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Published: Fri May 31 2024
Fadia Haddad Jawdat, Where Oh Where . . . (detail), 2023, acrylic, paper, and debris ©2023 Fadia Haddad Jawdat
Online 2024 War Home Violence
War Diary

Day One – Saturday, October 7, 2023

Today I woke up to the sound of successive raids in the skies above Gaza. They were terrifying sounds, especially for those of us who live in the northern region of the Strip, traditionally the most dangerous area to live. Beyond Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun, and the Bedouin village of Um Al Nasser there are large expanses of land from which resistance missiles are often launched, and which are attacked in return. This is the seventh day of what’s become known as “the Pink Month”; just two days before, I’d participated in a series of events hosted to promote breast cancer awareness and early detection. Little did I know that two days later Pink October would become Bloody October. All those doctors and campaigners hadn’t known that there would be ninety-nine-more urgent issues concerning Gazans than early detection of breast cancer, the first and foremost of which was the safety of our children.

For most of the morning, we thought it was just an escalation, the kind of clash we had become accustomed to since the 2014 war, which lasted more than fifty days; we assumed it would pass like a storm and that calm would soon return to the skies above Gaza. But we discovered we were wrong, my friend.

Day Two – Sunday, October 8, 2023

Today started like an ordinary day, although the Ministry of Education has suspended school until further notice. We were all shocked, yesterday, when we saw the resistance soldiers entering Israeli territories and kidnapping high-ranking IDF officials, among others, and detaining them. But our initial surprise and sense of vengeance, for decades of slaughter inflicted on us, quickly dissipated. It dawned on us that this was going to cost us all dearly. The bombing began to intensify, especially after the announcement that there were hostages. Suddenly the power was cut off in my entire area, and minutes later, internet services were cut too. It was at that point we began to realize how serious the situation was, and how unprecedented. Telecommunications companies began sending text messages stating that there were problems in the networks due to the continuing bombing and that they would work to fix them as soon as possible.

I lost contact with all my friends abroad and at home, and an immense dread started to sink in. I could not find words to reassure my twelve-year-old daughter. I was surprised by how complex her questions were, how much more sophisticated they were compared to the last onslaught. Back in 2021, she was younger and it was easy to lie to her. In 2014, I even told her that the explosions we heard were just doors slamming loudly down the street. I spent that month distracting her with snacks and my tablet, its volume turned up to drown out the sound of explosions in the distance. I couldn’t believe I was openly lying to my child.

But she is so much more grown up now. Lying is pointless; she picks up words from those around her and on the radio. Words like resistance, Al Qassam, brigades, Hamas, hostages, Sderot. Then she asks me what they mean.

Decoding them is going to be extremely tricky.

Day Three – Monday, October 9, 2023

The Israeli shelling continues, becoming ever more intense and brutal. Until now we really believed civilians were exempt from this brutality and that the shelling would be limited to government headquarters and military targets. But then we heard from those who were in areas that had been completely evacuated of residents that phone calls from the Israeli military informed each family of the necessity of evacuating their home. It all felt like a Hollywood movie. My friend told me that the Israeli authorities called her father on his cell phone and told him to evacuate his apartment if he wanted to live, thinking he still lived in the Al-Karama Tower, when he had actually moved out two years ago. Using the little credit we had left on our phones, we laughed at the situation and scolded them for not updating their data.

The electricity generator in our apartment only works for one hour a day because of a diesel shortage. This means we have to get everything done during that hour: cooking, talking with friends on the phone, household chores, showering (a pump is needed to get water to the building), and watching the news on television.

Day Four – Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The joke turned real. Things we were able to laugh at yesterday are now starting to haunt us. Israeli shelling in our area has intensified and come dangerously close to our building. The telecommunications company building, Platel, which provides internet services in the Gaza Strip, has been targeted. Things just keep getting worse. We decided to sleep in the hallway of the apartment, believing it was the safest place.

A tower just one hundred meters away from my home was targeted. I have run out of reassuring words. Anxiety prevails.

Two hours ago, Al-Karama Tower was bombed in a two-and-a-half-hour raid known as “a fire belt.” We called our friends, who live on the same street as us, and told them to come to our apartment immediately. They said they couldn’t come precisely because they were under attack and if they moved they would be targeted.

