Letters From Gaza, Part 3

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 third post of letters—the second post in the series can be found here, and the first post can be found here

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

Reemah Saleh
A Gaza Daughter in Exile: ‘I Wish I Were There With You’

October 25th, 2023
Reema Saleh is an intern at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut. 

I called my father at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, after hearing the news my mind could barely comprehend: the Qassam Brigades had broken through the siege of Gaza and captured scores of Israelis. He spoke to me in a tone I had not heard before, a combination of joy and dread of what awaits the people of Gaza.

I could not contain my tears when he told me that no words could describe what Israel was going to do to our bereaved people. He went silent for a moment as if he was holding back tears and trying to project strength. “Rima, I need you to be strong, even if you come to visit Gaza and none of us are left.”

It has been one year, one month, and seven days since I left Gaza. I clearly remember the moment I realized that this was the first time I was going to experience a war on Gaza far from the barbarity of missiles and body parts strewed everywhere. I did not know it would be the most ferocious war yet, and I did not know that those missiles were less powerful than the hallucinations that would haunt me through the night. I did not know that remorse and fear for my family would so utterly destroy me.

I called my friend, gripped with shame at having left that great city. I was ashamed to ask her how she is. I could not recall any words in the entire Arabic language that might have helped me in that moment. “Tell me everything in detail, no matter how inconsequential,” I said. “I want to cool the fire of helplessness inside me.”

She told me that they left their house, and then saw it on the news, completely destroyed. They fled to her brother’s house in the middle of the Jabalia refugee camp, only for Israel to blindly rain down a barrage of missiles that destroyed dozens of houses and killed scores of people. One of those killed was her uncle’s wife, who was nine months pregnant. They still have not found her body. I wonder, how can a child be born under the rubble of this destruction? How can a child greet life amongst all this death? I picture her uncle looking for his family members in the hospitals of Gaza and writing down: “This one has been martyred, this one injured, and that one missing.” They are not numbers. I ask her to talk at length. Listening was the least I could offer.

I had never seen my close friends this powerless. My heart broke when she told me, “Pray for us, Rima, we’ve been humiliated.” My tears betray me every time I try to feign strength when I hear those wails. My friend likened fleeing to the south as the Israeli Occupation authorities instructed them to the horrors of Judgement Day. When they arrived at the UNRWA schools on caravans, they found nothing that could possibly sustain life there. They had to wait long hours just for a few loaves of bread if they were even lucky to get any at all. She tells me of a night she spent sleeping on a chair because there were no mattresses, and that she had to perform her prayer ablutions with damp tissues. “There was no drinking water, and I had to stop drinking so as not to use the bathroom. I had to wait long hours to even go in.”

My family lives in the Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Gaza. The enemy’s warnings to leave to the south mattered little to them. My mother said, “How can I leave my house while our relatives are seeking shelter with us? How can I leave it and repeat the mistakes your grandparents made when they fled the 1948 Nakba?” My father told me the same thing, as do my siblings. I told them, “I am ashamed to tell you what to do, I am with you in my heart and in my prayers. Just be okay, please stay with each other even if you decide to leave for the south.”

At noon, the sound of an F-16 bomb interrupted a phone call with my mother. I couldn’t remember what she was even telling me. I knew exactly what that sound was from experience. I was cut off from my family for the rest of that day. My neighbor’s house was bombed and collapsed on its residents. “They bombed Alaa’s house without warning,” my sister Nour told me. It is the house adjacent to my family’s, as is the case with all houses in the camp. I asked her to tell me what happened in detail, and she was terrified at the horror of the scene. I remember the number of family members there. “It’s been six hours, and they haven’t been able to recover a single body. They found a leg and a hand that might be Alaa’s wife’s.” I shuddered and found no answers to my questions. What are these missiles they are using that cause such devastation? I kept trying to call my father so he could tell me something. He finally answered me at 9 p.m. and said: “Mohammad’s wife, his four children, his mother, his brother Hamza and his wife, his brother Ra’afat and his wife and child, his sisters Ghida and Haifa and Diyaa, all were martyred. The rescue workers worked really hard, and they’re still unable to recover Ghida’s body.” How will Mohammad and his father — the only two survivors of the entire family — bear this calamity? How?

My four-year-old cousin Jad tells me, “Don’t cry, Rima. I’m not afraid of the bombs because we’re going to go to heaven like Uncle who died.” I collapsed into tears. How could a child so young speak about death and bombardment and heaven? How can they be so strong as to reassure me, when it should be me reassuring them?

My mother tried to minimize the danger of the situation and pretend they were okay. “What did you have for lunch, darling? How was university today?” I told her that her words wracked me with guilt and pleaded with her to tell me how the rest of the family and our neighbors were doing. “How is my cousin Lama, the child who has kidney failure? How is she able to undergo dialysis three times a week in this tragic situation?” I was stunned when she replied, “Her older sister Haneen does it with some basic materials, so if she doesn’t die from the bombs, she’ll die from lack of proper health care.” My mother is afraid to tell me that my cousin Joury’s medication is about to run out, knowing that without it, she will be paralyzed. But I know and feel everything my family is facing, because I left my heart in Gaza when I came to Lebanon.

