Testimonies from GAZA

Esam Testimonies

My name is Esam Hani Hajjaj, I’m from Gaza, Palestine. I’m 27 years old and I studied English Literature. I’ve been writing poetry since 2014  and I’ve worked as a children’s creative writing instructor. I believe in mujaawarah as a learning modality and I’ve been working on spreading it in Gaza since 2020, with guidance from my mentor, Munir Fasheh.

A mujaawarah is a learning modality stemming from our lives and realities, it looks like us, it tears apart the illusion that learning happens inside of a classroom or lecture hall, it releases us of the threat of plastic education in Gaza and beyond. 

I’ve witnessed 6 episodes of occupation army aggression in Gaza. The Israeli occupation killed a lot of my friends and family members, only because they, because we, are fighting for our right to live, a right that the occupation deems us unworthy of. 

I write to show the world the truth of the Palestinian cause. To show the world the truth of the crimes and genocide that the occupation has been committing for the past 75 years. I write so that the world would know that our most basic rights to life and safety are being stripped away. So that everyone would know that I can’t travel and work on my cause, I only have my words. I wrote so that the world would know our real story, so they would know that the occupation is painting a warped story of us, an ugly story that the world knows through them but we, we have the right to defend ourselves. 

I love writing and I feel the thrill of victory when I write. I have a poetry collection that’s yet to be published and I’m currently writing a booklet on how to get Palestinian fiction out to the world while preserving its essence. If I were to reveal myself using one word, it would be “contemplative” – I contemplate the past so I can build a new understanding of the present. And to be part of making meaning. My friend Munir Fasheh and I are working on formally including mujaawarah as a tool in schools and universities with a lot of groups around the world. Birzeit university agreed. 

We’re working on a mujaawarah on liberating thought and not the freedom of thought, and on appreciating ourselves and knowledge through wisdom. I’m working towards revealing the truth of thought colonization to the whole world and what modern cities, as a structure, are ruining – and how all that is affecting the Palestinian cause. 

I gathered a team to work on The House of Wisdom in 2020. We met weekly for 3 months at the Qattan Cultural Center in Gaza. The aim was to deepen our knowledge of self through mujaawarah and to express ourselves through ways we deemed fitting. The result of that as a valuable toolkit explaining what we do. 

I dream of my story reaching the world through mujaawarat in all countries. I’m currently under seige in Gaza, in Al Zaytoon neighborhood with my family and my aunt’s family in the same house after we had to flee our house in Al Shuja’iyya.

SATURDAY, October 7 2023 

We still don't know what's happening. All we know is that the resistance has entered settlements through land, air and sea. More than 40 hostages are now in Gaza. A lot have been killed. The numbers the media has been showing are fake. Until this very moment, we don't know what the magnitude of their reaction would be. 

They're shooting at people and towers randomly. We have our bags and papers ready and we wait. But what happened was something, it made my soul sing.

TUESDAY, October 10 2023

The 7th October Attack – Gaza

Good morning from in front of the window overlooking the garden of my house, filled with fallen dates on the ground. My grandfather planted this palm tree many years ago. He passed away two years ago, at the age of 80, he was older than the occupation. I would have liked to say that my morning resembles the jasmine covering the house, but the sounds are enough to strip you of all emotions and fill your heart with fear. Children running into their mothers' arms, thinking that this wide embrace will protect them from the occupation's airplanes. If a stone was destroyed, what will a missile do to my mother's embrace!
First day:
Threatening all of the Gaza Strip with bombardment, then the occupation starts bombing indiscriminately without any mercy or warning. The occupation goes out in front of the world and tells them that they warn civilians before bombing their houses and they claim that whatever is bombarded is affiliated to the resistance, but the majority of those who have died were children and women, in their homes. Their only fault was that of being Palestinians. Today you will be killed in front of the world because you defend yourself.
Second day:
Those who lived, lived, and those who departed from us, died, but their memories remain. Another day of more monstrosity. The israeli army sends messages to Palestinians in Gaza telling them to go to the known shelters, and it announces to the world that it respects the boundaries of humanity, but what no one knows is that there are no shelters in Gaza. People go to the UNRWA schools, and the latter are attacked as well. The army orders people to go to the middle part of the Strip in the afternoon and at night time it starts bombing the middle area. In the night hours the army orders people in the middle area to exit their homes. What is this madness? What is this terror that it tries to instill into the hearts of children and mothers? 
Third day:
There is a weird smell. I feel like my lungs are going to explode at any moment. I feel strange pains in all of my body, and this means that we are being attacked with the internationally forbidden white phosphorus. The Israeli army is again asking the people of the Gaza Strip to leave for Egypt, while, at the same time, it attacks the Rafah crossing. No water, no electricity, no internet, and the center of the city has been completely destroyed, where all people had their shops. All aid has stopped and the world keeps its mouth shut in front of this fascism.

We are here to tell the world that you know that this is our right to defend ourselves no matter how much you try to destroy the image of the Palestinian people in public. This is our right since the occupation started killing and displacing us in 1948, taking our land. The leaders of the world know and they are also responsible in this occupation. Some of their people know, while others, the majority, are unaware and do not know the truth of the matter. However, this does not negate the fact of our right to defend ourselves no matter what happens.

The last thing I would like to say or what I can express is: my grandfather was the one who planted the date trees in front of our home before he died. He used to refuse to leave the house during every attack on the Gaza Strip. We will not be forced to leave either.


At ten o'clock at night, my brother and I were lying on the ground by the house steps, with the door slightly open to let in a bit of fresh air in, just so we could feel a little more alive. Ten o’clock in Gaza meant, the intensity of shelling was on the rise, and the sounds were louder. 
We also heard distant screams, perhaps from a civilian house that had been bombed or those were people fleeing their homes. They were fleeing from one house to the street to another house, perhaps to be bombed later…
I muttered to myself quietly, how does the world understand the language of aggression without experiencing it? I remembered during the 2014 aggression when a foreign delegation came to Gaza, and friends began talking to them about the brutality of the sounds we heard and the horror of death and bloodshed. 
But they couldn't imagine it. That's when my friend started talking about her fear of going to the bathroom during the war and her fear for her cat's life due to the bombing. That's when the delegation started paying more attention and feeling the cruelty of the aggression.
It meant to me that the world won't understand me when I speak the language of the pain the sound of the pain. Death and pain have their own standards for them as well.
For eight months, I've been trying to save money to travel and complete my master's degree to secure a better future for me and my family. In those eight months, I managed to save only $500. 
In one day, everything changed, and my dream of traveling and studying shifted from my heart to the throes of death. My biggest dream now is to survive this aggression. In one day, everything changed, I started using the money I was saving for my studies, because we were evacuated from our home, and it's as if the dream that I had is now fading, will it stay a dream?
This world is cruel with all its laws because the feeling of others' pain has its legal standards too. You must master these standards to tell people that in this region, there is hope that we are trying to nurture, but you are killing that hope in us.
If you want to redefine pain in accordance with your standards, it means that you are stripping yourselves of your humanity and following the modern civilization that always tries to mold people into plastic molds.

WEDNESDAY, October 11 2023

The cold stings. After many attempts at falling asleep and, by doing so, defeating the sounds of explosions, the cold stings you so that you don’t miss out on the entire scene that is happening to you. Now: a new massacre in the Karamah Towers in Gaza. People are crying out for an ambulance but the area is still being bombarded. News of people burning to charcoal without anyone coming for them; the bombardment hasn’t stopped and white phosphorus and concussion bombs destroy our bodies. 

At this moment, with the cold and the pain in my chest, together with the bombing of Al-Rasheed Street, I am reminded of the sea. Each winter, I begin to feel something like a stab or crack in my chest because of the cold and I’ve never known the reason behind this pain despite running many tests. Al-Rasheed Street, which overlooks the sea and is called the corniche and is the only haven for the residents of Gaza, is being fiercely bombarded.

Do you have a sea? 

The cafe by the sea that brought us together with friends for years, that witnessed our rising voices, our shouts, our laughter, our tears, our complaints, the secret dates of lovers and the first time you learn to hold the hand of the girl you love for the sea to protect you — all, are bombed.
Between each word I write, I hear the sound of an explosion and as I write, I receive a message from my friend Mohammad from Nuseirat, the four houses around my house have been threatened and the entire neighborhood has been displaced. Between each moment there is death and displacement.

And our friend wonders who turned the schools into shelters. Schools, despite their educational purposes, and especially the UNRWA schools in which the residents seek shelter, are but another face of the occupation, the occupation of knowledge, and division. It distinguishes those who were displaced from their 1948 lands to Gaza through a different uniform, injects the curriculum with poison and prevents students from expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause in any form. The occupation is not satisfied with military control; it tries to also exert its control on knowledge in order to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. Seventy-four years of occupation. I was born in 1996 and I haven’t fallen into the trap of the occupation of knowledge.

WEDNESDAY, October 11 2023

This afternoon all power will be out according to the electric company.. there won’t be any electricity after that in Gaza we don’t know until when and you won’t hear from us. I wanted to tell you so that you know in case I wasn’t able to charge my phone and communicate.

WEDNESDAY, October 11 2023

10th of October is my mother’s birthday, after we were forced to leave our house in Al Shujaieh neighborhood, she sat on the chair saying “if every mother hid her son, who’s going to defend the land?”

10th of October is my mother's birthday, after we were forced to leave our house in Al Shujaieh neighborhood, she sat on the chair saying "if every mother hid her son, who's going to defend the land?"