I told myself to stay on the phone and keep talking to them, keep listening, as if I was feeding my soul, taking in as much of their voices as I can, in case I never hear them again.

At midnight, we started to hear strange sounds in the neighborhood. Not explosions, but something else. In the darkness, I couldn’t immediately work out what was happening. Carefully I went to the window and looked out onto the main street. My instincts were confirmed.

Our neighbors all along the street were evacuating. They had received calls from the Israeli Defense Forces, warning them to evacuate the whole area as soon as possible.

Oh God, I thought. I was exhausted and just getting ready for bed. Now I had to pack my belongings and leave.

Where to? I had no idea. I don’t know anywhere in the universe safer than my own home! Just a few minutes ago, I was telling everyone that I couldn’t sleep anywhere but on my own bed. Now I have to say goodbye to it. If only I had a suitcase large enough to fit the walls of my apartment, then I could tolerate this situation.

There was no time for thinking. We had five minutes. Any longer, and my family and I would be exposed to danger, perhaps even death. This was no time to think. This was a time for fear. With assurances from the Red Cross, we left trembling with fear and adrenaline as shells fell on the very street we walked.

Day Five – Wednesday, October 11, 2023

We have evacuated to my brother’s home in my family’s old neighborhood at the centre of the city, which is considered the safest place according to “danger estimates.” By phone, I spoke to my students, whom I had been teaching creative writing, but the war will prevent us from completing the course. They were worried about me, given how close my home was to where the warnings had been received. The rest of my extended family was also evacuated. There were many of us, and not much space at my brother’s place but it didn’t matter. Safety did.

We agreed to spend just one night at my brother’s and then return to our homes safe and sound in the morning. My daughter told me about her great fondness for her bedroom and her attachment to all her belongings. So when she realized I had only packed her one pair of pajamas and one toothbrush, she was upset. “It’s just for one night.,” I reassured her.

The next day, around 8:00 a.m., we left my brother’s and returned to our home. The joy of returning home was indescribable. The place looked different. It felt like it had been rearranged, and my room looked beautiful. But . . .

At 3:30 p.m. most of the neighborhood’s residents were contacted again for an official and complete evacuation. I packed a few things, as I had the previous night, thinking we would return the next day. At 6:00 p.m., we left.

We found all our relatives in the old apartment, the place where I grew up. They all lived in different neighborhoods and had evacuated their homes. The conversation was about one thing: how long would the war last. Many different political analyses intertwined. Some predicted that it would only last a few weeks, others believed it would go on for many months.

These family gatherings, in the large courtyard of the old family place—everyone paying keen attention to the news, anticipating what will happen next, and the look of worry in everyone’s eyes—reminded me of when I was the age of my daughter, and Saddam sent scud missiles over Gaza towards Israel during the Gulf War. Damn my memory banks, that only seem to store memories of wars! Are we destined to keep reliving such events over and over? The war just repeats itself, comes with all the same textures and emotions, despite the decades that have passed.

My sister and her family arrive. They will stay in the same neighborhood. Finally, my daughter met my sister’s daughter, and they played together with their favorite cats. We spent the night playing traditional games, just to pass the time. At midnight, we decided to sleep. Tomorrow morning we will pack our belongings and return home.

Day Six – Thursday, October 12, 2023

Thank God for the blessing of a new day. Thank God that we’re still alive.

Was this the ideal time to return? I thought so and was so excited about the prospect of going back home that I called two of my sisters, both living abroad, to reassure them. One of them cried she was so happy, and I scolded her for being dramatic.

The next minute I heard screams coming from the area where my third sister has made a temporary home for herself, a space no bigger than fifty square meters, where she now lives with her husband’s family.

Her home had been bombed.

What? How?

Her apartment is in one of the tall towers, and it has been completely destroyed. Her apartment was the dream she and her husband built together, they sweated for every brick, paid for every inch of it, and now it’s just rubble with no value. No condolences will help, and who knows, perhaps my apartment will be next. We will never know why a specific home has been destroyed. It’s a war filled with secrets. Driven by hate.

Day Seven – Friday, October 13, 2023
The Toughest Day

We all woke up as usual to perform the Fajr prayer, only to hear strange movements in the street below. We learned that the Israelis called the people living in a building opposite where we’re staying and told them it’s been marked for bombing. Just twenty meters away.

