Israel said the ground invasion into Gaza would be limited, which makes you think that the tanks would only advance a few meters in. That was the case for the first two days. Little did we know that Israel planned widespread ethnic cleansing and massacres. Israel’s goal was to wipe out an area, and the people who reside in it, too.
Things started escalating at around 10pm on Saturday. Israeli drones swooped down lower and started buzzing loudly. Tanks advanced. Apache helicopters and F-16 warplanes bombed and also provided cover. And then the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiya started getting hit hard.
Non-stop shelling. I heard it all from my house. I couldn’t even keep up with the number of explosions and artillery rounds.
Hundreds and hundreds of families evacuated, leaving their homes and lives behind, seeking refuge in any calmer place, even though nowhere is safe in Gaza.
They walked in the streets, holding nothing but their kids, trying to escape death. Some even climbed into the shovel of a bulldozer. Many were just wandering in the streets with no destination in mind or nowhere to go.
Huge ball of fire
Many ended up gathering at al-Shifa hospital, only to see the bodies of their relatives, neighbors and friends arrive.
I don’t know how to describe that night. I am at loss for words and out of breath. Gaza looked like a huge ball of fire as Shujaiya was being burned.
All of Gaza was under darkness. Power outages have reached twenty hours per day, or even more. We could hear the merciless attacks on Shujaiya, people screaming and fires burning.
All we had was a radio to let us know what we already knew but wanted to deny. We kept holding onto the last thread of hope until we had to face the truth: the people of Shujaiya were being butchered.
Every night we count down the hours, waiting for dawn to start breaking through, lighting up the sky and pumping Gaza with sun. But not that night. We were hoping the sun would take its time so we could delay seeing what the light would reveal.
We expected what had happened, but what the light showed was beyond devastation.
We couldn’t recognize Shujaiya. It was like a tsunami of bullets had struck the area. Or a blazing earthquake. Something natural but disastrous. But what really happened was beyond nature or even humanity. It was like the 1948 Nakba all over again, with scenes similar to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. There were flashbacks to the Cast Lead massacre of five-and-a-half years ago, too.
Civilians flee from Gaza City’s eastern Shujaiya neighborhood where more than seventy people were killed and hundreds injured by Israeli shelling on 20 July. (Ashraf Amra / APA images)
The Red Cross proposed a humanitarian ceasefire in Shujaiya so that medics could pull out the dozens of dead and hundreds of injured. Israel refused the ceasefire at first, then accepted it, and then broke it by bombing the area and opening fire on medics and ambulances.
Medics managed to pull out 72 dead Palestinians, their bodies splayed across the streets. More than four hundred injured people were taken to the hospital. Medics say that the numbers of the dead and injured may increase dramatically.
International and local journalists, medics and doctors were crying in pure disbelief. They reported seeing a massacre that can’t be unseen.
I guess we are all scarred for the rest of our lives.
Pictures of devastation and destruction were circulating from that morning on. But what was very painful, to the extent that I stopped breathing, are the pictures of parents carrying their dead and injured children while they wept in a way that could move mountains.
When will Palestinians be recognized as people? As humans? As civilians?
When will our children have human rights and be safe?
Can you imagine the devastation of a father who is holding his child dead in his hands? Can you imagine his loss? And how ashamed and guilty he feels for not being able to protect his child?
That’s why I vowed to never, ever to have children here. I will not bring them to this world and fail to protect them. I will not watch my children die. It is too painful watching other children die and their parents weep; I can’t handle going through it myself.
How could the world consider wiping out a whole area and its residents as “self defense” and “righteous?” How can children be considered “militants” and “terrorists?”
The mosque nearby started calling for a donation campaign, only to make me feel more powerless. What can you give to those who lost their loved ones, their houses and a life they once knew?
I wished I could give them my heart or ease their pain in any way, but I couldn’t, so I joined a trivial donations campaign. How can money or material things ever make up for the loss of your child?
I spent hours feeling numb, paralyzed, breathless and stunned. I couldn’t shed a tear.
And then, tears started flowing. So abundantly. They were very hot, and burned my cheeks.
On Tuesday, the Gaza-based Ministry of Health said that more than 600 Palestinians have been killed and 3,700 injured since the beginning of Israel’s ongoing offensive against the besieged Gaza Strip, including the 72 killed and 400 injured in the Shujaiya massacre.
People were showered with tank shells while they slept at home in their beds. People either fled or died under the rubble.
Farewell to humanity
As I bid farewell to my humanity and soul today, and mourn them, I bid farewell to the dead Arab nation and Arab leaders, but without mourning. Human rights organizations, as well — I bid them farewell; they have always failed to protect human rights. Reports and documents do not protect innocent children.
I also bid farewell to all aid agencies in Gaza, for using the blood of Palestinians as a propaganda stunt to collect millions in “donations.” I bid farewell to international humanity.
Omar Ghraieb is a journalist and blogger from Gaza. His blog is gazatimes.blogspot.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Omar_Gaza.