing in Bureij camp…

Bombing in Bureij camp! Abeer received a message from her sister asking to call back urgently. Abeer called: 

“What’s up? How is mom, how is dad, how is everyone?”

“Rami was killed yesterday; we learned of it from his family today!”

Rami was the fiancé of Reham, the youngest sister of Abeer. In late September 2023, he and his family asked for him to be married with Reham. My parents-in-law asked them for some time to think. But before they could give a final answer, the war started. In January, Rami and his family asked again, saying that the war is not going to end soon unfortunately, and we really would like to have them married, what do you think?

My father-in-law said, “OK, we agree, Reham agrees to be engaged, and the marriage will be after the war.”

It was good enough for Rami, he is able at least to come and visit and sit with his fiancée. The boy is in love, he comes two or three times a week, and each time he brings with him a nice gift for Reham or the family. 

Rami was visiting his home in Bureij camp, it was partially destroyed during the Bureij invasion in late November ‘23. He was trying to fix things in order to prepare the home for his future wife, his future life. 

Death did not give him a chance to continue, in fact the Israeli army did not give him the chance to dream, he was bombed inside his house. 

30 April 2024

Lost 

Here we are in Egypt, in Cairo, this beautiful city, with no war, no bombing, no destruction, no killing, no drones disturbing our sleeping, no images of starving people, no garbage in the streets, no sewage leakage, no sad faces, no miserable children or crying women, no broken men. Yet, we still can’t sleep, we are still afraid, we still panic.

We left Gaza, and we left everything; the home which is damaged, our belongings, and our memories. We left our brothers and sisters, we left our friends and jobs. 

What do we have here? We are alive, that’s all. How long we can stay here? We are not even considered refugees, we have no identity, we are just bodies moving with no purpose, with no future. Only darkness and uncertainty. 

Our past was stolen, and our present is frozen like a repeating moment that will stop with the end of our money, and this won’t last much longer. 

I am afraid, I am worried. I don’t know what to do! I start to question myself, was it right to get out?  I know it was right, I owe this to my wife, to my daughter, to myself to do what can to stay alive. But what’s next?????

 

3 May 2024

Out of reach 

Do you know how is it to live in a home which is not yours? In Gaza, I was lucky to be hosted in homes and not obliged to be in a tent. Living in a tent is another story.

I left our home on October 13th when the Israeli army began bombing Gaza City heavily and randomly, and when they warned all Gazans to leave to the south or to face death. 

We went to Sawarha / Nuseirat in the middle area of the Gaza Strip to my parents-in-law’s home. We were warmly welcomed, never made to feel strangers or intruders. It was the same at Abu Khaled Abelal’s home in Rafah a month and a half later. 

Yet, it was not home. Do you understand me? At home I can move from room to room, to the kitchen, to the toilet without thinking that I need to have permission or to consider that there might be someone not properly dressed. At home I can sing loudly, and no one will see that I am odd. At home I don’t need to wash my underwear in the sink and hang it to dry in an unseen place. At home I choose what TV channel I want to watch. At home I can kiss my wife and give her a hug any moment, anywhere without feeling watched. At home I can open the radio and listen to music without being judged even in a time of war. At home I can choose what to eat and what not to eat. At home I can lie down wherever I want, and at home I can go to my kitchen and make coffee or tea at any time. 

What can’t one do at home?! I can do all of that and much more without thinking if it is right or wrong or if it is welcomed by others or judged. 

Home, in other words, is freedom. 

Yes, I was welcomed in Nuseirat and Rafah, but I was not free. I was not at home!

Stress in the back of my neck, strange feelings in my stomach; not pain, but something is wrong. My hands are checking my body, my eyes itch, and a hot tear drops out on my cheeks and burns.  My legs are light, my feet itch, looking for a place to sit or lay down. My heartbeat speeds, my head is almost exploding with pain. This is what I feel physically when I realize that I can’t go home, that my home is out of reach. 

I found the words to explain how it feels physically, but no words can explain how it feels in me.  

