Today was the first day that medics and journalists were able to reach areas occupied by the invading Israeli troops. Palestinians by this point, by weeks ago, were desperate for any semblance of a normal life, though normality here is far from normality anywhere else. They were desperate to return to their homes, survey the damage and if possible repair it, find displaced family members, or their corpses, as well as neighbours, friends.
Not everyone returned home to stay; many could be seen returning to where their homes were, or had stood, to retrieve anything worthwhile. Donkey carts and taxis were piled with blankets, clothes, cooking pots, cupboards, pieces of furniture, people…
I went straight to Ezbat Abed Rabbo, the area east of Jabaliya which had been cut off since day 1 of the ground invasion, over 2 weeks ago. The Red Crescent had been receiving calls to evacuate the injured and dead since day 1, and were prevented, at gunpoint, by gunfire, from reaching those needing evacuation. We heard the cries of those who managed to escape, their stories of being locked in homes at gunpoint, losing family members to point-blank assassinations or house-bombings.
And although the area was crammed with troubled, panicked, residents, many of them injured, without water, without food, with homes occupied by Israeli soldiers, I worried particularly about one man: the father of my friends.
We had no idea if he was alive, though we knew he’d stayed in the area. My panic was great, daily, I felt like I had said goodbye to a grandfather.
I bee-lined for his house, though had a hard time doing it since the streets and the land were turned upside-down, torn apart, filled with carcasses of houses and animals.
He was there, miraculously, noble in his traditional gown, long beard, hat. But he looked shattered.
“He cried for us,” his son told me. “He didn’t know if we were alive or dead.” So the confusion and desperation was both ways. Utterly cut off from one another, we were but mirror examples of families and loved ones all over the Gaza Strip. And we were luckier, because we are all alive. Except his wife, my friend’s mother, who was killed on the very first day of attacks. But now everything is relative and we cling desperately to the positive, for its all there is to cling to.
I have so much to tell, so many photos that don’t do justice to the suffering, heart-break, trauma, psychological damage, and despondency of people here. So many smells ingrained in my memory, that when sniffed will bring images of dead children, burned houses, chemical fires.
Slamming doors will forever remind of the missiles slamming the earth, the life below.
And just visiting the few areas I saw today, so many people, so desperate to tell their stories, tell of their anguish. For some the anguish is immense: pulverized homes, killed family members, corpses unretrieved, sanctimony and all that is sacred defiled. For others, the suffering is in the tragedy of shattered dreams, of every personal item destroyed or lost. It all matters, and they were all desperate to tell me. And I to listen. But quickly their words became a blur, a swirl of agony. My basic Arabic began to fail me as I wrote their ailments, their losses.
I will go back, to take careful inventory of the destruction, physical and emotional. Many of those who returned to where their homes were have to return to overcrowded schools with memories of slaughters even within school premises.
While the bombs may have stopped, for now, the terror remains. F-16s still flew low, terrifyingly low, today, so loud, so unpredictable. No one here has any reason to believe any words Israeli leaders proclaim. Only reason to believe in the worst. But out of necessity, we must hope for the best.