More than 15 members of the Dalloul family now sleep in one room of their home in the al-Zaytoun neighborhood, a densely-populated area in the southeast of Gaza City.
“All the children and elder members of our family squeeze onto these mattresses when night falls,” Naeema Dalloul, mother of seven, told The Electronic Intifada on Saturday afternoon as deafening bomb explosions could be heard in the background.
Dalloul and her children normally live in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood to the west, but when Israel began its intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, she moved to her parents’ home in al-Zaytoun.
“When the air strikes began on Wednesday I was on the phone with my husband, who is now traveling. I was concerned about my seven children, so I moved here to stay with them,” Dalloul said. “But as you see the attacks are widespread and no one seems safe.”
In fact, the al-Zaytoun neighborhood has been one of the most heavily bombed areas.
Medical sources and human rights organizations said the death toll in the current Israeli assault had reached approximately 40 by Saturday afternoon, with at least seven children among the dead. Hundreds more are reported injured.
On Saturday, at least one person was killed and seven injured in attacks on al-Zaytoun.
The constant sound of bombs is taking its toll on the children.
“My little four-year old daughter, Tala, just hides behind me whenever there is a loud Israeli airstrike heard in the background,” Dalloul said. “This time is rather scary and no one can predict how things will turn out. But we are trying to cope as best as we can.”
The children are so scared at night, even the older ones, that when they want to get up to use the bathroom at night they insist that their mother goes with them.
Dalloul’s own mother, known as Um Fathi, who is in her late 70s and hails originally from the city of Bir al-Saba (Beersheva) in historic Palestine, sat in a chair watching TV along with other family members.
“Israeli attacks on Bir al-Saba forced my family to flee,” Um Fathi said, recalling her family’s 1948 flight from their hometown in what is now called Israel. “But now I encourage all my children and grandchildren not to succumb and remain steadfast and not to flee. We should not leave. We will remain steadfast.”
“Whenever I hear an airstrike I put my hands on my ears and feel so scared,” said nine-year-old Wisam Dalloul, who appeared frightened as the sound of bombs continued. “I don’t know what’s going on and as I see on TV, children like myself are being killed or injured.”
Wisam’s father Yehya, a taxi driver, is the breadwinner for the entire family, including his sister Naeema and her children, and his aging mother.
“As you see, I am stuck at home and unable to work as the streets are almost empty and the situation is highly risky,” Yehya said. “Once, I wanted to go out, but my five children and wife insisted I should not go out,” the young father stated.
Worry about protracted attack
Yehya is doing his best to keep the family supplied with essentials.
“For the moment, I have enough supplies like food, cooking gas and other things,” he said. “But the question here is what if this situation continues? As a taxi driver, once I go to work, I can provide for my family. But if I stay idle at home, I don’t know how I will manage.”
Upstairs lives Muhammad Dalloul, a 25-year-old graduate student, one of many members of the extended Dalloul family who live in close proximity to each other in the neighborhood.
“Every 15 minutes we hear a loud explosion just very close, as if the aircrafts have a timer that is set to automatically fire rockets on Gaza.”
Muhammad said that he stays up all night following the news. “That’s all I can do,” he said. “Of course, I do not go out because of the risk unless it’s an emergency.”
Muhammad’s mother, Um Muhammad, who is in her late 40s, said that she and her two sons also sleep in one room of their small home that they believe to be the most safe.
“The current Israeli attacks are not as big as those of the 2009 Israeli war,” she said, “yet their strikes continue unabated and we seem to be waiting for our fate. We are still strong and able to cope, God willing.”
Um Muhammad pointed out that there are no air raid shelters in Gaza and fears what could happen. “We are pretty sure that our enemy is careless with our lives,” she said.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.