23 days of my life
My first semester at IUG, the Islamic University of Gaza, was quite intense; different life style, freshman zeal, new faces, new troubles, architecture major, and most significantly >> war. My first final exam – Applied Physics – was scheduled to be on the 27th of December. As usual, I was hardly prepared and I was actually wishing they’d postpone it!
Yeah, I ended up regretting that one.
The exam was meant to be held at 11:30 am, so I left the house at around 10:45 and it took me about 30 minutes to get to uni. I sat on a bench lost in my notes, and I remember there was a problem that drove me coo-coo! Fortunately though, my friend, Rana, arrived and I knew she’d help me. I did not appreciate her help with that problem, however, one bit near as much as I appreciated her presence with me at that moment, for as she was explaining that point to me, we heard the first strike and DOWN TO THE GROUND with my knees failing to hold me up, my hands covering my ears, and my scream piercing Rana’s ears.
It sounded at first as though the university was being targeted, so everyone started running towards the gate and I held on to Rana’s hand, unable to move until she dragged me out. I started running with her forgetting the notes, forgetting the exam, and forgetting my mind. All I could hear was the girls’ cries and screams, and all I could feel were the sizzling tears falling down my cheeks. No one knew what to do other than run. The street got so packed with students and there was a cop telling us which way to go, but being surrounded with smoke, most girls including me and Rana preferred to get inside the neighbouring university, Al-Aqsa University, and wait there until things calm down and the bombing stops.
Even at Al-Aqsa University we were told to go home. As we got out we suddenly saw all the girls running in our direction, screaming! Just seeing the panicking faces of those girls sent an inexpressible shiver down my spine. It then turned out to be a mere dog! Everyone started laughing at the incident, but with anxiety beyond description. I got into a net Café with Rana hoping that we can understand what is going on. The network had crashed and we couldn’t get in touch with our families, but the radio was on at the café and the owner told us that a few governmental buildings and police stations were targeted. To our dread, 40 people were reported dead.
I lived in KhanYounis, a city 30 minutes to the south of Gaza City. Salah Al-deen Street is the main highway in the strip connecting the north to the south, and along the road lies several police stations. As I learned from the Café owner, those were targeted. My attempts to call my family were in vain and I didn’t know what to do or how to get home! I decided to go my gramma’s house near Al-Shifa hospital, minutes away from IUG campus, when the line finally got through and I was able to talk my dad. He told me not to go there because things were a bit rowdy around that area. Rana took a taxi home and I stayed at a friend’s house near the university. The electricity was out and we couldn’t turn on the TV to see what is going on. We saw a mosque get hit d as we were looking through the window; I froze and couldn’t help my tears again. I called my dad using the landline and told him that I was going to go to Hala’s house, my best friend, and stay there until all of this stops – haha and there we thought it was a one-afternoon thing. I called a taxi from a nearby office, and he arrived 15 minutes later! If I were a texi driver, I would have never gone out like that to pick up some stranger, but I sure appreciated that! Money can make one do lots of things I guess, or maybe just a sense of duty.
Anyway, I got to Hala’s house and felt at ease finally. I thought maybe I’d better stay there for the night and go home the next day, because I wasn’t sure whether the Israelis were done bombing stations along Salah Al-deen’s street. Though Hala’s dad, whose birthday is on that same day, saw what’s coming; he’d even gone grocery shopping just in case. As he got back, he took me with his car to the nearest taxi stop where I can take a ride home to KhanYounis.
I had never imagined I’d see what I saw on my home; all that terror, the destruction, and the blackening smoke. I was like a cat on a hot tin roof the entire ride.
The first thing I did as soon as I got home was sit with my family in front of the TV screen. I still remember how intimidating the photos of the deceased bodies were ><
Up to that point, none of us yet realized that this was going to happen again and again and again, even heavier and more atrociously. I was wondering if we were going to have that exam the next day, and not knowing whether to study for it or not, I began calling my friends. Some said they will study, others said they won’t even go to university. If we’d just waited until it got dark, we would’ve got the answer. F16’s and Apache’s did not rest for a minute, and every now and then we’d hear an explosion. The number of the injured and the dead was on the rise.