 

Left Gaza, but Gaza did not leave me (2) 

Children: 

  • A group of children standing on a line at a charity cooking point to get some free food, each one is carrying a cooking pan, a photographer arrived to take some photos, all children raised the pans to cover their faces. Dears, it is not you who should be ashamed, it the unjust world who should be ashamed 
  • Why I can’t see? I used to see, why did they bomb us, why did they take my eyesight? I want to see. 
  • A teenager girl carrying a big bag on her back, walking crying, her younger brother behind her pushing an older injured brother in a wheel chair on a devastated, damaged road. 
  • Asking a child from Gaza, what would you like to be when you grow up. He answers: I want to grow up. 
  • I want my leg back, why did they cut my leg off? How can I walk without my leg?
  • A child in the street nearby a shelter/school, 3 years old maximum, without trousers, without underwear, without shoes, crying: Mum! Mum! Where is Mum? 

I called my dear friend Basel who is still in Rafah, how are you, my friend? 

  • Yes. 

This is what he answered, yes, with sad voice, a broken voice. For some moments I did not know what to say. I surely do not expect him to say I am good, or I am ok, but he said the word ‘yes’ and nothing else. 

I tried to find something to talk about, anything, so I turned the talk to be about another friend, Rami, who is also in Rafah and who suddenly decided to cut off from everyone, not to answer anyone, to leave all online groups of friends.  It worked, Basel this great friend immediately started talking about Rami, and how he went to visit him and he spent a few hours with him. Rami was very depressed, (normal) as well as Basel, as well as 2.3 million people in Gaza including my mother, brothers, sisters, friends. 

Sometimes I feel guilty for leaving, but I know I can’t do much anyway if I was there. I was able to secure some food parcels for some friends and family members. I still do this remotely, but I know for them being around is very different. Also for me. 

9 April 2024

A city On the Run 

Rafah

This city, a city that was barely able to host its 300.000 residents and is now hosting a million people, a city that no-one ever heard about, and now a city all world knows about; this poor city, surrounded by fences, observation towers and guns ready to shoot, lying with the coast of the Mediterranean to its west.

A poor city with sad streets, dark buildings, only the breeze of the sea makes it tolerable.  Accidentally, this city has a border crossing to the outside world. Yet this crossing is very limited, very expensive, unreachable for the majority of the residents of Rafah and all of Gaza.

This city is chased now by guns and tanks and airstrikes, by bombing and shelling and killing and the displacement of its people. Invaded by fully armed soldiers, but who are mainly full of hate. 

For three days the city got shaken up, turned upside down, one million people running everywhere, nowhere, looking for nonexistent safety. And suddenly half the city became a ghost city, receiving bombs silently, losing its buildings with grief, forcibly abandoned, and left alone. 

One million people again displaced, on the run again, for the third time, for the fourth time, for the fifth time, and while running they lose parts of themselves, they lose properties, they lose one or more of their beloved ones, they lose their resilience and their ability to continue, they lose their dignity and humanity, they become broken, weak, sad, despairing. 

During the last three days, I have received many appeals asking for tents, for mattresses, for food, for a place to stay or to take refuge, for assistance materiel, for reassurance, for words of encouragement, for hugs. And who am I? What can I offer? What do I have? What can I offer!? 

I am helpless… 

 

11 May 2024

What does Gaza feel? What does Gaza not feel?

What the people of Gaza have not felt during the last 7 months: happiness, smiling, laughing, joy, fun, pleasure, delight, enjoyment, comfort, relaxation, sleepy, not worried, laid back, loose, gladness, rejoicing, delighted, cheerful, delectation, festive, secure, safe, unconcerned, full of energy, lazy, careless, hilarious, alive!

Can anyone imagine that 2.3 million people have not felt or experienced any of these feelings for more than 7 months and still do not!?

What the people of Gaza have been feeling during the last 7 months: torment, agony, aches, pain, suffering, soreness, tribulation, suffering, wrenching, misery, anguish, lesion, harm, torture, stricken, distress, trauma, hardship, injury, sadness, sorrow, grief, melancholy, wistful, unhappy, sorry, constriction, worried, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, letdown, anticlimax, crying, weeping, wailing, maudlin, weakness, impairment, disabled, failure, shortcoming, deficiency, anxious, feebleness, fragility, frailty, rustiness, atonality, littleness, despair, despondency, droop, dismay, heartless, giving up, giving up the ghost, bereavement, dispossession, careworn, concerned, spoiled, pillaged, robbed, looted, lack, deprivation, forfeit, damage, loss, wastage, absence, forfeiture, seepage, fear, trepidation, panic, scared, frightened, browbeaten, dread, dismay, terrorised, struck, punished, crushed, ruined, destroyed, broken, death.