On Oct. 16, my older brother Tamer told me that my father had decided to evacuate them to the south. For a moment, I thought they would offer them rooms inside the college, but then I learned that my dad had pitched a tent made of bedsheets and blankets to shelter them while they slept. It doesn’t protect them from the heat or the cold. They found a grocery store that still had some canned goods and water. That is not sufficient for them by any means, but they have no choice.

I asked my little brother for details about their daily lives, about their feelings, about everything. He said, “Rima, I lost six kilograms in less than two weeks. We eat one meal a day because there is not enough food. But that’s probably best because then we won’t have to go to the bathroom and wait hours in line. Our cat, Bees, got depressed and died. Don’t worry, I made her a coffin and buried her. I take advantage of any lull in the bombing to sleep. I wake up, I wait for night to come, and then I sleep again. I don’t know what to do. There’s no school, no internet, no football. We’re broken, we’re living the most primitive life. I walked under the bombs for about 45 minutes to find the internet to speak to you. I know it’s late, 1 a.m., but I know you can’t sleep, and I know how your heart aches for us.”

My loves, how I wish I were there with you.

[Translated by Rasha Moumeh.]

Tawfiq Abu Shomer

October 24th, 2023
Tawfiq Abu Shomer is a writer in Gaza.

I apologize to my library, filled with the memories of many years, because the Apache pilot only gave me a few minutes’ warning to save myself before they sentenced my small apartment to death.

My heart aches for my apartment, which I built brick by brick with my own hands. I painstakingly selected each material, each tile, treating them as companions that would accompany me through life. I carried the packages of tiles with tenderness, just as I carried my firstborn child in his cradle. The joy I felt as each tile was laid and dried was immeasurable. I even distributed sweets around Gaza when I completed the row of tiles!

Yet, the pilot decided to unleash their hatred upon my cherished tiles, dimming their brightness that I loved so deeply.

I had thought my son’s apartment next door would be a refuge when mine was destroyed. I had built it too, and another for my daughter. I reveled in the thought of having three independent apartments, all adjacent to each other. But a single bomb from a murderous occupier stole this happiness in mere seconds.

The bomb obliterated the memories of choosing my bedroom furniture, which I had bought in installments. I regret not bidding it a final farewell.

I yearned to stand in the middle of the living room, filled with stories and memories, and salute this sanctuary of memories one last time. But all that remained were torn pieces after the bomb’s destruction.

Stepping on the fragments of my kitchen brings me immense pain. The pilot of the warplane took away my taste for traditional food, leaving me longing for my favorite flavors. How do I regain the flavor of my ceramic coffee cup, which had been a close friend to my writing projects? This cup was with me when I published four books, drops of bitter coffee seeping onto my pages.

Now, I leave my traditional kitchen without seeing this cup because a bomb covered it in ashes and scattered its fragments among the rubble. My hands trembled as I collected its broken pieces.

Can I ever rid my two favorite plates of the smell of gunpowder? One plate was adorned by an image of a small black rose in the middle of white marble, the second was made out of polished metal. How can I get used to tasting food in my new shelter and forget the taste of these plates?

What caused my loss of appetite? At first, I thought it was due to losing everything and becoming homeless. But then I realized it was the absence of my two favorite plates. I can’t imagine ever adjusting to life without them.

I never anticipated that the destruction of my apartment, and those of my son and daughter, would resurrect memories of my first cradle, seized by the Israeli occupier. Today, I feel closer to that first cradle than ever before.

Despite everything, I will continue to echo the words of renowned poet Pablo Neruda: “You can cut all the flowers, you can kill all the birds, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

[This article was first published in Arabic on Oct. 11 on the website of the Palestine News Network. It was translated into English by Meriam Mabrouk and is republished here.]

Testimonies from Gaza Youth: Dunia Aburahma and Sara Besaiso

October 22nd, 2023
Dunia Aburahma is an architecture student at the Islamic University of Gaza.
Sara Besasio is a 16-year-old Palestinian from Gaza.

Dunia Aburahma

I’m 22 years old. I’m an architecture student in the Islamic University of Gaza, and I’m living here in Gaza City. We’ve been experiencing  some terrifying moments. We don’t know if we’re [going to] live in the next moment or not. We are praying, every second, to be alive. This is not a new thing for us. This moment and what happened in the last few days, this is not a new thing, but it [is] super terrifying, and we [are] super terrified. 

We evacuated from our home to our friend’s, and now we’re evacuating again. At 3:00 am on Oct. 14, we were informed that we have to evacuate again, [Israel’ is [going to] bomb every house in the city and destroy the streets, the buildings, and our houses. We’re not [going to have] a home anymore.We’ve been experiencing this for years, but this time it [is] miserable and terrifying. And, we hope that we will have our simple rights to at least have a home and be safe one day. 