Exams were postponed. It was one of those moments where you just want to go “YES!!!!!!! ” but can’t… Not only were the exams postponed, but the university was targeted as well! The labs, in front of which I was sitting and was supposed to be having an exam on the 27th, were razed to the ground…
A few days had passed, and still no one daring to leave their house. My parents had to, though. Being a doctor in Gaza is like a curse, and I do not have one parent as a doctor. No. Two! I know, lucky me! >< Every time the ambulance came to pick them up, the entire neighborhood would be on tenterhooks…
One of the most dreadful moments was when the tile factory near our house was hit. We could hear the jets going wild earlier, but we didn’t think the target would be THAT close this time. I was in my bedroom and as it hit; everything turned red for a second and I saw the explosion before I could hear it! I screamed unconsciously and even heard the screams of my sisters. We felt the ground shaking and all my things fell on the floor of the bedroom. Even I fell on the floor of my bedroom. It was damn horrific. Black smoke covered the area and I rushed out of my bedroom to make sure all my family members are alright. My siblings gathered and we all ran towards the window with exclamation marks on our faces. The entire area was on fire, and we could feel the heat of the blazing flames. My dad came upstairs to check on us and saw us standing by the window to see what happened. Enraged and anxious, he started yelling at us, “HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU TO STAY AWAY FROM THE WINDOWS AND ANYTHING WITH GLASS!! DOWNSTAIRS, MOVE!”
My mom was on her way back; that was the first ambulance to get to the area before several more followed. My mom, shocked and panicking to see what happened, left her stuff in the ambulance and came to us running to make sure we are all safe. With much eagerness, my siblings started narrating to her how loud and freaky it was and that it was like nothing that happened before. Being the Camera freak that I am, I was even more agitated because I was unable to take a photo of that enormous fire, since the electricity was out and my phone batteries were dead.
That factory explosion was followed by another; the target was another factory nearby. The Israelis justify factory bombardments by saying that these are actually weapon caches; they claim that they are used to manufacture and store weapons! If those were really weapon stores, my house would not be standing to this day seeing how close it is to those factories. The entire area would’ve been wiped out as a result of “weapons’” explosions. That incident left most of the windows in our house broken.
Broken windows are never unfamiliar in Gaza.
It was the very utmost of winter then, and the nights were sub-zero. I cannot complain about broken windows—unlike those whose houses were shelled, the walls of the house were not damaged AND we had blankets and were able to keep each other warm.
The broken glass was substituted with nylon in order to keep the wind out; it was good business for nylon sellers as the entire Gazan population had to store supplementary nylon pieces, just in case. Even after the offensive had ended, most Gazan could not repair their windows and had to manage with nylon due to the high cost of the little amounts of glass that enters the strip.
And then it was December, 31st; my brother’s birthday and New Year’s Eve. I can only remember the text messages of the New Year’s wishes. They all had a common theme which I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t guess what that could be. But hey, at least we got our fireworks!
The sun would set at around 5 pm everyday and none of us would be allowed to stay upstairs or in our bedrooms; my dad had gathered the mattresses and blankets and placed them downstairs on the floor; it was our little nightly ‘shelter’. Lights were forbidden as well; even if we had electricity at night, it was more frightening to turn them on than to stay in the dark. We had to do with the candles and kerosene lamps. This was the case in not just my house, but probably the entire strip.
The nights were long beyond description. It would be 8 pm and after what feels like 4 hours later, it’d be 8:30. None of us could sleep before dawn! We’d be all jammed up next to each other, under the blankets and in the dark, listening to the radio and to Israeli jets who I guess had sworn to keep us company and not to leave us alone for a single minute; sweet, right?
We were lucky though to have had electricity most of the nights as opposed to during the day. It used to go out all day long and come back at night; thank God for that, I woulda died of aggravation. I mean there are one million and one things that we can during the day without electricity, but at night! With all the darkness and the bombing! However, I wasn’t able to use the internet the first few nights we spent in our “shelter”, because there was no phone plug thingie where we slept and the cable I had was so short that I couldn’t use the plug in my dad’s office. The nights were torturous with no communication with the outside! Especially as you grow indifferent to the bombing and boredom invades. I tried using my phone; haha as if the network would work! So I decided to make my own shelter on the same floor but closer to the office; that’s meters away from my family, all for the sake of having internet, and I did
My dad yelled at me when he saw that and didn’t let me at the beginning, but he saw how persistent I was. Aaaah, finally… Internet!
