For now, we just survive

The sun rises over Gaza

The sun rises over Gaza, giving respite from the wretched nights.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 1, Saturday 7 October

Six-thirty AM and sounds begin to creep in, sounds I had been dreading. I wake my wife, telling her that something feels wrong.

An uneasiness begins to creep in, filling every part of my body. Worry, fear and anxiety immediately become feelings that I am going to have to get accustomed to.

What should have been a normal day changes in an instant. Phones begin to ring looking for my brother and father. We need to stick together.

Somehow, despite it all, we manage to keep a positive attitude.

Not enough beds in my apartment in Beit Hanoun, not enough food, and no electricity. Four hours a day is all we get.

The shadow of death slowly begins to lurk around everyone here. No one should ever experience the fear that comes with the possibility of losing their life in an instant and at any moment.

My wife is pregnant. She cries at the sound of every explosion.

Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

People in silhouette carrying bags from a damaged building.

As the situation gets worse, people hunt for supplies wherever they can find them.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 2, Sunday 8 October

We had five hours of broken sleep.

We were interrupted constantly by the sounds of bombing throughout the night, filling every inch of your body with a chilling anxiety. Back to sleep we go, thankful to be still alive.

My brother tries to comfort my wife. As long as you still hear the bombing, he tells her, it means you are ok, you are still alive.

How many more days of this? It feels like we’re going to be trapped in our homes for a while.

Our relatives in Beit Hanoun receive a mass message ordering all residents to evacuate. They pack as many of their possessions as they can in whatever bags they have.

On foot, they leave in their thousands, looking for safety. History has taught us that nowhere is safe.

In a few hours the sun will set, and fear of the night begins to creep in again. I feel vulnerable and hopeless.

At 8:00 PM, darkness has fallen. There is not a single sound in the streets other than the neighbor’s generator and the buzzing of Israel’s military drones above.

It is eerie and abnormal. There is something about night that slows down time. This night in particular.

There is no comforting sound of a passing car or the random chit-chat of neighbors. Just silence.

Two men, in a manicured backyard, talking

Talking, waiting, fearing. 

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 3, Monday 9 October

We slept just four hours. We are still breathing.

Days like this remind us both of the fragility of life and the gift of life. Nothing seems to matter anymore, we only want to live.

As the morning hours pass, we hear news of another bloody massacre in a busy shopping district in Jabalia.

Nowhere is safe anymore. Beit Hanoun has evacuated, al-Rimal is ordered to evacuate. The bombing is coming closer and closer.

Are we next to evacuate? Our minds are racing, where would we go? What would we do? Will we survive? What about our homes?

And the car? The dog? The chickens?

What is happening?

Only three days.

The TV blares out news non-stop.

A night like no other. One blast after another lights the sky orange. The most prestigious and upscale neighborhoods in Gaza have been completely obliterated.

No one can believe this. I lie on the bed anxious just to see the next day. I feel a true sense of devastation.

As the clock ticks toward midnight, a few raindrops fall, to give us a brief respite from the trauma of this human catastrophe.

Rain is a blessing. On cloudy winter days, when the skies open, we always stick our heads out of the window to embrace the joy of water landing on parched ground.

But not tonight.

Have some hope


A heap of garbage lies in an empty street

As Israel’s indiscriminate bombing continues, all municipal services are canceled and no one picks up the garbage. 

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 4, Tuesday 10 October

We barely got any sleep.

We made breakfast. preparing for yet another day hostage in our own homes.

Just another day.

My wife takes a call from her mother in the other room while the rest of us sit down to watch the news.

There it is! The moment I have been dreading most. We have been ordered to evacuate the building.

The morning’s brief calm turns to panic. My father screams at us to evacuate. “Everyone is running in the streets,” he says.

My senses heightened, I grab my laptop, run to my apartment, adjacent to my brother’s in the same building, and grab the bag we had packed on day one in preparation for this moment.

Passports, my wife’s gold, some cash, and a few items of clothing. We take only the necessities. We are ready in an instant.

As we make our way to the stairway, everyone is running, screaming, frantic, lost, in a daze.

Run for your life.

As we exit the building, there’s an explosion just 50 meters away on al-Mina harbor.

We get in the car. My father takes the wheel and speeds right out of the building, heading to our family’s restaurant, where relatives, who evacuated their homes in Beit Hanoun, has sought refuge.

Distraught faces, worried looks, and unfathomable fear.

I am experiencing my first major war. For my relatives, it is their fourth.

All the trauma of the past can be seen in even their most inconspicuous of expressions.

An hour later, a friend of my father arranged for us to shelter at the UN Development Programme offices in Gaza, where my father had previously worked.

We need hope.

A pallet loaded with food parcels arrives at a UN building

Food aid arrives at a UN office as Israel cuts off water, food, electricity and fuel supplies.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 5, Wednesday 11 October

Israel has the right to defend itself, they keep telling us, those wise heads in warm studios around the world.

Is this what self-defense looks like? Flattening entire buildings on the heads of entire families?

Massacre after massacre after massacre.

When will this stop? How much can we endure?

