‘Here I am, Being Displaced by the Same Army, but on a Donkey’
November 29 2023

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcribed testimony collected via WhatsApp messages from the author's relatives, all whom wish to remain anonymous. 

Conversation with the author’s brother-in-law on Nov. 3, 2020 — Remal, Gaza City (on WhatsApp): 

We feel like rats trapped in a cage. Gaza City is completely sealed off, with no one allowed to leave, and it seems like they're planning to bomb it heavily. Al-Shifa [hospital] is in a terrible state — a literal mess. The sewage is overflowing, and the flies are enormous, like "bodybuilders;" they're everywhere. When you try to swat them, they hardly budge because they're so big and numerous. The constant sound of the drone, the zanana, is loud and ever-present in the sky. Our meals are simple: cheese, bread, cucumber, zaatar, and on a good day, we might have tea or Nescafé. That's all we get. We're starting to learn the sounds of new bombs, ones we weren't familiar with before. Even as we hear the loud bombing in the background, we talk about our last good memories. The other day, before all this, while having crab, fresh shrimp, and squid, we were saying how Gaza is the best place, jokingly adding, "Except during war." It feels like we're just waiting for our turn now.

Conversation with brother-in-law via WhatsApp on Nov. 4, 2023 — Remal, Gaza City 

Indeed, the al-Shifa [hospital]/Remal area is being bombarded relentlessly, and with white phosphorus — it's a nightmare. But what's even more shocking is what's happening among families there. They're fighting over water. This is serious because, in Palestinian communities, people are known for their generosity and close ties. To see them now fighting over something as basic as water shows just how extremely difficult the situation has become. Water has become a luxury, and its lack-there-of is ripping apart the fabric of our lives. It’s a grim new chapter in this war, hitting people where it hurts the most.

Evacuating south

A conversation with the author, her brother-in-law, and her husband via WhatsApp on Nov. 9, 2023, after the family arrived in Deir el Balah from Remal.

I couldn't sleep the night before making the journey from Gaza City to the south. Throughout the night, there was fighting at our front door. Nightmares of the soldiers at our doorstep haunted me. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming. I was exhausted and had only had intermittent slumber, jolted awake by gunshots, grenades, and explosives.

The following afternoon, we managed to leave the house after securing a car. It took us as far south of Gaza city as possible, and then we started our long journey on foot. 

Later, we found a donkey with a cart, which we rode for about 30 minutes. Then we resumed walking without an end in sight.

At some point, we reached a junction with thousands of Palestinians, arms raised in a show of surrender, holding our IDs in one hand. Despite the strain on our arms, we continued to do this for around 30 minutes because everyone else did so.

Then we were stopped. In the distance, an Israeli tank loudly addressed us through a microphone.

The first group was allowed through a makeshift checkpoint marked by a massive tank. More tanks were visible further away. The second group, which we were part of, was halted. I was terrified, having never witnessed anything like this. To our right, we could hear the sounds of distant fighting.

The Israelis were making room for a convoy of 12 tanks. We were stunned by the sight, having never seen anything like it. Soldiers were inside the tanks, not on the ground. A Merkava tank and Israeli flags adorned the war vehicles on a distant hill.

A woman in front of me was praying, visibly terrified and shaking. I reassured her, saying they were more frightened than us.

Then, a soldier's voice rose from the tank: "Anyone with information about the hostages, come forward." The woman started crying, insisting she knew nothing. I tried to soothe her, telling her not to worry as nobody had accused her.

The scene around us was horrific: disintegrated bodies, body parts, an overwhelming smell. We saw children's clothing among the dismembered remains. The stench from the wadi (valley) was suffocating, and we endured it for two hours of walking.

Eventually, we took a break on a donkey cart, smoked a cigarette, and your mother rested. We then met journalist friends who drove us the final 10 minutes to al-Bureij.

The situation reminded me of a Mahmoud Darwish book, where he discusses his displacement in 1948 by Israel from his northern village on trucks. Here I am in 2023, displaced by the same army, but on a donkey. What kind of world is this?

Your father and mother were incredibly resilient. But your mother finally broke down, feeling safe enough to do so. It's astounding how the fear for your life propels you to keep going for hours with backpacks and luggage, especially considering your elderly parents. This is terror. Why this slow death? Why like this?

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