I am not a fan of msn messenger myself, but back then it was almost the only way out for most Gazans who were fortunate enough not to have their line down due to the bombings of the Communication Company… I gotta say, it was the best distraction tool ever! It made everything a lot easier and gave me some sort of comfort; I could actually see what is going on and talk to lots of people inside and outside of Gaza.
I can never forget Jan, 5, 2010. It was my parents’ anniversary, yet it was the most frightful day, night even, we ever witnessed. It was the first time for me to see tears in my father’s eyes, and it was also the first time for me to feel that we were actually going to die… The bombing was too awful for words, and the clashes between the IOF and the Palestinian resistance were heard so clearly to the extent it felt they were on the roof. The Israeli tanks got really close but luckily turned to a different street. That night was INTENSE! And I mean I N T E N S E! The house was shaking all night long, there was no glass left to break that night, the doors opened and kept banging and slamming and one of them broke; but none of us even dared to utter a word.
From then on, we just lost track of days; it seemed like the same thing happening over and over and over again. It didn’t feel like it would be ever over. I didn’t know Saturday from Tuesday, and I didn’t really care. I mean, what difference could it make? None.
I remember when Israeli Helicopters dropped leaflets telling us to evacuate. We did gather all our important papers and documents in a hand bag, and packed a few blankets and stuff and were going to go to our old house in the centre of KhanYounis, but that made no sense! Those leaflets were dropped EVERYWHERE across the strip; in other words, NO WHERE was safe. So, there was no point. We just stayed home anyway.
One of the things that are carved in my memory is when I thought that my best friend, Hala, died. We were up all night long that night listening to the radio; the Israeli troops had invaded Tal Alhawa where she lives, and they got so close to her house. According to the radio, the situation was severe in that area; constant shelling and evacuating. They mentioned all the places around her house, and even our flat in Tal Alhawa. It was 3 a.m. when I called her, but no answer; I tried to call on the landline, but no answer; her cell phone, no answer. I, then, called all of her family members’ cell phones, they were either off or no one would answer. I got really anxious. I kept calling and calling and I didn’t even sleep. I forgot all about the bombing around my house even!
At 10 pm, her married sister finally picked up, but the thing is that she doesn’t live with them. I asked her if she knew anything about her family, she told me she’s walking in the street with her husband and children at the moment I’m talking to her as her house was bombed. She knew nothing about her family. I became even more and more worried! I kept trying and trying to call and sending text massages, I called everyone we know just to see if anyone knew anything, but my efforts were in vain. Then at around 11 am her cell phone gave me this massage: the number you are trying to call is not valid, please, check it and try to dial again later.
I heard that and I just went nuts. I totally thought they died! I went hysterical! I cried my head off and broke glass and all kinds of stupid things! None of my family members could even talk to me! It was one hell of a day!
At 4 pm, I received a text massage from her cell phone saying they were fine, and the tanks in front of their house withdrew. She said no one could even answer the phone, or even keep it on. They were on edge the whole time the entire neighborhood was being attacked and evacuated. That was the happiest moment of my life, as if she came back from the dead; I cursed her and laughed from the very bottom of my heart. I’ll never forget that day.
A few friends and relatives of mine were victims of that merciless Israeli slaughter, but thank God none of my family members or close friends was injured or killed; just a mere wound in my sister’s finger due to the broken glass. It hurt my eyes and stung my heart to see it, but how trivial and ridiculous is it compared to those who lost a leg, an arm, or A LIFE!?
We kinda forgot about our apartment in Tal Alhawa in Gaza. It’s in the doctors’ building behind Al-Quds hospital and the Red Crescent. When it was all over, my dad took us in the car to see what happened in Tal Alhawa and to check on the apartment. We expected to find the windows broken, and maybe holes in the walls caused by arbitrary bullets. What we saw, though, was just …. Well, this…
Yeah, my dad almost died of a heart attack. The apartment was still NEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!