Letters From Gaza
Gaza has gone dark. With the power plants shut down, even the last vestiges of electricity—car batteries, personal generators—are running out. The internet has been cut, and now, with the Israeli government poised to expel Al Jazeera, one of the few media outlets with a presence in Gaza, communications from the strip, already chillingly few and far between, may cease altogether. As the Israeli military prepares to ramp up its genocidal assault on Gaza, every message that Palestinians manage to transmit may be the last.
The team at The Institute for Palestine Studies has been translating and publishing these messages so that the world can see the humanity buried under the rubble, and the spirit of resistance that has, does, and will continue to animate the Palestinian struggle.
We are publishing some of the letters for the readers of the Youth Wave.
October 11, 2023.
trans. Islam Khatib.
Sama Hassan is a writer from Gaza.
With a voice tinged with both fear and anticipation, my daughter tells me: “I wish we could go back to the time before Sunday, before the new war on Gaza began.” I did not share this desire completely, I had mixed and contradictory feelings. This time, I am resolved to stay strong and steadfast. During previous wars on Gaza, I would frequently let out cries of despair, filling the world with wails and sobbing, holding onto the hope for a miracle that might allow me to leave until the situation stabilizes, even if it seemed impossible. But, my connection to this place runs deep. To leave Gaza is akin to a soul being torn from its body.
I’ve lived in this six-story residential building for over a year now, with each floor housing three compact apartments occupied mostly by young families and newlyweds. As a result, my interactions with my neighbors have been largely formal, limited to brief greetings in the elevator or at the building’s entrance.
These days, I’ve started to feel a need for company and an urgency to ensure that my family and I aren’t alone in the building. In the initial days after relocating from southern of the Strip to central Gaza, I was consumed by a sense of alienation that was almost unbearable. A woman in my fifties, I wanted safety and peace of mind, avoiding extensive social interactions. My life narrowed to the practice of a few routines and the conversations with a few individuals. I did however have one friend in this building, an elderly neighbor. She seemed weary of life and showed little interest in anything beyond sharing a cup of bitter coffee with me while she reminisced about old Palestinian customs and lamented how today’s younger generation, whom she considered spoiled and indolent, had altered them.
Whenever the sounds of bombs amplify in the distance, I would try to encourage and remind my children that our situation is similar to that of the other families who reside on other floors in the building. While our apartment was nestled in the middle floors, there were those who live on the top floor of the building, on the roof. The roof is also where some residents spend social nights and quality time with loved ones among beds of plants spread across the space.
The bombing has not stopped.
And now, there is a strange scent permeating the air, reminiscent of pure alcohol. I was unsure of its origin, but it’s causing us to sneeze and cough. After checking Facebook, I suspect it might be the smell of white phosphorus. It descended forcefully, much like rain, as it struck somewhere near my building complex.
In this war, you’re constantly learning and experiencing new realities. It dawned on me that, during this aggression, my children and I were the only ones left in this building. We were jolted awake in the middle of the third night of war by a warning of an impending bombing to a neighboring mosque, prompting us to hastily evacuate our flat. As we rushed down the building’s stairs, it became clear that we were its sole inhabitants; the other residents had sought refuge with their extended families elsewhere, seeking comfort in each other’s company during these harrowing times. No one had informed me.
Families with children had also chosen to return to the homes of grandparents and relatives, especially those who lived on lower floors or the ground floor and did not have to experience the hindrance of long staircases as they escaped. Living on higher floors had proven to be the less favorable choice in these circumstances. To live in a smaller house in the camp, for instance, makes it easier to quickly slip out to the street. Given the absence of shelters and safe havens, the streets had often become the preferred refuge from the bombings. My neighbors cleverly led me to believe they were still in the building, an innocent ruse.
