‘I’ve lost contact’: Surviving Israeli bombs amid communications blackout

Try and fathom Gaza’s reality: complete darkness, ceaseless bombing, isolation from our relatives and friends.

Plumes of smoke rise during Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, October 29, 2023. REUTERS/Yasser Qudih
Plumes of smoke rise during Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, October 29, 2023. REUTERS/Yasser Qudih

Maghazi, Gaza Strip — It was about six o’clock in the evening last Friday when all of Gaza lost contact with the outside world and with each other within the besieged enclave.

My family, along with my uncle’s family, were gathered in a single room at his house in the Maghazi camp. We had evacuated our home in the western part and moved to southern Gaza as per Israeli orders. Israel, of course, claims its orders for us to leave are for our safety, but as a survivor of its barbaric aggression on Gaza, I can tell you that the pretence of relative safety in south Gaza is a myth.

The reason we gather in a single room is simple: if we are subjected to bombings and, God forbid, we lose our lives, we do so together. None of us wishes for the other to endure the pain of sorrow alone.

As is my routine, I reached for my laptop that evening to make sure its battery was charged to the fullest extent possible, enabling me to carry on with my work as a journalist. Just moments before, I was engaged in a conversation with a Canadian journalist, discussing the dire circumstances in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, my father was on the phone with my brother Adham, who resides in the United States, trying to reassure him about our safety.

In the same room, my cousin Reem diligently reads the news she follows on Telegram, providing us with updates on the locations that have come under attack in and around the Gaza Strip, so we reach out to our loved ones residing in those areas.

In another corner, my younger brother, who is just 13 years old, is playing with my cousin’s son, Hammoud, who will be turning two next month.

Then, abruptly, my internet connection dropped, and I asked in a shaky voice, “Is there an issue with the internet?” At the very same moment, my father said, “I’ve lost contact with Adham,” and my uncle added, “I have no phone signal whatsoever!”

We were left with only the radio as our means of communication. When we switched on the radio and heard the announcer from Al Jazeera radio reporting that Israel had severed communications and internet access throughout the Gaza Strip, we were all left in shock and silence. We began to contemplate Israel’s motives behind isolating us from the rest of the world.

Among us, there were those who believed that they aimed to isolate us in order to carry out further crimes away from the scrutiny of the international community. Some even wondered if it might be our final night alive.

We exchanged glances with one another, saying silent farewells.

My thoughts were consumed by concern for my friends outside of Gaza, imagining the anguish they must be feeling with no means to receive updates about my safety. My worry extended to my relatives who had opted to remain in Gaza’s more precarious regions, refusing to relocate to the south. The weight of my responsibilities as a journalist weighed heavily on my mind, knowing that I was powerless to convey the truth to the rest of the world due to the blackout and loss of internet connectivity. I couldn’t fathom a more agonising feeling than the overwhelming combination of helplessness and fear that engulfed me.

We turned to the Quran, seeking solace for our souls, and we recited prayers, beseeching God to protect us, our homes, and our cherished ones.

Sleeping that night was an impossibility as the artillery shelling continued relentlessly, without a moment of respite. Fragments from the explosions even reached our house’s garden. The sounds of the missiles were nothing short of terrifying, but what was even more chilling was our complete lack of knowledge regarding who the targets were and who had fallen victim to this senseless violence.

From the very first day of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, we depended on an LED light. As time passed, the darkness grew more oppressive, and our light grew dimmer as we struggled to recharge the battery that powered our LED.

Try and fathom this: Complete darkness, ceaseless artillery and ground bombardment, isolation from our relatives and friends, and disconnection from the entire world.

That night was the longest in my life, marked by our abrupt isolation from the world. It followed heavy bombings in the Maghazi area, an area far from the parts of Gaza that Israel has warned us to vacate.

The day before this tragedy, before communications and internet access were severed, occupation planes bombed my relatives’ house in the Maghazi refugee camp, resulting in the loss of nine lives, including seven children.

Those fleeing in fear through the streets were my own relatives. Among them was an elderly mother, who had lost her son, daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren. She is a kind woman whom I hold dear. I used to see her laughing and would listen to her stories from my childhood.

My brother Karam, who had just enrolled in a doctoral programme in accounting in Gaza a few days before the Israeli aggression on Gaza, was the one who transported the injured in his private car. Today, both universities have been reduced to rubble on the ground.

On the night of Thursday, October 26, the Israeli occupation targeted the sole bakery in the Maghazi camp, adding to the grim tally of more than 11 bakeries bombed across the Gaza Strip during this aggression. It is evident that Israel’s strategy in this war is one of extermination and starvation.

During this particular attack, I hastily grabbed my evacuation bag, which contained only my passport and identity card, preparing to flee once again. However, this time, I was uncertain of where I could seek refuge.

Tragically, the bombing of the bakery resulted in the loss of approximately 10 innocent civilians. Furthermore, the debris from the attack reached an UNRWA school housing about 6,000 displaced Palestinians from northern Gaza, causing the killing of one person at the school who was injured by stones propelled by the bakery’s blast.

This is just a small glimpse into the illusion of “safety” that Israel claims to offer in the southern Gaza Strip.

When Gaza finally regained internet connectivity, I didn’t experience the joy that many did. Instead, I was overwhelmed by a sense of dread. I immediately reached for my mobile phone to check on my friends and relatives, fearing that they might have been injured or worse. I had reason to fear: On October 22, in a horrifying Israeli air raid targeting his home, my colleague, the aspiring translator, Mahmoud, had tragically lost his life. His entire family were mercilessly killed – his father, his brother, his sisters, and their children.

I turned to my X account, formerly Twitter, to catch up on the events in Gaza during the two days that I was cut off from the world, reading tweets from friends describing the horrors they endured during the relentless bombings.

I was desperate to learn about the political developments and the extent of the devastation in Gaza, hoping to hear any news of a ceasefire and an end to the relentless massacres against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, all while Israel continued its aggression without being held accountable. It was disheartening to hear that the brutality of the bombing persisted, and there was no indication of a resolution in sight.

The world may never grasp the heart-wrenching reality of queueing for nearly four arduous hours, just to obtain a $2 worth of bread, only to have the bakery reduced to rubble by a bombing. In the face of such adversity, you are compelled to resort to primitive methods, like using wood to ignite a fire, just to provide bread for more than 50 individuals huddled together in a modest, two-storey building.

The desperate struggle to secure even a minimal quantity of drinking water, just for the sake of survival, is a hardship few can understand.

And the agony of isolation from the rest of the world, amidst the relentless onslaught of Israeli artillery, naval, and aerial bombardments, is an experience beyond imagination.

Source: Al Jazeera