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From the Hell of Gaza: A Monster that Lurks Even in Our Dreams

The entire nation is held captive in anticipation of a non-consensual death. The notion that “everyone is okay” is but a mere fabrication that fails to hold any real truth. On November 1st, my father made his way towards the south to resume his relief work in a Rafah shelter centre with UNRWA. However, the establishment of a checkpoint and the humiliation that came with it on Salah al-Din Street, at the hands of the occupation’s army, and more than a million displaced Palestinians from the north to the south was devastating. Gaza was torn apart, and the displaced became a pressure card in the hands of the occupation. They were prevented from returning to the north even during the days of the humanitarian truce.

My father is an oriental man par excellence. He is silent most of the time, his words are limited and taken into account. He is sharp as a sword in his decisions, his eyes are like those of a hawk, and his predictions proved to be accurate. He did not laugh on the seventh of October as we all laughed when we were overcome by the euphoria of victory. We believed in the promised triumph, but the setback was in what we saw of torment, as they entered upon us from all gates; He alone saw with the same keen vision, the dusty future; Gaza’s second setback.

With his vast experience, he knew all too well that the internationally supported army would never permit anyone to cross the border, and that Gaza would inevitably pay a heavy price. The invading army was brutal. Trampling on our streets and homes. Killing, and capturing. He knew they would not leave Gaza within fragile ceasefires or interrupted truces that barely lasted a week.

My father, who had not eaten much or drank much water since October 7th, appeared to be 20 years beyond his actual age. His body and hair had thinned, causing me great concern. I was anxious when I looked into his eyes, I became afraid of the farewell look. He was not only crying, but he was sobbing like I had never seen him except when he said goodbye to my grandfather eighteen years ago. You were honest, Father; We were naive and stupid, and here we are under fire, stray bullets, direct targeting, near-atomic bombs, and genocide. Waiting for our turn on death row and praying to God that we die without groans of pain, or screams for help that no one hears, and that our bodies be honoured by rapid burials. Instead of remaining under the rubble, mauled by dogs us, and eaten by flies.

Amidst the days of the humanitarian truce, the occupation prevented the displaced from returning to the north. Regardless, less than forty-eight hours post-truce the invaders breached the camp’s borders. tanks loomed meters away from my abode, on the western side of the camp. The occupation’s onslaughts escalated over the next three days. The market opposite our dwelling was shelled, the shops and stores set alight. The tanks and artillery started one blazing fire after another. Without any prospects of being extinguished. Though we stood and gazed at the burning fire, none of us dared to approach it. We all remained well aware that we were being targeted, and that we lay in the line of fire.

Do you remember my neighbour who use to drink Nescafe? She was one of the components of my steadfastness and our survival in the north. The temporary calm was shattered soon after. On Friday, I carried on with my daily routine of hanging the laundry and I saw my neighbours on the roof conversing and laughing. I waved to them, not expecting for a moment that a tragedy would strike the neighborhood. My aunt spoke to me that day; warning us not to stay at home due to the perils in the Jabalia area. I said that we would remain at home, and I told her to rest assured as our neighbours were in their home, and if they left, we would leave with them. On Saturday, while we prepared to eat breakfast, the house was shaken by a very close missile. The young men went out to inspect the neighborhood. I heard the screams of my siblings as they shouted about the collapse of our neighbours’ building, which housed more than two hundred people, in a crime of genocide that shames humanity. One single missile had brought enough destruction to lay waste to a six-story building consisting of four apartments on each floor. Everyone who had called this structure their home was now trapped beneath the rubble. Rescue crews were unable to recover them, as they lacked equipment. The young men dug with their hands, in desperate attempts to search for survivors, but alas, it was in vain.

In the heart of fire: missiles, snipers, raids and displacement

On Monday, the fourth of December, at 1:30 AM, the mobile phone vibrated. I received a late message from my displaced aunt in a tent in southern Gaza, asking about our situation. I chose the sunrise to call, but two missiles shook the entire house, thick dust filled the place and stones were falling. I screamed, another crime and a new bombing of a nearby residential square. The remains of the windows fell on top of us, the doors flew onto our bodies, and stones were scattered on us. We miraculously survived. No one would believe that we emerged from the dust and demolition alive. Our neighbours were martyred and most of our homes were destroyed. The young men stayed until the morning hours searching for bodies under the rubble. They tried to aid some of the injured, but they were surprised by a barrage of bullets directed at them. We did not know at the time that the Israeli forces were so close to us. In the morning, one of the neighbours tried to reach his shop. A bullet hit his body at the entrance of our house. He shouted for my brother to help him, and from him, we learned of the presence of occupying soldiers in the neighbourhood. We had to choose between death, torture, and arrest at home, or displacement to our relatives’ home. Hours later, the occupation searched our house in the camp, fired its hostile bullets at everything in it, and its soldiers smashed anything that came under their hands.

The journey of displacement which we rejected throughout the war had begun. On the way of farewell, smoke shells pursued us, until we reached an UNRWA school. We then rode on a donkey cart towards our relative’s house in Jabalia camp. Artillery shells struck the house we were displaced to in the camp, so we had to leave it on Friday, December 8th. We attempted to reach our house in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood, but the occupation fired direct bullets at us in the Saraya area in front of the mosque, and opposite Al-Wafa Hospital in the heart of Gaza City. We were repeatedly shot by snipers there. In addition to a quadcopter drone that released its vicious ammunition towards us and at crowds of displaced passers-by in the area. Even though the Israeli army had called on the residents to go to shelters, and designated Al-Wahda Street as a safe corridor, they did not hesitate to bomb the people there. I then went to my grandfather’s house in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood. There, we learned that the occupation had stormed our house, searched and vandalized it, while burning and destroying most of the houses in the neighbourhood.

A lurking monster

After leaving the camp for a week, I returned and felt as though I had transformed into the character “Ghariba,” the protagonist of a popular legend from the Aures Mountains. who had to shake her bracelets so that her father, “Baba Inova,” would know that she was the one knocking on the door and not the forest monster. Every night a ghoul loomed, as it grew bigger in front of us, and chased us even in our dreams. We have no choice but to resist it with our nails. My chest burns with anger. Yet, it couldn’t insulate me from the harsh winter cold that made me shiver under my covers in a state of terror.

Our neighbourhood remains shattered as the houses were stomped by soldiers’ boots; To search for wanted persons, weapons, or men. Then, with premeditation, they broke everything in the houses, and with all their fury, they burned the standing houses that their warplanes were unable to obliterate. Tanks were unable to mow down the oppressed people. Communication was entirely cut off, northern Gaza was besieged, and the siege was imposed on Jabalia in particular. We had no news of our relatives. We were unable to contact anyone. Until we received a handwritten letter from Al-Shifa Hospital, which stated that the occupation, before withdrawing from the Al-Rimal neighbourhood, torched the building that housed our residential apartment. We had only lived in it for three months. A missile plunged from the sky and pierced through not only our apartment but several others as well. Luckily, it didn’t explode. We wait for the Civil defense to withdraw the explosives after the war ends.

After the siege on the camp was lifted, we were able to communicate via the Internet. We received a photo of my father. My little sister did not recognise him. She asked: Who is this? In this war, children no longer know their fathers; Because their fathers grew old or died. What did we do to deserve such suffering and devastating consequences?

  • Text by Haya Freij, a Palestinian researcher from Gaza.