Can anyone imagine that 2.3 million people are going through all these feelings, and only those feelings for seven continuous months and still do… 

 

13 May 2024

Divine intervention

There are no earthly solutions for the Palestinian people in Gaza, only divine intervention might help. 

Like many thousands of families, that of my friend, Basel Al Marquosi had to leave Rafah to go back to the middle area. He built a tent of plastic sheets and some wood in Rafah last January when he had to leave Khan Younis. It was not movable; it would have had to be cut into pieces and ruined. So, Basel left it and took his poor belongings on a donkey cart to Deir El Balah, arriving at sunset to nowhere. he did not have an address or a place to go to. He and his family spent 3 days and nights in the street near garbage containers. He did not choose to be there; he had no other place. On the third day, he managed to find some plastic sheets and to build, again, a poor tent. 

I look for words to explain how they feel, what they went through, how humiliated they must be. Why should anyone pay such price? And for what?  

Conversation with Basel and friends on WhatsApp:

  • We are tired of everything! This is not weakness, it is from being let down by everyone, by all the world.
  • Where are you now Basel? 
  • At Deir El Balah, the ones who have no tents sleep in the street. 
  • Where in Deir El Balah? In the Al Bassa area?
  • No, near Al Aqsa hospital.
  • Don’t stay near hospitals! It is not safe, hospitals are targeted, go West.
  • There are no places there, it is completely full, also movement is almost impossible. Transportation would cost 3000 Shekels (850 $). Anyway, I am near, but not too close, to the hospital.
  • If you need anything just ask, I have friends there.
  • Thanks, Rami was with me step by step.
  • Do you have your daughter and her children with you?
  • No, she is with her husband, still in Rafah, planning to come tomorrow. Her husband Taha became responsible for all the family after his father passed away a few days ago.
  • What? Rafat died, he was young, he was not 60 yet!
  • Yes, he died. You know he was a fisherman, and the last thing he asked for was to eat fish, but he died before he could. 
  • May he rest in peace.
  • Well, he is resting now… There are hundreds of thousands who are living death. Believe me, this is so very painful!
  • May God help, keep up your strength my friend!
  • Don’t worry, I am good as long as I have friends like you. 
  • It is so horrible to be unable to help, while we are here outside in Europe and you are left alone there.
  • There is no space for more pain in our hearts 

Waiting for God to intervene…

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Gaza in and out.

Almost two weeks since the last time I wrote about Gaza. But what to write and how to write while I am out of Gaza? It would be a kind of hypocrisy.

While I was in Gaza, I was not following the news; first there was no TV, and second, I was part of the news! Today, I lay on a sofa watching TV, something that did not happen for 6 months in Gaza. I try to avoid the news, but how can I?

I did not change that much, but too much has changed me. I forgot how to live. My smile is missing, and I seek feelings of joy but can’t find them. And how can I find them when my mother is somewhere in a tent in Deir Al Balah, and I know what it is to be in a tent installed on the sandy ground away from any means of life, surrounded by thousands of tents, with no toilets, no water, only heat, insects, reptiles and other visitors?

How can I live while my brothers and sisters with their families are stuck in Gaza City and have no access to food but have access to all types of fear, panic and agony?

A friend of mine wrote from Gaza: ‘Time in Gaza passes very slowly, like an annoying nightmare, with hopes of waking up so this nightmare will end, hearing shouts of appeals, but no one is answering. Women complain with tears, children cry from fear, and men swallow their helplessness with sadness and despair. Night in Gaza is like a dark cave full of horror and torture, expecting the worst with no horizon of any hope.’

I am afraid to call my family in Gaza. I am afraid of the news, but mostly I feel embarrassed. I feel that I deceived them by leaving Gaza and leaving them alone to face the daily terror of bombardment and displacement, and the daily suffering from the search for food and water. And I feel embarrassed to call anyone from outside as well, and when friends from outside call, I avoid answering them. I feel it would be another betrayal of my people in Gaza. What logic! It is nonsense, but this is what I feel here in Cairo!

Do I have the right to write about the people in Gaza anymore? I feel I don’t have this right anymore and this is killing me.

 

28 May 2024

When is it enough?

It is amazing that the last massacre in Rafah finally moved some politicians; even Netanyahu was calling it a catastrophic mistake. Killing 35 people in tents in western Rafah, setting them on fire, decapitating children. Where were they during the last 8 months? Did they not see 36,000 people killed in the same way and even worse?

