F has had no rest since the attacks began over 2 weeks ago.
She only sporadically sends me text message updates. Earlier, she was strong, determined: “Hi, how r u? We r fine, take care of urself.We’ll stand up until death. Kisses.” Yesterday: “Hi, I’ve missed you a lot. I wish that you are okay, and wish to return back to our home. I’m dying. My thoughts and feelings are in Jabaliya.We love you,” she ends. When I spoke with her tonight, our thoughts were both on her father-in-law, who stayed behind, already a refugee and unwilling to again be forced out of his home, and on the dead, on reports of more dead friends and neighbours.
H looked very tired when I saw him days ago. Tired and somewhat gaunt.As we talked, he frequently apologized, saying he’d forgotten what he wanted to say, lost his train of thought.“I can’t think clearly,” he admitted, embarrassed.We were talking about the situation.Everyone is dealing with the deaths, the wounded, and the terror of this crisis how they can, but for so many its more than the psychological terror and very real threat to their lives.It’s not knowing where or how family members are, or mourning the dead, or mourning the un-retrievable bodies of the dead.
I saw Abed, his younger brother, a while later.He smiled, without his usual mischievous twinkle.He was carrying a plastic bag filled with what seemed to be a change of clothes.
None of us knows if H’s father, Abu N, is alive.None of us can reach him –the area has been taken over by Israeli soldiers, completely unapproachable, since the land invasion began.The family has stayed there through past Israeli army invasions, and knows how houses are occupied, sniper positions taken in the highest rooms.But they left this time, because this time the land invasion had been preceded by an unimaginable dumping of missiles, which indeed succeeded in running people out of their homes.
Abu N stayed, though.He’d already been forcibly moved from his birthplace, near what is now Ashkelon, when Israel was created.
I’d been worried some days earlier when, having just left F’s house, Sharon and I heard an explosion and saw the rise of black smoke from F’s area. It was too close, as were the many missiles that followed.
At 4 am January 3rd, shortly after I was shaken by the missile which landed somewhere close by, F texted me: “They shot a bomb outside our house.The glass…” she didn’t finish, but she didn’t have to. I was with the Red Crescent en route to the just-bombed American high school, in Beit Lahia, when I reached her on the phone.“We don’t know where it landed,” she whispers frantically. “Maybe it’s outside the door.We’re scared.” And they had reason to be, as every night until then, and often during the day, she told me of the missiles which had landed out front, to the side, behind the house.
I saw her the morning that the land invasion began, with her family, carrying what bags they could, in tears.
I didn’t expect them to leave: they’d been so resolute about sticking it out, as they had in past invasions.But this assault is different than past ones.Everyone tells me.And so they chose to leave, to hope that the family they went to stay with would be in a safer area.
After looking at the newest damage around F’s house, I spoke with neighbours.They, like her father-in-law, were staying. “Where would we go?” they asked, the question particularly significant since a UN school sheltering many who had fled was bombed. They stayed. As did Abu Nasser’s brother. He told me about his house: “I only built this 2 years ago,” gesturing around the house.“How am I supposed to afford to build a new one?”He expected to be bombed, but again, where to go?In Gaza, small Gaza, one can run around in circles (although now one cannot run from North to South –the road is cut by the presence of Israeli troops –and one doesn’t run in the dark –an invitation to the drones supervising from above.) but one can’t escape the bombs, anywhere.
The area in question, where Abu Nasser, and neighbours, potentially may still be, has been occupied and is thought to be the area of some of the worst massacres in this war on Gaza.Three older men and women who managed to escape two days ago told me of their torment, mild in comparison to that of the Samouni family in Zaitoun, or the unknown victims in the northwest. They were kept for 3 days, locked at gunpoint in their home, and at some point either before or during trying to get away, were shot at.One older woman showed her shot wrist, shin and punched face, and spoke of her assassinated husband, shot dead.
The latest news to come out of the area was of Abed Rabbo’s family, at least 8 killed, 10 injured by Israeli soldiers, in eastern Jabaliya.
*Abu Nasser, not leaving one of the hardest hit areas