Letters From Gaza, Part 2

In Partnership with the Institute for Palestine Studies

Gaza has gone dark. With the power plants shut down, even the last vestiges of electricity—car batteries, personal generators—are running out. The internet has been cut, and now, with the Israeli government poised to expel Al Jazeera, one of the few media outlets with a presence in Gaza, communications from the strip, already chillingly few and far between, may cease altogether. As the Israeli military prepares to ramp up its genocidal assault on Gaza, every message that Palestinians manage to transmit may be the last.

The team at The Institute for Palestine Studies has been translating and publishing these messages so that the world can see the humanity buried under the rubble, and the spirit of resistance that has, does, and will continue to animate the Palestinian struggle. 

To help maximize their reach, we are republishing these messages here. This is the second post of letters—the first post of letters from Gaza can be found here.

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

Ahmad Abdelaziz Mansour 

October 16, 2023
Ahmad Abdelaziz Mansour is a resident of Khan Yunis in Gaza.
This testimony was collected by journalist Ahmad al-Batta in Gaza.

We were jolted awake by the cacophony of explosions and terrified screams, with smoke permeating the air. An acrid smell incited panic and made it difficult to breathe. My parents and siblings, who had sought refuge at my house after escaping bombardment, found themselves in the midst of it again. An adjacent building was hit and collapsed onto my home, causing the windows to shatter—the air filled with smoke. As the airstrikes intensified in Khan Yunis’ city center, we hastily packed our belongings and fled. Kind strangers in the street offered us water. We spent a night on the street before seeking shelter at a relative’s house.

Resources are scarce—water, electricity, food, and medical supplies. We struggled to find Ventolin to alleviate our shortness of breath caused by inhaling dust and smoke.

My wife and I visited the hospital to treat our injuries from the shattered glass. The scene there was horrifying—decapitated children, scattered limbs, a woman screaming in agony. The hospital was overcrowded, and the medical staff was overwhelmed. Massacres are occurring in every district.

Having worked in the humanitarian sector, I can attest that this is a catastrophe. Despite being under siege for 17 years, the international community’s rhetoric about human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights seems hollow when it comes to Palestinians. Gaza is on the brink of annihilation, and it feels like no one is taking action.

[Translated into English by Laura Albast. Graphich foortage from one of the hospitals in Gaza (in a different location than the one mentioned above) can be viewed on Ahmed Hijazi’s Instagram account.]

Saeed Ahmad al-Agha

October 16, 2023
Saeed Ahmad al-Agha is a student from Khan Yunis currently seeking refuge in the southern Gaza Strip.
This testimony was collected by Ahmad al-Batta, a Palestinian journalist in Gaza.

I was on my way to university, riding the bus, when the Israeli airstrikes began. I hurried home and found my parents sheltering on the ground floor of our building (we live on the second floor), afraid. My family decided to evacuate and leave our house in Khan Yunis because we feared the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians. It was difficult for me to leave our home but it was necessary to be safe, I have younger siblings; children.

I was on my way to university, riding the bus, when the Israeli airstrikes began. I hurried home and found my parents sheltering on the ground floor of our building (we live on the second floor), afraid. My family decided to evacuate and leave our house in Khan Yunis because we feared the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians. It was difficult for me to leave our home but it was necessary to be safe, I have younger siblings; children. 

We left our house and sought refuge in the center of the city, hoping to find safety. The bombs, however, were falling everywhere and so, we decided to go back home. When we got there, we discovred that our home and our entire neighborhood had been turned to rubble by Israeli airstrikes.

We returned to central Khan Yunis but within hours after we arrived, the house next to us was bombed without warning. It was a miracle that we even managed to escape death when the neighbors were bombed. One of the windows crashed on my head. It was a massacre. It was a painful. All those martyrs and wounded. 

Despite this pain, the spirit of our people has not been broken. Residents have opened their homes to welcome displaced families… Others took the initiative to distribute food parcels to those in need and volunteered to drive people from one place to another, no matter the danger. We are not afraid but for states to have turned their back on us, that is shameful and we shall never forgive them. Perhaps this is the last time you hear from us, there is no safe place in Gaza… the world must act before Gaza is annihilated.

[Translated into English by Aya Jayyousi and Laura Albast]

Ayham Al Sahli, Bahaa Shahira Raouf: Testimonies from Mother and Child, Neighbor

October 17, 2023
Ayham Al Sahli: Palestinian journalist from Haifa, born in the Yarmouk camp and currently living in Beirut.
Bahaa Shahira Raouf is a Palestinian writer living in Gaza.

I communicate daily with Bahaa, who resides in a neighborhood in Deir Al Balah near the historical site of Al Khidr. I inquire about his well-being, the conditions he, his mother, his siblings and his neighbors are facing, and in response to my questions, he always says “Don’t worry; we’re fine.” On one occasion, he replied “I’m not contemplating dying in this war.”

Bahaa typically writes opinion articles in Palestinian and Arab media. We rarely speak on the phone, mainly exchanging lengthy messages to discuss our concerns, worries, and daily lives. At the beginning of this conflict, he sent me a message that said: “Tell me a joke or two during these tough times to make my heart leap with laughter amid the sounds of Israeli shelling in our city. I stick my head out of my window, inhaling bomb dust, only to return and tell a third joke.” Following this message, I asked him to record an account of his situation, along with Mariam and her mother, while they were at their home on that day. 

