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Gaza war diary II: No one is safe, everyone is a target

Walid Abuzaid offers a look into the everyday reality of living in Gaza during the current violence. As the fighting worsens, he asks why Palestinians should settle when they haven’t got the rights they deserve.

By Walid Abuzaid

Thursday, July 17

It’s 10 p.m. when the power finally returns. The electricity has been down since 11 p.m. last night. The power company said the electricity lines were down during the bombardments and that there’ll only be six hours of electricity every day.

I turn on the water heater so I can finally shower in the morning, since Eimar is asleep at last and I don’t want to make any noise. As I brush my teeth, I’m reminded of the salty water I have to shower in. When I asked the tower guard, Abu-Zeyad, about it when I returned home at the beginning of July, he said the water pipes for the whole neighborhood were damaged a while ago and no one has repaired them. I remember Mohammed, my friend from Beit Lahia, complaining about it since moving here after the war began. The water they use back in their home is really sweet water coming from the wells.

People of Khan Younis gather at a water well to fill some plastic jugs of safe drinking water, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Israeli attacks have killed 566 Palestinians in the current offensive, most of them civilians. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

People of Khan Younis gather at a water well to fill plastic jugs of safe drinking water, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

We gather around in the living room, the TV is on the news channel; we don’t follow any Ramadan series this year. Although Lamar forces us every once in a while to switch to MBC so she can watch the prank series with the sharks. We still check the news channels during every commercial. Nirmeen, my step-mom, tells us about her friend from university that has a Swedish passport. She and her family left in the morning and they’re now safe in Jordan. Lamar hears this and angrily asks my father, “When are you going to get us passports so we can travel whenever we want?” I’m speechless, so is my father. I wonder how many desperate fathers and mothers don’t have an answer to that question.

Friday, July 18

My father can describe the situation with no other words but these: “Sabra and Shatila.” Names are all I can think of – Akram, Ahmed, Khaldoun, Karam, Karma, Mohammed, Abu-Zeyad. Am I going to hear their names on the radio? Images of everyone I know in Shujaiya are rushing through my mind.

I talk to Khaldoun, my best friend from high school and also my neighbor ever since I’ve lived here. He’s also Karam and Karma’s older brother; their family house is in Shujaiya and they were staying there with the rest of the family when the attacks occurred. He says, “Once you’re in that situation, you aren’t able to think about anyone else – not your brother or sister, not your parents, just yourself. All you can think about is the possibility of your imminent death. You can’t run, you can’t hide, and you can’t not be scared.”

Ambulances can’t get to Shujaiya while it is being heavily bombarded. There are images of people dead in the streets. With no discrimination, everyone was a target. I can’t help but feel angry, helpless, and afraid. I don’t want to lose anyone. I don’t want anyone losing anybody anymore.

A Palestinian killed during the latest round of Israeli attacks against Al Shaja'ia is seen under the rubble of a house, Gaza City, July 20, 2014.  (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian killed during the latest round of Israeli attacks against Al Shaja’ia is seen under the rubble of a house, Gaza City, July 20, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Saturday, July 19

Jet maneuvers make the girls go crazy. Nirmeen is being smothered by Eimar’s fear. Lamar is beside her on the ground, crying and covering her ears. It sounds like a rocket is falling but it goes on forever. No explosions, just the fear. This goes on for over an hour. My dad thinks the Israelis are widening their ground incursion. Wasim and I have no words to share, we both know that we are as frightened as Eimar and Lamar.

We listen to the radio all through the night; the electricity is down tonight, too. Shujaiya is being obliterated. Nirmeen’s uncle, Emad, and his family left their house just minutes before it was targeted. They didn’t know it would be hit, but neither did the people now under the rubble. Tanks don’t send out warning shots.

I talk to my friend Basel, who is also a photographer from ActiveStills; he was in Shujaiya during the ceasefire. “Walid, we have to meet so I can explain the situation,” he said. “I can’t express it over the phone. It’s just terrible. I’ve been covering many places during this war, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Abu-Zeyad manages to get out safely along with his family. They are now living in the guard’s room here – three families in a single room. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved and happy to see someone. Abu-Zeyad is the neighborhood’s godfather. He was the first person I hugged the day I came back to Gaza.