They did not see that among these fatalities 15,239 were children and 10,093, women. They did not see that 31 children have died of starvation. They did not see that 493 medical staff have been killed. They did not see the 80,200 injured; thousands of them lost legs, hands, eyes, ears! They did not see that 71 % of these injured are children and women, they did not see that 17,000 children lost one or both of their parents. They did not see the 11,000 patients in need of health treatment which no longer exists in Gaza. They did not see the 10,000 cancer patients facing death without any kind of treatment. They did not see that 1,095,000 people have been infected with water-borne diseases due to unsafe water and lack of hygiene. They did not see…

They did not see the hundreds killed and buried in hidden collective graves in hospitals. They did not see the 200,000 homes destroyed. They did not see the more than 130 journalists targeted and killed. They did not see 172 humanitarian workers targeted and killed. They did not see the 20,000 people infected with hepatitis. They did not see the 60,000 pregnant women facing danger due to lack of health services. They did not see the 5000 people arrested and facing the most horrifying torture.

They did not see the 2 million people exposed to forced displacement many times in extremely inhuman conditions. They did not see the 421 schools and universities completely or severely damaged. They did not see the 8004 mosques completely or severely damaged. They did not see the 87,000 homes completely destroyed. They did not see the 297,000 housing units severely damaged. They did not see the 3 churches destroyed.

They did not see the 35 hospitals the Israeli army destroyed and took out of service. They did not see the 55 primary health care units the Israeli army destroyed and took out of service. They did not see the 160 health institutions targeted. They did not see 130 ambulances targeted and destroyed. They did not see 206 architecturally historic sites destroyed.

They did not see the 77,000 tons of explosions which have and continue to hit Gaza, the 8 months of fear and horror, 8 months of death and blood, 8 months of famine and starvation, 8 months of pain and crying. 8 months! 8 months! 230 days, 5520 hours, 331,200 minutes, 19,872,000 seconds, and believe me every second is counted by the people of Gaza!

When is it enough?

 

2 June 2024

Missing Hope

“No, we don’t believe in it, in fact we don’t want to believe in it. Holding no hope is easier than holding fake hope.” This is what a friend from Gaza told me about his reaction to the announcement of the possible ceasefire deal.

He continues, “Look what happened last time! When Hamas agreed on the deal, we all went out celebrating, dancing in the streets. And what happened? The Israelis invaded Rafah, forced a million people to be displaced again, and bombed everywhere. People were burned alive in their tents. It is better to have no hope, my friend. No hope, no thinking of tomorrow, just try to survive the now, the moment, and what will come will come. We are helpless, we are objects, in fact we are nothing!”

Another friend said to me, “My dear Hossam, don’t worry so much, we are in Gaza, and Gaza is the highway to heaven. This should not be a bad thing.”

My dearest friend, Basel, the artist, keeps saying: “They will not prevent us from living. Don’t get used to the image. Keep fighting! They will not de-humanise us! I must keep myself a sensitive and an awake human being. The war will not steal my humanity!”

Another friend said: “We don’t have the luxury of being defeated. There is no choice between slavery, occupation, and freedom. This is human instinct.”

My sister, my beloved sister, who is caring for her 82-year-old mother-in-law, and her kidney-failure patient husband, and 4 children, and my bedridden mother, told me that she has no more space in her heart for more pain.

A colleague told me, “It is not easy to work with children here, when every day you realise that one or more of them are not there anymore, when you realise that the smiling child from yesterday is dead, and he will not smile any more.

Why is the world so quiet? Why is the world silent? We should keep quiet and silent when children sleep, not when children are killed! Every child is an entire universe for someone.”

 

5 June 2024

Here and There, Between Cairo and Gaza

And here I am, sitting in a fancy cafeteria, in a fancy mall in Cairo, with a big delicious molten cake, a very good cup of coffee, and a full pack of cigarettes. Teasing my friend, Basel who is still in Gaza, with his last post on his FB page, which says: “I don’t remember when I smoked my last cigarette, I don’t know when I will smoke my next cigarette, but for sure I will not buy a one cigarette for 35 $US, simply because I can’t afford it!” 

“Here I am smoking cigarette after cigarette, one for me and one for you my friend. I can’t stop smoking. I consider one for you and one for me!” I said this to Basel, and he replied, “Death is around us at all times, yet I feel it is not my turn yet. I feel there is a long line before me. So, hopefully we will meet before it is my turn to die.”