Her words remind me of every time she told us to ablute (wodu) before we leave the house, you never know what could happen, she said. My mother has given it all to God a long time ago and that explains my emotional strength in dealing with what's happening.

We're going through catastrophic times, I don't deny that, death is everywhere, screams are always in the background, these are all truths I can see and hear. The ministry of health issued a statement saying there's a shortage in corpse bags, but it's easy, Arab states will send more bags.

 My cousin is trying to lighten up the weight of death through a birthday cake, while also honoring the sacredness of death. What worries me is to have the cake decorated in ashes because they keep targeting life. And we are milking life by resisting death. But my mother replaced her birthday cake with her will: if every woman hid her son, who's going to defend the land?

We're being ethnically and collectively cleansed while everyone watches. And what I want to say is: the guilt of your silence will haunt you while our souls will be blessed in the presence of God.

THURSDAY, October 12 2023

We are now at my aunt's house, the house we evacuated to from the savage aggression on Gaza. At every moment, we hear the screams of women and children in the streets, coming from a distance, as if a beast is feeding on our souls.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the Israeli army called our neighbors' family to evacuate their house, but they haven't bombed yet after hours of tension. I am telling you what’s happening, but don't smile now! don’t cheer for thinking that they are calling and abiding to human rights and the law of war. It's a trap, a psychological warfare. They get families out into the streets at night to sow terror in their hearts so that they come to hate this land and leave it forever.
Now, it's 8:00 PM, and we are at the evening prayer together when we hear the screams of children and women in the street. My cousin opened the door quickly, and they entered the house. I finished my prayer and looked to my left. 
There were ten children, their cries were breaking our hearts, but I cried because one of them, a girl, was crying more than the others. When we naively asked her why, she said her shoe fell in the street while she was fleeing from death, and she wanted to go back and get it. 
That's when I cried. How, oh God, how do we tell a child that what's happening is bigger than a lost shoe on the ground, and we can't go out to get it for her? How do we tell her that we can buy a new one, but we can't buy one like it? How do we explain to her the shame and silence of the Arabs? How do we tell her that Israel is raping the world, and Gaza is now  being raped.

FRIDAY, October 13 2023

I crossed paths with one of the fighters who were besieged in the church of Nativity in 2000. That man knows exactly what's going on, he understands the strange disappointing Arab governments… After they were locked inside the church, Israel offered to have them flee to Europe, but Abo Ammar, Yasser Arafat refused that. They were a large number and 100 of them did leave for Europe. 

The church was bloody, martyrs everywhere and those who survived ate tree leaves and went for days without water. 

We tried to get some sleep to give our bodies some rest in case we were forced to move once more. We sleep to the sound of bombs and wake up to them as well. Moments after fagr prayer, a young man and his family went outside and the little girl ran to try and find her shoe, which she lost on the street as they fled the bombing. 

On the news, the Israeli occupation army asks families in Northern Gaza to move to the south. There are 1.1 million people in the north. What worries me is that the UN and Red Crescent asked their employees to do the same. No one is trying to explain what's happening, no one knows if this is psychological warfare but we know they gave a 24 hour notice. 

People are scared and they want to believe they're just threatening them. But we've lived through this catastrophe before and that's what's scary. When the Home Front Command asked people to not leave Shujaeieh in 2014, we lived the most horrible of atrocities the next day. Pain teaches you. 

We are living the futility of forced migration since 1948, the world is conspiring against us as if we've taken their women and they want revenge. Why are we surprised at the Arab and Global stances? 

Ya Allah, I miss Mozzafar AlNawab, I miss his crass language that satisfies something within me. Or perhaps makes my anger feel more at ease. 

The systems are rogue, the people are naked. Yes, but they can change that hypothesis and what use is history when we're faced with Allah and asked: what have you done?

SATURDAY, October 14 2023

Yesterday we moved from Al Zaytoon (neighborhood) to Deir Al Balah - there’s a flood of people moving from the North to the South, just like the Israelis had ordered them. As they were leaving, they (the occupation army) bombed them, I saw the cars burn in front of our eyes. Body parts everywhere. 

We spent one night in Deir Al Balah and returned to Al Zaytoon, next to Al Shajaeieh, at my aunt’s. That’s when we decided to not move again, even if they tear the house down with us inside it. Enough is enough. 

They forced my grandmother to leave Al Nasr to Al Zaytoon at 10 pm, walking. That’s a distance of 6 kilometers, my grandmother is disabled - she was injured even further. I sat next to her, kissed her hand and told her that I write so the world knows the truth. I couldn’t take it, I cried.

SATURDAY, October 14 2023

The whirlwind of displacement accompanies us every day in a new place, and just as Amer Halahleh said in the monodrama 'Tah' about the Palestinian displacement in 1948, 'We eat, we drink, we sleep, but we don't want to eat, drink, or sleep; we want to go.' Tah returned from Lebanon to Palestine, even when the price of his return was his death.
After the Israeli army asked the residents of the Gaza Strip to move from the north to the south beyond the Gaza Valley, the situation intensified yesterday, and people went out, and we went out with them as the Israeli army ordered us. On the way, we were shelled. There were more than a hundred martyrs on a single route, and people were fleeing from death to God's heavens.
We reached a house in the south, and in our hearts, there was indescribable anger and sorrow. We sat on sponge seats, and after a while, I said loudly, ‘I had it up to here - and I pointed to my nose- I am going back home' an. My mother said in 1948, 'Whoever stayed are still there till this moment and didn't leave, the army’s goal was to terrify them.'
In the morning, we returned home. We are now trying to get a liter of gasoline to power the generator to fill water and charge the batteries so we can stay connected with the world and know what's happening around us. 
The station owner told us with cold blood, 'I've been ordered not to sell gasoline.' We returned home in the area of Zaitoun, to my aunt's house near al-Shujai’e. Perhaps we will lose contact entirely this time, but we will not leave our house. We will either die or stay in our house.

SUNDAY, October 15 2023

I’m not scared of death. If push comes to shove and a missile hits, I hope it’s relentless enough to leave nothing of me. Life is very fragile, and fear eats at it if you let it live within you, it festers like poison. 

We don’t want to fight, we don’t like death, we hate the smell of blood, but that’s what the world has forced upon us. We will leave all our ideas with our allies. Everything we write, all the wishes we have released from our chests, suspended in conversation. 

Whoever survives needs to understand that the West, and many Arabs, don’t understand what’s happening to us, they don’t get the nuance of it. And so, I invite you to work on decolonizing your minds, as Arabs, and to start dusting our Arab minds, our Islamic minds. My invitation to you is to understand what mind and thought colonization is, and how wordplay is a big part of it. One mistranslated word, one misunderstood concept could blow our rights up to nothing. The countries that call for freedom of thought and expression are the very same (And first) countries to have stopped our people from standing with Gaza and Palestine. And they know, very well, that what’s happening here is because of them, because they planted Israel in the Middle East. 

We’ve witnessed a lot of death, and fear can no longer exist where death is. It is staying alive that scares us.  

MONDAY, October 16 2023

Our persistence aggravates them to madness, to death even! They don't get it, how can a people love their country to death, literally? How can they give up their souls in an act of refusing injustice? 
The past few days have seen negotiations to allow food and medical supplies into Gaza through Rafah. And whenever we sense a glimmer of hope that they would open the border, the occupation bombs the Rafah Passage, aggressively. They bomb all roads leading to the crossing…
Amidst a shortage in medical supplies, the occupation asks that hospitals be evacuated. 
All signs point to how the occupation wants to humiliate Palestinians - why hospitals? Where do the injured and sick go? What could happen if there's nowhere to go? What worse could happen when we're already facing a fascist attack! 
The Ministry of Health dug mass graves yesterday, the dead are being buried without being identified, with their families under the rubble, no one could identify what was left of their bodies. 
We are at the brink of an environmental crisis. It won't be long before diseases start spreading. 
75 martyrs were buried in the first mass grave and 35 in the second. 
I know the world would see the word M A R T Y R as T E R R O R I S T
But we are not terrorists. All those people who lost their lives are innocent and martyrs are what they are to God. Martyrdom is a special rank and not what the world makes of it. 
The people of Palestine are innocent and we're being wiped off the face of the earth.

WEDNESDAY, October 18 2023

My friend says that October is the month of falling in love, the weather changes from unbearable heat to cool and breezy. When we go out at night with friends, we grab a jacket to protect ourselves from that breeze, whoever forgets their jacket, stands closer to their friends until they get home to be sheltered inside their house. 

Tonight was very hard, the occupation army turned October from a month of falling in love to one of killing friends. Yesterday at 7pm, they bombed Al Me’medany hospital in Gaza, leaving more than 500 martyred and a lot injured. Among them was my friend Mohamed Qreiqa’a, a tall and handsome young man whose art expressed the monstrosity of the occupation. Mohamed left his house in Shajaeieh to the hospital seeking shelter and protection, he left his art at home, and his soul, and left not knowing that death awaits at the hospital. 

The occupation is denying the massacre, they’re claiming the resistance did it, but given the magnitude of damage, it’s clear the occupation did it - no one else could. 

Dignity has dried up around the world as they watch what’s happening.So has Arabness, humanity, and people’s hearts, all lost. Even the UN is useless… because, to them, a Palestinian is not human.