The electricity has officially been cut off. All Gaza’s entry and exit points are closed. Nothing comes in. Nothing goes out.

Water is running scarce, groceries are running scarce, prices are going up. Catastrophic.

Our mental states remain relatively okay. But like every day, we swing from worried, to scared, to present and smiling, to fearful for our lives.

When war starts, everyone prepares for the moment they fear as much as the order to evacuate.

Mine comes today. A message pops up: “Coach,” it says. “Salma al-Atrash is a martyr.”

A cold, empty feeling consumes my entire being.

Salma was a gem of a little human being, a beautiful 12-year-old soul who radiated nothing but positivity and hope. She brought endless excitement to tennis practice.

The last time I saw Salma, she was crying because she had lost a game. Then she wiped away her tears and readied herself for the next challenge.

Her chance at life – her chance of life – has been snatched away. Her dreams have been erased.

I am not sure if I can ever go back to coaching tennis again.

Salma, I hope you rest in peace.

Death is all around us, hovering around like killer bees waiting to give that killer blow. Many experience death in ways 100 times more traumatic and daunting than what I went through with the loss of Salma. I can only imagine what it’d be like.

We are being massacred, slandered and dehumanized, just “human animals” that deserve to die.

Our crime: We want nothing but to live free from the ugliness of war and its brutal consequences. We want to live free from occupation, free from oppression, free from the idea that this will one day happen again.

It’s only day five. How much more? How much longer?

Someone please feel something! No one seems to care for the lives of 2.3 million people caged in Gaza.

Men walk past a building completely destroyed in an airstrike

The destruction is total.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 6, Thursday 12 October

I can’t stop watching the news. Looking for a glimmer of hope, waiting to hear the word “ceasefire.”

This is a day of massacres. Family after family disappears under the wreckage of their homes. Israel’s bombing campaign is indiscriminate.

The burnt flesh of innocent lives is extracted from beneath the rubble. Entire families are wiped out.

Some families have a single survivor. A father loses all his children, kids lose their parents. Loss and grief all over the place.

That empty feeling of loss touches me again today. A journalist, Ali Jadallah, whom I have met and chatted with several times, loses five members of his family.

I speak with my father about this thing that comes with living in Gaza, about being from and not living here for a while.

The 2021 Israeli assault on Gaza left more than 250 dead, a catastrophic loss of life.

But then, I had been living abroad for more than a decade. The circle of people I was familiar with was small.

Now, having lived here for two years – I’ve got to know many people – the circle expanded.

I’m more vulnerable. That’s the cost of living in Gaza.

The night has come and things aren’t looking better. The Israeli military is threatening to erase yet more buildings. We hear they are targeting something less than a kilometer south from the UNDP HQ. We prepare for the bombing.

Stay strong. Be patient. Be hopeful.

One can’t help but wonder, when this is all over, how will life continue? How?

Life was bad enough before the war. There were no economic possibilities, no jobs, rampant poverty. Imagine the situation after this war.

A child and two women with bags sit in the back of a car.

We have to evacuate again, heading south, with what little we brought with us.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 7, Friday 13 October

Today, I truly feel terrorized. I feel erased, empty, scared shitless, on the brink of emotional collapse. I am woken at 1:00 AM by my father, in a tone of voice that tells me everything I need to know. Something is very wrong.

The news: We need to evacuate. Everyone in Gaza has to go.

My mind is racing in a million directions. Everything feels unreal.

A nightmare, I usually wake up from. There is no waking up from this. I slap my own face. Wake up, please wake up. To no avail. It’s all real.

I wake up my wife, then my brother. Get ready. We’re going.

In the hall of the UNDP’s headquarters lie the entire UN staff and many foreigners, all frantically trying to understand what’s going on. Do we leave? Do we stay?

Many say, with sincere conviction, they will stay put and die valiantly, rather than be scattered around looking for safety yet again.

A hoax others say.

The idea of staying gives me relief, but the possibility that the news is even a fraction real fills me with renewed fear.

I can’t collapse. I have to be strong.

A few hours pass and the news keeps getting more real. Al Jazeera finally confirms the evacuation order. It’s time. We pick ourselves up, and screw up our courage to keep us going during this hell.

6:00 AM. We’re on our way. Where? Not a clue.

Thirty minutes later we arrive at a massive training facility run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Khan Younis. Not a chance we can stay here, my father says.

Minutes later and we’re separated. My brothers and my father head one way, my wife and I another.

We find a small apartment that sways whenever a bomb goes off. Keep moving. Nowhere is safe!

By the end of the night, we are reunited with my father and youngest brother. A huge relief not having to worry about their safety. We live together. We die together.

We’re breathing. We’re alive.

A man sleeps on a mattress on the floor

My brother rests after yet another evacuation.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 8, Saturday 14 October

The thing about these kinds of experiences is that tomorrow is always unpredictable. We are robbed of the ability to be patient and wait in place. We are robbed of any feeling of safety.

As I take my first breath this morning, I am thankful to be alive. Then my mind drifts to what will happen today.

The Canadian embassy calls my youngest brother telling him that we can head to the Rafah border crossing.

