Running for their lives

Israel behaves as if it has a license to kill civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure in Gaza City. (Khaled Daoud / APA Images) 

As Gaza City came under a fierce Israeli attack once again this week, my sister Tasneem and her family were forced to leave the neighborhood of al-Sabra.

“We fled in the middle of the night with shrapnel flying everywhere,” Tasneem said. “Everyone was fleeing.”

The scene was distressing.

“It was painful to see an elderly woman fall from her wheelchair, while she was being pushed along an uneven road,” Tasneem said.

“None of us could grasp what was happening,” she added. “No one knew where they were going.”

“Everyone was in a state of panic.”

My sister’s children carried school bags on their backs. Instead of textbooks, the bags contained a few clothes and other essentials.

Mariam, 5, fled with some new dresses that her mother had bought her just a few days previously. Mariam had lost all her clothes when Israel bombed the family’s home in Shujaiya, another area of Gaza City.

Ali, 7, held the hand of an older sister. “Are we going to die?” Ali kept asking.

Shahd, 18, is both my niece and my best friend. Despite experiencing terrifying nights before now, she never felt closer to death than on this occasion.

“The bombardment was so strong that I woke up and raised my hands above my head,” she said. “I felt the ceiling was about to collapse and I was trying to protect myself.”

“I looked out the window and saw people running for their lives,” she added. “One of them was a woman limping as she had twisted her ankle.”

“Her three sons walked ahead of her and she kept calling out to them, ‘Wait for me.’ They told her they wouldn’t leave her alone.”

Parents had to call out for their children, “checking on them one by one,” Shahd said. It was completely dark and the bombing grew increasingly intense.

Shahd left behind her new sneakers, her unfinished drawings and a book her uncle had given her for Eid.

After being displaced from Shujaiya, she had taken some steps toward piecing together a new life. Now she is back to square one again.

No warning

Israel gave no warning before it attacked al-Sabra and other parts of Gaza City this week.

Israel has not been giving any warnings to people in the northern part of Gaza – including Gaza City – for some time.

Back in October, Israel declared all of northern Gaza – including Gaza City – a combat zone. It appears to have interpreted that declaration as a license to kill civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure.

I talked to my sister by phone the day before she had to flee this week. She asked me to send her a recipe for Eid cookies via text message.

Tasneem did not have internet access. It costs a dollar to have an hour of internet access in northern Gaza now.

She told me that her kids were craving cookies.

Eid had come and gone.

And Israel is imposing starvation on Gaza’s people, especially in the north.

My sister had obtained the ingredients for Eid cookies at great difficulty. But she had to leave them behind at the home of relatives, when they were forced to evacuate from there.

Her children were unable to get cookies after that because of the Israeli occupation.

My sister and her children have had to flee on a number of occasions.

They survived Israel’s invasion of al-Quds Hospital in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City.

They survived massacres in Shujaiya.

They survived massacres in al-Rimal, another part of Gaza City.

They survived massacres of people waiting for aid.

They have stayed alive despite how hunger stalks Gaza.

I asked my brother-in-law this week if the family had now been uprooted 20 times.

“We have stopped counting,” he replied.

Will Gaza’s people continue to be displaced over and over again?

For almost 220 days now, nobody in Gaza has felt safe.

Where will Tasneem and her family flee next time?

And will they still be able to survive?

Sondos Alfayoumi is a writer and translator in Gaza.