Crisis in Gaza 2014, A Daily Journal
Here are some words from our communications officer in Gaza, Rania Elhilou, who has asked that we share what she is going through.
Keep in mind that her story is just one from hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Gaza who are fearing for their lives every day during this latest bombardment from Israel.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Last night it was quiet enough that I got my first night’s sleep in 22 days. I am suffering from such extreme tiredness and exhaustion that I thought I might sleep myself to death.
It feels a little like I have come home after 22 days away…
My brother-in-law and his family have returned to their apartment to clean and take stock of the damage done by some bombings on their street. Now we’re just the four of us in our home. It feels a little like I have come home after 22 days away, even though we’ve physically been here for most of the time. One of the biggest inconveniences for me, as a woman, was the lack of privacy. We were all together in a couple rooms – men, women and children. Now I can dress comfortably and not worry about staying covered.
Though my heart is not into it, I am making a few efforts to observe Eid Al Fitr in our home. I am making dishes for our meal, from whatever we happen to have in our kitchen. I am letting Joudy play dress-up in my clothes. I have also done some cleaning, but nowhere near what I think is acceptable. The apartment just doesn’t look like it should on this special day.
Normally, Eid is a day when people go out and visit relatives for celebrations. Today, people are going to graveyards to visit the dead, or to their destroyed homes to salvage what they can of their belongings. I look out the window and see kids walking barefoot down the street. They have no place to go. Once again I am aware of how very lucky I am – I still have a home, I have a little electricity, my family is okay.
In the meantime, we keep checking the news for word of a ceasefire. But all of the different channels and sources contradict each other. We have no idea at all what is going to happen. Will I be able to get another night of sleep tonight?
Sunday, July 27, 2014
After the ceasefire officially ended, the shelling began again. It’s the particularly scary type – random and arbitrary. It seems to be coming right now from the east. Our apartment lies between the middle area and the sea and you could say we are at the gateway into the city. So we feel very vulnerable. No one is safe. Many hospitals and clinics have been bombed. Journalists and emergency relief staff have been killed.
In the meantime, it’s the eve of Eid. I was just remembering last year. I went out onto streets packed with people and filled with the holiday spirit. I shopped for our big meal and bought sweets and a new dress for Joudy.
When it gets dark, we just let it be dark.
Now, the streets are totally empty of people. There is no one. And there is no electricity. I look out my window and I see no lights in the neighborhood. When it gets dark, we just let it be dark. We don’t use candles because, with four children in the house, we are afraid that an accident could too easily happen. There is no light and no hope.
Recently I have noticed that the three preschool-aged children in our apartment are using some unusual vocabulary: ceasefire, truce, treaties, etc. They can distinguish between an immediate truce and a long-term ceasefire. They are prematurely aging. Despite our best efforts, they are becoming aware of the bigger world around them – a frightening world that is outside their parents’ control. As a mother, it’s terrible to feel slipping away from you the ability to give your children a sense of security and protection.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Today, during the 12-hour ceasefire, people went out on the streets and did errands. Kids were on bikes. All of a sudden, despite all the terrible destruction everywhere, I saw something hopeful in those streets that temporarily came alive.
Today was the first time I saw my parents in 20 days.
We have had our Iftar. It’s still quiet outside. Today was the first time I saw my parents in 20 days. They have been at my brother’s – just 5 minutes away. My mother and I had warm hugs, as did the kids. I want to say that I was happy to see her, but when I dug inside myself for the emotion, I realized that wasn’t on the list of what was available to me anymore. Happiness is gone. Instead, what I felt was relief that she’s still alive. We were only there for a half hour. And when we parted from each other, we both wondered if we’d ever see each other again.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Every time I write this journal, I want to start it with, “I’m still alive.” We survived another day. Nothing ever gets any better. We wait and wait for crumbs of positive news, any hint that a ceasefire may come, but there is nothing. Meanwhile, we’re crammed into the apartment and can’t go out. We heard on the news that some mosques have been bombed during Friday prayers.
This is a time when we have to come together and take care of each other.