My brother Sofian, who is still in Gaza City with his family, refused to leave. He is in real starvation with his wife and 5 children. Finally, I had indirect contact with him; a colleague of mine who is still in Gaza succeeded in reaching him. I asked my colleague to give him some money. My brother recorded a voice massage for me, which I received via my colleague’s WhatsApp. He said, “My beloved brother, we are still alive. My children and my wife send you their greetings and love, me too. I hope you are doing well with Abeer and Salma. Take care of yourself and your wife and daughter. Don’t worry for us. We love you. We are ok. Thank you for the money.”

My God, my brother, who is starving with his children, and who is under bombardment is ok!! And he is worried for me and wants me to take care of myself and my family!! 

Another friend sent me a photo of the road his tent is on. On one side there is a row of tents and on the other side a row of palm trees in a remote area in Deir Al Balah, in middle Gaza. He said, “This is the road to my tent. It is beautiful. There are no destroyed homes as there are in all other areas of the Gaza Strip.”

A journalist wrote on his FB page, “For whomever has lost a child: there is a dead body of a 6-year-old child at Al Aqsa hospital. He is wearing blue pajamas. Paramedics brought him to the hospital along with 60 other dead people.”   

Another friend said, “One of the most beautiful images is when you look out of your window in the early morning and see children with school uniforms and their school bags on their backs walking toward their schools. The girls with their hair braids and the boys racing to see who is faster. An image that gives you hope. Today, there is no window to look out from. You look out from the cave that is your cold tent, and what do you see? Boys and girls, not well-dressed, carrying jerry cans full of water or empty going to search for some water. Boys and girls of all ages, standing in a row at the last bakery operating in the town, hoping to get some bread after 2, 3 or even 5 hours of waiting. Or a line of people of all ages at the only toilet serving 5000 people, to take a leak or to do what nature asks them to do.” 

I am writing while it is very hot here in Cairo. Although there is an air conditioner, I don’t know why I don’t put it on! I am absolutely masochistic.

I am away from war. I am in Cairo, not in Gaza. I will keep writing. 

 

9 June 2024

46 Minutes

How to avoid watching the news? There is no way. It is Saturday, and we are at home, the TV is on Al Jazeera. They are showing a huge bombing, targeting Deir Al Balah, nearby the Al Aqsa hospital. The reporter is at the scene trying to explain what is happening, while around him people are running everywhere! Cars, ambulances, donkey carts arrive carrying dozens of dead and injured people, children, men, women, all ages! Blood fills the screen. Fear fills the screen, and the reporter doesn’t know what is happening. “Why are people suddenly running everywhere?” he asks. Someone approaches him, saying: “The Israeli army are calling to evacuate the hospital, they want to bomb a nearby tent!” The man said this and kept running. Messages come from Basel and other friends on WhatsApp. They are burning the middle area, the bombing is everywhere, Deir Al Balah, Maghazi, Bureij and Nuseirat!

The news becomes clearer; a huge military bombardment at Nuseirat, in the market, and the nearby Al Awda hospital, with dozens of dead. No one is able to reach them to evacuate them, no means of transportation to move them. Hell is in Nuseirat.

Abeer is watching the TV and also watching groups of activists on FB, who share videos and news. Suddenly she screams! “My brother! Oh God, my brother! This is him. I know my brother!” She showed me a fast video of some killed and injured people, among them the dead body of a young man with a beard. She kept screaming, “My brother! Why? Why? We have nothing to do with this dirty war. Why my brother?” The man on the ground really looked like her brother, but I said, “No, it is not him.” I kept arguing with Abeer that it was not him; “Everybody has a beard in Gaza, everyone in Gaza looks alike, they all have beards. They don’t have time to shave. They don’t have water to wash. They barely find water to drink. They all look alike!”

“No, I know my brother. I know his jeans!”

“For God’s sake, look at the people. They are all in miserable shape with beards and old jeans!”

I will call! I began calling Abeer’s brother, sisters, father, the wife of Abeer’s brother. 46 minutes trying to reach someone, without success! And meantime, the news continues. 40 killed in an operation in Nuseirat. I keep trying to call, and the number of dead is increasing, 82 killed. Salma was sitting there unable to move or to talk. She was crying with silent tears. Her body shakes, and a stream of tears rolls down her cheeks. Abeer keeps screaming and calling God, with all the names possible, to protect her family. 46 minutes and the number goes up: 130 killed, more than 150 injured, complete city blocks destroyed.