Gazans flee the Shejaiya area after Israeli tanks invaded the area, bombarding it heavily, causing over 60 casualties and hundreds wounded, July 20, 2014.  (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Gazans flee the Shejaiya area after Israeli tanks invaded the area, bombarding it heavily, causing over 60 casualties and hundreds wounded, July 20, 2014. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Sunday, July 20

While Nirmeen is doing the laundry on the balcony, we are startled by a huge explosion. As soon as I get to my bedroom window to check where it is, another blast, less than a minute apart. Wasim and I duck for cover, while Nirmeen holds the girls in the hallway. She’s probably more scared than they are. The Abu-Ras family house is hit. They’ve been living in this neighborhood for more than 20 years. I can see clothes and window frames among the rubble from the balcony. I can’t see the house itself though, as the view is blocked by a building between our tower and the family house.

Today our dinner is spaghetti with meatballs; we’re low on food. We might go out tomorrow; I’ve been noticing people are going out more. People around me are getting fed up and desperate. I’ve been thinking about what would happen if they target our house. My brain is nagging me more and more with every night that passes. I can no longer lie to myself every morning, saying it will be over soon.

Monday, July 21

Today it’s the Khalaf family house; they live just around the corner. It was an unmanned plane that targeted it this time. The family has left the house with bags slung over one shoulder, and a child on the other. Some guys stand a safe distance away and charge the house with their cameras, expecting the F16 to strike any minute. But no explosion, the girls and Nirmeen stay in the hallway for over two hours, shivering with every unusual sound. My brain ticks again and the questions are back. What would I take with me? Should I just grab the girls and run down eight floors? How can someone pack memories into a backpack?

Gazans flee the Shejaiya area after Israeli tanks invaded the area, bombarding it heavily, causing over 60 casualties and hundreds wounded, July 20, 2014.  (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Gazans flee the Shejaiya area after Israeli tanks invaded the area, bombarding it heavily, causing over 60 casualties and hundreds wounded, July 20, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

We send our condolences to our friends in the Netherlands, after we find out that they’ve lost friends in the plane crash in Ukraine. They do not grieve alone during these times, and we let them know that we are here for them. We know all too well what it means to lose a loved one.

My mom calls after dinner and cries her soul out. She also heard about the Abu Jame’ family – 26 people from the same family killed, including 18 children. She apologizes for only seeing me once since I came back home. She can’t help but feel guilty because she insisted I come to Gaza for the summer. She was the most anxious for my return – well, I was the most anxious, really.

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 24 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 15 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jamea family.

Mourners fill the mosque during the funeral for 26 members of the Abu Jamea family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 18 of the 26 killed were children of Abu Jamea family.

The electricity comes on for only four hours today, from 5-9 p.m. As soon as it’s on, the charging race begins. I have to wait until one phone is fully charged so I can connect my second phone. Meanwhile, Wasim goes back to Abu-Malek’s store downstairs, refills the water gallon, gets a couple of packs of cigarettes, and comes right back up – he doesn’t want to walk up eight floors. The tower generator no longer works for the elevator when the electricity is down, there isn’t enough fuel. The UPS batteries barely charged, so we only get two extra hours of light and Internet tonight.

Tuesday, July 22

We throw out most of the fruit and left over food from the fridge. It has gone bad because of electricity shut downs. I really should have eaten the watermelon right after it was sliced. The electricity situation is getting worse.

As we listen to the radio in the kitchen, people are in calling and saying they’ve been targeted and that ambulances can’t reach their areas. They’re pleading with the Red Cross and humanitarian agencies. I call a friend of mine, Eweida, to check up on him, because the bombardments are getting closer to him in Tal El-Sultan, Rafah. He assures me that it’s closer to the border than he is, and that he is safe. We were supposed to meet in his house for qedra, a delicious type of rice, before the war started. He’s not getting away with it though; as soon as the war’s over, I’m demanding my feast. Most people living near the border are suffering. Tanks are ruthless, or those in them.

Today moves slower than ever. The ground invasion is getting worse, but the resistance is stronger than in the 2008 war. Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance. If it was 2008, the Israelis would have occupied the Strip by now. The people are backing the resistance because they can’t handle a war every two years. They’re taking more children every two years, stealing our future every two years. The resistance’s demands for a 10-year truce are the same demands the Palestinian people beg for. Would any other human settle for less? We don’t want to lose any more of our children. We don’t want our children to suffer like we have.

Palestinian children ride bicycles past a bomb crater in Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

Palestinian children ride bicycles past a bomb crater in Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

Wednesday, July 23

The electricity isn’t coming on today. They’re saying they’ve almost run out fuel, and the one remaining generator can’t feed the whole Strip. I probably shouldn’t have let Lamar play on my phone last night.

