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"Am I dead?": A witness's testimony from Gaza

One day under the Israeli aggression on Gaza

Abdallah al-Jazzar30 October 2023

"Am I dead?": A witness's testimony from Gaza

On October 15, I awoke to the horrifying reality of heavy rockets targeting my neighbor’s house. Salah Zanoun, a PhD in accounting, was killed along with his entire family. As they passed away together in their grief, their faces bore witness the weight of this tragic moment.

I found myself among them, steadfast in my determination to tell the world about the harsh realities on the ground. This is my firsthand account of the recent Israeli aggression in Gaza.

It was 5:00 a.m. when Israel targeted Salah’s house. I was deeply saddened and afraid of the relentless bombardment, I had to wait until daylight to rush and see how I could help.

As I arrived, I saw neighbors banding together to clear the rubble. My cousin Mahmoud, who was already there assisting, briefed me on the extent of the devastation. Every member of Salah’s family was trapped beneath the debris, except for his daughter Aseel, a 19-year-old who miraculously survived.

An hour of relentless efforts later, we had unearthed their lifeless bodies. Salah, his wife, his sons Ahmed, Saif and Ihab who loved to play football in the streets, and his daughter Karima, who was an aspiring artist, all gone … forever.

Witnessing the pain and loss was heart-wrenching, and despite our collective strength, we couldn’t alleviate the grief that hung in the air.

I returned to the temporary home we are staying at, a relative's house that has taken in several families, accommodating 40 people in total. Our own house, located on the eastern side, has endured extensive bombing, forcing us to flee. Since October 15, we have had to evacuate our temporary home, leaving us displaced with nowhere to go.

I shared the tragedy with my mother, my heart heavy with sorrow. She listened, her voice quivering, and replied, “I am here for you, but I, too, feel the fear and helplessness that looms over our lives. This is Gaza, where no one is safe.”

Amid this ongoing crisis, there was another burden on my heart. Ensuring my family’s basic needs, providing food, and maintaining our water supply had become a daunting struggle, costing NIS 200 (about USD 50, a month’s savings for me).

The dire situation in Gaza has further compounded this challenge, as the water supply is running critically low because of the lack of electricity and fuel needed to operate the pumps. Both of these vital resources have been cut off by Israel.

I reached out to dozens of people for help. While some didn’t respond or couldn’t reach me through the failing telephone network, a few managed to assist. Notably, my uncle Waleed, who is living under modest circumstances himself, stepped forward to refill our water tanks. It was a reminder that family support is invaluable.

Although relieved by my uncle’s assistance this time, I remained disheartened due to my inability to provide sustenance for my family.

On that same fateful day, October 15, at 5:00 p.m., I headed downtown to Rafah to collect some food from my close friend, Mohammed. As we met, the proximity of a deafening explosion jolted us. The world seemed to collapse around me, and I clung to Mohammed, fearing for my life as dust and smoke filled the sky.

“Am I dead?” I asked Mohammed, gripping his hand tightly. The confusion and panic were palpable. A moment later, we learned that Israel had targeted the Women’s Christian Association close to our location. I felt an overwhelming shock and urgently implored Mohammed, “We need to find Alaa (our friend who lives next to the Women’s Christian Association) and make sure he’s okay.”

Mohammed and I ventured to the area, just 50 meters from the explosion. We found the Women’s Christian Association in ruins, and Alaa’s house was a site of devastation. His family had borne the brunt of the attack: his father Arafat Tartori, brothers Yaser and Abdallah, and cousin Mohammed had lost their lives. Alaa himself was wounded, and his sister was injured. I couldn’t hold back my tears; there was nothing else I could do.

I returned home with the weight of these painful images etched into my mind, a haunting memory that will remain with me for a lifetime. It served as a stark reminder of the fragile existence we face in Gaza.

But it wasn’t just Alaa’s house; the destruction extended to other homes in the neighborhood – Jaber, Alsadawi, Alfraa, Hijazai, and Alrekai. What pained me most was that I considered these families as friends.

On my way back, I received a message from my brother; our house in eastern Gaza had sustained substantial damage due to heavy bombing. It was another crushing blow, my dreams of getting married there had vanished in the blink of an eye.

As we endure ongoing hardship, I implore you to pray for the people of Gaza. We are weary, our future remains uncertain as we grapple with the painful reality of ethnic cleansing. But even amid the devastating darkness, we cling to the flicker of hope, for hope is the only thing that sustains us in these trying times.

This story was first published by We Are Not Numbers, on October 19, 2023.  It was written by Abdallah al-Jazzar, as a personal narrative from under the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel. It was updated and revised by Global Voices after an interview on X (formerly Twitter) between the author and Global Voices on October 23, 2023, and is published as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Image via United Nations Photo.

Filed under: israel-palestine