Gaza diary: Welcoming the New Year

One Gazan’s diary of life under Israeli bombardment.

The number of Palestinians injured in Israel’s war on Gaza continues to rise [GALLO/GETTY]

As the death toll from Israel’s war on Gaza continues to climb, Mohammed Ali, an advocacy and media researcher for Oxfam who lives in Gaza City, will be keeping a diary of his experiences.

Day 6 – Welcoming the New Year

At around midnight, Israeli jets hit the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) building, 1km away from my home. Needless to say, we were not celebrating this entry into the New Year.

I received calls from friends in Europe telling me that in solidarity with Gazans, they were not going to celebrate. I pleaded with them to go out, and to enjoy themselves because they could.

A friend in France called to say that she was thinking about my family, in the background I could hear the sounds of fireworks exploding, people laughing and celebrating. At that same moment, the sounds of explosions shook my home and my children cried out.

I felt both happy and sad. Happy because I knew that there were people outside of Gaza who had not forgotten about us, sad thinking of all the Gazans who would be spending this New Year shaking from fear in their homes, mourning their loved ones.

I asked myself, do we not deserve to be happy and enjoy the New Year as much as any other human?

I will let the international community answer this question.

We did not sleep for the entire night. 

For a year and a half we have suffered from the Israeli-imposed blockade, which brings with it a lack of fuel, electricity, dignity, life – now sleeplessness has been added to our misery.

In the early hours of the morning, we sat together as a family chatting and anticipating what would happen next. My brother interrupted us to say: “Why don’t we make some tea?”

Nobody wanted to go inside the dark kitchen so we decided to bring the gas burner into the living room. Although the smell of gas, smoke and fear filled the air, that cup of tea became the most precious we have ever drunk; no one said it but I knew that we were all thinking the same thing – that this could be the last cup of tea that ever passes our lips.

Thirty hours of total black out had now passed. I waited patiently for the power to return so that I could turn on the TV and check my emails. The power did not come, so for the rest of the night we sat in darkness.

When light entered our windows, we decided to clean the house, which looked as though we had not lived in it for 20 years – a thick layer of dust, a result of the bombings, covered everything.

My sister came over with her five children. We had not seen them for five days but when I opened the door to them my heart sank – they all looked so gaunt and had dark circles under their eyes.

I soon learnt from my sister that her children have refused to eat for days and they now ask their mother to accompany them everywhere – even to the bathroom.

They have not had electricity for days, so we heated some water with our gas burner so that they could at least wash with warm water.

As night fell, a neighbour alerted me to the fact that they had received a call from the Israeli military warning them to leave their home as a nearby building was being targeted. My neighbour’s house is just 60 metres away from mine. With nowhere to go, we had no choice but to sit and wait for the worst to happen.

Day 5 – New Year wishes

Last night we had no electricity, we rationed the fuel from the generator to provide us with a little light. At 2 am my mother awoke to find the electricity had come back on. She rushed to the kitchen to bake bread, praying that it would not cut off until she had finished cooking.

We now only eat two meals a day – it saves on food and on electricity. We have enough food for another week but then what? A sack of flour has gone from 180 shekels to 250 shekels. Most families will not be able to afford it and people are afraid to go out, even to buy bread. The bakeries have run out of flour. Even if we have flour, what use is it if we do not have the fuel to cook with?

My sister, who lives in the east of the Gaza Strip, has had no electricity for five days; they are living their lives in almost complete darkness.

We have now started using our last ten litres of benzene, as we heard rumours a few days ago that the tunnels were going to be bombed by the Israeli military, my father and I ran out to buy as much fuel as we could. We have been rationing it for the past few days but it will not last forever, I think we have about ten hours left and then we might face total darkness for who knows how long.

This offensive has come at a time of extreme poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip. A year of 1.5 million people being caged in this tiny strip of land has rendered the situation even more desperate for us. Banks are closed, so even those who do have money cannot get it.

“I dream of being able to travel outside of Gaza, even if it is just for one day to watch others enjoying their lives”

Mohammed, Gaza City

I spoke with my father and mother, asking them how this situation compares with 1967. They said that they have not witnessed anything like this since that memorable date in history but who knows what will come next. It could get worse in the coming days.

Water is proving a huge problem for over 60 per cent of the Gazan population who are only able to get it for a few hours once a week. We dug a well about a year ago so water is not a problem for us at the moment but what about those who do not have this option, how are they coping?

Another attack hit while the sky was filled with clouds and rain. For ten minutes my wife and I debated whether or not the sound we had heard was in fact an attack or thunder, we ended up laughing at our own conversation, what did it matter anyway?

