In sometime twice-daily reports, a man of the theatre struggles to survive while reporting from the war on Gaza.
Lay down on the mattress, complete darkness but for the slight light of a poor, small candle. Closing my eyes, hoping to fall asleep, it doesn’t work. Two days and nights, not a single minute of sleep.
It is amazing how human senses become stronger and more sensitive when you lose one, like people who have no eyesight, their hearing becomes sharper. This is what happens to me while closing my eyes.
During the day, lots of noise, lots of sounds, mixed sounds of people, chats, speaking, shouting, bombing, explosions, drones, air force planes cutting the sky in pieces. All mixed so I can’t and don’t concentrate on any one sound.
In the dark, in the supposedly complete silence, and while laying down with eyes closed, I started to focus more on the sounds surrounding me, the sound of a plastic sheet covering the window which has lost its glass, moving in the night breeze, the breathing and sighs of my mother beside me, my heart beats, the squeak of the field cockroaches, the sound of a bird back late to his nest, or flying out of his nest due to an explosive sound, a little baby crying at the nearby neighbor’s home and his mother cradling him, the swish of branches in the trees, moving slightly, a whoop of an owl coming from the distance, street dogs getting crazy and barking when bombs happen, sounds of some cats fighting.
All those sounds mean life, mean hope, mean tomorrow will come despite anything.
Other sounds are coming, over all other sounds, making all other sounds vanish, occupying the air and the atmosphere, invading the silence to say death is coming. The sound of the military drone, the only similar sound is the electric shaving machine doubled a hundred times, filling the space with its annoying noise that no one can ignore even for a moment. Every live creature is obliged to hear it, at all times. Humans, animals, birds, trees, even stones could crack out of the madness the sound causes. It reminds me only of one thing, the Middle Ages’ slow killing by torture.
The passing military airplanes — F15 — F16 — F32 — F — I don’t know what, cutting the sky like a knife goes through a piece of butter, carrying death wherever they go.
The sound of the artillery shelling. Boom. Each shell makes three sounds, the echo of the sound repeated: Boom, boom, boom, starts huge and echoes out three times.
The sound of the rocket strikes, very loud, very sharp. If you hear it, then you are alive. It is so fast that if it hits you, you won’t hear it. Anyone in Gaza who hears the rocket, immediately knows that it has hit some other people, leaving death and destruction behind it. We all know that by experience; we learnt the hard way through several wars against Gaza.
Sitting in the dark, trying to ignore the loud sounds of death and concentrate on the little life sounds. Not easy, but this is my way to pass the night, hoping to overcome the insomnia for a few hours.
November 8, 2023
What to write about
Four days without writing my diaries during this war. My head is boiling with things I want to write about, but what to start with?
About my daily efforts to secure drinking water, household water, food, diapers for my bedridden mother, winter clothes (as we left home with light clothes [in October] not thinking it would take this long), my mother’s medicine (which, each time I find some, the price is higher)?
About people’s frustration and anger which turn into fighting and disputes; dispute over a piece of bread, dispute over 20 cm of space inside the shelter, dispute over a drop of water, dispute over the waiting line for the bathroom, dispute over a word said or a word not said?
About the hospitals which were bombed and shut down due to absence of operational power systems? About the continuous bombing and killing, and the injured who don’t find help? About hospitals running out of all essential medical supplies so that they now do amputations on injured people without any type of anesthesia?
About scarcity of food and life’s basic needs, leading to real starvation?
About the destruction of homes which increases every single day?
About my daily struggle to find any source of power to charge my laptop and mobile?
About the garbage filling the streets everywhere as the garbage collection is paralyzed. About sewage and water leakage in the streets due to the destruction of the weak infrastructure?
About the world which has no mercy for two million civilians?
About the psychosocial support activities we’ve started to provide in some shelters?
About my sister who I can’t help. About the rest of my family, my brothers and sisters and their children in Gaza City and the north who I can’t reach even by phone to know if they are dead or still alive?
About the mothers and fathers who are not able to provide milk for their babies, water and food for their children, shelter or any type of safety?
About the education of the new generation which is frozen, and no one can anticipate when and how it will resume?
About my home in Gaza City, the apartment that I worked 40 years for, to save enough money to buy it so I could call it home?
About the kind of life we will have after all of this destruction and damage to entities, facilities, streets, homes, people and souls?
What to write about – where to start?
