Thursday, 7 August 2014

Gaza Diaries by Issam Sammour

19 July 2014 – Part 1

My brother Hamada, who is 22 years old, came to me and said, 'man, it's Friday, shall we go to Friday prayer at the mosque?' I was shocked and felt strange. How did I forget this day? I said to him, 'but you see the number of warplanes, you hear the heavy shells?' He smiled and said, 'man, don't be scared, it's life. If they hit us with a missile attack we die together.' I had mixed feelings about this. I hesitated wondering if it's good a time to move or not. I said to myself: 'be brave man!' I changed my clothes and we moved on together talking about the war, the situation and when it's going to be over. Imagine that there was no one was in the streets. This made me more worried. The distance between my home and the mosque is about 7 minutes walking distance. At every single moment I expected that an airstrike would kill us, but finally we arrived safely

We felt comforted as we did the prayer and went back to our home. There is no electricity at home, which is also a big nightmare for us. We can't move and it's too long a time without electricity. I told my brother, ‘we need to know what's happening. I hear bombings and ambulance sirens heading everywhere, but can't determine the places under fire.’ Meanwhile with my eyes closed, my memory was working as I saw the four children that were killed playing football at Gaza beach. They were from the Abu Baker family, all boys between 8 - 10 years old. I saw their bodies torn into small pieces.

They were killed in front of the cameras of the international media. In the news they also covered that the Israeli navy was also shelling journalists near the beach. In places you hear a big explosions followed by black smoke, children disappear on the beach, people run to the places where children were playing but there were no children. They were killed into small parts distributed everywhere in the area. Local people and journalists at the beach were screaming and crying, starting to collect the parts of their bodies. I opened my eyes, my heart had sunk. All of a sudden my youngest brother said in a loud voice that finally the power was on again. I felt l better and started to check the messages on the internet and saw the news. I started to post news and was talking to my friend asking about their safety, if anyone got killed or injured, I tweeted that a home was hit in middle area and 1 person was killed. I found out that person was one of our relatives!

19 July 2014 – Part 2

It was Ramadan. We had broken our fast while missiles were falling nearby with lights and explosions. I received a call from a friend of mine who told me that one of my mother’s relatives was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Now the mission is impossible - how do I inform her about the death of her relative? I was worried so much that I decided to inform her after discussing it with my two brothers. The time was 9 pm and bombings were taking place everywhere. We were scared to tell her about what had happened.  I know my mother, she would be mad if she knew.

Here is the thing that was not expected: my youngest brother came to my mother and said, ‘Mama Mohammed was killed in Israeli attack.’ She started screaming and crying searching for her phone to try to contact anyone to confirm the news. She talked to my aunt who said that it was true. My mother’s tears were like drops of rain on her face. I went beside her and told her: ‘Mama please pray for him. Stay strong.’ At 6 am she told me to go to the funeral with her eyes full of sadness. She asked me to put some food out for the birds on the roof. The problem was how to get up on the roof with Israeli warplanes are hovering above, scanning every single movement on the ground? 30 minutes later there was heavy shelling. Israeli forces invaded east of Khanyouins. I heard bombings that never stopped. My brother turned on the radio on his mobile and we learned that 1 person had been killed and several were injured. From my big family people gathered at the center of our family home not knowing what to do. Ambulances can't evacuate the injured due to the heavy amount of injuries near my house. Women and children were crying. No one knew if they would be killed. Everybody was in a bad mood. There was sadness all around us. Death was all around us too!

23 July 2014

It was a massive explosion. I put my fingers in my ears. My house was shaking.  There were three of us: my father, my friend and myself. Black smoke was rising, shells fell above our home; rubble. We thought it was so close and nearby to us, my heart was pounding. I reached for my phone trying to find out what's happened. I called my relative who lives near the explosion. He informed me that he didn’t know and couldn’t find out because of the lack of electricity. It's been off for the past 22 hours. I heard chaos all around - women and men screaming ‘Allah Akbar!’

