A surreal experience in Gaza

The city streets, despite the lovely winter weather, are now a place where an Israeli air strike can hit at any time.

In the late afternoon there’s a stillness in Gaza. It’s as though an entire city is at home and the life that once spilled onto the streets is locked indoors. No one knows how long this will last for.

It’s winter but the weather is lovely. In the evening people are usually out strolling the streets. It’s too chilly for the beach, but not for a seaside shisha or coffee.

When I lived in Gaza last year, I’d walk home from a restaurant at this time of year.

The electricity cuts meant the streets were usually dark. So I’d carry a torch and take a short cut from my favourite fish restaurant to my apartment building.

Something as simple as that is now out of the question.

Gaza City’s streets have become a place where an air strike can hit at any time. A brief attempt to walk to the remains of a morning attack on a government building and a large vacant piece of land near the office, left us quickly turning back. It was just around the corner. But the minute we stepped outside, the Israeli navy started shelling from the sea.

It was perhaps happening kilometres away but the sound boomed across Gaza and seemed so much louder from the ground, rather than the 11th floor of our office building.

For the first time I felt truly exposed to the Israeli military. I can’t imagine how Palestinians families crammed into a few rooms in one of the territory’s many refugee camps cope, living as they do with this uncertainty for days on end.

Watching Israel unleash its air strikes on Gaza overnight is a surreal experience. During one attack the office balcony and windows shuddered from the force of the blast. It was the heaviest one we felt all night. It rattled all of us. But for my Gaza colleagues, only briefly.

I’ll drive now from the office back to the hotel near the sea where I’m staying. It’s a very familiar route.

When I lived here last year, I’d often finish work and head to a friend’s house to spend time with a Palestinian family with nine children.

I’m staying in a hotel around the corner from my friends. But with drones circling above, the Israeli navy shelling the coast and F16s flying past, walking no longer seems a good idea at all.