Terror in Tower 8

Following Israeli airstrikes, Palestinians walk through debris littering a street in the al-Karama district of Gaza City on 11 October. (Naaman Omar / APA Images) 

For many years I have lived with my family in the neighborhood of al-Karama, northwest of Gaza City. It is about 1 kilometer from the coast.

In our neighborhood, we had 13 eight-story buildings all lined up next to each other, each building with about 30 apartments. It was a neighborhood full of shops and homes.

Then, on 8 October, Israeli jets attacked our street without warning and while we were still at home.

The explosions seemed endless.

They targeted the al-Kahlout family’s multistory building with numerous consecutive missiles. Throughout the attack, I estimated that Israel fired over 100 missiles, if not more.

I lived through Israel’s August 2021 war on Gaza and, until now, that was the worst experience I had ever endured in my 30 years. I didn’t think I could bear to ever hear another missile again.

But during this October attack, I heard new, horrific sounds that were unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

I broke down and wept uncontrollably. I was absolutely terrified.

I am still in shock that I survived this massacre.

Three hours of continuous attacks

We fled to my brother’s home in the al-Nasr neighborhood, which we thought might be safer than ours in al-Karama.

On 10 October, around 6 PM, we went back to our home to fetch some belongings and important papers. As we waited outside for a taxi to take us back to my brother’s apartment, the Israeli jets returned, around 8 PM.

They bombed the neighborhood again, and without warning.

We went back inside our building and sat alongside each other in the doorway of our apartment, believing it to be the safest spot in the building. A few of our neighbors were also seated in their doorways, and still others remained in their homes or congregated close to the building’s entrance.

The bombings continued nonstop for three hours.

I heard glass windows crack and shatter, shrapnel fly through the air, and women and children crying as the bombs were dropped on top of our neighbors’ homes.

I shriveled from fear. I couldn’t stop crying.

My heart pumped as hard as it could and I felt a deep pain in my stomach out of fear.

Then, I felt the two explosions above us.

All roads to al-Karama destroyed

I thought this was the end.

I covered my head and locked my hands over my ears.

A few minutes later, I opened my eyes and was surprised that my parents and I were still alive, despite the nearby shrapnel from the explosion.

We hugged each other and felt relief, but only briefly, as the sounds of sobbing and screaming reached us from upstairs.

Our neighbors raced upstairs to the upper floors. We followed them, using the flashlights on our phones.

The sight before us rendered me speechless.

The two top-floor apartments had been demolished, their inhabitants trapped under the rubble. I heard voices cry for help.

Our neighbors rescued individuals from under the wreckage. Some suffered minor wounds, others bled heavily.

A neighbor who is a nurse administered first aid as we waited for ambulances to arrive.

Another neighbor was able to connect to the internet and call a friend to ask him to send for help.

Yet the medics communicated that every road leading to our area had been bombed and was unnavigable.

At that point, we felt isolated and helpless as we tended to our injured neighbors. All we could do was wait.

Our neighbors in Tower 7

Thirty minutes later, four more Israeli strikes hit. The explosions were so close to our building that the sounds pierced my eardrums.

Even more windows shattered at the building’s entry, and shrapnel again went flying.

The sounds of crying all around me. I prayed and recited verses from the Quran to shield us from harm.

Some women from another building arrived at ours. They said that Tower 7 had been struck, and they asked to shelter in our building.

Of course we invited them in. Women cradled their children in their arms, while other kids rested on their parents’ shoulders.

Many were barefoot, in pajamas. Women had not had time to put on their headscarves.

In some, the terror was conveyed by their trembling voices and their pale faces.

Children shook in fright, and their faces were frozen in shock.

The sounds of the explosions and glass shattering soon overtook all other sounds.

I could only see mouths moving, and I knew they were praying for protection.

Evacuation after midnight

A woman rushed up to us, screaming, and asked our neighbor – the nurse – to help her wounded boys.

The nurse came back with news of what she had seen in the other building. Dozens were dead, many others were bleeding out.

The injured came into our building out of fear that theirs would be hit again. The nurse tended to those that she could, while others breathed their last breaths while asking for aid.

After many hours of being trapped in the neighborhood, the International Committee of the Red Cross finally reached us. They helped us evacuate to a school run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) that was a kilometer away.

While leaving the building, we could hardly breathe due to the remnants of the bombs.

It was after midnight, and I couldn’t see the extent of destruction in the neighborhood.

The next day I returned with photojournalist colleagues, and I immediately started crying. The neighborhood was a burning block of embers, a ghost town devoid of life.

Our building, Tower 8, was uninhabitable. The upper floors were entirely destroyed, as was our apartment, and some looked entirely burnt.

The windows and doors of the grocery store on the lower floor had been shattered. And Tower 8 itself was leaning, liable to collapse at any time due to the ongoing airstrikes.

The neighboring Tower 7 appeared to be split in two after being struck with missiles. Many other towers had been reduced to debris.

I could barely recognize the area. It had been erased.

Everything I had known in the past 12 years was gone: the pharmacy, dentist, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, mosques.

Entire blocks had been leveled, with no buildings remaining. Even the street itself was no longer a street.

My neighborhood was gone.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.