Maybe they can remember every human’s right to safety, maybe then they can do something…
Now young people are falling in love in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona but Mohamed wasn’t there, he was at the Me’medani hospital to tell the world that his art stands as a reminder that October is the month of death.

THURSDAY, October 19 2023

Death is coming closer, signs of life are disappearing, my memory is almost full and I’m close to forgetting my friend’s faces, the streets that we walked, we used to get in the car and head downtown to watch the shops and people. Everything has been destroyed, there aren't any streets left to walk, the mosques and churches were destroyed. 

At 11pm, instead of smelling the scent of flowers outside of the house, we smell ashes and white phosphorus. Two days ago, we got news that our house was partially destroyed, today we received news that it was fully destroyed. We don't know how true this is but we saw on the news that Shajaeieh has become a ghost town as was described.

The house, the balcony that i sleep on overlooking the neighbor’s garden, where i hung out with my friends till dawn, the sound of the neighbors staying up - the place that has witnessed all my grief, where I wrote my fingers dry, the turquoise couches I got last month, my mother’s taste in picking out the furniture, the new tiles my dad installed last month and our yelling at each other, whenever a friend came to the balcony they’d comment “who even paints the walls black” - now the whole house is black with soot. 

FRIDAY, October 20 2023

With heavy steps, I am taken to my former sanctuary, to the chambers of memories. The final arrival after every exhausting night spent outside the house, the place of family troubles and gatherings that make a person feel warmth.
My mother's voice from afar says, 'Bring us flour with you.'
We went to the house by car, and before reaching it, about 300 meters away, the car stopped due to the broken roads. When I saw the street, my face paled, and my eyes lost their brightness. The correspondent on the radio was honestly terrifying when he described AL-Shujaia neighborhood as a city of ghosts. The shock overwhelmed our faces and took control over us without prior notice. 
On the way, neighbors' houses were empty, some were flattened due to the bombing, and others seem eroded with time, abandoned, but the truth is these houses were left for people to escape the bombing.
Our house is in front of me now. I saw the upper part of the house empty, and everything on the floor is scattered onto the street due to the explosion. The house's wall is on the ground. There are no doors or windows in the house. My closet was destroyed. My father's balcony with part of the house's roof was destroyed. The explosion got everything. In ten minutes, we entered the house and the area, and I know well the policy of flattening the earth, that everything that is moving will be bombed, and my survival rate is 1%, but I wanted to go home.
My cousin's son was with us. When I looked at him, his face's color changed from fear. I remembered when we were leaving my aunt's house, she said, 'I don't want drinking water I don’t want you to be harmed’ then i remembered that we went out to look for drinking water.
I called my brother so that no one gets harmed looking for drinking water, and we left the area, heading to my aunt's house, with gray faces.

SATURDAY, October 21 2023

It’s almost midnight, and the sounds of explosions haven't ceased for 14 days. My brother and I now sleep in the stairwell of the house, while the rest of the family sleeps inside the house near the stairwell as well. There are 16 of us in the house, each with their own personal story to tell someday. Everyone is asleep except for one person who sleeps when we are awake.
No one knows when the rocket will hit the house; we don't know when the situation will worsen further. Perhaps we'll be forced to evacuate for a third time. One person remains on guard, waking us up if the situation requires us to save ourselves.
My eyes are heavy with sleep, but a nearby explosion decided to disrupt my slumber. Stones hit the door of the stairwell house. I want to sleep with peace of mind without the constant feeling of needing to flee from a shell that might follow me wherever I go.
My name is Essam, I am from Gaza. I'm trying to sleep in the stairwell house, and I demand that human rights organizations acknowledge my right to sleep without the intrusion of shells into my home. What am I saying... nonsense.

SUNDAY, October 22 2023

From the staircase house and far into the distance, where God’s mercy precedes over the mercy of people, I feel let down. I feel like I’ve caught a cold. As usual, I don’t like medicting, the cold comes and it leaves, a self healing, uninterrupted because I trust my ability to heal and I don’t trust their integrity with making medicine. To stay healthy, I believe we don’t need foreign compounds entering our bodies. To protect yourself from feeling let down, you have to surround yourself with good soil (dust)

My throat is dry, the lemon tree behind the house offered me a lemon so that I can feel less gray. I feel like I’m in a relationship with a woman who doesn’t know what she wants. One time she wants to be friends and the other, she wants to be lovers and the more time passes, the more stuck in the middle we become and the holes in the heart inflame it. It’s been 16 days and I feel gray. I’m not somewhere safe and I’m not dead. 

MONDAY, October 23 2023

“From the place that overlooks God’s greatness to the destruction caused by the occupation.”


From the place that overlooks God’s greatness to the destruction caused by the occupation, the sky has been cloudy since the afternoon, rain is coming. The scene that winter lovers and summer haters have been waiting for. I miss the line on social media when the weather gets too hot “happy now summer lovers?” - I miss it despite its contradiction, as if summer would stop coming if people who love it stop loving it. The sounds that have been destroying God’s sky and land are very loud. I feel very tired, sleep deprived, there’s a ringing in my ears and a buzz in my head. Out this window, the one you want to look out of, where the smoke is rising, there’s a three storey building that was destroyed last week, there are 8 bodies there, no one came to get them. Today, civil defense took out 4 martyrs and 4 remain - then they ran because the occupation is still hitting the place and they have no choice but to run or die. 

TUESDAY, October 24, 2023

The thought of death has been visiting me for days. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a dirt pit, I feel like we’re in a big lie that I can’t get myself to believe. I’ve said it before, I’m not scared of death but I’m scared of feeling alive. 

If the world would listen for just one minute, my question would be, why are we dying in this horrifying manner? Today and for the past 18 days, I haven’t felt the way I do now, I’m confused, I feel like the bombs are eating my heart. I was too harsh on myself those past days, I showed no emotion towards myself and only showed a few tears towards the pain of others. 

All I wanted was to feel safe, and to make my mother’s dream come true, a house on the ground floor with a stone fireplace and a chimney. I don’t know what happened to us, I’m in a crisis.

WEDNESDAY, October 25 2023

Winter is coming. My friends and I used to compare Gaza’s streets with those of Paris as we made fun of how bad our infrastructure is. Winter rain floods neighborhoods, water enters the houses and sometimes people would use forklifts for transportation. Sewage pipes would get clogged and everywhere would stink. 

Those who like winters longed for the winter so they would experience that nostalgic feeling under the rain, sometimes got a fleeting glimpse of it on the streets of Gaza. But they stole those moments, away from the gaze of parents, this city doesn’t approve of love unless through marriage. They steal kisses and embraces on narrow streets, on staircases. 

This winter, they’re texting under a blanket of Israeli missiles. No hugs, but long lines to get drinking water and bread, hours just to get some water and some bread. This winter is going to be very bitter, houses are completely ruined with holes in their walls and ceilings, no hugs to make the cold gentler. 

Many families have set up tents in the South. I found out that the streets of Paris are full of rats, fleas - and that the streets of Gaza will always be more beautiful, no matter what the occupation does. 

THURSDAY, October 26 2023

Mixed emotions. Tender rage. In the background, George Wassouf sings the Umm Kalthoum song and the lyrics go “do you think my heart would feel safe around you anymore? Do you think a word would bring back what was?” mixed with the sounds of explosions. It’s been three hours of nonstop explosions, smoke rising to the sky, the smoke has ruined the sky and has ushered in a blackness that surrounds us. 

What an oxymoron life is, a child cries to get a toy then tosses it the moment they get it. I feel numb, cold, there’s a stinging in my heart and my soul is tired. 

George speaks to me through his song, don’t trust life ever again, whispering, cold, I’m tired. 

My head spins nonstop like a whirlpool. Our pregnant woman was screaming non stop in my head with the pain of labor. Everything is tightly packed, my thoughts are like a monster, 21 days of missiles - I’ve forgotten what normal life is like, going to bed early, staying up late with friends, walking on the streets in the morning, sitting by the sea, the sea in October, a blend of hot and cold. 

We’re suffocating, 21 days of pent up emotions, fear, sleeping while scared, crying over lost friends and family. 

People outside of Gaza eat, sleep and wake up to the sound of their alarms and we eat, sleep and we don’t wake up because a bomb hit us. 


SUNDAY, October 29 2023

“Friday 27.10 6:15 pm Gaza time, the chit chat and stories in my aunt’s house turned into a mass grave. The Israeli occupation bombed the house over our heads without warning.”

Friday 27.10 6:15 pm Gaza time, the chit chat and stories in my aunt's house turned into a mass grave. The Israeli occupation bombed the house over our heads without warning. 

I was talking to my uncle Adham in Berlin as the house was hit. One moment I was sitting on a chair on the roof with my family and the next I found myself under the rubble. I don't know when we were hit, I blacked out for a few seconds then opened my eyes. I felt like I'd been buried alive with tons of smoke in my mouth. That very cloud of smoke I saw when buildings were hit, I was inside of it. 

I started looking for those I was with before the assault: my sister, my cousin, and my other cousin. I found them and began recording a message to my friend, Reef, in Jordan, and to my uncle, so that they would let the world know about this inhumane attack. 

After ten minutes of being inside the smoke, I went downstairs, only after my brother said that the path was clear on the ground floor. We began by ensuring that everyone was accounted for, and everyone answered except for my father. We started calling out and digging everywhere until he heard us. 