My aunt called to say that she has allowed displaced people from Shaja’ya to camp out in her backyard. She said they were in need of everything and wondered if we had some clothes we could donate. I put together a bag of things and was able to find a taxi to drive it over to her place. This is a time when we have to come together and take care of each other.
The electricity situation continues to be terrible. I have noticed that there are about 8 wires now that are strung from our building over to the one next door. This is to share with our neighbors the meager couple of hours of power that we get from our generator. We are the lucky ones. Most people have zero power. The power plant isn’t supplying it and fuel for generators is nearly impossible to find. I have now started using the battery from the car for recharging the phone. I don’t know how long we can go on before we don’t even have two hours of precious power.
You know what I just realized? It’s Sobhi’s and my seventh wedding anniversary today. Normally this would be an extended weekend of celebration. We would have done something nice to celebrate our special day and then we would have enjoyed our Eid on Monday with our families. But there is nothing to celebrate. We are perpetually in mourning.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Things are still really bad here. We keep hearing about the heavy destruction in the north, south and east. I continue to hear the bombs as I write this. We had a HUGE explosion near our place yesterday. And we have also heard that an UNRWA school, where people were taking refuge, was hit. 17, so far, are known to have died from that one attack.
I can now see people from my window the displaced people from the Shaja’ya neighborhood, the one in the east so heavily bombed. They have nowhere to go and are walking up and down our street.
I think this may be the worst bombardment we have ever had, even worse than in 2008-09.
Yesterday we heard this little announcement on the radio about an upcoming 5-day humanitarian ceasefire, but when we cross-checked different news sources, we could find nothing. It was a phantom story. Instead, we heard that the ground incursion will widen. I think this may be the worst bombardment we have ever had, even worse than in 2008-09.
There is no electricity coming from the power plant at the moment. As I wrote earlier, it was badly bombed and those who might be able to make repairs are afraid to go to the facility. We were lucky to have our two hours of electricity from the generator last evening, during Iftar. Otherwise we live in the dark.
Last night Joudy, my five-year-old, said she didn’t want to go to sleep, that she was afraid. She has never actually said that word before. So I laid down with her and said, “Let’s close our eyes at the same time and imagine something happy we did together before all this began…”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
When the lights come on we all rush to the outlets to plug in our cell phones to get charged up while we can.
Gaza’s main power plant was bombed and badly damaged. This has made an already bad situation worse. Now most people are without electricity entirely. Some, like in my building, are lucky enough to have a little fuel for their generators and therefore a couple hours of electricity a day. When the lights come on we all rush to the outlets to plug in our cell phones to get charged up while we can.
We still are able to listen to the news on our battery-operated radio. And it’s not good. UN schools are filled with people displaced from their homes. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured and low on supplies. Innocent people are getting killed all the time. I keep hoping for news of a ceasefire, but there is nothing.
One thing that is giving me strength is the work that ANERA has been able to do. My colleagues are braving dangerous conditions to go to our warehouse and to coordinate delivery of food and medicines at a time when they are desperately needed. It really means a lot to be part of an organization and a team that can make positive things happen in the face of so much adversity.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Well, I am so glad we decided to come back to our apartment. Near my brother-in-law’s building, which we left a couple days ago, there were very big exposions and we have learned that some of the windows in his place have been blown in. There is also damage to his balcony. I know I keep saying it, but no place is safe.
I even heard on the radio that a cemetery was bombed. Even our dead are not safe!
She said she literally had to walk over dead bodies to get away.
Today I wrote a story about ANERA’s distribution of food parcels to 500 families in Khan Younis and Rafah. I talked by phone with a couple different families and learned about the tragedies they are suffering. One woman talked about fleeing from their homes so quickly that they didn’t have time to put on shoes and they all scattered in different directions. She said she literally had to walk over dead bodies to get away.
The bombings continue just as intensively as ever. There was supposed to be a humanitarian ceasefire today from 9 to 3, but I don’t think it happened. The bombs just kept on coming. You know, we are becoming experts in diagnosing the sounds of bombs. We can tell what type is falling by the noise it makes. We also know what they hit by the sound of the explosion. Oh, that was a car. That hit a house. That one was a big building. We are acquiring some strange knowledge.