Our place is full of children and elderly people. Some are confined to wheelchairs. Everyone tells us we have to move quickly and evacuate to the nearest UNRWA school.

We rushed to the school because for now it’s the safest place. Schools have been targets in previous wars, but they haven’t been targeted yet.

After an hour, it turns out that the warning to the building across the road was a false alarm. We all laugh at our strange fortune and head back to the big family home.

At noon, F16s drop leaflets urging us to evacuate the city entirely and head to the southern areas of the Strip, to the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.

My sister whose home was bombed is the first to decide to head south, since her husband’s family lives there. The place will soon be swamped, she reasoned. Better get there first. My fourth sister, who works as a journalist, has also decided to follow her. But for now, that’s all. The rest of the family—my father, mother, my three brothers, and me—we all decide to stay.

My eldest brother has already fled with his family to Rafah. He texts me to say it’s the first time he’s ever been there, even though he’s lived in Gaza for twenty-five years. Of my five uncles, the oldest and second oldest left to stay with friends and acquaintances in the south. The third and fourth stayed.

The deadline to evacuate is 5:00 p.m. and anyone who travels past then will be putting their life in danger. Yes, it’s a forced displacement.

My youngest uncle arranges for a driver to pick him up at 2:00 p.m. to take him to his in-laws in Khan Younis. The driver was late for an unknown reason, and my uncle waited on the street in his wheelchair, with his whole family—his wife, youngest daughter, son, and granddaughter—for two hours. The deadline came and went, and my uncle called the driver and scolded him. Their evacuation must now be postponed until tomorrow.

Half an hour later we hear a truck has been hit and seventy people have been martyred along Salah al-Din Street, the same road my uncle and his family would have been on if the driver had been on time.

It turns into a very difficult night, but we eventually fall asleep, probably from exhaustion.

Day Eight – Saturday, October 14, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

My sister left her cat with me (to live with my daughter’s cat), as she doesn’t currently have the luxury of keeping a pet while being displaced from one area to another. One of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in the war, so far, turns out to be providing food and litter for these cats I’m now in charge of. Everything is running out. Should we really be keeping pets in a city like Gaza, where human rights aren’t respected let alone animal ones?

Anyway, this is not the time for complaining. I now have the lives of two more souls on my shoulders, in addition to the lives of my family and relatives.

The era of the queue has begun. Whether at home or out in the city, they are everywhere: one queue for bathing, one for water, one for getting bread, one for withdrawing money at the ATM, one for getting essential vegetables from the grocery store, one for charging my mobile. And to think they call us disorganized people who do not like to queue!

It’s a beautiful irony that the pet shops still stay open until 4:00 p.m., while shops selling human food are closing early. Usually, I’d ask a delivery person to get what I need for the cats. But now my phone credit has run out, and I’ve started taking care of my needs myself.

Day Nine – Sunday, October 15, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

It’s now the ninth day without electricity or internet. The markets are closed, except for some small shops that do not provide essential supplies. There is a crisis in obtaining women’s products. My hair is falling out, my skin is dry, and I’m losing weight. I do not want to be weakened, mentally, by these deprivations. Weakness is not an option right now.

My friends and I agree that we should take turns communicating. One of us will be appointed a day for messaging or calling round. We all have limited mobile credit and few ways to add credit. Similarly, we only have an hour a day to charge our phones, as the generator only has enough fuel for that long. My closest friend, Israa, has moved to the Nuseirat city with her friends, while my second closest, Farah, has left Khan Younis with her relatives. Now I’m alone in Gaza City.

Day Ten – Monday, October 16, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

Announcements and proclamations have been issued, stating that Hamas is a terrorist entity and whoever stays in Gaza is considered a participant or an accomplice. We receive these announcements via SMS messages, automated phone calls, and leaflets dropped from the sky.

The psychological pressure is increasing. Those who left for the south are already telling us, in texts and phone calls, that they are regretting it, but they cannot return because the roads are dangerous and there’s no safe passage. That said, they are adapting to their new situation over time.