We removed the ruins with our bare hands and broken bones to get him out. The neighbors wanted us to leave the building immediately, knowing that the house would most likely be bombed again, like with all houses. But we weren't going to leave without my father. We spent an hour digging and removing rubble until we found him.

We had all made the decision not to leave without him in an instant. Because we know that emergency responders fear the night, we know that the ambulances don't work, and that it will take days for anyone to show up because of the large numbers of victims daily. 

We left the girls at the neighbor’s house and put my father on a stretcher and took him to the emergency room at Al Shifa hospital, where they administered first aid. My father had a broken right foot and a broken left arm. He spent more than 3 hours on the hospital floor after being removed from beneath the rubble, with nothing underneath him to relieve his pain. 

I lost my mind. I took what I could, at times by force and at times gently, anything to ease my father's pain. More than 5 hours later, we were given a mattress for him to lie on. An hour later, a doctor stitched his head without anesthetic, because of short supply; anesthesia is reserved for more serious cases. 

Al Shifa hospital is full of people. They are everywhere. In the corridors, on the streets behind the hospital, so many displaced people are here seeking refuge in the hospital, so many injured people, and so many dead people in a tent on the hospital grounds, we can smell them every moment. Inside that tent, there is a bowl. A bowl of body parts. Body parts of the children of Gaza in a big bowl. 

The next day, my father was referred to the European Hospital to have his foot and arm operated on. Another diagnosis was given: his left eye has internal bleeding, tearing of the iris, and a dislocated lens. Three days without a proper diagnosis and tomorrow they operate on him. There might be a problem with the nerves in his hand. His femur is getting a platinum implant to support it, and that's still an initial diagnosis. 

My name is Esam Hani Hajjaj from Gaza, and I left my home in Shajaieh with my family only to have my aunt's house in Al Zaytoon bombed with us inside it. 

My name is Esam from Gaza, and my head and right shoulder injuries weren't even checked because I could move and there are other more important casualties to attend to. 

My brother's name is Ahmed and his back was burned. 

My sister's name is Shaymaa, she was saved by a miracle, and her foot was injured. 

My cousin Ahmed is 8 years old and his head was injured. 

All night long, my aunt has been telling me, Esam, name this story the Tomb of Life. We were saved by a miracle from that tomb. When we entered our home the following morning, we could see it. We could see clearly that it was just that God willed more life for us. (and we're still here).

ESAM – DAY 24 of the Massacre

MONDAY, October 30 2023

A day after our house was bombed to ruins (on top of our heads) I thought I would write about it. But then I felt like my words would fail to describe what happened. My sense of betrayal would take over, that I betrayed all the fear and the screams, that I betrayed death and reduced it to a few words. I feel like I'm betraying those feelings.

Someone needed to hold it all together and not cry. I know there's mercy in crying but I have no choice. Life sometimes forces us into what we cannot process. Everyone cried and when it was my turn to, I held my tears back like a seasoned prison guard.

It's the third day after the bombing, and how I wish I had cried like they all did. I wish I had betrayed it all and threw my tears - all my feelings are locked up, stuck in my chest, the sound of my siblings screaming, the look on my sister's face as she was telling the emergency responder to help get my father out from under the rubble.. My mother's screams and cries in fear for my father's life. The shock in their eyes, the tremor in their hands, all the touch we exchanged for some sense of comfort.

Oh how I wish I had cried, as loud as I could, until I'd forgotten who I was (who I am).

Esam – Day 25 of the Massacre 

TUESDAY, October 31 2023

There’s a woman screaming at the hospital, begging the nurse to get her operation to start earlier. She's due to bone surgery, a plate implant in her left arm. My father hasn’t been operated on yet, 3 days after the house was bombed with us inside, he still needs to be operated on. Two days ago, the nurse asked him to fast in preparation for surgery. 

I went to ask the doctor when the surgery would start, he said he didn’t know, maybe in an hour, maybe tomorrow, the number of injuries is growing by the minute and we have to stop surgeries for emergencies. Another nurse in the corridor next to me told the medical team that he wouldn’t work if there were no pain killers for the patients, that he doesn’t want to torture people. 

70 cases of broken bones that need implants PER DAY. And everyone is waiting for their turn. This place is more of a morgue, catching its breath to eat even more flesh. 

Nurses and doctors have grown numb to the patients' demands for pain killers. The Palestinian people are going through soul skinning. A graying. You want to cry but you can’t and at the same time, you can’t even collapse. Today is the first day I eat something (bread) since the shelling. The hospital we’re in is far from the center of Khan Younis, the patients need healthy food - the occupation army issued a missile warning to a restaurant at the center because it was giving away food for free. 

My father says he doesn’t want to take anyone’s turn. If the surgery happens today, I'll continue fasting. If it happens tomorrow, I’ll have some biscuits. Again, I feel like, in writing about them, I’m cheating those feelings. And they’re much bigger than any words, they only need for us to scream. 

Esam – Day 26 of the Massacre 

WEDNESDAY, November 1 2023

A cold shower after 4 days of not showering gives me a sense of humanity. I went to the hospital bathroom to get a shower and I found a young girl waiting as well. She also wanted to shower. Her skin is tanned and she has hazel eyes. I asked her how old she was and what her name was. She said her name was Weam and she was 10 years old. 

Weam insisted I go in first, she made me smile, the rascal, despite all the pain that we’re going through. As if she brushed her palm against my heart - after we decided that I was going to shower first, she told me that I needed a plastic bag to place my clothes in and she rushed to get me one. I went into the bathroom, took my clothes off, put them in the bag Weam got me and turned the faucet on. 

A few minutes later, I went outside to find Weam waiting. I was drying the floor up as she asked me how old I was and I told her to guess. She said she likes guessing and she started guessing until she reached 27. Then she told me that they left the house because her brother asked them to, and they still hit him at the cafe but he survived. 

She asked about my name and I said Esam and “if you need anything just come and tell me” I finished drying up the floor and left her to get her cold shower. I stood outside underneath the sun and a few minutes later, Weam came outside with wet hair, looking like a princess, coming out for her people to greet her. Then she flashed me a big, big smile and left. 

After her smile left my sight, the nurse called me, to tell me that my father’s surgery is next, “come prepare him” he said. It looks like Weam’s smile took me outside of time and it all took a second. 

My father entered the operating room and came out well, with a piece of platinum holding the bones of his arm and leg in place. But it wasn’t all good news, we were told that he lost his right eye, the doctor said they might be able to restore his sight because the damage hasn’t reached the cornea but that needs care outside of Gaza. And every passing moment takes him away from the possibility of restoring his eyesight. 

With all that pain, my mother and sisters are now in Al Nasr neighborhood in the North. We still haven’t managed to bring them South yet. 

Esam – Day 28 of the Massacre 

FRIDAY, November 3 2023

I stopped counting the days since this monster of a massacre began ravenously eating us, as if we were made to die under the claws of the Israeli occupation. We're still at the European hospital with my father after his arm and foot surgery. But the ophthalmologist told us to lose any hope that my father would recover sight in his right eye and that he can't see using his right eye. There's a hope he recovers if he leaves Gaza but the occupation has shut all possible ways out of Gaza, even if for medical reasons. 

I feel like I'm seeing the world through one eye since my father lost his. A one eyed world that sees and feels only what it wants to see and feel. We can't return this life and exchange it for another after this one has spat us, half chewed, on the pavement. 

After three days at the hospital, my family having now arrived here since the occupation has destroyed all our homes, we decided to set up a tent outside the hospital. A tent made of blankets, rocks and metal rods we foraged from the area. Its weather is pretty pleasant, hot during the day and cold at night - that's the new pleasant according to the 2023 tent (trend), an extension of the 1948 tent. 

The hospital released my father today, which means that the patient gets to go home after healing to an extent. But we don't have access to that basic right because our house has been destroyed. And because my father hasn't received the necessary care due to an extreme shortage in medical supplies. My father was released from one ward to another where he lies on a wooden bed that he can barely move in because of his injury. There's no wheelchair so he can't even go to the bathroom. 

We've had a few calm days without hearing any explosions , but today, a bomb pierced through the calm. Maybe we'll build a tent somewhere else, and maybe we won't even be alive to do that. Maybe we'll become ashes. What I'm sure of is that the world has become one eyed to me. 

Esam – Day 31 of the Massacre 

MONDAY, November 6 2023

(Esam wrote this testimonial on the 5th of November and due to the cut of connection by the Israeli occupation it arrived one day late)

The female can free everything with her touch. She frees up anger and lifts your sense of stability. And that's what one needs under such aggression. 

No arms, no jets, the gray sphere grows bigger and wider, and the Israeli monstrosity still has a strong grip over the whole world since October 7th. It's audacious, it's as clear as day..

Israel is much of a criminal as those Arab states watching the war take the lives of children today, like it did yesterday and the day before.. 

I lost the ability to explain and express…a nurse enters the corridor and lifts up the curtain to a young man's room, a young man who's lost his father, his sister and his sister in law. He holds his mattress and pulls it out of the corridor to offer to an injured person and the young man has been released from the hospital. 

Perhaps this scene conveys the harshness of what many families, who have left the North, go through here (in the South). Feelings are like a pavement, solid, and faces are smiling at times and frowning at others, angry at what's happening and helpless in the face if it. 

Crying has become a bad habit, everyone makes fun of whoever is arrested by their tears, because their own tears have dried out. 