In one kind oddly bright piece of news, a local church has opened its doors as a refuge to all who are fleeing from their homes. Muslims and Christians are feeling their brotherhood. We are bonded over this and I, as a Muslim, feel it’s a very powerful and meaningful thing.
My daughter just ran over to tell me tell me something funny and she made me laugh. At these precious moments I think about how my emotions have been frozen by this terrible thing that is befalling us. You should see my face. It’s pale and expressionless. I stay stoic and strong for the children, but I know that this is not healthy for me. Sometimes when they are getting some rest I wish I could cry. I feel my heart crying but no tears ever come out of my eyes.
Monday, July 21, 2014
A few minutes ago there was a massive explosion right near our building. I heard on the news that some boys were playing soccer on the roof and they were killed.
We’re getting no rest at all. Things are changing and moving all the time and we are trying to keep up with it all.
This morning we smelled the smoke coming from Shaja’ya, the neighborhood that has been intensively bombed and is burning. I also have heard that phosphorous bombs are being dropped again, like in 2009.
Anyone can be killed at any time.
We feel that no one is safe. No one. There were reports that a clinic serving 200,000 people got bombed and doctors were killed as they treated the wounded. Doctors, journalists, mothers, children. Anyone can be killed at any time.
In the meantime, my children continue to scream through the night. My baby cannot be consoled. My five-year-old wants to sleep facing me and in my arms. She doesn’t want me to be out of her sight.
We are now 12 people hunkered down in the center of our apartment. My brother-in-law and his family have now come to us. The journalists in our building managed to get enough fuel to run the generators for a couple hours each day. So you see, we go back and forth between their apartment and ours. Back and forth we go, trying to guess where we might be safest or where we might be able to get a little electricity or water to sustain us.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The sky was lit up with flames. I keep hearing reports of the dead and injured.
I feel like every day I say that the last 24 hours were the worst so far. You think it couldn’t get worse and then it does. Last night was really bloody and scary. There was heavy targeting of Shaja’ya, a neighborhood in the northeast of Gaza. The area was cut off and even ambulances couldn’t get in, despite the urgent requests of the ICRC. The sky was lit up with flames. I keep hearing reports of the dead and injured. Over 60 people so far have been found dead and there will certainly be more in the rubble of the houses. Hundreds of people have camped out in front of Al Shifa Hospital. They have lost members of their families, their homes and possessions. They have no where to go and are desperate. It breaks my heart.
My parents live very close to the affected area. So, when finally there was a brief ceasefire this morning, they left their home and went to my brother’s. Things have to be very, very bad for my parents even to consider moving from one place to another.
In one tiny bit of good news, we were able to get our water tank refilled. So now at least we have drinking water for a while. We have to conserve, though, on using water for cooking and cleaning. We don’t know when we’ll be able to get more.
I’m losing control of my children. Their screaming goes on for much of the night now and I am unable to calm them down. This ground incursion means that the threats and explosions are all around us, coming from every direction. Everyone feels vulnerable and no one knows what’s coming next. Will it be our neighborhood?
Saturday, July 19, 2014
We are back in our apartment. Yesterday we decided to come back in the hopes that the electricity situation would be better here. Our building has a lot of journalists in it and usually there are generators running more than in most other buildings. But we returned to find that the situation is no better than at my brother-in-law’s. There is no fuel for running the generators.
All day my husband has been calling the water supplier to get water delivered.
Without electricity, water can’t be pumped to our apartment. All day my husband has been calling the water supplier to get water delivered. It’s summertime. It’s very hot and we have about one day’s supply at our place. It is rapidly becoming our top concern. The little stores around the area that everyone relies on for basics are running out of everything.
Now we are debating about what to do. Do we go back to my brother-in-law’s? The reason is he is nearer to the main road, so if we need to evacuate quickly, it would be easier from his place than from ours. There’s also a little more water there – though for how long, who knows?
