Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Palestinian Journalist’s Account of Israel’s Gaza Offensive | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat – It was eleven o’clock in the morning and I was in my office on the ground floor of my house in the Barikat al Wazz district, which is located west of the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, going through an interview that I had conducted with an official. It was quiet, apart from a few birds that were singing in the olive tree that stands outside of my office window. Not even ten minutes had passed when I heard the sound of a huge explosion which shook the walls of the house, and shattered the windows. When I looked out of the broken window, I saw fire and clouds of smoke moving towards me. I couldn’t do anything but crouch on the floor and crawl towards the door. As soon as I closed the door behind me, a second explosion struck, and smoke filled the house obscuring everything.

My daughters, Arwa, aged three, and Inas, aged 14, were on the upper floor of the house. They began screaming and I rushed towards them. As soon as I took Arwa into my arms, a third explosion hit the area; this time it felt as if the explosion had actually hit the house. In spite of my earlier inability to take action, I tried to reassure my daughters who were clinging to me after the windows had shattered and the doors collapsed. The house began to fill with thick black smoke and we were forced to leave, stepping on glass as we made our way down towards the garden.

Ten minutes passed. I didn’t know what was happening. We soon discovered that Israeli fighter jets had dropped three one-ton bombs on an Al Qassam Brigade site that was situated no less than 200 meters from our house. The Al Qassam Brigade is the military wing of the Hamas movement.

I went to check on my son and my other two daughters who should have been on their way home from school when the Israeli attack occurred. What served to increase my concern was that a police station on their normal route home had also been bombed. I had only walked 50 meters when I saw the three of them running home. I brought them in to the house and tried to calm them down.

An hour later, I had to go to work to prepare reports on the events that had just occurred and the possible repercussions. The electricity had been cut and I had recently bought a power generator in case of situations such as this one; the only problem was that I had no fuel for it to run on. I assumed that the electricity had also been cut in Gaza City, so I did not attempt to get to my office there. In addition, the security situation and the continuous bombing meant that this would have been a deadly decision.

My brother told me that he had a friend living in the Maghazi refugee camp who had a generator that was working and who was willing to let me use it. My brother and I went to the refugee camp where I worked under great stress, phoning the house from time to time to check up on the children. I returned home in the evening after having brought a certain amount of fuel to power my own generator over the coming days after it became apparent that the power cuts would be a recurrent feature of Operation Cast Lead, which Israel had launched against the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. We had only experienced day one of this operation.

In light of the power outages, I took to making notes in the morning, while at the same time trying to follow up on Israeli military developments, and other developments in the central Gaza region, visiting areas that have been bombed and conducting interviews with the relevant people. As for the developments which occurred outside central Gaza, from which I have been cut off, I followed them via radio broadcasts as well as by speaking to people in that area by phone, making inquiries to officials and other journalists.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, I turn on the generator and begin to write the articles, while at the same time I monitor any successive developments in order to incorporate them into my work. I am forced to stop working by five o’clock in order to preserve fuel, knowing that no more fuel would be supplied to the Gaza Strip after Israel had bombed the tunnel that was being used to smuggle in fuel. On some days, electricity would be restored at one o’clock in the morning. I try to take advantage of this by writing articles, which do not pertain to daily events, in order to preserve the generator’s fuel and spare myself from the loud noise that the generator makes when it is in operation.

The complication of working under attack does not stop with power outages and the resulting difficulties. There is a feeling of vulnerability, lack of personal safety and security.

Last Friday, I visited the Shuhadaa Al-Aqsa hospital – the only hospital that serves the Palestinian population in Central Gaza Strip – in order to inspect the condition of the hospital and its ability to deal with the large number of patients wounded in the attacks.

Like most people in the Gaza Strip I do not drive my own car around for fear of being targeted, so I tried to find a taxi to take me to the hospital which is located seven kilometres away. After a long wait on Salah Addin Street, which connects the north and south of the Gaza Strip, I finally located a taxi, however the driver informed me that he would not take me all the way to the hospital but would drop me two kilometres away as he was going somewhere else. I hesitated and then accepted [his offer]. After I got out of the taxi and started walking towards the hospital, an Israeli Apache military helicopter appeared and fired a rocket at a field bordering the road that I was on. The rocket landed approximately fifty meters away from me causing a huge explosion on impact. I found myself lying on the ground praying to God. Within a matter of moments, the helicopter fired another rocket this time closer to where I was lying down; the resulting impact of the explosion covered me in dust. I remained on the ground until after the helicopter flew away, and then I continued on my way to the hospital.

The rapid succession of events on the ground makes it difficult to report on them. This is compounded by the fact that most officials from whom a journalist would ordinarily receive information have disappeared for example the ministers, government officials, and faction representatives who have all gone underground, not to mention the difficultly in obtaining accurate information from officials who have remained, particularly those in the health sector who provide journalists with different information due to the general confusion and lack of communication between the different parties involved.

The general atmosphere mood is gloomy due to fear. Even though 13 days have passed since the [Israeli] bombardment campaign begun, I have not been able to adapt to the reality of Israeli air strikes that pound people’s homes who have no connection whatsoever to the resistance. Like everybody else, I am scared that the bombs would strike my home. Whenever missiles or rockets land in the vicinity of the house, which occurs several times a day, I have to stop work to try and reassure my children.

While I was in visiting the Shuhudaa Al-Aqsa hospital, I saw rooms filled with corpses since the hospital’s morgue was full already. I saw wounded people in the throes of death due to the severity of their conditions or due to the lack of medical supplies. Along with the sorrow that afflicts my heart at I witness such scenes, I cannot help but fear for the safety of my own children.