All a human needs, in fact, is for a female to free everything. To first hold it in its complexity and knots and to undo and soften it in her hands, easy. And that's all I want because her voice is stronger than the sound of missiles and her language holds a bigger meaning than death. A female merely feeds you life.

5 November

Esam – Day 33 of the Massacre 

WEDNESDAY, November 8 2023

I'm feeling some comfort, no headache, no bloodshot eyes, yesterday was the first night my whole body laid on a mattress. Some days, I slept on the floor and others, half my body was on the floor and the other half on a mattress. The cold stings our bodies as if seeking revenge, as if we sold the chicken and didn't give them their share. 

My feelings are cold, bordering on a bit of warmth. Bombing in the distance disturbs the sense of calm I have from my restful night since October 27, the day the house was bombed on top of our heads. 

The cold is not the only thing stinging the people here, hunger does too. There's very little left in the shops. I went to buy canned beans and some cheese the other day but I couldn't find anyone to buy from. People bought everything. 

And because of that let me introduce myself again. My name is Esam and I'm from Gaza. We were forced out of Shaja'eyeh to Al Zaytoon where the house was bombed on top of our heads. We are now at the European hospital in khan Younis after my father's injury. There has been a shortage in water and electricity since the beginning, then a shortage in petrol, then an environmental crisis because of the number of martyrs who weren't buried. And now we're approaching hunger. 

Oh God, we believe in you ana what you've written for us, we know there's no way that can be avoided. We know that you are more compassionate towards children than their own mothers. We know that you reward those with patience and those who can't access it. Oh god, you who owns all strength, make this earth swallow us now so we (everyone on earth) can finally rest.

Esam – Day 35 of the Massacre 

FRIDAY, November 10 2023

Human, what does this word mean or what do you think of when you say it?
Perhaps you find yourself speaking of dealing with kindness, but what you may not know is that we are now entering a time of barbarism, on the basis that what was happening before was not barbaric. What ‘was’ is barbaric, and what is happening [now] is the shattering of the human and placing them on a slaughter machine.  

The scene is repeated daily, and the scene of the forced displacement of Palestinians is repeated. People are now attempting to leave the northern Gaza Strip, targeted by Israeli machine guns, surrounded by tanks, and planes overhead. They are crossing thousands of meters on foot to reach the southern Gaza Strip, which is also under bombardment. A witness who spoke to me, named Ahmad, said that he had passed through the Israeli checkpoint near Wadi Gaza. He said to me, “ I raised one hand above my head, with the other holding my ID card. Then a soldier came and began opening fire, forcing us to lie flat on the ground. Minutes later, he began calling us by the colors of our clothing to pass into the southern side of the [Gaza] Strip.   

While Ahmed was passing through the checkpoint, I had gone to one of the shelter centers in Khan Yunis to reserve a school class for him and his family in my mother’s name, in order to protect himself and his family from the winter. We waited for hours. People entered after us and registered, but when our turn came, the official said, “We are at capacity.” 

I told him that I would write about what was happening here and went outside. On the way back to the tent at the European Hospital, a girl followed my aunt and said to her, “Don’t him write anything because the instructions came from “above” and he has nothing to gain.”

A few hours later, my grandfather arrived at the hospital after having walked halfway from the north to the south on foot, when three months earlier, he had had a joint implanted in his foot.
The hospital here has become like a beehive. The injured are everywhere and the displaced have no place. There are dozens of martyrs every minute. Death surrounds us on one side and fear of cold and winter on the other.

Esam – Day 39 of the Massacre 

WEDNESDAY, November 14 2023

The rain, like the aggression, falls down on us heavily, taking with it the safety of the bereaved, then rests before it returns. Heavy days pass for us under Israeli aggression, and now the rain has come to make our suffering complete. Life is strange in our sense of things, because God does not send us anything but good. However, the rain steals safety from the tents in the hospital. It steals sleeping places, and expels them out, just as the occupation does.   

God, we accept all that you reveal. We have disobeyed and you have forgiven us, so forgive our great humiliation.

Yesterday, in the middle of night, we had covered our tent with a plastic tarp to protect us from the rain, but the downpour was stronger than the poles and roof of our tent, so water began to fall on our heads. We got out of the tent carrying our things after many attempts at keeping the water away. We gathered our belongings and went to a nearby public school. They say that the UNRWA would raise their flag over it so that it would be safe, as if UNRWA schools have not been bombed before. We spent the night in a classroom, crying over our situation.

At four in the afternoon, I took some eggplants to the mud oven nearby the hospital, and met a child there named Hanan. Her beautiful eyes could let you forget the pain for a moment, if not for the wariness in her face robbing you of the reassurance they give; as though she had never been a child. Like me, Hanan had come for the eggplants. She smiled at me and I took her picture. People come to the mud oven every day in order to take turns baking, due to the power outage and the lack of gasoline. 

In the morning, I took my father to change the dressing on his wounds. I went into the hospital with him, and a child and his mother entered along with us. The child needed to remove stitches from his back, while his mother had injuries in her foot and hand. After treating my father’s wounds, the nurse called out “Hajjaj” and told me to hold down the child tightly to keep him from moving. I held his back steady and he began screaming in pain. The child was very strong, and he was able to move despite my grip. I was afraid to apply more pressure and break his pelvis in my hand. The child’s father told him to say, “Oh God,” and the child began saying it in his innocent voice, drowning in tears. At that moment, he crumbled my resilience and my tears swelled, while I held them back.

We finished up and each went their own way. I went to the tent to rebuild it again. We stayed for hours until the night fell upon us. By seven in the evening, the rain came down again, taking down most of the tents in the hospital yard, our tent included, which we had spent the entire day rebuilding. Once again, we drowned.

We carried everything and went back to the school after just having left. Hours later we heard the sounds of bombs that shook the place. The occupation forces bombed a house near the hospital, and there were casualties in the street nearby the hospital, [the street] which we used to go to buy whatever is available. The ambulances rushed to them and brought them back along with martyrs, one of them split in two. 

The situation here is catastrophic. The situation of people in the hospital could make stones weep. Food is scarce and only available at double the price. There is no place for them (Gazans). There are no walls to protect them from the cold and nothing to protect them from the bombing. We are exposed to death at any moment, because the occupation forces has a green light from the world to kill us.  

On the news they say that Thursday is the last day for the telecommunications networks in the Gaza Strip, after which they will be cut off. Natanyahu is demanding that each Palestinian within the Gaza Strip go to the Egyptian Sinai. We may be forcibly displaced. 

My name is Esam. We were displaced from Shujaiya after the bombing of our house to Hay Al Zaitoun, where the house was bombed over our heads on Friday, October 27 at 6:14. We were transferred from Al-Shifa Hospital to the European Hospital to treat my father. This may be our last contact. Perhaps our next contact will be from Sinai or through prayers for our souls.

Esam – Day 44 of the Massacre 

SUNDAY, November 19 2023

A person has to know the opposite of a certain state to be able to find balance in life. To know rest, you need to have experienced exhaustion, and to know quiet, you need to emerge from chaos. Our days in European Hospital are hard to describe. So many injured and martyred souls have entered the hospital during the past two days. A state of terror as homes near the hospital are bombed - two homes - during two days. We heard and saw the missiles descend on the homes, followed by screaming. 

I decided to separate myself and go somewhere where I would not talk to anyone and meditate on the faces of passersby - their actions and their movements and their stillness. I watched the sunset and could breathe a little - I felt I had a soul again. I sat by the emergency entrance to the hospital and watched the birds and pigeons above the water tanks on the roof of the hospital. There are so many birds in the hospital. It seems it is not only humans who have sought refuge in the hospital out of fear from the bombing. After each bombing, the birds would fly away and return to the roof of the hospital as soon as the  bombing stopped. 

The first bombing was at around 7pm, the bomb fragments landed in the part of the hospital where my father is staying. They told my father he has lost his cornea and they are working to transfer him outside Gaza. He may still have a chance to regain his sight, but the delay and neglect in receiving approval- needed from one doctor - is part of why he has reached the point of losing his cornea. 

It is 6:28 am, and we have just been woken up by the sound of bombing very near the hospital. A few minutes later, the ambulance arrived carrying the dead and wounded covered against the cold. They slept and were dreaming and woke up  to their injured bodies. 

I am sitting in a small corridor in the hospital where the Internet can reach but barely so I can write to you. And so I can tell you that my neighbour from the Shujaia neighbourhood arrived in the South today - he had been at the Falah School in al-Zayotun neighbourhood. He says the Israeli Occupation Army bombed the school with 70 dead and 200 injured. No one could reach them. Not the Red Cross, while communication was cut off. They stayed on the ground till their blood seeped out of their bodies and dried up.

19 November

Esam – Day 47 of the Massacre 

WEDNESDAY, November 22 2023

To Said, Hadil’s husband who used to encroach on the silence of any place with his fast words and thick humor aimed at everyone around him. When we used to go to my aunt’s house before the house was bombed while we were still in it, Said used to amaze us with his constant ability to make big things seem small and unimportant, while hiding his deep knowing and playing the fool. 

He used to dream, at the beginning of the bombardment, that his father had died, and he would wake up crying, wanting to go see him. When he would go home near the Eastern border, he would find his father sitting on his front porch smoking a hookah with a cane by his side. When he would spot Said, he would leave the hookah, and chase Said around saying: “Don’t come back you son of a bitch!”

