The longest four days of my life

Rafah, Gaza’s southermost city, has been attacked repeatedly by Israel. 

Abed Rahim Khatib DPA via ZUMA Press

On 14 December, the communications network in Gaza was shut down.

At 7 pm that day, I was on a call with my colleague Mohammed Salem.

Mohammed is a photojournalist who is now in Egypt.

I was talking to him about his experience of living outside Gaza, of being away from his family and loved ones here.

I was planning to write an article based on our conversation, which ended because of the blackout.

My first reaction was to smile. Being left without an internet connection meant I could get some rest from the news.

I quickly felt guilty about that reaction.

To be honest, I was sick of seeing how the world had been silent – for 70 days at that point.

Silent about the constant barbarism of the Israeli occupation toward my people.

Silent about the torture, detentions, massive destruction and genocide.

I was sick of hearing Arab and other governments, as well as some international bodies, asking for a ceasefire, without putting pressure on Israel or taking any real action.

After an hour of being disconnected from the internet, my 10-year-old nephew Ahmad rushed towards me and asked, “Do you have a signal on your iPhone? Or has it vanished once again?”

I smiled and said, “My iPhone signal has gone away. The internet has already been interrupted. And I’m not getting any phone calls or messages.”

Ahmad asked me what was happening.

“The Israeli occupation has deliberately damaged the networks just to separate us from the world,” I said.

Red lights

While we were talking, Ahmad and I saw red lights flashing. Then we heard the missiles fall to the ground and explode.

As soon as we saw the red lights, we covered our ears.

Once the explosions had stopped, I rushed to turn on the radio so that I could find out what the targets were.

The targets were a mosque and two adjacent multi-story buildings in our neighborhood.

At 9 pm, we were again listening to the radio news, when we heard more explosions.

The light in our apartment grew dimmer until it turned off.

My brother-in-law goes to a school each day to charge our phones and the battery for the light. But he had been unable to do so that day.

For a few minutes, there was a terrifying darkness. We could not see each other.

Then, we were surprised by a strong light coming from my dad. He had his flashlight.

Fortunately, my dad had charged it at the mosque.

We got back listening to the news.

Suddenly I felt the drone buzzing around us was flying at a very low height. It felt as if it was just over my head.

After a while, an F-16 warplane began to fly around for an hour or so until I heard six consecutive explosions. The explosions shook our apartment and lit it up.

Some shrapnel flew toward us. Some pieces of the asbestos roof fell in.

Miraculously we were not hit. From the radio, we learned that the targets were nearby houses and mosques.

Two hours later, I heard Israeli tanks starting to fire shells from one direction. Israel’s naval forces started firing from another direction.

Our rented apartment is a 20 minute walk from the beach in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

The shelling from the naval vessels got more intense and closer as the night continued. I feared that we would be struck.

After that, we could hear fighting between the Israeli military and the Palestinian resistance.

I got so scared that I imagined death was imminent. I quickly turned to the Quran seeking solace and protection.

I kept reciting verses until the neighborhood went completely quiet.

The silence didn’t take away my fear.

I continued to shiver. I was worried that my family would end up under the rubble, that we wouldn’t be able to contact emergency services for help.

I am shocked by what happened to the extended family of Fares Alghoul, a journalist I know.

He received a call about an attack on his relatives. As the internet went down moments later, he had to wait until it was reconnected the following day for further details.

Tens of his relatives were trapped under the rubble when Israel carpetbombed Beach refugee camp in Gaza City. Neighbors were unable to contact the emergency services because of the communications blackout.

Before going to bed, I performed salah for our protection and recited some prayers. It was the only way I could sleep in peace.


The internet blackout earlier this month lasted for four days.

I was very worried about my two uncles, who had stayed in Gaza City after persuading their children to move south.

I spoke with them a few hours before the internet blackout. They told me that Israel had tanks and bulldozers in their area.

Some nearby schools were stormed and the Israelis were detaining many displaced people.

The call ended abruptly. I tried to call them back but there was no reply.

Throughout the internet blackout, I prayed for my uncles’ protection. And as soon as the internet was back, I made sure to be in constant touch with them.

Their neighborhood has been bombed nonstop.

Most of the tall buildings in it have been leveled, as have many smaller houses and shops. The house where my uncles live is still standing – so far.

After four days without internet access my nephew Ahmad rushed to tell me that the networks were back in action. I immediately called one of my uncles.

It was a major relief to hear his voice.

He explained why the phone call had ended abruptly a few days earlier.

My uncle had hung up on me because the Israelis had launched an attack in the area where he was. “Miraculously, we fled the house and went to a safer place,” he said.

Those four days without internet access were the longest four days of my life. It felt like a year passed during them.

We waited anxiously the whole time for the networks to be reconnected.

Just one day after the networks were back, they were disconnected once again.

Once again, I was unable to contact my uncles.

Before the internet outage this month, I had actually found a way to beat the blackouts.

My hero Mirna El Helbawi – an Egyptian activist – has helped me and many others by obtaining eSIM cards. They mean we can use the internet via foreign internet networks.

To use the eSIM cards, I have to go into the center of Rafah. It’s about 30 minutes on foot from our apartment.

Sometimes, my parents will not allow me to go into the center of Rafah, even for work. If they hear of explosions in the area, they feel it is too dangerous.

I respect their fears.

During those four long days of the internet blackout this month, I had no choice but to wait until the networks were back.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.