As the New Year approaches, I think of what our wishes as Palestinians will be for the coming year, much the same as in previous years; to be treated as humans, to live our lives with dignity, to live peacefully next to our neighbours in Israel and for the Israeli government and the world to recognise our rights as humans.

We are not asking for much, we want to be secure, for our children to be safe and sheltered, to have enough food and to be enabled to make a living – to enjoy our lives.

I dream of being able to travel outside of Gaza, even if it is just for one day to watch others enjoying their lives so that we can feel a sense of relief.

The last time I left Gaza was just over a year ago. When I returned, it was at the time when Hamas had been democratically elected into power. Not being able to get back in due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli government, I was locked in a room first in Egypt and then near the Erez crossing for 60 days. I had little food and only my clothes to cushion the hard ground. 

When I finally got home, I vowed that I would never repeat that experience again. Today, I would readily be locked up for 60 days for just a few hours outside of this living nightmare. We have been locked up for over 18 months because of the blockade, now my family and me are confined to one room in a constant state of fear. What kind of life is this?
For the New Year, I hope that the world will celebrate because I wish with my whole heart that we could all be celebrating with you. Instead while many are watching the fireworks light up the sky in celebration we will be looking up at the same sky watching bombs illuminate our houses hoping that the New Year will bring us peace.

Day 4 – Immeasurable psychological damage

At midnight last night, I was sitting by my wife and two children who were fast asleep: there was an hour of quiet; no drones, no attacks. I thought to myself “could this be the calm before the storm?”

All of a sudden, I heard 10 missiles in a row and my house began to shake once more. My wife awoke in a panic and my small son looked at me with terror in his eyes; he did not say a word.

At 2am there was a total black out in the Gaza Strip, except for the light caused by Israeli attacks. At some point we must have fallen asleep.

“What have [the children] done to deserve having their precious innocence destroyed? How will this affect them in the future?”

Mohammed, Gaza City

As soon as we awoke, we went for breakfast at my parents. My sister told us how her youngest daughter, Nada, who is three-and-a-half had that morning begun to draw. Interested by what her child was creating, my sister asked to look at it and motioned to take the picture for a moment. “No!” cried Nada pointing at a drawing of an airplane, “stop, this could kill you!”

This caused me to reflect on the immeasurable psychological damage this conflict has caused children; what have they done to deserve having their precious innocence destroyed? How will this affect them in the future?

Thankfully, my children do not understand what is happening. Although they often cry from fear, my son, seeing everyone gathered around, staying up late at night, thinks that we are having a party, he jumps around us and laughs, asking himself, “Why are you all together here?” Every time my phone rings, he dances around to the ring tone. Usually, my wife and I leave him with my mother when we go to work but for a few days straight now we have spent every moment with him.

It started raining, I comforted myself for just one moment with the thought that maybe, just maybe, the rain would stop the attacks but of course it didn’t, and many more lives were soon lost.

As I saw the death toll rise on the news, I thought once again, could we all be next? We live in a constant state of fear that is slowly beginning to kill us. Every time the phone rings, my heart skips a beat, what news will it bring? Will it be a friend’s, a colleague’s, a relative’s death or injury?

Some Gazans are too scared to attend funerals for fear of becoming a casualty [AFP]

Sadly, even those who have been killed cannot be mourned properly.

I felt immense guilt that I was not able to attend my neighbour’s funeral, but few did, fearing that they might be the next victims while grieving for another.

Even during the three days of mourning at his family home, the house was almost empty.

A few hours ago, my sister-in-law asked for my phone. She wanted to talk to her family. They had just received a call from the Israeli military announcing that their home might be hit during the next attack. She told her family to come to our home. They might come, they might not.
My wife and her brother started arguing earlier today about where they would be most safe in the event of an attack, upstairs with family or downstairs in their own home. I did not want to tell them that their argument was futile; if a missile hit us there would no longer be an upstairs or downstairs.

For a moment today, I stepped outside, I saw people sitting outside their homes, running for cover at every sound of an attack. Overhead were helicopters, I soon went back inside fearing the worst.

Our lives have been paralysed.

Day 3 – Memories destroyed

It is the third consecutive night of the Israeli offensive.

My two young children, my wife, my sister-in-law, who is staying with us, and I all slept in our living room, which is in the centre of our flat.

During the night, there was an average of two air strikes every ten minutes in Gaza City alone.