A call at 2 am call to my sister in hushed tones – she says everyone is asleep and we go back to sleep. In the morning, Said calls in his usual loud voice to tell us that his father and siblings have been murdered at the hands of Zionist Occupation Forces in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza. 

Said and Hadil fell in love before marriage he says, but she denies it. She says only he loved her. Their marriage is only three months old, and they planned to honeymoon in the Maldives. We used to tell him not to take an afternoon nap so he could afford the trip. 

Some people are doing to each other worse things than the enemy. Merchants have tripled prices and are eating their fellow citizens alive. No food – nothing has entered Gaza. Entire families have been killed. Children with not a single family member left. The injured line the hospitals and the streets. The North of Gaza is completely destroyed, and people lie under rubble. So many homes in the South of Gaza have been destroyed over the heads of their inhabitants, and some people still gather money towards nothing. 

22 November 2023

Esam – Day 48 of the Massacre 

THURSDAY, November 23 2023

A quiet and harsh day. Since the early morning, we can only hear the sounds of some rockets falling on our heads. It is a normal day in an abnormal place. A day that reminds us of our old routines. Friends came to visit my father, then we ate together and then everyone went there separate ways. I went to the oven to bake some bread with my cousins. Our journey began with the long queue, waiting for our turn to come. 

Ahead of me was a child on their own. I asked him why he was alone, and he said that his brother and sister in law were staying in a tent and sent him there. He said: "I really don't know." We waited and waited, and it was already midnight, and the boy's turn came. He had been complaining the whole time of the long wait and the aches in his feet. I started to help him with the baking, and when he was done, it was our turn. 

While we were baking, a woman asked us, my cousin and I, how many kids we had, and we laughed and said 15.  She laughed even harder and said, "I don't believe it." 

My aunt was baking on the other side, and we divided the bread in half so it wouldn't take too long - even though there is a big group of us. 

Besides, there was a man who held a piece of dough in his hands and placed it on the electric oven and said: "This is an 'oqah' "which is a chocolate-filled cake. So I said it's a Gazan oqah and another man said: "No, it's from Khan Younis" so I said: "It is all Gaza Strip." 

When we were almost done, I joked with my aunt that the kids would be hungry by now since it was 1 am. So the man looked at me and said: "I saw you baking on the other side.' I said: 'It seems you're watching me!". So everyone laughed loudly. I asked the man his name and he said: "Bassam", and I said: "Blessings Uncle", and we headed back to the school.

Esam – Day 53 of the Massacre 

TUESDAY, November 28 2023

The Angels of the Oven

Many of the residents of Khan Yunis inside the European Hospital returned to their homes during the ceasefire, and only the people of the north remained in the tents. A few days without hearing sounds of explosions, but not allowing us to return to our homes diminishes our sense of life. Life has returned relatively to the people’s faces. Some went to cut their hair, despite barbers being available on the hospital grounds the whole time, but the feeling of calm prevails over people’s actions. Others came to visit their relatives. Today, all my aunts gathered at the hospital in one place, except for Nadia, who remains in Al Shuja'iyya until this moment. The presence of family in one place gives you a sense of familiarity, and pushes away your feelings of alienation. 

This aggression has earned me a new nickname. Aboud, my grandfather’s son from his second wife, or in another story, my uncle Aboud, the child with Downs Syndrome. Aboud is a very naughty child who loves to eat a lot. He eats without feeling full. Many times, he steals what is in your hand and walks quickly to the corner of the classroom to eat it alone. But he does not steal anything from me. He stands in front of me and then calls my name and says, “Give me”. 

Aboud gave me a name that was new to me but old to him. One of our relatives named Abu Esam used to sell potable water from a large truck. Abu Esam would come to my grandfather’s house to supply them with water, and Aboud would call out to him, “Esam sweet water”. When Aboud and I met in one classroom because of the aggression, he started calling me “Esam Sweet Water”. Aboud didn’t realize that there was an Esam in northern Gaza who did not leave his home, and another Esam who left his home because it was bombed. Perhaps his lack of awareness is a blessing from God that nobody except Aboud experiences. 

I started teaching him how to help his father with his wheelchair, moving him from one place to another, and he [Aboud] began responding to me. The most striking thing about him is his high flexibility. He can open his feet in the form of the number seven (“٧” in Arabic) while sitting on the ground, and bend his foot behind his neck. Although he doesn’t stay quiet at all, we sleep to his voice and wake up to his voice calling out the names of all of those present. 

A few people prefer to finish their work at night these days, because at night there is less pressure of people, especially during the truce. I went with my aunt to the mud oven and we began baking. A short time later, my cousin grabbed a piece of metal and began hammering it against another piece of metal that was planted in the ground. My aunt shouted at him saying, “Don’t bang like that because the mud oven has angels”. At that moment, I remembered my grandmother in Al Shuja'iyya, in our house, while in her youth, when we would bake in the oven and she would say the same thing to us, “Don’t bang on anything when you are near to the oven”. But this was the first time I heard about the angels of the oven, and each time my question was met with a lack of satisfactory response. The mud stove has a special place in our lives, even if time has given us an alternative. 

On our way back to the school, I found my new friend sitting by the door of his tent. My friend Tariq works in the Holst Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip. This center has a big theater, and Tariq is responsible for the lighting. We spoke about the world of institutions and the work we did before the aggression, and working with children as a creative writing facilitator. Tariq’s face gives you hope that there is something coming. You don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful. He told me that we would work on something together after the aggression, that we would meet at Holst, as if he was completely confident that we would return. I told him, of course we’ll do it, as if I am confident that we will return.  

November 28

Esam – Day 59 of the Massacre

MONDAY, December 4 2023

It is as if my heart is a story woven by an elderly woman who is telling the story of the entire house from the kitchen to the living room to the bedrooms. Time in this story has taken on another shape and sounds are distant, and do not taste the same as those every child tastes before bedtime. 

The last scene during the truce was infused with life - as if Gaza had never died. It was like a valve through which blood pumped furiously. 

I wanted a cup of tea to soothe my aching throat, but the water kettle betrayed me. I put the tea in the cooking pot we use for the fire and I went there. I placed our cooking pot of water next to all the others, but by the time my turn came, the fire was out. As I was lighting the fire, a young boy said to me: "What are you doing, Uncle?" I said: "Making tea."  He said: "tea in a cooking pot!" I laughed, and we began to light the fire. He told me that the fire wouldn't light because of the type of wood. I smiled, seeing how this child's life experience had surpassed mine. There was, in fact, two types of wood beside me that people had cut from trees. 

Next to the water spout, I found a girl and her sister. They told me that my presence made the water return, and I said: "Wallah!" And we all laughed. We didn't care about names, they asked me about my age and if I was married. They were younger than me, and they were sharing stories about their broken engagements. For one of them, they could not agree on the dowry and living arrangements. One loudly said: "I didn't love him!" and she was the only one with bruises on her face from beating, and we all moved on.

What I want to say is that life is within us. We live it everywhere, even if there is destruction. But how can I ignore these sounds that kill our loved ones every second. I now sit on the pavement of the hospital and the bombs are shaking all around. It is 5:36 pm.

December 4th

Esam – Day 68 of the Massacre
WEDNESDAY, December 13 2023

If life is cheap, why does she embrace this beauty in her arms? If she does not want her children, and watches them being cut off at the garden gates, then why does she extend her beauty to them? 

Perhaps she has lost her mind, and delirium has reached its final point. Restricted veins still pulsing. Each scratched person, like an angel of mercy, walks into someone's quarters to draw the curtain on their final scene.

The fire rises high and the place is not enough for love. It is much smaller than all the love the mind imagines. If every husband gave his wife a kiss, the hospital would become a police station.

The sky between love and fire gives space. The one who carries the child must carry him well, so that memories do not scatter from his wounded head. The one who resists himself must remember himself. 

The mother nurses the children with her milk, just as the mother used to put pebbles in the pot. Yet despite all this death, my mother’s pot was full.

“Maqluba” is a dish that expresses the fabric of our Palestinian identity and resistance. It was our relief! 
Maybe there’s a person sitting in his chair, cigarette lit, burning his words with it, saying, “How can a dish express resistance?”

You will not know this feeling until someone tries to steal your history and attribute it to themselves. Only then will you know that every time you cook your food, you are resuscitating something inside you that they could never kill.

It was a space that has been absent from our souls for over 50 days now. We felt as though we had returned to ourselves; to the living room, and Fridays, waiting for everyone at one table after prayers, at home, with the average Friday arguments. No home goes without an argument on Friday, and the theme for the evening, “What is the reason for the argument?”  

I miss the balcony and our bald neighbor’s garden and evenings with friends. I miss the sea at dawn and at night. The irritating quiet of the balcony, and all the things I left behind me. The coffee cup gifted by my friend, although I don’t drink coffee. But there was a phrase by Um Khalthoum written on the cup, “Often those eyes have kept me busy.” I want those eyes to keep me busy from the ashes. 

Esam – Day 75 of the Massacre
WEDNESDAY, December 20 2023

This city is full of strange contradictions, mixing death with life and transforming scenes of death to a cinematic piece devoid of pleasure. But the viewer is unable to look away despite its cruelty. You try to shield yourself from the overwhelming pressure of hearing the news that someone was martyred or injured, from the sounds of terrifying tales and the scenes you see every hour. 

