On 10 November, we woke up and found Israeli tanks right under our window. My family had been taking shelter at the Rantisi children’s hospital for a few days.
What happened before and after we woke up that day demonstrates how Israel lies as a matter of routine.
Contrary to its claims, Israel deliberately causes destruction and damage. Its systematic attacks have been designed to make the functioning of Gaza’s health system impossible.
We have been displaced since 19 October.
That day, Israel bombed our building in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. Our apartment was left uninhabitable.
Following the attack, we took shelter at a nearby school.
We crammed with other families into a small classroom. There were two bathrooms for about 200 people in our wing of the school.
We had left all our food at home. Some of the food was destroyed as our kitchen took a direct hit, destroying the fridge and much of our food reserves.
The situation at the school was, to say the least, inhumane and unsanitary.
Huge numbers of people were abandoned by the United Nations. Without any sense of shame, their vehicles promptly evacuated Gaza City and northern Gaza, when Israel ordered more than a million people to move southwards.
Hell unleashed on hospitals
Having spent a few days at the school, I was offered the chance to shelter at a hospital.
It would have electricity and internet access. I wanted to be online so that I could report to the world Israel’s extermination campaign against Palestinians in Gaza.
The Rantisi hospital was a lot better than the school. I thought that I would spend the whole time there until Israel stops its genocide.
That was before we got a notice. An Israeli flyer was circulated, alleging there were “terrorist Hamas activities” at the Rantisi hospital.
Many people shrugged off this threat at the beginning. Israel has been saying this kind of thing about Gaza’s hospitals for a long time.
Then Israel unleashed its hell upon the hospitals and schools in the area.
Israel’s troops surrounded the buildings. Israel bombed solar panels and the roof of Gaza’s main psychiatric hospital.
Israel bombed the entrances to hospitals, causing deaths and injuries.
Israel had already bombed a local bakery and electricity poles and roads.
In other words, Israel is making life impossible in the northern half of Gaza. People have no choice but to move southwards – not that the south is in any way safe.
The next morning, more than two-thirds of the people sheltering at the hospitals had to evacuate.
Israel attacked people sheltering in hospitals, supposedly to send a message that there were Hamas activities inside them.
But no Hamas member could be seen and none were arrested as we were all forced to leave, with machine guns and tanks pointed at us.
Three days before Israel parked its tanks outside the Rantisi hospital, we were given cooked rice from the hospital’s kitchen. It was to be our lunch for two consecutive days.
The rice was not cooked well and we already had lunch. So it was wasted food.
Nusayba, my wife, volunteered to make better rice.
I went with one of my in-laws to speak with the chef, preparing food in the Rantisi hospital basement. Hundreds of people were sheltering in that part of the hospital.
Hundreds of others were sheltering on the first floor. And the second floor. And the third.
The basement was open. There was not even a remote possibility that any captive could be kept there, not even for a matter of minutes.
The basement can be seen from the first floor on the northern side of the building. It has windows, so what happened inside was not a secret.
If cooking rice is a Hamas activity, then that was all that was going on in the basement.
On 10 November, my daughter Shymaa woke me up and showed me a video of the Israeli tanks right below our window.
It was terrifying. The tank was huge.
I had never seen one so close.
Then we heard cries from all corners of the hospital.
We awakened the kids and prepared our bags.
We grabbed a few small bottles of water and some dates.
With Israel claiming there were Hamas activities inside the hospital, I did not expect anything good to come out of this situation.
It was necessary to speak. So I gathered about 25 people, mostly kids, together.
“Listen,” I said. “I do not want anyone to cry and scream. I will be blunt.”
I explained that there were three possible scenarios.
The first was that tanks were blocking the road to the west but that the road to the east was relatively open.
The second was that the Israelis might let women and children go and arrest the young men. I noted, however, that the Israelis had not brought buses for transporting people to any prison or camp.
“That leads me to the third scenario,” I said. “They might let the women and children go and shoot the young men.”
That point elicited a number of screams.
Don’t look back
I continued by saying, “If that is the case, and I want to be clear, do not look back. No matter what happens to us. Do not scream or cry. Keep going east. Keep running.”
Meanwhile, doctors at the hospital were frantically calling their bosses and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The Red Crescent was not responding.
Two hours later, we received a WhatsApp message that the people in Nasser hospital – another hospital in the area – were preparing to leave. Hands up with white flags.
When they approached our gate, we rushed and joined them, carrying as little as possible, leaving behind most of our food and water reserves – just as we had to do when our home was bombed.
That Israel allowed everyone to leave is evidence that claims of “Hamas terrorist activities” at Rantisi hospital were lies. Not one of us was detained or even questioned.
We walked and we walked.
Many raised their hands and some raised a white flag. Everyone was carrying a bundle or bottles of water, even the little ones.
A few pushed their elderly parents in wheelchairs.
Some carried children.
Some carried family members who were injured.
One woman held a peacefully sleeping baby, barely three weeks old.
We headed east amid the rubble and debris. When I looked back, I saw two tanks with their barrels and machine guns pointed at us.
I had Nusayba, Linah and Amal next to me. The rest of my children were nowhere to be seen.
We had to move – looking back could be perilous. I carried a huge bundle over my head and kept checking on Amal and Linah to make sure they were OK.
I asked them not to look back. They never did.
About 20 minutes later, we took a right turn and rested until the others showed up.
I left many of my belongings at the hospital. They included my clothes, a used laptop I had bought recently, a notebook and a One Man Show bottle of perfume.
I heard that Israel found a notebook and a laptop and has been using them as evidence that Hamas kept Israeli captives in the basement of the hospital.
I don’t know if the “evidence” belonged to me. But I want my stuff back!
There are still hundreds of thousands in the northern parts of Gaza Strip and the old parts of Gaza City.
We remain steadfast despite the bombs, hunger and thirst, despite the genocide.
Every day we hear about Israel advancing and targeting water stations and solar panels and other equipment or infrastructure that are essential for sustaining life.
Almost everyone around me has a high temperature, a headache or an upset stomach. Many of Gaza’s hospitals and clinics are now closed.
We fear that Israel could prolong the genocide.
What happens if the tanks remain in Gaza for another month?
Or two months? Or even more?
The mere thought of a prolonged genocide terrifies us because nothing kills like hunger.
Refaat Alareer is a writer and an academic from Gaza. Twitter: @iTranslate123