GAZA NOW FOR PUBLIC READING – Three messages from Hossam

Here are three of Hossam Madhoun’s messages from Gaza, written in the period from October 2023 to May 2024.  We have found these good for a public reading in the open air.  We have presented these as reading at student encampments and at demonstrations for justice and freedom for Palestinians.


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.

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.

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.  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.