Homes everywhere are forced to shelter up to thirty people at a time, with one room allocated for men, another for women, and another for children. Even going to collect water or bread requires a strategy. One of the men might be assigned to get his family’s allocated water or bread from a shop, and he will come back and then go out again, wearing a hat and glasses, to queue again for water or bread for other members of his family. Allocations are one per person, but not everyone can stand in the heat all day, queuing. People have resorted to burning wood for cooking and to heating water for washing, as all other forms of energy—be it electricity, gas, diesel, or petrol—have been cut off. Men light the fire; women cook. Vegetable oil is now being used to fuel cars, which are needed to retrieve supplies. Meals are divided equally, and into two meals a day, and each person is given only one piece of bread. People can only afford to wash once a week, so they wear their clothes for days on end, for lack of hot water to wash them.

This is the Palestinian people in a nutshell; they grumble, then migrate, and they eventually adapt.

Day Eleven – Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

Since I have been staying with my brothers’ wives and my cousins, I have started to learn new recipes and tips for cooking and preparing food. My skills are still limited, but I have been surprising my family with new recipes, using the few ingredients we have—such as rice, flour, bulgur, and eggs—to making things like cookies, different types of soups, omelettes, cheesecake, rice with milk, and so on. My daughter still misses her room and her belongings.

Day Twelve – Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

The number of martyrs has exceeded five thousand. We have to use the hour of electricity we get from the generator carefully, and we don’t get a chance to hear the news. My sisters and friends living abroad call me, crying, giving me the latest updates. I am thankful I can’t follow the news, it would depress me too much. And anyway, in such circumstances, following the news is a luxury.

Day Thirteen – Thursday, October 19, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

Today, we celebrated the birthday of Nasser, our cousin’s son, who turns six. His cousin, an artist, made a cake out of plaster with Nasser’s name sculpted on top. We brought some sweets and placed them in an elegant bag. We sang and danced a lot, and our voices rose up from our weary hearts.

I couldn’t work out if we were trying to instill joy in the heart of this little child, or if we were just trying to drive out our own thoughts of another weary day?

Day Fourteen – Friday, October 20, 2023

My journalist sister has returned from Khan Younis after only two days due to the scarcity of resources there, the shortage of water, and the increasing number of displaced people now also staying at her husband’s relatives. She tells me that my friend who lives in Umm al-Fahm, in the other part of the homeland, has been trying to check in on me through WhatsApp. My sister has internet through a package, through her work as a journalist, but it only works for a few minutes, then stops for hours at a time. My brother tells me that another friend of mine in Cairo has been inquiring after me, and has coincidentally discovered that her cousin is my brother’s friend.

My friend in Umm al-Fahm told me, back on the first day of the war, that their phones were being monitored, so I have not attempted to contact her to avoid putting her in danger. And yet now she risks her own safety to check in on me. When she calls me, we talk in symbols to protect ourselves, and we cry together in a miserable attempt to console each other. It’s the only language that the enemy cannot encrypt or block.

I promise myself that I will block her once I have internet access, to prevent her from checking on me and exposing herself to danger.

Day Fifteen – Saturday, October 21, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

When my cousin tells me this morning that she will take me to her workplace, where she has some matters to handle, and that there is internet there, I cannot believe it. Internet!

I quickly tidy up my space and put away my limited belongings. I have a luxurious spot in my brother’s apartment: a clothesline on which I hang my two shirts, a pair of pants, and my pajamas—literally all I could bring with me. There are now twenty of us in his small apartment.

At my cousin’s workplace, I spend half an hour entirely absorbed by the computer. My spirits soar as I read messages from friends here and there, inside and outside Gaza, inquiring about my safety. I return home happy, after having gone out in public for the first time in fifteen days.

For once I am happy; the day before I was close to the brink of madness. This is what happens when you don’t go out and face the world for fifteen days.

Day Sixteen – Sunday, October 22, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive, thank God for the blessing of a new day.

We have to be frugal with our food because the war may last for months. We sneak out in the early morning hours to fetch essential supplies. I walked all the way to Rimal neighborhood—a significant achievement for me on the sixteenth day.

Day Seventeen – Monday, October 23, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

I have started buying new clothes for my daughter because the ones I brought with us are no longer sufficient. The lack of water for washing also makes things difficult. By chance, I discovered a free internet network in the street, and I took the risk of exposing my location in order to let my friends know that I am safe. The targets now include hospitals. My daughter and I were playing a game on my phone when we heard the news on the radio about the shelling of the Al Maamadani Hospital, in the Zaytoun neighborhood, and the martyrdom of dozens of people.