“My brother is in the market,” Abeer screamed, “They target the market, Oh God, why? Why?”

Whatever I say, whatever I do, cannot help Abeer to calm down.

46 minutes trying to call until finally, my brother-in-law answers! “Mohammed, how are you? How is the family, how is everybody?”

I bombarded him with questions, he was panting because he was running as we spoke. “We are ok, we are all alive. I brought my wife, and my daughters out, and moved them to a school!”

– “What about Abeer’s brother?”

– “He is ok.”

– “Are you sure!?”

– “Yes, I met him, he went home to check on his family.”

Abeer did not believe him. “Please don’t lie to me, please tell me what happened to my brother! Please!” Mohammed kept assuring her that he is ok

– “Can you reach him, please I need to hear his voice!”

– “I will do, give me some time.”

I said, Ok, I will call you in 30 minutes.

Abeer stopped screaming, but kept crying, crying from fear and anger, crying from panic and helplessness.

Salma suddenly said, “I don’t feel my cheeks, I can’t feel my face!” I panicked. I did not know what to do! Salma was still crying silently, with tears. Abeer asked me to bring some ice and put it in a handkerchief for Salma to put on her face. I did that.

The toll increased to 210 dead and 400 injured.

I called my brother-in-law. Finally, Abeer’s brother is there, she talked to him crying, thanking God and asking him to take care.

I could not stand what was happening anymore. I hugged my wife and hugged my daughter Salma and went to turn off the TV.

My brother and his family are also in Nuseirat, and I could not reach them, I don’t know if they are alive or….

I later learned that my brother and family are alive and uninjured.

 

10 June 2024

Open Your Eyes, Open Your Heart

Open your eyes, open your heart, and question your humanity. Yes, we all need, from time to time, to question our humanitarian principles.

The 120 Israelis kidnapped, captured, and imprisoned by Hamas must go back home, must be with their families. Yes, they must! I really want to see them among their families and their beloved ones as much as I want the same for the more than 13,000 Palestinians kidnapped, captured, and imprisoned by the Israelis. I want to see these thousands at home with their families, with their beloved ones.

Before 7th October, Israel had kidnapped and imprisoned more than 4000 Palestinians. Since 7th October, Israel has kidnapped more than 9000 Palestinians. Thousands are exposed to severe torture; many have died from torture. Yet, no one questions Israel about them, as they are not considered human beings! Open your eyes, open your heart.

In Gaza, street dogs are dying of hunger. They used to live by the leftovers from people; now people have no leftovers, people are starving. Some dogs survive on the Palestinian bodies left in the streets, killed by the Israelis and left in the streets for days and weeks. Some dogs find them a meal. This is not fiction, this is happening in Gaza! Open your eyes, open your heart.

A man who lost a leg stumbles along, leaning on his daughter’s shoulder, and says to her, “I am exhausting you my dear.”

A mother carries the dead bodies of her 2 children, weeping, “Why have you left me? I can’t bury you. I can’t, it was you who should bury me when you grew up!”

Open your eyes, open your heart.

A young man wearing a jacket in the hot weather, trying to hide his amputated arm.

A man from Gaza sent a message to those who are not in Gaza, a message of envy:

  • I envy you for not being forced to lose weight!
  • I envy you for not sleeping and waking up with drones, bombing and shelling sounds 24 hours for 8 months and more!
  • I envy you for not hearing the screams of help from people under the rubble, dying and you are unable to help them!
  • I envy you that your children do not live day and night in fear and panic!
  • I envy you that you can afford a piece of chocolate for your children when they ask for it!
  • I envy you for having washing machines and not being obliged to clean your clothes with a quantity of 1, or maximum 2, litres of water!
  • I envy you for not being obliged to eat canned food and drink unsafe water for months and months until you become emaciated!
  • I envy you that you do not have to build a fire every day for 9 months with bits of wood, papers, plastic and whatever flammables you can find to heat some food for your family, burning your hands and your chest with toxic smoke!
  • I envy you that you that you don’t have this feeling of being a burden on others when some relatives or friends take you into their home or their tent!
  • I envy you for not worrying about the privacy of your wife and daughter in a non-protective tent or a public latrine!
  • I envy you but I don’t want you to be in my place, not for a single day, not for a single minute.

Open your eyes, open your heart, and question your humanity!

There is no shame, we all need to question our humanitarian principles from time to time.

Just open up…