Like 60,000 Other Gazans, We've Taken Our Belongings and Fled

Human Rights

We've left our home. Like 60,000 other Gazans, we've taken our belongings and fled. Once again, we've become displaced people. Soon, there will be nowhere to run to, since nowhere in Gaza is safe. In the early hours of Saturday, the bombing got louder and closer to our home, and the rattle of machine-gun fire became more intense. The tanks were not far off.

As I lay in the dark, I heard the sound of small-arms fire and voices in the street outside. Since the Israeli offensive began, our city streets have been deserted during the hours of darkness; even the dogs that usually annoy us with their all-night barking have vanished. The voices were Palestinian militants: "Stay close to the wall!" "Go by the wall!", I could hear them shouting to each other. I didn't dare go to the window, fearing snipers, but tried listening to the radio. The FM stations run by Palestinian factions had no information, just talk about the "heroic actions" of their militants.

My thoughts went to my wife, Alaa, so, at dawn, I phoned her. Alaa is nine months pregnant and we evacuated her last week to her parents' place in the western part of the city. As I expected, she was in a state of panic.

At 6am, I looked out of the window. The entire neighborhood was leaving. From a residential complex to the west, they were all leaving, carrying bags, mattresses, blankets, personal belongings. Cars were stuffed full of luggage, and everyone was rushing because the sound of bombing enveloped us.

I used to say we would never leave our home, but when you see everyone else on the move, how can you stay? Barely a week since my father was killed by an Israeli air strike on our small northern Gaza farm as the ground invasion began, we were facing another terrible dilemma. I thought of the Samouni family, killed last week while sheltering in a house together, and decided we had to go.

I took Alaa's jewellery, my laptop and phone, my notes and papers, and some clothes. My mother, sisters and their children drove away to take shelter at my sister's house. I walked with the people in the street.

Leaving your home like this is pitiful; you feel almost ashamed. But there's no mercy with the Israelis in this operation. Previously, they weren't so harsh on civilians. But now, although they say they target Hamas, it seems they target anyone.

I am now at Alaa's parents' house. Here, there are 100 people in a building usually occupied by 20. The whole district is overcrowded as most of those who fled other parts of Gaza have come here. But late on Saturday afternoon, the flyers warning of an escalation started landing along with the bombs. "To the residents of the Gaza Strip," the leaflets read. "The IDF will escalate its operations in the imminent period against the tunnels, military warehouses and terrorist elements all over the Gaza Strip. For your safety and the safety of your family you are required not to remain near terrorist elements, the storage of military means, or close to sites from where terrorist operations are launched."

Well, we fled our home because of the militants -- or terrorists, as the Israelis call them -- but now they were dropping the flyers here too. Gaza is a small place and the Israelis have shut the borders, so we can't escape. Are they simply trying to terrify us further?

In the midst of the chaos, I managed to get Alaa to see a nurse, and then to the hospital yesterday. The nurse said Alaa is going into the early stages of labor. Her blood pressure is slightly up, and she's dizzy. At the hospital, the doctor said they may induce her labour on Wednesday. For a few moments, amid the newborn babies in the maternity ward, Alaa forgot our predicament and looked joyful.

Before sunset last night, the Israeli forces dropped more leaflets urging people to phone them with information about rocket sites. I hear they are also talking about the endgame. And we, the Palestinians, shouldn't lie to ourselves: they have achieved some of their goals. There are fewer rockets being fired across the border into Israel, and we've heard that six Hamas leaders have fled to Egypt by tunnel.

But what they have achieved has been at the expense of the Palestinian civilians. Hundreds of children have been killed or injured. They have seen their parents terrified and powerless to protect them. In the future, who will they turn to for protection? Even if the warplanes are gone by the time our baby arrives later this week, what Israel has done in the past two weeks will keep the flames of this conflict alive for generations to come.

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