Yesterday I went to the market and on my way back from Rafah to the European Hospital, the bus driver did not want to hear the news and he decided to turn on music. The driver was humorous, he lit his cigarette and  said I want to die this way, I do not care about anything and I am happy with the life I lived so far. Al lot of people tried to sell him diesel but his answer was always that he is ready to provide diesel and sell it with prices less than the market. 

The bus was like Aladdin’s lamp, it transported us from an atmosphere full of death to our memories of trips in buses listening to music with friends and fighting over who will put on their favorite song first. It took me to memories of riding in my brother’s car at night and going to Gaza’s beach, that same car that was not safe from the bombs either. 

This makes me think whether what I am doing in this bus means I am disrespecting people’s pain and mine, but we all share this pain. I want the aggression on Gaza to stop and for me to take a hot shower without anyone knocking on the door while I’m inside, I want to lay down in my bed and sleep deeply and free myself of my clothes under the blanket. I want to wake up whenever I want without the sounds of screams. I hate destruction and my message to the world is that those who commit massacres against us should throw themselves into the garbage bin because they know what they are doing in their dark path.

But everything in our world is incomplete. I was wrong to think that my day will be complete in the eyes of the driver, but time was enough to change things. After the evening prayer and near the shelter school close to the hospital a house was bombed and 60 people were martyred while tens were injured from those sheltering in tents next to Al Fukhari school all in one minute.

Esam – Day 86 of the Massacre
SUNDAY, December 31 2023

Before the bombardment, my life was very boring. Lots of time spent looking for permanent work. Lots of time on the laptop learning techniques for how to produce content. Few friends, because I don't have great luck with friendships. The balcony stood witness to a lot of my states. The state of depression that I went through many times. The number of attempts I made to travel and leave only to fail again and again. The number of times I tried to preserve myself and protect it against what happens to humans when they become the ugliest versions of themselves in order to get what they want. 

Life was moving very slowly in my eyes. My friend Munir Fasheh helped ease my heartache by giving me hope to live and work. We aimed and still do to tell our Palestinian story - as we see it - in its fully healed state, without censure, and without the impurity that the occupation spreads through their control of the media. 

One day, I told Munir that I wanted to travel to every country on the map to show them how we plant hope and wellness in the hearts of those around us. That we do not wish to kill anyone. That we never sold our land, but that instead it was stolen from our ancestors. That we wish for nothing but the occupiers to leave and to stop killing us. 

I feel sorry for my heart for having made so many failed attempts. But a voice says that was not my time. I once tried to publish an article to a Palestinian paper, but it was refused. Then, a friend published that same article under her name in the same paper. I said: this is not my time.
An ordinary day: to use my own bathroom, to sleep on my own bed, to have a pillow, to eat what we want. To spend boring evenings complaining about how small Gaza is and how few green spaces there remain. Acceptance of all that God has assigned you. 

After the aggression, everything began to change. In my opinion and that of others, a change from bad to worse. We became, as my mom says, like the teeth of a comb - all the same. There is no difference between those with money and those without because the meaning of money has changed because all we really want is to survive. I didn't realise my day would come during such a time - that my voice would be heard during these strange times. That it would be my time to say: we plant hope and life in our souls. We do not like to kill. That the occupation fights us with weapons and narratives. Knowing your story and how to tell it is a way to preserve your name in places you may never physically visit. 

The shock was less harsh for me than for others because I was waiting for my voice to be heard by many. Waiting for my chance - with God's grace - to continue, which was my main goal.

Now, many people read what I write. I thought the situation before the bombardment couldn't be worse. But it is nothing compared to what we live now and since October. Disease is spreading in the hospital - influenza and stomach bugs because of unsanitary food and throat infections. With the lack of treatment, the situation is disastrous. The room I used to think was tight - now the majority of the displaced from the South are stuck in a corner. My room now feels like it was as wide as the sky. Trash is everywhere in the hospital - like living in a big dumpster. 

You may own everything in life. And you may wake up one day and own nothing. If life seems large in your eyes, you would not withstand the plight. If it feels small, then you will not be affected if you lose everything and gain yourself. Expect at all times to lose everything you have.

31 December

Esam – Day 90 of the Massacre
Thursday, January 4 2024

Yesterday I went to Rafah to see my friend. She was telling me not to come today if I was making the trip for her sake alone, that I should come another day to run all my errands at once. But I wanted to relive the memory of when we would meet in Gaza at the Brunch Cafe. Five minutes in the street with my friend. Five minutes where you want to say everything inside of you, but instead you find yourself saying nothing at all.

On the way to and from Rafah there are two houses on the side of the road that were bombed by the occupation forces during the aggression. I was sitting in the front seat of the car, on the same seat as another man I don’t know. He is called ‘excess weight’ by traffic regulations, but who cares about “excess weight” in this kind of situation. I glimpsed the first house that had written on its walls, “The children are still under the rubble,” and my eyes began leaking tears involuntarily. We then passed by another house, written on it, “Omar and Osama are still under the rubble.” Inside of me a storm swelled, all that we had been through, all the screams, my father being rescued, my father who had been under two walls, a couch, and a window grill, and my brother’s car. I remembered how the neighbors had wanted us to leave the house and my father, for fear that they would bomb the house. We remained, with broken shoulders, lifting rubble until we were able to get him out. 

Omar, Osama, and the children, with the house on top of them for days until this very moment, why hasn’t anyone gotten them out, if all they had to use were their nails? How can a neighbor leave his neighbor if the parents are unable? If the negligence of the municipality kills? 

My father longs for his old life and tries to return to it despite his injuries. He trains his fingers that don’t move, he makes an electric pot. Perhaps it would have been possible for Omar and Osama to be like him now. Perhaps the children could be playing with the other children at the hospital. 

In northern Gaza, occupation soldiers kidnapped an infant and took him to the occupied territories of historical Palestine. This was witnessed by another soldier, a friend of the kidnapper, who was killed in the confrontation in Gaza. The infant’s entire family was killed in cold-blood before kidnapping the child. They want to implant the barbaric zionist ideology in him.The whole world must know about this crime.    

During the morning hours, I awoke to people’s fear due to the occupation army advancing and laying siege to Maan School that is 2km away from the hospital. The Red Cross asked the displaced people at the school to evacuate to Rafah. They went to Rafah and then returned to the European Hospital because Rafah has no space. There is fear that the hospital will be besieged. 
January 4

Esam – Day 97 of the Massacre
Thursday, January 11 2024

Come, let’s try an interesting experiment together. I haven’t told you that I haven’t healed from the flu over the past three weeks, despite receiving treatment twice in a row. I also will not tell you that the food inside Gaza is the primary reason for my illness. The majority of the aid that we receive doesn't really help people in healing from anything; everyone knows canned food.

But now, I will share something more real, and we can leave what I just said as a secret between us. My friend, imagine this scene with me and then apply what I’m going to tell you: a young man or woman gets influenza, like so many here at the hospital, and they suffer from symptoms of fever, dizziness, bone pains, and diarrhea. They want to go to the bathroom. Now they are standing in front of the bathroom door, and before them, there are no less than five other people standing also wanting to enter the bathroom. Perhaps they are suffering from the same symptoms. Maybe among them there is someone wounded, an old man, a child, or an old woman with incontinence. This is what happened in front of me, no one had to tell me about it. Now they are faced with two options: to scream that they cannot bear the pain and diarrhea and need to enter before everyone else, or to remain silent and wait between five to ten minutes for each person. If it was a child, they likely soiled themselves.   

Now my dear, escape the boundaries that befall Gaza, I want you to close the door of your room on yourself when you want to enter the bathroom. Time a half hour on your watch before leaving to enter the bathroom. Imagine yourself unable to enter the bathroom due to the scene I just described.

It is a fact that there are three schools around the hospital, and all three have no less than 25 bathrooms. Each school has no less than 15,000 displaced people. The hospital has no less than 22,000 displaced people.

I know the effects of food on the vitality of people, and they know it as well, which is why they use it to attack us. I know the effects of forged truths and rumors between the people, and because of this, people evacuate the hospital to Rafah, which no longer has space for the displaced. 

Solidarity is not enough. Silence is treacherous and words are not enough.

January 11.

Esam – Day 102 of the Massacre
Tuesday 16/1/2024

The Palestinian puts everyone around him into a state of awe, himself included.
Usually we witness weddings in the Gaza Strip in a customary fashion. During calm states, the bride and groom are celebrated in the midst of their families in a state of joy. But the joy that I heard of was like a clown’s make-up. The bride awaits her wedding day with utmost patience, and dreams of how that day will be. She plans it with her girlfriends, with her family, and anyone she loves. 

There are those who decide to have their wedding in the bottle’s neck, just like what the newly-weds did at the school. The bride wore black, it would likely have been gentler on her heart to wear something less sharp than black, but people’s emotions overcome them without notice. The groom was also wearing black. However the joy that was filling faces, the sounds of laughter and songs, moments that turned the school’s playground into a wedding hall, were all but moments.  

Our house in Al-Shujayieh* holds this same dream. In my sister’s room, next to the closet, a travel suitcase that she was packing for her wedding in Egypt. We are all supposed to be in Egypt celebrating my sister Manar’s wedding. 

Mahmoud, Manar’s fiance, does not know what to do in the shadow of the violent aggression on Gaza. He does not know how to stop it. There is nothing in his hands but offering them in prayer to God. 

How are you?
A simple question! Which naturally should also have a simple answer.

How are you?
Alhamdulillah (Thanks be to God). 