My brothers turned on their radio phones to listen to the news. I could heard ambulance sirens so loud and people’s voices. I was able to recognize that people that had been injured at the targeted location. Two ambulances came to evacuate bodies of my relatives that had been killed in the airstrike while they sat in their garden. It was a very hard moment for us to know that one of our friend's, beloved one lost his/her life as non-stop airstrikes on the Gaza strip has gone on for more than two weeks. We can’t relax or sleep - all the time thinking about a truce that can end the madness. I have mixed feelings:  fear, scared, panic, optimism.

Our futures are still full of black smoke. There was a funeral that took place when we brought the bodies of our martyrs there. We prayed the AlJannaza prayer at the mosque. I saw red faces and angry eyes. I saw the tears of grown men. It was a sad moment while artillery and shelling randomly resumed.  My youngest brother said to me, ‘Issam, I count the seconds and minutes and I am scared that they will kill me at any time. I'm waiting to be murdered. I know it's sad to say this to you but they target everybody and no one safe.’ I got home and calmed him down, so he trusted me when I said to him, ‘it will pass soon and never lose hope.’

30 July 2014

In Gaza you can spend the whole day counting the deaths and injuries following the news of the humanitarian truce or the ceasefire agreement. Last night was horrible. The intensive bombardment killed around 100 people. By mid-day warplanes dropped leaflets warning residents in the area east of Khan Youins to evacuate the main street which is called Salah El Dein. Our family was very worried and trying to figure out where to go. With angry eyes full of tears my mother said, ‘Issam, I will not move from our house until my last breath!’ I went to my father to ask him to convince her to leave, because we will be bombed. I know Israeli artillery shelling is random and people can be easily murdered. My mother still insisted with a big NO! I talked to my aunt to see if she could help and make my mother understand what the results of her decision could be.  My father talked to me and told me clearly: ‘how can we move from one unsafe place to another unsafe place? At least if we die, we can die at our house and not in the streets’ - you know airstrikes hit home, hospitals, UNRWA shelters, and mosques.

So we all agreed to stay home until we received news about a ceasefire agreement. Around 10pm we went to sleep; not actually to sleep, just to rest a little. The bombings to me are waves of horror! That night the bombing party began and my brother told me that the warplanes in the sky looked like the stars. Everywhere there were warplanes hovering. Near the borders the artillery shelling was nonstop, in the darkness. We could only hear the sounds of the bombs, sounds of the warplanes, and ambulance sirens. Around 5 am we were exhausted and wanted the day to come. We finally decided to not stay at our house.

My aunt went to prepare tea for us before leaving when things went dramatically deteriorated because an airstrike hit a building very close to us and shells fell on our home. Black smoke was rising quickly. We ran to grab our bags and moved outside, shouting and screaming. In that moment we woke everybody up and left, all initially going in different directions.  I did, however, manage to control everybody. We were lucky. There were two cars for us. One was my brother’s car another was a friend’s.  Around 22 members of my family got into two cars, which were really only big enough for a few people, but in that horrible moment you don't think about this silly matter.  It's important that you run and escape from what would definite death. We drove to the Khanyouins refugee camp where my friend lives. I had phoned him to search for an apartment for us. He was trying to find one but it was an impossible mission due to the huge numbers of people of the eastern area where people that were registered as displaced. People were sleeping in the streets, on cardboard and nylon. What a miserable life. My friend was tired and decided to host a small group of us at his home.

We divided into 5 groups. Each group went to a different corner of the city. We went to the market to buy some bread and some canned goods. There were long lines of the displaced in center of the city. The crowds were in the thousands lying, walking, shopping. There were not enough supplies available; there was especially very little water. I stood for 2 hrs in the hot sun to bring back some bread for my family. Each hour one of my brothers would call me and ask how I was. How was everything and to please let them know if I had any news about a ceasefire. We were all tired and exhausted! 

This is only a glimpse of what my life is like in Gaza right now.


Bloggers Note:

All photos were taken by Issam Sammour from various locations in Khanyounis and Khuzza.

If anyone is interested in reposting this, please go a head. These should be distributed far and wide so that people can see what someone like Issam felt like during the Israeli attacks on Gaza. It must have been terrifying to say the least. But if you do repost, please make sure to credit Issam Sammour. No need to credit this blog. It's not my story.

To contact Issam, you can e-mail him at You can also find him on Twitter at @IssamSammour.