I mistook the stillness behind locked doors and the pervasive silence for fear. No sounds of doors opening, children crying, or even the familiar sound of the neighboring bathroom’s water tap, which was adjacent to my window. I had assumed that, like me, everyone was huddled in the middle of their apartments, scrolling news websites on their phones. After the mosque was bombed and reduced to rubble, which we observed from a distance, we returned to our building, taking refuge in the guard’s room at the entrance. The guard himself couldn’t make it back to his family home in A’zbat Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. I had naively assumed that one of the residents would inform me if they were leaving. But in reality, much like on Judgement Day, everyone is primarily concerned with their own survival. I forgave them.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 11, I discovered that we had run out of drinking water. With the bombing drawing closer, leaving the building had become dangerous. We were still sheltering in the guard’s room. It was then that I thought of my elderly neighbor. She had left for Jabalia camp to visit her daughter the day before the war began. She often mentioned that, given her age, she sometimes forgot to lock her apartment door. I found myself hoping that she hadn’t locked it this time.
I hurried up to the fifth floor, out of breath, my daughter’s concerned voice trailed after me, worried about the risk of shrapnel from nearby attacks. When I reached my neighbor’s apartment, I tentatively turned the handle, and to my immense relief, the door opened. I rushed to the refrigerator, eagerly pulling it open to discover several water bottles inside. She had also filled and left many large bottles atop the kitchen sink. My daughter and I returned downstairs with water bottles in hand. I smiled inwardly as I glanced at the closed doors, wishing their good inhabitants protection. I sat on the floor in the guard’s room, with a glimmer of optimism this time. I’m not sure how long this war will last, but I’m hoping that it will finish as abruptly as it began.
October 14, 2023.
Ahmed Issa is a communications coordinator from Gaza. He was the social media manager for the Palestine Writes Literature Festival 2023.
I am Ahmed Issa from occupied Palestine. I live in the Gaza Strip. I am married and have two children, Bassam who is five years old and Adam who is two years old. I am 30 years old.
My family has lived in Gaza since 1948 as a result of the forcible displacement of my grandparents from their hometown Isdud (Ashdod). All my life, I’ve dreams of returning to my hometown.
In 2020/2021, I was awarded the Chevening Award, which is funded by the government of the United Kingdom, to pursue a masters degree in Marketing and Strategy at the Warwick Business School, which is considered one of the top universities in the world.
In 2022, after I completed my masters, I returned to Palestine to work as communication coordinator with GGateway, a social enterprise that aims at assisting unemployed youth and helping them earn a decent income to support their families, a meaningful and purposeful mission that aligned with my core values. That’s why I returned, even though, I had the chance to stay and work in the UK.
My people have suffered in Gaza for the past 17 years, with high unemployment rate, lack of hope and basic human needs such as water and electricity, and constant assaults by Israeli warplanes and military drones which target anything, anytime. This is a young population full of energy but no opportunities to grow or flourish. This has resulted in an explosion towards the Occupier. What did they expect from people living under such circumstances?
I believe what has happened on October 7 is the result of years of the Israeli brutal Occupation that suffocated and besieged people for so long… what do they expect?
I’ve been privileged to travel to the United States to attend Palestine Writes Literature Festival. I travelled via Eretz crossing. It was not easy to get a permission to travel but I was lucky! Most of my people are denied access to travel. On my way out of Gaza and for the first in my life, I saw my Palestine. I experienced the fresh air, looked for signs of our villages and green spaces where we all once lived in peace. I kept wondering how so many settlers live in peace provided with decent conditions as if they were living in Europe on our land compared to my life in Gaza, just a few meters away, where we live under brutal and inhumane circumstances. How is that possible? Don’t settlers living on the other side of the fence know about the people suffering in Gaza?
They [the Israelis] are trying to displace us to Egypt, but I will never ever leave Gaza! I have experienced much outside of Gaza, but I have never felt that I belong anywhere else but here. If we were to die, we prefer to die in Gaza. All my family members have agreed that we are staying together and we will not leave. We have suffered a lot, we are resilient and can endure everything, and we will never leave! Even if we know they want to kill us.
“We prefer to die standing than to give up.”
