“Whatever Hell Is, This Is Worse”
March 22 2024
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Editor’s Note: The following is a transcribed testimony collected via WhatsApp messages from the author and her relatives, all of whom wish to remain anonymous.

The author’s reflections on her family members’ experiences on Dec. 7, 2023 — Deir el-Balah, Gaza

The situation is just desperate. Absolute desperation. A gallon of oil is $300. No salt. No fruits. No vegetables. No water. They [the author’s family members] buy wood for $20 a day — enough for a meal. It’s cold. They queue to charge their phones. All my mother-in-law wants is to be home. My father-in-law is sick. No doctors. No medicines. They went to buy falafel. four-hour queue. The shelling from Khan Younis reverberates and can be felt all the way to Maghazy and Deir el-Balah. The kids are wearing wet clothes.

A message from the author’s sister-in-law:

Since the bombings resumed, my every thought has been on planning our next forced displacement. The events that drove us from the north are now repeating here in the same manner. Our previous evacuation was marked by panic, which terrified the children, a mistake I can't make again. It was the most harrowing part of this war for me. My son Karim, only seven, astoundingly asked for a separate emergency bag. His mature understanding of our situation is both heart-rending and awe-inspiring.

Food supplies are dwindling. Today, Hasan, my husband, queued for four hours for gas, but to no avail. I'm stretched thin, caring for my elderly and sick parents and our children, while Hasan spends his days trying to provide for us and his family. The scarcity of aid has led to desperate struggles over water, tearing at the fragile social fabric we once had. I've heard of people nearly fighting to death over basic necessities, highlighting the inequality and chaos that have arisen.

Amid all this, I yearn for care and support myself. Your calls are my only respite, the time when I can truly be myself. Never did I imagine living through such times. With each day, the bombings seem closer, and the air is heavy with panic and foreboding. I fear that what lies ahead could be even worse. Is that even possible?

The author’s communications with her brother-in-law on Dec. 17, 2023, after a period of blackout — Deir el Balah, Gaza 

We've hit a point of complete exhaustion. There's simply nothing to eat. Even if the war were to stop right now, it almost feels meaningless. Life itself seems meaningless. Just imagine, 1.8 million displaced civilians crammed into the south, an area already densely populated. Our brains can't process it anymore — the dead bodies, the explosions, it's too much. Tensions are high; people can't tolerate each other. We've heard horrific reports from the north about people being buried alive, and women and children being detained. We're like the walking dead, devoid of life. Aid is scarce, and by the time we get any, we're buying it ourselves.

Daily, there are fights for food and water. Crime has surged in this new, chaotic environment. There's no police, no security. Usually, there would be some order maintained during war, but now there's only chaos, no law and order. It feels like we're caught in a complex, unfamiliar game. If they opened Rafah, everyone would flee instantly. There are no words left to describe our plight. Our only pastime has become looking at the stars, when they're visible, and queuing for aid. The constant buzz of the zanana [drone] is unbearable. You don’t understand, it eats at my bones. It’s so loud, constantly interrupting sleep and conversation. It’s like someone shouting over you alllll the time. Yet, we find ways to cope. We joke, we sing. It's grim, and we know it might take years for people to return home, for hospitals and schools to function again. There’s a sense of hope about returning home, but the path to recovery is daunting. We need to conserve energy for what comes next —— you know how they say “after-party”? Yeah, what comes next is the after-party. 

Where I'm staying now, we have nothing — no food, no electricity, no water. The effort to find and break wood for fire, just to eat something, is backbreaking. Even basic needs like using the bathroom become a challenge without water. The relentless task of maintaining a fire is the most draining thing. I've been using garlic cloves to treat my fever and flu because medicine is nowhere to be found.

Yes, I still hold onto hope. This war has progressed through many phases, and now we're in this brutal stage of survival. In the beginning, when I was home, it was different. If we were all home, half the mental pressure would be gone. Being displaced is the hardest part. We're all in the south now, where space is severely limited, and we don’t know anyone. Unlike the north, there are only low-rise buildings here, incapable of housing so many people. If they had moved us to the north or to Gaza City, it might have been easier. Most of the large businesses and important infrastructure are in the north and the city, not here in the middle and the south. At least there, we wouldn’t be struggling just for food. But much of that [the north and Gaza City] has been destroyed. 

A message from the author’s sister-in-law via WhatsApp on Jan. 5, 2024, after forced evacuation from the Maghazi camp in Deir el Balah

​​The [Israeli] army has reached us, and we had to go to the school. There's no way out, neither to Deir el-Balah nor Rafah. It's the First Girls' primary school in Al-Maghazi.

I talked with Saeed, he's trying to reach someone with a car, but the phone connection is terrible. If we have a chance to move by a donkey cart, we won’t hesitate. The main thing is to get out.

We are sitting all day in the square now. We are in the school. There's no way to move. It’s not safe.

It's very tough. Now we are sitting on the stairs with the kids and dad and mom, waiting for dawn. When the army reached Aunt Samia's house, they separated the women and arrested the men.

They didn't manage to get out. The army didn't warn them. May God protect and save them.

They took all the young men in the building, Uncle Abu O., his sons, and those staying with them. May God protect them.

Your cousin Mahmoud is with us, but his daughters are with their mother in the house where they detained the women. He's trying to get in touch for his daughters' sake, but no news.

A message from the author’s brother-in-law via WhatsApp on Jan. 11, 2024. The message relayed news about the brother-in-law’s maternal aunt and uncle who remained in the north, in Gaza city. 

An Israeli airstrike in the Shujaiya neighborhood killed three of Uncle Khalil’s children in Nov. 2023.

Uncle Khalil will be staying at our house in Gaza City since his house was bombed.

Aunt Samia’s sons and husband were detained in early January 2024 by Israeli soldiers in Maghazy. They were released two days later. Aunt Samia is 80 years old.

Aunt Samia's sons are being mistreated, they have been stripped… just like in the videos you've seen on social media. The women were released, but Auntie Samia lost all her gold during that long walk [from Maghazy to Rafah].

The author’s reflections on Feb. 13, 2024 

In the tent in Al Mawasi [in the south of Gaza]… just dire, dire, dire conditions. Hell, really. Mental health is really, really at its worst. Even on the phone, there’s not much to say. The problem is medical care. They’re all so sick, each with their different symptoms between tooth infections, prostate, hearing aids, and severe diarrhea, any medicine or care is obviously nonexistent. The daily chores are weighing his sister down. It’s just, whatever hell is, this is worse. It is just a very desperate situation.

We are desperate to get them out. But it’s not so simple or straightforward.

From the same blog series: Genocide In Gaza, Letters from Gaza
Bread of Taboon by Sliman Mansour 1983 - Purchased by Liberation Graphics, hosted by the Palestine Poster Project
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Poster from The Palestine Poster Project Archives. Artist Unknown
Mariam Mohammed Al Khateeb
Artwork: "Perseverance" by Sliman Mansour
Deema Dalloul
Rafah. Credit: Mohammed Talatene/dpa/Alamy Live News
Deema Dalloul
Artwork: Sliman Mansour
Deema Dalloul
Yumna Hamidi

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