I survived nine days under Israeli siege

Israeli tanks in Rafah on 29 May 2024. (Saeed Qaq / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire) 

We tried to survive in the north as best we could.

Our home is in the Rimal area of Gaza City, and until October, I was an English literature student at the Islamic University of Gaza.

But by January of this year, I wasn’t sure what I was anymore. We had been forcibly displaced nine times. Or at least nine. I lost count at some point.

We are in the Nuseirat camp now, north of Deir al-Balah, and I am sitting here remembering the horrors of the recent past and how we got here.

Like the Israeli siege of the al-Jawazat area in Gaza City and how we survived.

At the end of January, we were staying in a house in al-Jawazat.

I woke up at 11 pm to the sounds of the roaring engines of Israeli occupation vehicles and the accompanying cries and wails of those who had been sleeping in the streets.

The occupation tanks surrounded us, and we could feel them closing in.

We maintained absolute silence, listening to the sounds of the tanks and vehicles moving up and down the street for more than an hour. We thought, perhaps naively, that this movement signaled the withdrawal of the occupation from the north.

The sounds eventually faded away after an hour, and we returned to sleep.

But then, at around 3 am, we woke once more to the sounds of bulldozers’ engines and the clanking of tank treads.

This horror extended into the morning, and we saw on Al-Jazeera that the Israeli occupation forces had invaded al-Jawazat. The correspondent confirmed that the Israelis had besieged al-Shifa hospital, which was about a 10-minute walk away.

We knew we would not be leaving al-Jawazat any time soon, that we were also besieged.

First day of the siege

At 9 am, for more than an hour, the helicopters fired artillery at the surrounding homes. My family and my uncle’s family moved from the second and third floors to the ground floor.

The gunfire would stop for a minute only to resume for hours, targeting the houses from different angles.

Then the Israeli occupation vehicles would move on. With each movement, we felt the hand of death reaching out for us. Would we be crushed by a bulldozer? Or blown up by an artillery shell? Or would death come from above, a bomb dropped on top of us?

By noon, our street had been turned into rubble. But we had survived.

I could barely let myself hope that the worst was over.

Waiting for the worst

The siege continued for nine days.

We ate one meal a day: a piece of bread with some cheese, or a small bowl of soup. We were constantly thirsty because we didn’t have enough water.

Bulldozers would pass in front of the house, and tanks would fire at our windows. I measured the days in these violent sounds: whether the gunfire was near or far, whether the bulldozers were approaching or receding.

Throughout it all, the airstrikes never stopped.

Every second, we anticipated that the soldiers would storm our house. But they hadn’t. Perhaps they had not imagined that any human would remain in the area after the destruction they had caused.

Then, on 6 February, as night fell, the sounds of explosions didn’t subside like they usually did.

I didn’t want to see what was happening outside. I didn’t want to see tanks, soldiers, or corpses. I wanted to survive with enough space in my mind for all the beautiful events I longed to experience. I am still only 19 years old.

At 4 am, a dense torrent of artillery shells rained down on the facade of a neighboring house.

The sounds grew louder, and we could hear shrapnel flying in every direction and hitting surfaces.

The gunfire ceased, but the soldiers were on the move. They launched a grenade at the neighboring building’s entrance and stormed it.

We knew they would soon force their way into our house.

Face to face with occupation soldiers

The soldiers were outside our front door, and we anticipated the inevitable grenade that they would throw inside.

One of the men with us shouted out to the soldiers in Hebrew, “Shalom! Shalom! We are civilians!”

The soldiers forced their way into the home and pointed their weapons at us. They demanded that every male over the age of 15 strip down to their underwear and show them their IDs.

They asked about the number of people in the house, and the man with us who spoke some Hebrew said there were 26 of us.

One soldier yelled at everyone to come out with our hands raised. They escorted us to the neighboring house that they had stormed before ours.

They gathered all the men in one room and made them sit facing each other.

We repeatedly asked the soldier, “What will happen to us?” The soldier never answered. More soldiers with heavy weapons entered the room and paced among us.

This was the first time I had been this close to Israeli soldiers. The recruits looked nothing like I had pictured them to be. They were all young, the oldest among them in their twenties. There was a young man with dark skin, and a woman with pale blonde hair.

After a few minutes, a soldier ordered us to leave the premises immediately.

We exited the house where we had been trapped for nine days only to encounter a shocking scene. The entire street was destroyed. No building except our own was left standing.

I counted more than 20 tanks in the area.

I felt anxiety, confusion and helplessness. It did not seem real that we had survived, and I kept expecting to be killed any second.

Even now, I continue to await death, and I ask myself frequently, how will I be killed?

Huda Skaik is an English literature student at the Islamic University of Gaza.