I try cauliflower for the first time today. I stay away from it when I have the privilege of choosing what to eat, but today I didn’t. It’s actually pretty good. After dinner Wasim and I sit in the dark and compare our years in the U.S. I went to Maine, and he to Indiana. When I ask him what he misses most, he looks at me as if I’ve asked a rhetorical question, and then says, “Living, man.”

We join the rest of the family in the living room. The girls are playing with the mini-swing they have in the corner. My dad and Nirmeen are on the couches closest to the window, smoking. The sky is bright and starry, but after a second we notice something strange. Those little lights that are going on and off are way too many tonight. We count at least 12, and those are only over the sea of Gaza. It really is getting worse, as are our thoughts. We can’t even trust the stars anymore.

Thursday, July 24

The electricity comes on at 4 a.m. We are already up, playing cards in the living room. We begin our charging routine and continue our game of cards. We’re sick of watching the news, so we keep it on the news channel but mute the volume this time. Three and a half hours later, after the girls get up early, as usual, and everyone has taken a shower, the electricity goes out again.

After dinner we notice that the gas container is almost empty. It’s too late to call anyone to figure out where we can refill it. I doubt any stations are open during these times, and if they are, it will probably take days to refill since a lot of people are in the same situation.

Medics at the Al-Shifa hospital mourn their colleague targeted and killed in Shejaiya neighbourhood earlier today, Gaza Strip, July 20, 104. Spokesman of the Palestinian ministry of health Ashraf al-Qidra said rescue teams evacuated more than 80 dead bodies from destroyed houses in Shejaiya including 17 children, 14 women and 4 elderly people. More than 200 injured people were taken to al-Shifa Hospital. Death toll in the Gaza Strip accedes 392 with over 2650 wounded since the beginning of the Israeli offensive. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Medics at the Al-Shifa hospital mourn their colleague targeted and killed in Shejaiya neighbourhood, Gaza Strip, July 20, 104. A spokesman of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Ashraf al-Qidra, said rescue teams evacuated more than 80 dead bodies from destroyed houses in Shejaiya, including 17 children, 14 women and 4 elderly people. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Friday, July 25

Wasim calls a friend of his from school, Mohammed, to check up on him. He also offers to refill our gas container in a couple of days, and that we can take one of theirs until ours is full. People are helping each other with whatever they can. Some are donating clothes, food, money and blood; others are opening their houses to their relatives and friends who live in dangerous areas or have already lost their homes. Some are not as fortunate and take refuge in schools. These people were also a target. No one is safe.

I’ve stopped wishing for it to be over. I think that feeling has started to grow on everyone around me. I don’t want it to be over until we get what we deserve, until we live in peace without the fear of being a target. I don’t want it to be over until the children are safe, all the children, until they can no longer be stolen before their time. I don’t want it to be over until I can go to Cyprus by boarding a ship I can see from my living room window. I don’t want it to be over until Wasim is able to “live” in Gaza. I don’t want it to be over until Lamar doesn’t have to ask for another passport. I don’t want it to be over until Eimar can enjoy a bonfire instead of a boat on fire.

Gaza war diary: ‘A second of silence, then the bombs go off’
Israel has alternatives to this war

Israeli, Hamas war crimes becoming increasingly hard to distinguish

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    1. carl

      God bless you, Walid. Most of the world is on the side of the oppressed ones.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        That is something that is, unfortunately, beyond the understanding of the Israeli government. In their own minds, they are always automatically the oppressed by virtue of being Jewish.

        Reply to Comment
        • Janet Jupiter

          These anti Jewish ideas just flow so effortlessly.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Sam

      Stop with the lies.
      The only purpose of the Hamas terror organization is to wipe Israel from the map. This is their official agenda.
      This is why all the billions of dollars they receive from Iran, Qatar and many other countries are invested in terrorism. They want to open the borders so that they could acquire new weapons from Iran and attack Israel again and again.
      If the Hamas government was interested in the well-being of the Palestinian nation, they would invest all that money into education and welfare and they would stop using their own children as human-shield. They would stop claiming that their only goal in life is to exterminate Israel, and then they would received all their “rights”. So far they have proved that when Israel gives them “their rights” nothing good comes out of it. Those rights are simply exploited to commit more terror attacks.
      They don’t want a Palestinian state, they don;t want their rights, they only want to exterminate Israel, and as long as that is the case they’ll continue to suffer.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gearoid

        If you consider this lies, you have no soul.