We, the Palestinian people, are going to persevere and stay in our country, no matter what. We will keep existing on this land as I believe our existence is resistance. So many friends of mine have tried to convince me to stay in the UK but I felt that if I stayed there I will vanish; my identity will vanish. I know that I would have had many benefits and privileges if I had left, but I believe that my impact on and connection to Palestine would have disadppeared. That’s why I returned to work with GGateway to help Palestinian youth improve themselves and their skills to work with international clients as software developers and digital marketers. Being here, suffering and enduring with my people is far more satisfying and fulfilling to me than being outside, disconnected.
We are the people who have the truth in our side. We are facing a barbaric and brutal Occupation and are witnessing the killing of children and innocent civilians at night while they are sleeping. This is the Israeli strategy in all of their major aggressions in 2008, 2014, 2021 and now. So if you are feeling sorry about what you have seen recently in the mainstream media, please take a closer look at all the pictures and the videos coming from Gaza — our Occupier is far more brutal. I know you will not, because the mainstream media will not show you anything about us. But, only if you have a heart, you will seek and find the truth. You will be able to judge for yourself.
Peace upon everyone.
“uncivilized and human-animal”
Eman Ashraf Alhaj Ali
October 10, 2023
Eman Ashraf Alhaj Ali is an English literature and translation student at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a writer with We Are Not Numbers.
If there’s one thing I want people to know about living under Israeli occupation, it’s how quickly birdsongs can be replaced by the screech of missiles. Most mornings in Gaza, my family wakes to the melodic symphony of Spanish sparrows gracing our kitchen window. My mother tenderly rouses my younger siblings and our days commence with Al-Fajr prayers—bathing in the blessings of Allah, even as we anticipate our meticulously-crafted to-do lists.
But the morning of October 7, 2023, reminded us that our routines, however sacred, are never safe. My eyes flickered open, gripped by terror as the thunderous roar of missiles shattered the tranquil sky above our home.
“Mother, what is happening?” my voice quivered.
My brothers and sisters, ages 6 to 12, had just left for school. We ran to the window and saw them in the street as they shouted for help, their voices full of fear. “Come back immediately!” my mother implored.
“The days of overwhelming dread have returned…again,” I muttered, my voice barely above a whisper. I reached for my phone, seeking answers in the digital world. Headlines like “Israel Declares a Massive Escalation on Gaza,” bring tears to my eyes. Such a swift turn of events can be difficult to comprehend, but such is life in Gaza. Birdsong one minute; missiles the next.
Just days ago, life had proceeded smoothly. After work, I went to the gym, then to meet my friend Asmaa. We discussed the urgent need to delve deeper into the heart-wrenching reality here in Gaza, to unearth truths hidden beneath the surface. Little did we know that we would awaken to yet another shattered dream, another agonizing ordeal.
Over the past few days, the heart-wrenching news has continued to pour in, each revelation more unbearable than the last: Israel set its sights on civilian homes, leaving one man bereft of his entire family… A young girl mourned the loss of her dearest friend… The casualties mounted to the hundreds… Martyrs upon martyrs…More souls extracted from the rubble. Countless buildings lay in ruins, a landscape marred by massacres and genocide. Mosques—symbols of our faith—have been obliterated, and at least two ambulances were targeted.
Even now, the harrowing wail of sirens disorients me, the deafening crash of missiles near our home tests my composure, and the glow of approaching danger paints my windows crimson. But I feel the weight of my responsibilities bearing down upon me, and I have no choice but to press on. I clutch my laptop and force myself to focus, knowing that failing to meet my deadlines is not an option.
Like every Gazan family, we have our emergency bags prepared, containing essential clothing and documents in case of a sudden evacuation. We huddle together, a family bound by fear of the unknown, our prayers intertwining with the relentless stream of breaking news.
This is Gaza, a bitter existence, where each day brings us closer to the brink. We face the specter of death daily, under the weight of an unjust oppressor, an inhumane and merciless state that clutches our necks—stealing innocence and joy from our children, and birdsongs from our windows.