We’ve packed a small suitcase with some essentials. It’s ready by the door. Joudy, our daughter, asked “Where are we traveling to, mama?” If only…
Friday, July 18, 2014
One of my worst fears from the beginning of these bombings has come true: there is now a ground incursion into Gaza. We are being hit from three sides – north, east and west. Last night the shelling from the sea was particularly intense. Somehow those bombs feel more random and so they are much more frightening to us.
We heard on the radio that 80% of the electricity grid has been destroyed.
We heard on the radio that 80% of the electricity grid has been destroyed. Since no one can go out right now, it is impossible to do any repair work. Not having electricity means that we also will be running out of water, because our apartment buildings rely on electricity to pump the water into the apartments. Normally we might call a water tanker truck to come and fill our water tank on the roof of the building, but it also is not safe for them to go out.
So, now in addition to everything else, we are worried that we are going to run out of water. We have enough for 3 or 4 days, but then what?
One thing that has given me strength through all of this is the amazing outpouring of love and support I have gotten from relatives, friends and colleagues from outside of Gaza. People have been keeping in touch with me in every way they can find and I feel less isolated because of it. I thank you all for sharing these updates and for caring about what Gaza’s people are suffering through. Pray for us.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Well, I am still at my brother-in-law’s house for the time-being. The bombs continued last night, but we just had a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting so we could do some errands. I saw a lot of people leaving their homes during these hours. They are going to stock up on food, get money and check in on family. I did not go out. It is hard for me to believe that a ceasefire can be trusted. So I stayed indoors. We cleaned, bathed and watched some news while we had a little electricity. We also were able finally to sleep some.
Time has lost all meaning for me.
Time has lost all meaning for me. I have to think – this is Thursday, it’s the 20th day of Ramadan and the 9th day of bombings. I am exhausted to the core and find that my mind isn’t working very well. Like the words I am writing now are not easy to find.
In the past few nights, our 5-year-old has been waking up screaming several times throughout the night. She screams, then she goes right back to sleep. It’s like she is storing the fear she feels all the time and lets it out in these bursts she can’t control. Will she ever recover from the psychological wounds she is suffering?
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
At midnight we evacuated our house. From the building behind ours, women and children were streaming out crying and in a panic. We yelled to them from our window and found out that someone had gotten a call from the Israelis saying that the building should be evacuated. When that happens, you have :58 seconds to get out before the bombs start falling.
It is hard for me to find words to describe how it felt to be running from our apartment and making a split-second decision about what to take with us.
It is hard for me to find words to describe how it felt to be running from our apartment and making a split-second decision about what to take with us. Or how it felt to think that we might never see any of our things again or this place that holds so many special memories for our family.
We rushed on foot to my brother-in-law’s apartment, holding our children and our few bags. When we got there, we watched the news carefully to find out if our area was bombed. Thankfully it wasn’t. Turns out that the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding.
In more peaceful times, I remember going through emergency drills with all of these unfathomable scenerios. But I just experienced it for real: I had to leave my home fully believing I’d likely never see it again. At least it’s still there. For many in Gaza, the worst has happened and their homes and family are gone.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Today should should have been a day of celebration in our family. My husband’s niece got the highest score – 99.7% – out of all of Palestine on her Tawjihi [exam at the end of high school]. My colleagues also have children who did really well. But I heard someone say that our happiness today is courted by sadness and death. This is a perfect description of how we are feeling as the bombs continue to fall.
From 9 to 2 today, we had some peace, while there was talk of a ceasefire. We didn’t exactly sleep, but we got a little respite from the terror we’ve been experiencing. Now the bombs are back and my husband and I are having a serious conversation about what we should do in the case of a ground incursion. We think we may need to leave our home. But where do we go? Where is safe?
As I write this, my daughter is asking if she can put on a dress and go outside to play with her friends. Such a simple request! But doing the simplest things now look like bold acts of courage – or lunacy.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Yesterday, there were bombings in a nearby neighborhood where my brother-in-law and his family live. They had to leave their home and have sought refuge here with us. We all keep listening to the radio, hoping for some news of a ceasefire but up to now, there is nothing, just bombs falling all the time, day and night.