A Muslim gives thanks to God in all circumstances. We give thanks to God in these difficult times that we are passing through and all that has happened to us, because despite what has happened, God has been merciful towards us. How can we feel otherwise when God blessed us with life? We thank God alone for blessings and hardships. We believe in the mercy of God, despite what the occupation has done to our children. We believe in the greatness of God, despite what we see every day before our very eyes. A child with one limb jumping on the ground searching for her other limb, which she cannot find, because the aggression devoured it. 

“How are you?” is a simple question, and its response is simpler, “Alhamdulillah.”
But you can imagine for yourself how I am. 

January 16
*the North of Gaza

Esam – Day 115 of the Massacre
Tuesday 29/1/2024

How Does a Child Fall? 
During our childhood, we’d fall down on the floor running after our toys. We’ve learnt nothing from our falls other than that running after what we want will remain merely running, even if we shed tears. We run despite our mothers’ precautions and fear that something bad might happen to us. Childhood knows no bounds or limits; all that is on earth belongs to children. 

This aggression has made a child’s role quite different from any other child in the world, who lives a calm life. Those children go to school in the morning and fall asleep cuddled between their parents at night. Whereas the former goes to their favorite places, only to find them gone, bombed, simply because the occupation has decided to annihilate everything.

It’s 12 midnight, and after a period of water outage in the hospital, everyone cried out when the water came back. One of the children jerked awake and ran to get water. On his way there, he stopped running, fell down, his head hit something sharp, and his blood was spilled on the floor. After an hour, the child found himself lying in a hospital bed with a head-wound. He did not know how he grew up or how he was injured. He could have been snuggling with his mom had the aggressors decided to not disrupt the balance of childhood; yesterday, you could have fallen pursuing your toys, today, you fell pursuing water.

Leen is a girl who just turned six a few days ago. In spite of our presence in the hospital, her parents wanted to make her happy by throwing a small birthday party. She is a displaced child celebrating her birthday within a hospital’s wall, all because the occupation had destroyed her home, stolen her land, and killed her people. Leen is an incredibly imaginative child; she can come up with inimaginable stories. Leen says that Gaza, North of the Strip, is prettier than the South. For her, Gaza is wide and boundless, but the South is tight and narrow, since her tent is narrow and small. In the North, she used to play with her cousins where she had a massive yard, but now, she no longer sees her cousins and only a quite narrow passage surrounds her tent. 

Leen loves noodles, Awwameh and Asabe Zainab - Levantine desserts. She declares her love for raisins by saying that they are so sweet like honey. Leen expresses her anger and upset for not having raisins in the vicinity of the hospital. Leen is only six years old. Yet, she is wiser than her age. She says that her home is bigger than the entire universe, but the South imprisons her, it is as confined and limited as her tent.

Esam – Day 125 of the Massacre
Thursday 8/2/2024

Life is full of many blessings that humans lean towards. This abundance of blessings holds wisdom for people in choosing what they seek instinctively. What you accept may not suit me and the opposite is true, in all cases and searches. You may try to enforce a form of life on a  person, but inevitably they will return to their primary form and original shape. However, when that person decides for themselves to change their core structure, the path is difficult, but not impossible. 

The market before the aggression was completely different from during the aggression. Words have changed. Even the sellers include more women now than before, and they sell more of their goods. When the occupation army entered the market in Khan Younis and it became difficult for us to reach it, a part of the market relocated to the periphery of the European Hospital, but the Khan Younis market remains bigger and with more goods. The market in the vicinity of the hospital extends along the street that we cross to the Emergency entrance, and it is the same street that ambulances use. This is where the problem erupts, between people’s need to purchase essential goods and patients’ need to enter the hospital. However, every time an ambulance arrives, the market stops its activity for the matter of minutes needed for the ambulance to pass.   
The price of goods is definitely different than before, becoming more expensive multiple times over. Whereas to begin with, these goods mostly consist of the aid that has entered Gaza, and some of the remaining stock from warehouses.      

There is another entrance that is considered a parking garage for cars, which is roughly 10 meters long or more. Crowding is normal in markets, and due to displacement, the markets are even more crowded, because people spread into any available space. 

There are many young girls in the market who have become sellers, children and women as well. Every person in the market tries to be unique in what they sell. Some of them make food in tents then go to the market to sell, while some of them buy aid supplies to resell. 

There are many phrases that are repeated in the market that we hear while passing throughout the day. The most famous, “your back your back”, which means that the person behind you wants to pass, or a car, or a cart and donkey, for fear that they will crash into your back. Many people scrape their shoes on the ground while walking, making a dragging sound.  

There are many special offers on items made by sellers in order to move their goods, and these offers are available for fifteen minutes to half an hour, whereas offers used to last for days. 
Rafah market is also like this, but larger in size. If a car wants to cross to the end of the road, it must cross in the middle of people. Everyone tries to live their life differently, attempting to adapt, and people continue spinning circles around themselves.

Esam – Day 148 of the Massacre
Tuesday 2/3/2024

Gaza’s Curse on the World
What is happening now in Gaza, the genocide of civilians, the deprivation, and the siege from the world, is nothing but a test for everyone on earth. When this nightmare ends, events in the world will begin to accelerate, nations will fall, and Gaza will be the safest place in the world, because it spoke truth in the face of injustice, while many remained incredibly silent.  

People in displacement areas nearby the Egyptian border are beginning to lose ways of communicating with each other. The journey from Khan Younis to the Egyptian border to visit Nour––Dalia’s friend, who was displaced near the sea next to the Egyptian border and now in a tent for fear of bombing––was long and very tiring. Reaching the border in this kind of crowdedness takes from one to two hours, between walking and trying to get transportation. After the trouble to reach the border for Dalia to see her friend Nour, we had to search for Nour’s tent among 15,000 tents. Every time we would ask a passerby about the Muhanna family tent, they would respond with “By God, I don’t know.” Then they would repeat the word “Muhanna”, and say that the easiest way was to call their name from the mosque, using the loudspeaker, and then the family will come to you. This was the way to communicate with people when you want to visit someone there. People there don’t speak to each other. Each person keeps to themselves to the point that they have lost words. When a person comes from the outside, they speak to them eagerly, repeating the same words, because of the desire to open conversation and speak, simply because they miss talking. 

Several days before us, Ghadeer had gone to visit Nour. She had told Dalia that Nour’s tent was behind a wall, near a single palm. But we discovered upon arriving there that the place was full of palms. There was no “single” palm.  Afterwards, Dalia informed me that this was Ghadeer, never able to describe a single place correctly. Ghadeer is a map without a way to arrive. 

We couldn’t find Nour the first time around, but we were able to find the sea, which we had been deprived of for four months due to the aggression. We felt like the siege inside of us had been lifted for a few hours. The second time around we were able to reach Nour, and we had Dalia’s sister, Mariam, along with us. We sat around together talking about the calm that the sea brings to the place, although it is a place far from life. During the day, the sun burns everyone on the ground, and during the night, the cold eats at sleeping bodies. The bathroom is basically a small tent in between the tents. Each group of tents has a bathroom nearby. Supplies are far from the people, and they must walk to secure their needs if they have money. Those that do not have access to money live on aid that is not enough to live off. 

What I want to tell the world is that everyone is participating in the starvation and genocide that is happening. Whoever does not speak truth to justice now will lose themselves later. And there will be no turning back this time to rebuild trust anew. Because the world will run and take everyone who was unjust in their hearts. 


Esam – Day 166 of the Massacre
Wednesday 20/3/2024

Ramadan Kareem from around a table of blood and human flesh, from the displacement of families and their murder in front of the world, and from the Muslims and all religions that believe that a human is human regardless of nationality. 
I wish that the sound of cannons that we hear alongside the evening call to prayer was the sound of the cannon announcing iftar, instead of occupation cannons intended to bombard Gaza during the time of breaking fast. Today, trading blood for the now restricted drinks that we used to drink every Ramadan. The occupation regards the people’s needs to this degree; juices of blood, only available in Gaza. 
This is a call to the Arab nations, Gaza is capable of exporting a one of a kind juice. But it tastes bitter, like the bitterness of the days we are living. A juice to remind them of what it means to be Arab.  
The days resemble each other, and time doesn’t pass for us. Because we left our people in the north as tinderwood for the war, while we here in the south are the fuel ignited by them, together burning. 
Ramadan Kareem, because God blessed us with it, and not the followers of injustice. But dear God, they have exchanged our meal for body parts and blood. And despite that, we couldn’t feed our friends who are going hungry for five months.

If I were to say that I miss the calm of the house after iftar, while nobody from my family was killed in the bombing, I would be betraying the families of those killed by the cannons. If I were to miss my room and my friends, I would be betraying those who don’t have any friends left. But I miss being human, and in this, I betray myself. And this and I are set free.

People here have disconnected from reality completely, as though their feelings exist in a graveyard of oblivion. Death is everywhere. Some people decorate the tents and houses with lights, spread communal tables, and sing religious songs. The markets were prepared before Ramadan, like every year, and the spirit is close, but the destruction is alien to the calm that lives inside of us every Ramadan: the worship and taraweeh prayers at the ancient Al-Omari Mosque in central Gaza, which was destroyed by the occupation. 

The death, the blood, the body parts, the screams, the destruction, the burned bodies, the wailing, the sound of mothers bleeding with children martyred. Has all this made us lose our sense of horror at what is happening, and are we now covering our wounds with false bandages? Have we lost ourselves or our humanity?!!     

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