Sara Besaiso

I live in Gaza, Palestine. Let me tell you about [what] it is like from a Palestinian’s point of view that’s living in Gaza right now. These past [few] days, we’ve had no rest. We barely slept through the night, and the kids in our family don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to expect. They barely understand what’s going on. We had to evacuate — leave from house to house — three times. My neighborhood was bombed with white phosphorus, and it is known to be illegal, but apparently nothing is too illegal for it to be used on us. On Oct. 13, [Israel] asked 1.1 million of us, people from Gaza, to go South. But the question is, where should [we] go? They’re asking [us] to leave [our] houses, [our] homes, [our] neighborhood, the people that [we] love, and [our] friends to go evacuate to the South. We don’t have anywhere to go. They told us to go South because it’s [going to be] be safer, then they started bombing us [in the] South. 

I don’t know what you guys want, or expect me to do, but we have faced — [Israel has] been [committing] war crimes. They cut off electricity, water, and all life resources that a human being needs to live. They’re breaking international law again and again. But who cares? It’s just some kids in Palestine, right? No one cares about us! How are we supposed to get our voice out? 

What we’re asking for is peace. We want this to stop. What is our fault of being civilians? Was it my only fault that I have been born in this city, or in this country? Is that the only fault of those kids that have been killed? Most of the people that have been bombed and killed were civilians, babies, children, they don’t understand what’s going on. I can tell you, half of the people right here with me, half of those kids don’t understand why this is happening to them. 

They’re asking why. Could you tell us why this is happening?

[Both these testimonies were video testimonies published on the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s Instagram page. Palestine Studies transcribed and published them with permission, and they are republished here.]

Mohammed Alfarra

October 22nd, 2023
Mohammed Alfarra is a resident of Khan Yunis. An Israeli strike destroyed his family’s home.
This testimony was collected by journalist Ahmad al-Batta in Gaza.

Hello another world, 

My name is Mohammed Alfarra. I live in the center of Khan Yunis, which is supposed to be the safest part of the Gaza Strip. We live in a building that contains more than thirty families, some of which came from other areas to be safe. Many people who were displaced from Northern Gaza were forced to come here only to encounter more danger, as we have been suffering since the first day of this war. 

At 7:00 am, on Oct. 14, we miraculously survived the bombing of the house next to us. We were sleeping. We woke up startled thinking it was our building that was bombed. We could not see anything because of the smoke and gunpowder. In a panic, we searched for family, children, women, elders. The building next door was destroyed, as we fled ours we noticed a child stuck in his bedroom. We broke the door down to rescue him, and rescued others. We fled the building leaving behind possessions and lost memories. 15 were killed by the Israeli bomb that day, many charred to pieces.

Our children are afraid. Loud noises startle them, not just bombs. We suffered injuries, became displaced. Where are you, world? Where is the humanity you speak of? We are killed in Gaza, unable to live a decent live in our lovely country of Palestine. All we want… is to live with our loved ones in safety.

Zainab Al Ghonaimy

October 18th, 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.

The twelfth day of this monstrous Israeli war, October 18:
It was a heavy night burdened with images of the horrific crime committed by the Israeli occupation army, as it targeted the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, a Christian-run medical complex in central Gaza City. The scenes defy human consciousness, a number of massacres at the same time in all areas of the city, a bakery in Nuseirat, the National Club in Gaza city, buildings in Rafah and Khan Yunis. This vicious war has claimed the lives of an estimated 6,000 people, many of whom are still under the rubble and not included in the officially published numbers, 75% of whom were children, women, and the elderly, and disabled the injured bodies of about 13,000 people.

We do not believe that this is Israel’s war alone, but rather it is America’s war, the superpower that decided to test the lethality of its weapons on hundreds of people in clear agreement with the Israeli Minister of Defense, considering that the people living in the Gaza Strip are animals who do not deserve life. It is also a war by all European countries, without exception, against the Gaza Strip, and it is a war that their partners among the Arab leaders, kings, presidents and princes, are also waging with their silence; blessing the slaughter of the people in the Gaza Strip.

I could not sleep. The images of the martyrs and their torn bodies flickering before my eyes. The sounds of bombing and the intensity of the buildings shaking during the night are things no one can imagine, so much so that after every raid and blast, we are in disbelief that we are still alive.

A lump in the throat, hardened tears, and a deep emptiness in the chest. I try to be strong so that I may keep holding up and be of support to those I love through my morning and evening messages to friends and family. Perhaps I can overcome the feeling of helplessness, as I am accustomed to moving around, taking action, and am happy to provide services to women and others, but these cursed planes do not allow me or others to move. Rather, they do not allow us to even look at the sky, where there is an obsessed murderer waiting for us, watching even the ant on the ground with a magnified radar. If it moves, he claims self defense and bombs it with a missile, creating a carnage of the body parts of children and women.

We have no choice but to wait, either to join those who were taken before us, or for the dawn of a new day to make sure that we are alive and we continue to hope that we survive.

Zainab Al-Ghonaimy, from Gaza under continuous attack♦

[Translated by Alia Al-Sabi.]

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