I will write about Jonathan Chadwick, Jonathan Daitch, Steven Williams, Sami, Mohammed, Rafat, Emad, Baha’a, Philipe Dumoulin, Marianne Blume, Brigitte Fosder, Ines Abdelrazeq, Lisa Schultz, Heather Bailey, Gerhard, Eli, Peter Van Lo, Zohra, Inas, Jean Luc Bansard, Jan, Kathleen, Redouan, Marko Torjanak, Sanne and many others whose humanity remains, those who give me hope, strength and the ability to continue, with their words, with their support. Those who make me believe there is humanity somewhere in this world; there is hope, life stronger than death. Their words make me able to defeat the darkness.
My dear friends, I love you all, I wish that I will meet you all again.
November 16, 2023
The Valley of Death
An introduction may be needed!
Israeli army obviously determined to empty all the hospitals of Gaza City and the north no matter the cost.
No matter how many lives lost,
No matter how many injured people and regular patients won’t receive treatment,
No matter how many tumor and cancer patients die,
No matter how many patients in the Intensive Care Units will die,
No matter how many patients will choke without oxygen,
No matter how many people in need of urgent surgery will not get it,
No matter how many premature babies, not completely born yet, won’t see life, as they will suffocate in their incubators — two died already according to the Ministry of Health,
No matter what International Humanitarian Law and the fourth Geneva Convention say,
Israeli army cut the electricity completely from day one of the war, then prevented the entry of any fuel that could operate the electricity of stand-by generators and also bombed all solar panels on the roofs of the hospitals:
Al Shifa in Gaza City,
The Indonesian Hospital in the north,
Kamal Adwan in Beit Lahia,
Al Rantisi, the only children’s cancer hospital in all of the Gaza Strip — three died already, according to the Ministry of Health,
Al Nasr Hospital in Gaza City, the specialized pediatric hospital.
The Psychiatric Hospital, the only psychiatric hospital in the Gaza Strip.
All these hospitals were obliged to stop operating, some were bombed, others damaged.
Al Shifa hospital is the main hospital in Gaza Strip and the biggest. It was a target for the Israeli army from the beginning. They bombed the baby delivery section, they bombed the outdoor clinics, they bombed the main gate several times and, each time, people were killed and injured. They bombed ambulances carrying injured people at the hospital gate. Yesterday they got very close to the hospital, bombing and shooting around it as if a gate of hell opened, bombing and destroying most of the houses and buildings surrounding the hospital.
My eldest brother, 60 years old, with his two sons, Mohammed, 23 years and Hisham, 15 years old and his sick, blind wife took refuge at Al Shifa Hospital on October 12, 2023. My brother’s wife suffers from kidney failure. She needs hospital treatment three times a week; she needs to be connected to a machine through her veins in order to clean her blood. Each time the machine functions as a kidney for four hours. As a matter of fact, that’s why they chose to take refuge at Al Shifa Hospital. Many of the 50,000 displaced people inside Al Shifa Hospital are families of sick people with chronic diseases. They’re there so they can get health services more easily. Many of them are families of people injured during the war.
Yesterday, my brother and his family decided to leave. They were certain of being killed if they stayed. They go south, out of Gaza City. My brother, carrying 60 years of agony, poverty, hard work and pain on his shoulders, his son Mohammed pulling the wheelchair with his mother on it, the mother holding a bag of stuff, clothes and some food, on her lap, and Hisham, the young boy, carrying a backpack and a handbag. With the bombing, the shooting, the drone noise, the air force passing, the sound of the crowd surrounding them, they walk out.
They need to go to the Zeitoun area, a distance of three kilometers, in order to reach Salah Al-Deen Road which connects Gaza from north to south. They walk. Streets are empty except for some people also carrying what they can of their belongings, heading toward Salah Al-Deen Road.
Streets? Destroyed, damaged, big holes, water leakage, sewage leakage.
For 200 meters, for my brother and his family, it was absolutely similar to walking through a minefield, walking side by side with death. They’d already seen dead bodies along the road.
Passing tanks, soldiers, they continue another two km before arriving at an area where there are people, just one km from Bureij and Nuseirat Camps. They finally found a donkey cart to give them a ride to Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al Balah, 18 km from Gaza City.
This was no different from Dante’s Inferno in The Divine Comedy, maybe Dante would be even more inspired if he walked this route.
Mohammed, most of the time and whenever possible, was trying to call me. Mobiles did not work. At 9 p.m., my mobile was ringing, it was Mohammed,
— “Where are you? Are you safe? Could never reach you while you were in Gaza.”