Day Eighteen – Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

Last night the bombing reached the churches. Even the most famous church, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, was attacked, despite it being known to house dozens of our Christian brothers who have been displaced and forced to leave their homes.

The bombing intensified as the night went on—all of them attacks on civilians’ homes, and all of them without warning. We didn’t get to sleep until just before dawn. Then I was woken again, at 6:00 a.m., by a call from my older sister who lives in the States. It was afternoon there and she was hysterical. One thing I should explain: putting your mobile phone on airplane mode during a war is absolutely out of the question. This is War 101, I now realize. My sister was desperate to know if we were okay, as an apartment belonging to the wider Mohana family, in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, had been bombed, according to reports she had read, and she was terrified they’d got the neighborhood wrong. She doesn’t miss a moment of news, day or night. I told her that she was in such a panic that she’d forgotten there were no longer residents in the area she mentioned. They had all been evacuated. I’d told her this a few days before. She came straight back at me with more questions about how I was: was the family really okay, or was I lying to reassure her? I snapped back at her, in an attempt to break the tension: Would the signal be this clear, Sis, if I was stuck under the rubble?

Day Nineteen – Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

My IQ, as well as my daughter’s, has been improving recently, thanks to the intelligence games we play daily on our mobile phones. Arguments over phone charging have also increased, as we share the same charger. Miraculously, I’ve discovered a solution to the fights: when she’s charging her phone I can charge mine from my laptop, which was one of the few things I managed to rescue from home when we fled. Now its main job is to act as a power bank. I’m always relieved when we avoid a fight. Last night, before we fell asleep, my daughter told me she respects me, even though she fights with me, she loves how strong I am as a mother.

Day Twenty – Thursday, October 26, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

Today we all sat around in my brother’s place: my cousins’ daughters, the wives of two of my brothers, and me. I suggested a fun game, which involved asking the question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” as a way to instill optimism and encourage us to think about the future.

But most of the answers were: “We just want to see ourselves alive tomorrow. That’s as far as we can see.”

Day Twenty-One – Friday, October 27, 2023

Thank God that we are still alive. Thank God for the blessing of a new day.

The family of the Al Jazeera correspondent Wael El Dahdouh was assassinated in front of the world’s eyes. We watched the clip of him bidding them farewell, shock visible on his face. He waited for someone to transmit a clear image to the world, as he’s used to doing. In the evening it was announced, in the news, that all communications and internet lines would be cut, completely, in preparation for the ground invasion. We’re already without electricity, so this means that we will have no way to check on relatives abroad or access urgent news. The shelling comes closer and closer. The largest strike yet was when two rockets hit a building just sixty meters away. The place filled with dust, dirt, and fog. Ambulances rushed to evacuate the wounded or perhaps the dead. We heard loud cries of “Allahu Akbar.” It was a difficult night, and we did not sleep for more than a hour.

We woke up not believing that we were still alive.

Day Twenty-Three – Sunday, October 29, 2023

I will thank God tomorrow if we are still alive. I will thank God, who is the only one to thank for any good, for the blessing of a new day.

Lauren Haisley
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Nahil Mohana is the author of the novel No Men Allowed (Arab Scientific Publishers, 2021); the story collection Life in a Square meter (The Ogarit Cultural Center); and six plays, including High Pressure, which received the 2008 Abdul Mohsin Al-Qattan Prize; Ghoson, which received the 2008 Children’s Culture Award; and Lipstick, which was produced by The Royal Court Theatre in London in 2015. Born in 1982 in Gaza City, Palestine, Mohana is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, and now teaches creative writing to children and young adults in Gaza. More at nahilmohana.com. (updated 5/2024)

Respond Crisis Translation is a collective of 2,500+ translators, interpreters, and language activists mobilizing around the clock to provide language support to asylum seekers, refugees, and anyone experiencing language barriers in the midst of crisis. They facilitate the work of more than 500 partner nonprofits on the frontlines of the refugee and resettlement crises, as well as doing advocacy and awareness work around language rights violations and reparations for survivors. More about the collective and ways to support their work at respondcrisistranslation.org. (updated 5/2024)
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