GAZA NOW – 15 Messages from Hossam

Here is a selection of Hossam Madhoun’s MESSAGES FROM GAZA NOW.  This version was specially composed for GAZA ORA – messages from a dear friend in May 2024 and were the basis of the reading events given in Siena, Bologna, Florence, Naples and Rome from 16th May – 25th May 2024.  These reading events were produced and directed by Iante Roach and Tanita Spang working closely with Az Theatre.  They will continue from June to September 2024.  We will also publish the Italian translation of these texts.

 

 

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.

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. 

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???

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

I went back home to consult with Abeer. 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. 

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. 

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: ‘I have too many people to move to Khan Younis. Do you have a place in your car for two or three people?’ 

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. 

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 kilometres in length and 6 to 12 kilometres 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 

Day 6 (2)

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.

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. 

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.

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 centimetre 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’.

The valley of death.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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? 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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??

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 arrived at the school-turned-shelter in 15 minutes. 

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. I moved my eyes away from him, did not want him to feel that he was being watched. 

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…)

“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. 

How many children like Ahmad are there who have not been reached and are now left alone? Who knows?

 

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.

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.

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?