Israeli occupation forces ransacked my home

A plume of smoke from an Israeli airstrike rises from a horizon of destroyed buildings

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Maghazi refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, 15 April.

Naaman Omar APA images

On Sunday evening, 24 December 2023, I was at my home in the Maghazi camp in Gaza, scrolling through my phone, reading news about the latest Israeli bombings, when I heard the deafening sound of a bomb being dropped nearby.

I tried to cover my ears, but another explosion immediately followed. It was the most violent I had ever experienced. My room lit up red then turned pitch black. Not because the lights went out, but because of the rubble, dust and smoke that filled the room.

I couldn’t move. I heard debris and rocket shrapnel flying through the windows and falling around me. I heard screams in every direction. I knew that it was either our home or the home next door that was targeted.

Barefoot, I ran through the rubble and shattered glass to get to my family upstairs. I stopped when I saw a human limb on the stairs. I froze in shock. Even though I had seen such images on screens nonstop over the past months, to see such horror with my own eyes was devastating.

I have still not recovered from it.

I had to keep moving. When I reached my family, I was relieved that nobody had been seriously harmed, though later we would discover injuries. The shock and adrenaline had prevented us from noticing at first.

We went downstairs and gathered in a room without windows. We could hardly breathe from the smoke and dust. The air smelled like explosives and burning human flesh.

We still had no idea whose house had been bombed.

No one slept that night. Israeli bombs continued to drop near us. I waited anxiously for the sun to rise, hoping that daylight would bring hope or at least less carnage.

But when morning arrived, it only revealed further devastation.

An Israeli tank in front of my home

Israeli warplanes had targeted two residential buildings in our neighborhood, killing at least 70 people. This is now known as the Maghazi massacre.

At our home, pieces of human bodies were on our rooftop, in several rooms and under every tree in our garden. We collected what we could and sent them to be buried to honor our neighbors.

I was heartbroken at the martyrdom of my neighbors and friends. We had grown up together and played and prayed together. Israel had killed them all in an instant.

In the days to come, those who remained in the neighborhood were now forcibly displaced. Their homes had been damaged, and Israel continued to bomb us day and night.

The Israeli occupation army invaded al-Bureij refugee camp, which is close to the Maghazi camp.

We were forced to evacuate. We packed what we could carry and went to my uncle’s house in Deir al-Balah, which the Israeli government had declared a “safe zone.”

I still remember my first night away from home. I laid on my back in a dark and crowded room, feeling unbearably lonely and thinking of our home.

A few days later, the occupation army invaded our neighborhood in the western part of Maghazi camp. I saw on the news an image of an Israeli tank in front of our home.

Although my uncle’s family tried their best to make us feel welcome, our time displaced was incredibly difficult. It was a freezing winter and we didn’t have enough clothing or blankets. There were days I was so cold that I could not feel my fingers or toes.

The whole time I thought of our home in Maghazi, waiting for the Israeli army to withdraw. I dreamed of the day I would be able to return home.

My walk home

Then, in January 2024, I heard the news that the occupation army had withdrawn from Maghazi camp.

I thought it would finally be time to go home, but the Israeli army was still targeting and killing people as they tried to return home, including two of my relatives, unarmed civilians.

I waited a few days and then set off to Maghazi on foot. Along the way, I saw an unprecedented amount of destruction, first along Salahuddin Street, where hundreds of warehouses and shops had been leveled by Israeli attacks.

I’d always enjoyed walking along this street, with its palm trees and shops. Now it was now a total wasteland.

Growing up in Gaza, I have seen plenty of destruction caused by Israeli attacks. But what I saw that day went beyond anything I’d seen before. It was mass destruction in every direction. No buildings, trees, streets. Just piles of rubble, and tracks left by Israeli tanks.

I arrived at our neighborhood and I could barely recognize it. No house or street was left untouched. Neighbors searched through the rubble for bodies of loved ones. Others cried next to their destroyed homes. Everyone was so overwhelmed with pain and sorrow that we choked over our words.

I stopped in front of our house; it was still standing but severely damaged. Several walls had been destroyed by artillery. Two missiles had gone through the roof. Bullet holes covered all sides of the house.

Our green garden was a pale gray. The flowers were dead and the trees were burnt. Chunks of rubble from our house now littered the ground.

I made my way over the rubble and entered the house through a hole in the wall. It looked like an earthquake had hit, and all signs indicated that the Israeli army had ransacked our homes.

I found soldiers’ leftover food and lots of bullet casings. They had broken our furniture, kitchenware and antiques. They even shot up our TVs.

There are no words to describe how this feels.

I went to our land located farther outside the city. Our 40 olive trees had been bulldozed, totally wiped out. I had cared for these trees for nine years, watching them grow from saplings into trees; they were like children to me.

On the way back to Deir al-Balah, I stopped at our home again. I heard a noise from inside. It was our cat, Shujaa, which means “brave” in English. We used to joke that he was more spoiled than brave.

Seeing him alive filled me with a rare feeling of hope.

Hope that one day life might come back to our neighborhood.

Abdallah al-Naami is a journalist and photographer living in Gaza.