Shahd Safi, 22, is a journalist and translator in Gaza, where Israel’s “total siege” has killed more than 9,000 Palestinians and decimated residential buildings, hospitals, refugee camps and other civilian infrastructure. Amid intermittent blackouts, she shared this snapshot of a harrowing few hours on the ground. “We are being physically and mentally terrified and terrorized,” she says about this dispatch for Gaza’s residents.
Suddenly, in the evening of Oct. 31, my neighbors started running to the north. We could see them from our balcony. Some were shouting, “Escape this area now!” It seemed that our entire neighborhood was moving out at once. My uncle was confused, as we all were, but immediately he called a neighbor to understand what was happening. He was told that the IDF — or, as many of us Palestinians more accurately say, the IOF (Israel Occupation Forces) — warned that the two buildings right behind ours were going to be bombed, so we should evacuate now.
My uncle warned everyone in our building and asked them all to leave. I rushed to the living room and grabbed my emergency bag. Everyone already had on the clothes they needed. We are on 24/7 alert in our own building and for any building close by because they can be bombed at any time. If we escaped, then we would live at least another day and had clothes to wear. If we were pulled from under the rubble, at least we’d be dressed conservatively, the way we always are when we go out.
Amid all the shouting, everyone headed from the neighborhood, getting as far as possible from the doomed buildings and randomly seeking shelter. We all were scared, irritated and confused, not knowing where to go.
We are told that in order to make sure a warning call is authentic, we should ask the callers some questions and see if they respond. But we dare not trust that either. We flee.
A man — a stranger — called to us when he saw us in the street and gave us shelter in his own house. We waited hours and hours through the evening and into the night for the bombardment to begin. Yet we heard nothing. We were afraid to go back home, in case the bombs began to strike, so we slept the night in the stranger’s house. His house was in poor condition. The ceiling was sagging, and the walls were very fragile. We feared that if any bombs fell close, the whole house might collapse. In fact, the owners of the house had already evacuated, except for the man, who refused to leave no matter what. But for now, for this night, we had no other place to sleep.
In the morning, we were told that the bomb warnings that had led us to live a terrible night of fear were fake. The Israeli military often does this, using recordings to terrify and psychologically torture us. We are told that in order to make sure a warning call is authentic, we should ask the callers some questions and see if they respond. If it’s just a recording, we do not need to flee our house. But we dare not trust that either. We flee.
The next morning, we went back home to our daily boring yet exhausting routine. My brother Saleh went to the bakery, where he stood in a line of at least 200 people for three hours to pick up some rationed bread and bottled water. My mother and I washed the accumulated dishes and did the laundry with water we got from my uncle. He and his family had saved water for an emergency. My little sister Lamar swept the floor and tidied up the living room.
I love life. I don’t want to die now. There are many dreams ahead I want to pursue. I have a lot of ideas I want to present to the world. Being killed now will end my story.
Food and dry goods, indeed all the basic necessities in Gaza, had doubled in price since the borders closed. For example, some people who evacuated from the north to my grandparents’ house in the south said that everyone paid 100 shekels for the drivers; whereas, before the attack, they used to pay 20 shekels per person. One packet of flour now cost 100 shekels, where it used to be sold for only 50. Even the drinking water had doubled its price. Only small amounts were distributed for free in some mosques.
We spent the day without water, since we couldn’t fill our tanks from the mosques, and my two siblings missed the water distribution vehicles because of the huge crowds. We felt thankful and grateful that we managed to purchase bread and ate bread with cheese for lunch. We charged our phones from a nearby UNRWA school that provides only two hours of electricity per day and two hours per night with their emergency generators.
We didn’t have access to the internet, nor could we call our family members to make sure they were still alive. We realized that Israel had cut off all telecommunications once again. We were for the second time cut off from the whole planet. We were alone again — powerless and confused.
All night and day, we heard and saw the flashes of constant bombing. We knew the bombs were striking our people in their homes. We knew, also, that we could be the next targets.
I love life. I don’t want to die now. There are many dreams ahead I want to pursue: finishing my B.A., M.A., and PhD, working as a journalist and mentor, and coordinating social projects. I have a lot of ideas I want to present to the world. Being killed now will end my story. I want to pursue a full life and die in peace.
It’s now midday, 1 p.m., on Nov. 1. The internet is back.