        Your words are nothing but cheap bigotry, vacuous prejudice wrapped in a veneer of patriotism.

        I am not a Muslim. In fact, many radical Muslims would kill me as soon as they would a Jew. But my all my Gods, I hope people like you suffer for the harm you spread in this world.

        Reply to Comment
        • Victor

          Why don’t you read the Hamas charter. This is what Walid’s “resistance” is all about. Even if he and 972 don’t have the balls to admit it.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Sonnenuhr

      Walid wallows in self pity instead of recognizing that Gaza has caused the catastrophe engulfing it. Ambulances can’t get to Shujaiya because Hamas made it a military stronghold of tunnels, missile launchers and Hamas fighters and tried to kill Israeli citizens and soldiers protecting their people. Israel offered Hamas a truce, quiet to quiet before escalating the conflict and again before beginning the conflict.

      Walid says they do not want the war to end until they get what they deserve. It is poetic irony that they are getting what they deserve right now, the chaos of a war chosen by Gazans and their leaders.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        If you really think the Gazans deserve to see their children die, and their homes bombed from the sky, over voting for the “wrong” leaders and being sick of the blockade, if you think around a thousand civilian deaths is justified by desire to “win” against Hamas, then you have no conscience.

        Reply to Comment
        • davidgold123

          If you elect an organization with a charter calling for the annihilation of Jews. If you aid and abet said group and support its militancy. You choose a leader who ACTIVELY ENCOURAGES you becoming a civilian casualty (Here:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXZEzbT0H1s), and said group also builds terror tunnels leading into Israel instead of IMPROVING the condition in Gaza….
          and expect there to be peace, then you are deluded in the extreme.

          Reply to Comment
        • Sonnenuhr

          What conscience does Walid or Gazans have? In his first diary blog here he said:

          “When we heard about the kidnapped teens, we were thrilled…”

          Meanwhile in Gaza, Gazans set up celebratory tents handing out sweets. When Hamas shot missiles into Israel Gazans cheered. When Hamas called on Gazans to harvest the skulls of Israelis crowds of Gazans shouted death to Israelis.

          Gazans still fully support Hamas aims to fight the war. Interviewee after interviewee in Gaza wants Hamas to continue the war no matter how many Palestinian children are killed.

          As long as Gazans try to kill Israelis, Israelis will defend themselves. The lives lost in Gaza are is the fault of Hamas and the Gazans. This is what they chose and now they are suffering the consequences.

          In 2005 Israel left Gaza. Gazans had a choice to chose peace and build a civil society and economy. Instead they chose extremism in the form of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They need to take responsibility for their choices and the choices of the government they chose to wage war against Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            So Israelis are allowed to watch the rape of Gaza from hilltops while eating popcorn like they’re at a drive-in, because of mostly-harmless bottle rockets, but Gazans are not allowed to express anger or resentment over being locked up for years in an open-air prison?

            Chew on this: The Gazans support Hamas’ war purely because of the blockade, and this little adventure of yours is only helping that along. And saying they don’t care about their kids is a blatant, callous lie. Without the blockade, without the slaughter going on, they would have no reason to support Hamas, which rules them like a dictatorship

            You are allowed to hate them, but them hating you is anti-semitism. That makes perfect sense.

            You are dropping the bombs. The bombs are killing 1000+ civilians. Stop it, and stop the blockade, or the only peace you will know (if you ever get it the way you’re going about it) will be at the cost of another thousand innocent civilians. And the entire world will rightly hold you in contempt for your genocidal national-selfishness and grandiosity.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Sonnenuhr

      Gazans have been indoctrinating their children in Hamas’ ideology of the extermination of Israel and its people. In January, 2014 13,000 Gazan children were feted after graduating from Hamas terrorist school, which children swore to kill Israelis or die. This summer Gazans sent 100,000 of their children to terrorist training summer camp. Gaza Media provides non stop children’s programing to teach Gazan children and adults to hate and wish death death to Israelis.

      Gaza has been putting the majority of its resources into war materials for fighting Israel while leaving foreign charitable organizations to feed and look after their civilians. Their civilians have approved of Hamas’ expenditures on war material.