I have no words to describe what is happening here. How do I answer my daughter’s questions, why this is happening to us. She is only 5 and already she has lived through so much. What can I say to her? I try to keep her busy but the bombings never stop and she’s scared.
We call around to check on our friends and family and my colleagues from work but what can we say to each other? The number of deaths and injuries keep rising.
Everyone is exhausted. I feel hopeless and helpless, wondering what will happen to my life and my children.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
When I spoke with my parents today, they told me they were seeing scores of families walking past their house. They are fleeing from their homes in northern Gaza, because they got warnings from the Israelis that the whole area will be targeted. It is unclear where they are all going. I have heard that UNRWA is opening up 8 of their schools for people to get shelter.
We’ve had no sleep for 7 days.
Things feel even scarier now. We have heard that 2 UN humanitarian coordinators were not allowed to pass into Gaza today and that the US embassy has asked all Americans to leave Gaza immediately. Will there now be no international witnesses to the things that are happening to us here?
We’ve had no sleep for 7 days. Yesterday was really intense: there were bombings from the sea and air and I also heard the sounds of rockets launching. I see smoke billowing from the middle area and beaches of Gaza. A house on my brother’s block was bombed yesterday.
We always live ready to flee in a second. Our bags packed with passports, money and valuables. We never change into pajamas – ready to go outdoors or to meet God.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
I can hear explosions as I write this. They are so close, the furniture rattles and the lamps shake. It’s like I am living in a horror movie. You know, I have impacted wisdom teeth and I was supposed to have an operation last week (which I had to cancel because of the bombings). But the terror I am experiencing every day now is actually making me forget the pain of the wisdom teeth that was so excruciating before the bombs began.
We are glued to the radio, where we are now learning of medical facilities that are being targeted by bombs. Can you imagine, now we can’t even feel safe going to a hospital?
It feels like there is no end in sight. We are not hearing of any ceasefires. In the meantime the crossings and borders into Gaza are only sporadically open. Very little food or fuel is coming in. The damage is really extensive – to farmland, buildings and a lot of other infrastructure.
We’ve been getting about 6 hours of electricity a day, but yesterday ours went off after 2 hours because a bomb apparently hit some infrastructure that delivered it to our place. We now camped out in the center of our apartment, as far away from the windows as possible. Flying glass causes the most injuries.
I keep thinking about the fact that Gaza was already in a terrible state before these bombings. Unemployment was high, food aid was common, people were living in poverty. So you can imagine how much worse it is now.
My daughter has been through three of these bombardments – first in my womb in 2008-09, then in 2012 and now in 2014. I can see the question marks in her eyes. What do I tell her? Is there an adequate word to describe this situation?
Thank goodness for ANERA. I know I am working for an organization that is actually doing something to help people. It gives my life meaning.
Friday, July 11, 2014
I keep thinking, who is paying for this desire for blood and retribution? The children, that’s who.
Well, we’re alive. It was another terrible night. The park behind our apartment building was bombed and the explosion rocked the whole area. The noise was deafening. There isn’t a single street in Gaza that’s safe. I keep thinking, who is paying for this desire for blood and retribution? The children, that’s who.
This, of course, means constant worry and no rest for parents. Last night our chidren were really anxious and couldn’t sleep.
This morning we saw we are really low on milk. My husband ventured out to a nearby store. While he was away my heart pounded with worry and I watched for him every second he was away. Turns out that the errand was all for nothing, as the store is out of milk. Now we have to find other options for feeding our baby.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
For the third day the bombings have been incessant. I haven’t been getting any sleep and, last night, the kids didn’t. I hear explosions constantly.
I do my best to keep the children busy with with activities, to get their minds off of what’s going on outside our building. We play games, color, read stories. I want to make sure their fear doesn’t turn into trauma. I am not sure where I am getting the strength to hide my fear and play games – maybe it’s because I feel that the children are more important than anything else.
In the meantime, here it is Ramadan, our most spiritual time. It’s supposed to be a beautiful time of reflection and peace. But now, in Gaza, people are taking their first sip of water to break their long day of fasting while bombs are falling all around them.