— “We are in Al Aqsa Hospital, with nothing.”
— “Try to manage tonight, I will be there in the morning.”
There is nothing to be done at this time; no movement at dark.
First thing in the morning, I went to Deir Al Balah. It was early. Walked. Walking total today is 11.5 km.
I arrive, people everywhere. The front and backyards of the hospital are full of displaced people, injured people and their families. At the gate of the hospital, they were laying out three dead bodies, just arrived from Nuseirat, from a bombing of a house there.
I start to ask people about the new arrivals from Gaza City. There were many. I kept asking and looking until I found them, in a small space of two meters square, provided by a family who’d been taking four meters square.
Mohammed was not there, he’d gone to get some medicine for his mother. My brother has aged 50 years in these few days and since I last saw him 40 days ago. Hisham was sitting beside his mother, doing nothing, saying nothing, his eyeballs do not move, looking to one side, looking at nothing. I tried to talk to him. He did not respond. Hisham, the boy who I love the most, the boy who loves me the most. Hisham, who every time I visit, runs towards me and asks for a hug. Hisham is not responding to me. What happened my boy?
I don’t know if it is the psychological first aid techniques that I learned during my work as a child protection officer, or the power of love. After 15 minutes Hisham looked at me, jumped into my arms and cried, cried as he never did, cried and cried. His body moved and shook in my arms. I did not cry. I hold back my tears — my tears that wanted very much to come out. I hold back so it burns me inside. Cry, baby, cry my son, no shame, cry as much as you want, cry as much as you were afraid, cry until your cries reach the sky or reach a moving heart somewhere in this mad world.
November 16, 2023
My mother once again
With the tear in her stomach, vomiting happening from time to time, eating nothing for two to three days and bleeding in her gastrointestinal system, the hospital is a must, just to stop the bleeding. Nexium 40 mm twice a day in her veins. I bought everything as we did last time, when we asked a neighbor who is a nurse to do the procedure.
The neighbor nurse is not there. She lives in the house next to my father-in-law’s house that was warned it would be bombed. They evacuated.
What can I do? Went out in the street. I don’t know the people; it is not my neighborhood, I am a stranger here.
I asked people on the street if they know of a nurse nearby. Amazing, at the third house a man said:
— “My wife is a nurse.”
I explained to him what we needed. He entered his house and within five minutes came out with his wife. We went to our home. She did what needed to be done but my mother’s veins are closed up, they do not absorb the medicine. The nurse said sharply:
— “She must be taken to hospital!”
I’ve kept some fuel, enough for 50 km, inside my car for an emergency. Enough to drive us to Rafah.
This is an emergency. I took my mother to a community hospital in Nuseirat Camp. While driving there the bombing did not stop, as usual, at every minute.
Arrived at the hospital. Outside they have installed a big tent like a field hospital. Some beds inside with some injured people and doctors treating them. Many people moving on all sides, an ambulance arrives, people automatically clear a space for the ambulance. Three bodies covered with blankets. Another ambulance arrives, four injured; a woman, a young man and two children. The young man lost a leg, lots of blood. I did not know what to do. My mother can’t be a priority in this situation. While standing by the entrance, a gentle nurse approached me asking if he could help. I explained my mother’s situation. He said:
— “Normally we must make a hemoglobin blood test, heart and blood pressure tests, but you see how messy the situation is. I’ll get the Nexium and syringe, inject it with 40 mm saline. Come inside.”
I went into the first corridor; many people, blood on the floor, a lady is busy cleaning, a bucket of clear water, in two minutes it became red, she took it, disappeared for five minutes and came back with the bucket refilled with clear water. Some people crying in sorrow, nurses and doctors moving at speed all over the place. The nurse left me, I had been there for 20 minutes when he came back with the cannula, dressing, syringe and the Nexium. He was very good. In two minutes he did all that was needed.
My mother slept in her wheelchair. I took her out, lifted her into the car and drove back home.
Night fell. Usually I am a man who likes evenings and nighttime. It is my relaxing time. I play cards with my friends, watch favorite movies, lie down lazily on my couch. Now I am unable to like evenings or nights. As darkness falls, life stops, frozen, no movement, no activities, no sounds but the sound of bombing and drones which double in the silence a million times.
