Gaza City – Tonight is the third night of Israel’s attacks on Gaza. A typical war night in Gaza. Family members gather where it is safest, people monitor news updates on television, and women who cover their hair in public make sure to remain covered so they can flee at any moment. Discussions and arguments about what might happen next are endless.
But the worst part is the horrifying sound of air strikes.
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During past escalations and wars on Gaza, people hated nights the most. That is when the attacks would intensify.
For the last two nights, the sound of heavy bombardment has not stopped. Everyone thinks they will be a target, and houses shake from the explosions.
War nights are exhausting. Every action must be carefully considered. Taking a shower or using the bathroom becomes a difficult challenge. Doing either means you may not be able to flee, so we try to wait until there is a pause in the air strikes.
During every escalation, we say, “This time it’s different.” But this time it does feel different.
The morning of the surprise Hamas attack, I woke up trembling with fear to the sound of rockets. I rushed to the window to see smoke from the continuous firing of rockets.
I was very surprised.
“They’re ‘ours’”, I thought. ‘Ours’ is how we refer to rockets fired from Gaza.
They’re not “theirs”, which is how we refer to Israeli bombing.
“Ours” kept firing. Calls and WhatsApp messages started and didn’t stop. Everyone was asking what was going on. No one had any idea.
I’m a journalist with Al Jazeera English’s online newsdesk. I’m also the mother of two children, one of them a two-month-old baby. As confusion filled my mind, I started putting my children’s clothes into a bag along with our IDs and passports, a routine I’ve developed during any military escalation.
Following a brief, tense discussion with my husband, we decided to evacuate to my parents’ home, which is in a safer area of Gaza. Outside on the street, we saw neighbours with luggage also heading to safer places.
I dropped my family off at my parents’ place then made my way to the Al Jazeera office with my safety kit consisting of a helmet and flak jacket.
I saw fellow journalists entering the building with their security kits as well.
Seeing this made me tense, thinking of what the day would bring.
I took the lift up to our office and once inside, I saw Al Jazeera producers, correspondents, and camera operators in full swing. Through the windows, I could see a view of the smoke along the Gaza border areas.
I started work, reporting for the Doha-based newsdesk. With every news development, we all gasped in astonishment and fear. While watching the news, I thought of Israel’s response. How violent and dangerous would it be? I thought of my family and my children, especially my two-month-old son who would be living through his first war.
Every now and then, I called my family to check on them.
The start of a long, terrifying night
The car ride home was one of the most difficult trips of my life. My parents’ home is only 15 minutes away, but the ride felt much longer. The streets were empty, stores were closed and there was only the sound of explosions. Along the way, I saw queues of people at bakeries bringing to mind the first scenes of past wars in Gaza.
I was relieved when I arrived at my parents’ house and was greeted by a cheerful chaos. My three married brothers had also come with their families to seek safety at our parents’ home and the family was gathered around the television.
My eight-year-old daughter ran to give me a huge hug and my husband came to greet me with our baby, telling him, “Mama is back”. My parents smiled and welcomed me as though I’d been away for ages because, during wartime in Gaza, returning safely home to your family is never guaranteed.
As I held my baby, we sat down for dinner and shared our thoughts on the day.
But after the first bites of our meal, the Israeli bombardment had started. The sound of explosions announced the beginning of a long, terrifying night. With pale faces, my family and I smiled at one other and said what has become a customary phrase during periods of escalation: “Let the party begin.”