But only my wife and I have our passports. My father and my brothers had left everything back in Beit Hanoun. No one imagined that it would come to this.

My youngest brother understands that he has to take a leap of faith and risk his life. He has to get the passports. He has to get his fiancée who’s stuck in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which refused to evacuate.

Pacing and heart racing, I can’t sit or eat. I am worried to death about my brother and father. Please make it back alive. Entering Beit Hanoun at this time is fatal.

A few hours pass, and they’re back in one piece. With them are my brother’s fiancée, my other brother and his wife, and my nephew with the wife of my brother who’s in Canada.

We’re ready to make a run for it.

As the nerves settle, I see my father like I’ve never seen him before, in a state of pure horror.

“I never felt like this before,” he said. We entered a literal ghost town.

Not a single human was there. We jumped over the wall of the house since we couldn’t open the door, and entered through a window broken in the bombardment.

He tells me of their panic. We ran frantically looking for our things. Every minute that passed felt like an hour. We couldn’t get the thought of death out of our head.

As we left the house, we took two white shirts to wave out of the car window. Please don’t kill us.

On the way out, bombs went out all around them.

I want my music books, my Chopin nocturnes and waltzes, my Bach. My piano.

As the thought of leaving begins to creep in, thousands of emotions flood over me. The things you leave behind. The people you’ll worry to death about. The new apartment I never got to live out my dreams in with my wife.

My hopes.

We all have our documents now. We’re still breathing, so that’s a good thing.

A ground invasion has been announced for tomorrow. Will we leave? Will we live? I go to bed in the hope that I will wake up tomorrow, that I will still be breathing.

People gather around a horse-drawn car delivering water

Water is scarce. There are hour-long queues for bread. There is no fuel or electricity.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 9, Sunday 15 October

Just before we slept last night, my brother’s wife broke down in tears over the loss of her sister’s daughter.

Death is getting closer and closer. Every new day only brings new fears.

As the sun rises, the wretched fear of the night lifts. I am thankful to be alive.

We are in Khan Younis in the south. But we will likely be stuck here. The Rafah border is closed. Thousands camp out waiting for an opportunity to escape.

The living situation is becoming more and more dire with every passing day. There are hours-long queues for bread. A true humanitarian nightmare is unfolding right in front of our eyes. To us. Never in my life did I imagine that we’d be rationing water and bread.

It is sad it has come to this. But for the rest of the world, this is “self-defense.”

From a window, smoke can be seen rising in the distance

A view from a window. There is the sound of regular explosions, and the constant whirring of drones in the sky.

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 10, Monday 16 October

I wake up at the crack of dawn as our hosts prepare for Fajr (early morning) prayer only to overhear talk of a new massacre, and the obliteration of multiple neighborhoods in Gaza City.

As I try to drift back to sleep I hear the commanding voice of Abu Yaser, the elder of the house and our host: “You know, the best thing that could happen to anyone right now, is death.”

It has gotten to this, I think, where the living begin to wish they are dead in a desperate attempt to escape the emotional distress and psychological terrorism inflicted on us by the Israeli occupation.

We are desperate for any news about the border opening or signs of a humanitarian ceasefire. But it only leaves us more anxious and worried. Humanitarian aid awaits at the Egyptian border for Israeli permission to enter, but no permission comes.

This denial punishes us all. It starves the civilian population, makes the transportation systems grind to a halt, and robs the injured of any chance at life.

Our hope is dwindling as night approaches. We feel desperate.

No showers. Little water. Little bread.

No aid. No one hears us. No one sees us. Just another statistic.

Chopin nocturnes play in my ear. They give me a little solace, enough to keep me going.

A girl stands on a balcony looking back

Sheltering at an UNRWA school in Khan Younis. 

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 11, Tuesday 17 October

Another massacre.

An explosion startles us in our place of refuge in Khan Younis. My wife is tired. I am tired. Everyone around me is tired.

I reach for Chopin in my mind to help me push through the day.

There is a thing about the Israeli army, which often gets buried under the heavy weight of death. It’s the terror it inflicts on the population, not with the bombs dropped on us from far above, but from the noise and constant buzzing of fighter planes and killer drones. This engenders a constant feeling of insecurity.

It makes everyone feel targeted.

Anytime I see a civilian house obliterated, I think, that could be me. Today it could be me, or my relatives, or my friends. I am in a frenzied state of constant anxiety and worry.

At any moment, we could be that next massacre on TV, for the rest of the world to see.

For the world to invoke “self-defense.”

I don’t know how much longer this will last.

A man cries, looking into the middle distance

Consumed by worry over his sister, a man breaks down in tears. 

Mahmoud Nasser

Day 12, Wednesday 18 October

Five hundred dead! The saddest and most horrific day of all.

Hospitals are targets. Israel has gone completely genocidal.

I can’t believe what has happened. No one can. As soon as the news breaks, everyone is in a state of complete shock.

We sit around, almost 15 of us, not uttering a word.

Things are getting so bad. I am not sure who we plead to, or what to do.

For now we just survive.

Mahmoud Nasser is a Gaza-based photographer and writer.