      The logical consequence of the support for Hamas to build up its military arsenal to battle Israel, is a war in which Gazans knew they would suffer strikes from Israel exercising its right of self defense. Gazans felt and experienced Israeli actions after the kidnapping of soldier Shalit, after 2008-9 war, after the 2012 short war and also by the outcome of the 2006 Lebanon war.

      Gazans still support Hamas and the war and are prepared to pay the price for their actions. They will suffer the consequences of their actions. Every death in Gaza is their fault.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Michael W

      If 1000+ civilians died in this war, why is Walid supporting the resistance? Is Hamas et al so good at avoiding Israeli bombs and yet so bad at killing Israeli soldiers and protecting civilians?

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Your logic is narcissistic: Gaza should “surrender,” instead of Israel giving them what they’re asking for.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sonnenuhr


          Reply to Comment
    6. Richard

      To understand who is responsible for this war, look at the incentives of each party. The Israeli government can enrich itself and enjoy full legitimacy in peacetime. Israel’s economy suffers in wartime. Hamas needs confrontation to enrich and legitimize itself. No “resistance” = no patrons. Israel has absolutely no desire of reoccupying Gaza or settling people there. It would not benefit from doing this. If Hamas capitulated this minute, Gaza would enjoy peace and remain unmolested by Israel, save a few petty limitations on fishing and cement. This war was started and is being fought for the sake of Hamas and Hamas alone. For the personal power, political influence, and material riches of its leaders and enforcers. Palestinians suckled on the shame of 1948 and mired in the fear and ignorance of their autocratic society do not protest that they are being held hostage by a cynical gang because they actually value their narrow cause more than the quality of their worldly condition and see no alternative power structures to turn to. Other peoples do not share their values and would not make the same demands under similar circumstances. Westerners do not think the same way Gazans do and those who claim otherwise are merely hoping to influence gullible people. Westerners would not take pride in staying on the streets during a bombing campaign while boasting that enemy civilians are taking cover. Even without much historical perspective on the conflict, if you’re a third party to this hostage situation with a decent understanding of each sides’ incentives, its pretty much impossible to come to any other conclusion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Of course Israel doesn’t, of course not. That’s why they’re castigating the Gazan civilians for not “leaving.”

        Let me throw something your way: have you considered that the primary reason people in Gaza back Hamas’ fight against Israel (or see Hamas as the lesser evil) is the blockade? And that, were the blockade to go away, Hamas would lose a lot of legitimacy with people in Gaza? Of course this probably isn’t enough for you; you want security (from a statistically minute threat) NOW. Tough noogies. You just bite the bullet, same as Palestinians have been doing for over half a century.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard

          No, it isn’t the blockade. If Hamas capitulated to Israel the blockade would be over. You’ve got it completely backwards.

          Reply to Comment
    7. SDK

      There are various ways to resist and t try to get what you need. Engaging militarily with a much more powerful army and shooting rockets at civilians may be resistance but it is both stupid and immoral. Resistance for the sake of resistance, taking revenge for the sake of revenge may be emotionally satisfying but it does not give the people who are suffering any tangible benefit. Israelis too, say exactly the same thing as you, that they do not want to stop the war until they get what they need – freedom from rocket fire. For that, they are willing to keep killing innocent people and the world is willing to tolerate it. That is wrong and unfair, but you have to work with the cards you have in hand.

      Soon, it will be the Jewish holiday of Tisha Bav, when Jews remember the destruction of the temple by the Romans and our expulsion from the land. The small groups of Jews who went up against the Roman army may have been right but they were also stupid. They died and so did everyone who supported them. The Jews who made peace with Rome and relocated to Sephorris were also engaged in resistance, of a much more subtle kind.

      Every Jew alive today is a descendent of those resisters, who remained alive while living under an immoral, brutal, authoritarian power. And today, we are still here, while Rome and it’s proud imperial religion are the stuff of history.

      Take a a lesson from the Jewish people and raise up another form of resistance, one that does not involve blowing up children in pizza restaurants and using concrete to line tunnels instead of bomb shelters. You have a right to live in peace, to see your children safe, to develop your society, to seek justice for historical wrongs. None of these things will happen through suicidal attacks on a much stronger military power.

      Reply to Comment
      • JG

        Dude, your Roman caused Nakba is 2000 years over, Grow up and get over it.
        Ridicoulous how someone who come up with this ancient shit ignores the actual Nakba suffering of the inhabitants of the land, which are the descendants of hose who lived there under Roman power also

        Reply to Comment
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