October 11, 2023
Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and human rights activist
Across the neighborhood, you can hear children crying. A little girl whimpers under the rubble of her house and calls out to her father, who is trapped beneath a fallen wall. “Baba,” she sobs. But her father cannot hear her, because he was killed instantly. A boy, meanwhile, is begging his mother not to die under the rubble.
This is what is happening in Gaza right now. If they are not killing our children, they are scarring the rest of their lives.
For the fifth consecutive day, it has come to the point where I fear, it will always be night in Gaza. As I look at my family’s faces, I imagine that this may be the last night that we will spend together. I have experienced six mass Israeli assaults on Gaza, in addition to countless routine incursions and strikes. But the scene right now is more difficult than anything I have experienced.
Suddenly, as my family and I sit in the living room, dozens of Israeli airstrikes crash around my neighborhood, Tal-Elhawa, in the west of Gaza. I hear the entire house tremble. Dust rains from the ceiling. My niece screams. Her eyes fill with tears. The smoke of the bombing spreads everywhere. If you do not die from the direct bombing, you may die from smoke, falling structures, or traces of gas from chemical weapons. Last night, Israeli Occupation Forces used poisonous white phosphorus on civilians in the Karama neighborhood, north of the Gaza Strip, which is prohibited under international law.
The number of deaths has increased. Lives, families, stories of love, success, and injustice, are all buried together, under the rubble, with every innocent who was killed. Until now, the Occupation airstrikes have destroyed 168 buildings. More than 1,000 residential units were obliterated, while another 12,630 have been partially destroyed. Collectively, there have been over 1,055 people killed, including women and children, and 5,184 injured, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.
Genocide is being committed by Israel in Gaza, where entire generations of families have been wiped out, with civilians and homes being targetted by missile strikes and bombs. This technique is used by Israel to put pressure on the resistance and to create a health, economic, and psychological crisis among Gazans.
I am very worried that my family members will become the next victims because there is simply no safe home in Gaza. And we, after all, are who they want to kill: children, women, and defenseless civilians. The Israelis aim to wipe out as many Palestinians as possible, as they accelerate their ethnic cleansing.
Depression and trauma afflict every Palestinian who lives in the shadow of repeated Israeli wars on Gaza. There’s fear as we wait out the nights, waiting for death, waiting to learn who is the next victim. There’s terror as we follow the news 24 hours a day, messaging our friends and loved ones. The worst thing about this aggression is that the Israeli regime has fully cut off electricity, internet, food, and water supplies, causing a media blackout. Fuel has run out, generators will stop working, and the sliver of connection to the world some have on their phones will soon disappear. They even bombed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, preventing thousands from returning or leaving, and preventing medical supplies from entering. Nobody is able to move.
As a journalist in Gaza, I can clearly see that Israel is intent on killing us and keeping us silent. It doesn’t want local media to show these war crimes: the Israelis want to hide the truth about their cruelty from the world.
Due to the blackouts of electricity and internet, Gaza is further cut off from the rest of the world. Even the international press or international human rights organizations have so far been unable to enter the Gaza Strip, or even communicate with their teams on the ground. For instance, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor — an organization based in Switzerland — announced that it had lost contact with its employees in Gaza. The only way to access the besieged Strip is through the Rafah crossing, which has been destroyed by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
Gaza is not an easy place to live. Maintaining one’s mental balance requires a huge amount of effort. It is war. It takes our soul and our youth: it never minds if it will take our future and our dreams. In Gaza, we can’t dream. War does not allow us to dream. “The dream turned to ashes” — this is what my friend Ahmed said when the Israeli forces bombed his family’s store.
Days and years pass slowly, but memories of Israeli oppression and the pain inflicted by their violence are what will make us grow old. Their bombs have taken our souls from our bodies. We do not like their war, and we will never get used to their war, but their war is well-accustomed to us.
There are many untold stories from more than two million people living in Gaza. This is only a snapshot of the story of a young man, who is surviving this aggression for another day.