Without a hint of exaggeration, over thirty Israeli warplanes loom ominously in the skies above the northern Gaza Strip. They hover so close that we can discern them with the naked eye, flying at alarmingly low altitudes. The cacophony they create is beyond imagination — a symphony of noise and pollution that induces headaches, dizziness, and ear pain, rupturing eardrums with the thunderous breach of the sound barrier. Adding to the inferno are phosphorous and smoke gas bombs, assaulting our senses, and nearly scorching our bodies.
Moreover, night after night, the relentless assault persists, characterized by countless raids and an equivalent number of victims. In this brutal theater of war, the selective amnesia of memory convinces us that such atrocities shouldn’t repeat. We previously deemed the night of the fire belt as the epitome of adversity, a harrowing experience etched in our memories from the vicinity of Bir al-Na’ja in Jabalia during Eid in 2021.
Yet, the horrors we abhor unfold with a renewed intensity — larger, more violent, and more malevolent. It’s as if they’re innovating fresh methods to assail us both psychologically and physically. The haunting repetition of the same Fire Belt plays out incessantly, spanning multiple locations. Describing the relentless bombing in this war becomes a futile exercise, surpassing the bounds of imagination.
The mechanisms of mass destruction extend far beyond the vexing aircraft missiles. Various forms of extermination manifest, including blind artillery positioned at borders, naval battleships firing shells with an unsettling lack of precision, and, with ground invasion, bullets infiltrating the battle. The repercussions of nearby clashes echo within our homes, a grim testament to the multifaceted brutality of this conflict.
In Gaza, within a community steadfastly resisting the recurrence of the tragic displacement and migration events, we witness the specter of death a thousand times each day. This unwelcome visitor arrived over a month ago, persistently choosing from among us the best, the purest, and the most beautiful souls.
It wouldn’t be truthful to claim that my presence remains unaffected each night; in reality, the core of my resilience begins to wane. This decline coincides with the bombardment of the homes of our peace-loving neighbors, individuals who staunchly resisted being displaced to the south when the occupation sought to impose such a move on residents of the north, towards the south of Wadi Gaza.
I vividly recall that day when we stood by our windows, hands on our cheeks, witnessing the unfolding tragedy of the latest Palestinian upheaval. Our faces betrayed the heaviness of our hearts, and conversation was minimal; we merely nodded in shared understanding. The palpable confusion lingered, and the recurring question echoed: What catastrophe has befallen our people? What impending disaster awaits? What future awaits us in the days to come?
May my Neighbors doesn’t become numbers
Families moved in clusters, men guiding their children, women navigating with vacant stares, burdened by small bags carrying their worldly possessions. Children swapped school bags for a handful of clothes, and young people clutched laptop bags containing seemingly worthless papers in this upheaval.
Each person walked with their gaze lowered, seeking refuge in the south (and who can blame a survivor?). Yet, it’s a scene that demands our voices to resonate worldwide.
During those moments, I found solace in the presence of my remaining neighbors, silent witnesses to the unfolding tragedy. I deliberately left my window ajar, a symbolic gesture assuring them of my solidarity. Every morning, I waved to them, a gesture conveying that I, too, shared their plight, that I would not abandon them.
However, they departed ahead of me, the narrative beginning with the crumbling of the bakery owners’ abode and business, a poignant aftermath of the bombing. From the wreckage emerged wounded individuals, survivors of the violent incident. In a melancholic symphony, the fate of the shopkeepers resonated similarly, as five of them succumbed to the unrelenting violence. Those who endured, along with the injured, were painstakingly extracted from the profound craters, the scars of the relentless bombardment that marred the market shops just opposite our dwelling.
The latest devastating blow unfurled its grim tale last night when occupying forces set their sights on the residence of our neighbors, directly across from us. Sons and daughters, women, children, and men tragiclly died. They departed ahead of me, leaving behind a void. Those who suffered injuries won’t return, for there is no sanctuary left in this place. As I ponder this desolation, a haunting question lingers: Who will extend solace to me in your absence? Where shall I find neighbors to safeguard and befriend me?