My mother woke up with her hallucinations again, her internal fear that I can’t help. She sees people and things, people that provoke her and things that frighten her. She screams out of fear. She sees me doing bad things and she curses me, and I am helpless. The calming pills do not help this time. From 5 p.m. until the following morning at 8:20 a.m., she suffers from her hallucinations and I suffer from insomnia and helplessness. I went downstairs to get her breakfast. Ten minutes later, I came up and she was asleep. I did not wake her. She needs to sleep. She needs to rest.
I called Dr. Yasser Abu Jamei. He is a psychiatrist and the general manager of Gaza Mental Health Program. Explained to him my mother’s case, he sent a message with the name of a medicine that I should give her, one pill every evening. I left my mother asleep, or maybe unconscious and went to the UNRWA clinic. No internet. Could do nothing, just wrote part of this piece, bought the medicine and went back home. Back at home my mum was still asleep. It is 6:13 p.m. She is still asleep. The breakfast is still there, untouched. Is this good? Is this bad? Shall I wake her up and give her the medicine? But I am afraid that she’ll wake up with her hallucinations and spend another night of fear and insomnia. Is it okay to let her sleep this much? I don’t know. I will wait. I took some food, my first meal of the day. I washed my body with some water; a shower is an unavailable luxury. It is 8:15 p.m. She slept 12 hours. 11:25 p.m., 15 hours! Finally I decided (selfishly) to leave her asleep and see what would happen.
By the way, now I only have fuel in my car for 40 km.
November 23, 2023
What can words do when you feel they are unable to describe, explain, to express a feeling or an event?
It is almost 10 days now without writing anything. There are many things I want to talk about but words are disabled, words will not reflect what I see, what I feel, what I want to tell about.
Yesterday I was at the clinic waiting for my colleagues, the counselors, to hand over to them their duties and distribute them to the shelter/schools to provide some psychological support for the children. One of them was not there. I asked about him. Someone told me that something happened: Two people they host were killed in a bombing. The person we were talking about, I know his uncle. His uncle is my friend and I know that he took refuge at their home. I panicked. I finished with my colleagues and went there fast to see my friend and find out what has happened. I arrived. My friend and my colleague were there sitting outside the house. Their faces were talking. Their faces said everything. Their faces told me that something terrible had happened.
My friend told me what happened. His daughter’s husband and his grandson were killed. They were taking refuge at the same home but yesterday his daughter’s husband went to see his mother in another home with his extended family. He took his oldest son, Waseem, a six-year-old boy.
The home, a building of four floors hosting 37 people was bombed. They died. They all died; men, women, boys, girls are dead, all of them.
While he was speaking, his daughter, the one I have known since she was seven years old was not far away. She was hanging the clothes of her dead child on the laundry line, as if nothing had happened. She washed the clothes of her dead son and she put them out to dry in the sun so when he came back he could put them on.
I looked at her and I looked for the words that would explain what she feels, what she thinks. I did not find the words. What words can describe this? Damn it, where are the words? Why don’t words help? Words are weak. Words are disabled. Words are crippled. No words can explain what she feels or thinks. She lost her husband and her six-year-old son. The son was found and buried, and the husband was still under the rubble with another 14 out of the 37.
I hate words. It makes me feel helpless, makes me feel stupid even to think of talking with words about this.
And while we talk they mention Mahmoud, Mahmoud, my friend. He is the uncle of the husband. He took refuge at the big family home with his wife and children, his brother and wife and children and their parents. They were all there. They all died.
No! Please, no! Not Mahmoud! No, he can’t be dead. I can’t accept this. Mahmoud did not die. Mahmoud is alive. Please tell me he is not dead. Please.
I ran into him in Nuseirat market three days ago. We hugged, we talked, we laughed. You can’t meet Mahmoud and not laugh. He looks so good, so smart, well dressed, always with shaved face and shaved head, and a big smile never leaves his face for a single minute. His beautiful smile fills the air with joy and happiness. He is the one who makes everybody feel good and relaxed. Mahmoud’s smile opens all the windows for hope and comfort. His heart is so big, bigger than the world itself. He can take all the world in his heart. He is the one who is always available to help, to support, to solve problems, to be beside people, people that he knows or people that he never met before, he is just available for anyone, as if God created him for others. He can’t die. Oh God, Mahmoud, my friend. Why? Why? Why?
After writing this about Mahmoud I feel so bad, very bad. All these words are nothing. It tells nothing about my friend. It makes him small and he is much more.
Words are cursed. Words are weak. Words are helpless. No words can tell what I feel now. Words won’t say what I want to say about Mahmoud.
November 24, 2023