On the television we heard that the Israeli military had hit a mosque in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip. We were shocked to hear that the shelling caused a house to collapse, killing five sisters inside and injuring all 11 family members. We cried together in the knowledge that no one was safe from the air strikes.

We barely slept. Just 500 metres from our home the strikes hit the Islamic University building. I graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza. When I heard that the Israeli F16 missiles had destroyed it, I felt as though my good memories had also been obliterated.

I phoned one of my sisters who lives close to the university. She told me: “We are so scared. I don’t know where to go, what to do. The explosion shook our entire building.”

I listened to her but could not find the words to reassure her. How could I? It was obvious that no one was safe.

Day 2 – Sleeping with one eye open

When I fell asleep on the second night of the Israeli offensive, I was afraid that I may never wake again. So I slept with one eye open, in constant fear for my family’s safety.

At least once an hour, I was woken by the sound of explosions.

I constantly checked on my wife and children, thinking that our home could be the next target of the Israeli jets.

In the early hours of the morning, I woke to find my 15-month-old baby walking around the living room sobbing. I rushed over to him and held him in my arms until he fell asleep.

My mother called us over for breakfast. All of our family gathered around the table. My mother, who suffers from heart problems, told us all how, whenever a target close to our home was hit during the night, she would wake with her heart pounding.

Supplies running out

It is no secret that the Gaza Strip is heavily dependent on supplies coming from Egypt via tunnels, especially since the Israeli blockade was stepped up in November. So after we heard that the Israeli attacks had targeted the tunnels, my father went off to the grocery store to buy reserve food supplies.

“[My father] told us that food prices had tripled because of the destruction of the tunnels”

Mohammed, Gaza City

When he came back he told us that food prices had tripled because of the destruction of the tunnels.

I wanted to buy nappies for my two children. My younger brother went out but struggled to find anything. I thought to myself that it is only a matter of days now until food and fuel becomes unavailable to us all.

We heard an announcement from the Israeli government that the attacks on Gaza would continue for a long time in spite of the calls from regional and international bodies and organisations for them to stop.

From my home the sound of ambulance sirens is non-stop.

Every time I hear an explosion followed by sirens, I think of those ambulances carrying the dead and injured.

I am increasingly fearful for my children, family and friends. I think to myself that the next ambulance might be carrying one of my friends, a member of my family, or even me.

Day 1 – Black Saturday in Gaza

I was at home, lying down on my bed. It was 11.30am; a time when students fill the streets on their way home from school.

All of a sudden I heard massive explosions, one after the other. The windows in my bedroom began to shake violently.

I jumped out of bed and tried to turn the TV on, but there was no electricity. I ran around frantically, not knowing what to do.

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The explosions grew stronger and sounded closer. I went to my front door and looked up at the sky. It was filled with black smoke.

While I was searching for people to find out what was going on, someone told me: “The Israeli jets are targeting all police buildings and the homes of Hamas leaders.”

I later realised that the explosions I had heard was the Al Abbas police station, 300 metres from my home, being targeted.

The first thing that came to my mind was to call my wife and to check that my two young children were okay. They had spent the night in Khan Younis, in the south of Gaza, with my wife’s family. But the mobile network was down. After 20 minutes of desperate attempts to reach them, I finally talked to my wife who told me that they were very scared but okay.

She was crying down the phone to me while watching TV. She said she could see images of dead bodies and that more than 50 people had already been killed.

At least now I knew that my wife and children were alive. But what about my three sisters and their children? I eventually reached one of my sisters who started to cry – she still did not know where her children were. An hour later they made it home – scared but unhurt.

State of shock

As I stood outside my home in a state of shock, I heard women screaming next door. People were running around, crying “Mohammed has been killed”.

Mohammed Habboush was my 26-year-old neighbour. I felt sad because I knew the guy well.

An hour later, I got a message on my mobile telling me that another friend had been killed.

My family returned from Khan Younis in the evening. I felt so relieved to see them.

We all sat together in front of the television just crying and feeling afraid after every explosion. I tried to pretend that I was fine in order to make my family feel some sort of security, but deep inside I was afraid.

At 11pm my wife’s mobile rang. It was a recorded voice message from the Israeli army which said: “If you have any kind of weapon in your home, you should evacuate your home immediately as we will target it.”

At first I told my wife that we should not worry because we don’t own any weapons. However, ten minutes later, my father who lives above us, called to say that he had received the same message. At that moment I started to panic.

Due to the limited electricity supply in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed’s diary entries may sometimes be delayed. We will, however, continue to update his Gaza Diary as quickly as possible.

Source: Al Jazeera

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