Mariam And Her Mother

Mariam, nine years old, left her home with her mother due to the intensity of the nearby shelling and the fear of it reaching them. Mariam’s mother says: “Yesterday (the first day) started as a normal day, and the area where I live was relatively safe. However, with the absence of the sun, everything changed. Before that, we heard sounds here and there, but with the sun gone, we lost sight of where the rockets were falling. As the shelling intensified, the electricity was cut off, and the internet stopped working, so I couldn’t access any details.” This is how Mariam’s mother experienced those moments, as her fear for herself and her daughter overcame everything. “From around 6 o’clock until dawn, missiles were falling around us. I wasn’t sure where exactly. My mother would call me from time to time to check on me and Mariam, providing me with limited information to prevent me from being too afraid,” she adds.

Many people left their homes, and some areas in Gaza appeared desolate, either because they were completely destroyed or due to the displacement of their residents. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported that there were “approximately 218,600 internally displaced people residing in 92 UNRWA schools in all Gaza areas.” This emptying of homes heightened the feeling of loneliness for Mariam’s mother, who said, “When people began leaving their homes, I saw some neighbors leaving with their mattresses, unsure of where to go. Nearly all areas were being shelled.” Faced with this situation, Mariam’s mother says, “When we hear the sounds of explosions and rockets, with no people around and the electricity cut off, it intensifies our feelings of isolation. Continuous shelling and the sounds of terror make the ground tremble beneath us. At that moment, I’d revert to the rule we’ve learned from previous wars: as long as you hear the rockets’ sounds, you are safe. I’m not sure if this rule is correct, but it brought comfort.”

This destruction we observe as outsiders was once buildings where we once saw residents roaming within and around, like the Palestine Tower that Israel bombed, obliterating its fourteen floors to a single destroyed layer. It had been used by various institutions and media teams and housed medical clinics and residential apartments.

After people began evacuating their neighborhood, Mariam’s mother’s primary concern was the well-being of her daughter Mariam, she explained: “My daughter slept; she fell asleep out of fear. With every new rocket, she’d grip my hand tightly.”

Mariam has dreams, just like any other child around the world: “I am in the fourth grade, and when I go back to school, I want to check on my friends in my class, as well as my teacher and the school principal. She taught us well, and she always demands that we study.”

On the second day of the war, Mariam wrote a short story, and her mother photographed it and sent it to Bahaa. In the story, Mariam expresses her fear when the door is shattered, forcing her and her mother to flee to her aunt’s house. She wishes for the war to end. Mariam writes, “I felt extreme fear when the door broke, and my mother and I went to my aunt’s house. I saw broken glass all over the place, and my mother and I ran out into the street, leaving our bird in the house. I hope the war will end. My name is Mariam, and I’m nine years old. I miss my life at school.”


Bahaa conducted the interview with Mariam and her mother over the phone and sent me the recording. I transcribed and crafted it as presented above. I asked Bahaa to respond to the same questions he posed to Mariam and her mother and to talk about this war from the perspective of someone living in Gaza. Bahaa stated: “I’m a person with somewhat muted feelings, primarily due to my ongoing battle with depression, for which I am receiving treatment. However, my predominant feeling right now is pride. As a people, we have seized the initiative, and the truth is on our side. Today, we are taking real action, not just reacting. I don’t feel sadness; rather, I feel anger at what I see.”

For Bahaa, this anger is meaningful, as it is for anyone following the ongoing aggression, watching the extent of killing and destruction by the Occupation. The Israeli army declared last Thursday that it had “bombed Gaza with 4,000 tons of explosives since the start of the aggression.”

Bahaa believes that people in Gaza are somewhat resilient despite everything. He states, “There is fear, concern for life, and anxiety about what is to come, but emotions are intense. We have a strong sense of pride. I am not surprised by these emotions in my people and myself. I am comforted by this steadfast spirit within our people. It is clear that we will continue to resist, and resistance is not just about weapons; it is also about resilience and the concepts we have formed through many experiences of wars and assaults on us in Gaza.”

Along with a group of friends, Bahaa actively participates in assisting various places in Gaza. He explains, “I feel that I have a national duty to fulfill and a national struggle to follow through for the people. I imagine this is the natural role I must play very passionately.”

Zainab Al Ghonaimy

October 16, 2023
Zainab Al Ghonaimy is a Lawyer and Women’s Rights Defender in Gaza, her words were conveyed to us through her daughter Farah Barqawi.

Summary of the situation on the morning of October 16: Tonight, all the different areas in the Strip were being bombarded with concussion missiles. The Israeli Occupation is conducting a fire-belt (Saturation Fire) around Gaza City that separates it from Beir LAhia and Jabalia, as well as separates it from Al-Wusta and the south from the borders of Tal Al-Hawa neighborhood. There are hundreds of martyrs. Bombs burn and disintegrate people. No one can identify the identity of the martyrs because their remains are torn apart. They are buried in plastic bags in mass graves. Each bag may contain a corpse and a half or more, and the burial hole contains more than a hundred bags. The wounded cannot find treatment. Israel created another fire-belt around Al-Quds Hospital to prevent ambulances from moving around it. Entire families have been killed, leaving no traces behind them. Every five minutes there is a martyr, meaning that with every raid people need to be thanked for their safety every five minutes. The humanitarian truce announced is a lie and the crossing was not opened. A short while ago, they bombed Ajjour bakery on the third street in Sheikh Radwan, and everyone who was in line for bread was killed by the attack, as they did a bakery in Khan Yunis yesterday. The mediators want to evacuate foreign nationals and Palestinians who hold foreign (non-Arab) citizenships, American or European or other. As for those Palestinians who hold Arab nationalities, there is no way for them to leave. Egypt refuses to receive Palestinians as refugees. We are still alive until now and trying to be okay.♦

[Initially posted on Twitter, reprinted with Farah Barqawi’s permission.]


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