In the wake of your final voices, I grapple with the perplexity of how an eye can blink. The impending mornings cast a shadow over my room, once graced by your vibrant presence, now indelibly etched in my memory. I envision you, drenched in the vivid red hues of your blood, veiled in the luminous white of window curtains, a haunting tableau that defies the passage of time.
This is your saga, heroes, etched in the language of blood and valor. I have chosen to share it with the world, a task undertaken with profound sadness and a measure of reverence for the gravity of the circumstance. Amid this significant juncture, I refuse to succumb to silence and prostration. You, in turn, shall not be relegated to mere figures in official statistics or news tucked away in press releases.
As morning broke, we sought refuge from our fortunes, yet life stubbornly persisted in its routine. The ceaseless bombardment painted our camp as a ring of fire, each inhabitant a target within its bounds. Venturing beyond its confines became an undertaking fraught with ominous consequences. Despite the peril, we opted to remain, our collective prayers a beacon for safety.
A poignant quote by Ghassan Kanafani echoes in my thoughts: “You will not find the sun in a closed room.” I inscribed these words on the school board as the wisdom of the day, and repeatedly shared them with my students. It served as a constant reminder to them: “Open your windows, embrace life, and live in the embrace of freedom.”
I threw open my window to embrace the morning sun, rising amidst the dust of a tethered homeland whose dues are paid in blood. I nodded in acknowledgment to the bombed house before me. Amongst the ruins, I discovered a survivor, a woman, sifting through the debris for remnants of her life, only to find no trace of anything recognizable.
It baffles me how these weapons can dissolve everything—children’s lockers, rooms, kitchen utensils, and women’s clothes—all erased. The only remnants are a collection of stones, a poignant testament to a people who must once again dismantle them by hand, whether to search for the missing or rebuild.
In the shadow of bombardment, I contemplate the profound question: How do women give birth under such relentless assault?
A newborn baby under bombardment
Amidst the raging inferno, my brother braved the flames to seek an ambulance that fortuitously traversed the street. His urgent mission was to find assistance for his wife, who, in the throes of labor, was in desperate need of reaching a hospital or clinic. My uncle’s car was rendered impractical due to the shattered windows from the previous night’s bombing, and alternative transportation was a pressing concern.
Complicating matters further, the Al-Awda Hospital and the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia Camp bore the brunt of heavy bombardment, seemingly part of an effort to coerce evacuation. In this dire situation, we found a stroke of luck – a home-based obstetrician and gynecologist who was able to conduct the delivery within the confines of our home.
We joyously welcomed a beautiful baby into the world, yet they have stolen from us the customary joys of celebration. How do we mark the arrival of a baby girl born amidst the pain? What future awaits a child brimming with life in a land where the cries of children echo in horror at the looming specter of death, where monstrous entities bear explosives?
I earnestly prayed for her to witness days more beautiful than ours, shielding her from the harsh reality of an occupied land where the rights of childhood are callously stripped away.
Upon the restoration of connectivity and the Internet, I shared the news of the recent birth with my Bahraini friend, a daily source of concern and care. In return, he recounted a tale of a Sudanese friend of his, whose wife experienced the throes of childbirth under the curfew imposed by the Sudanese army following the October 1964 uprising. He talked to the soldiers stationed near his residence, and in an act of a virility, they told him that they will take him and his wife to the hospital via a tank.
Reflecting on this narrative, I couldn’t help but wish that the broader Arab populace could embrace a fraction of the generosity found in the Arab spirit, If only they could spark a revolution, an uprising capable of quelling the flames engulfing Gaza, compelling them to unite against the genocide afflicting their people.
The narrative persists, an unwavering tale, as long as a vestige of life endures and a soul within the soul prevails.
*Dr. Haya Freij is a Palestinian researcher from Gaza