“One of the girls vanished completely. No bones, no arms, no legs. Nothing that might suggest that a little girl of 9 years existed in this place just seconds ago.”
Despite a long night of bombing, I woke early Tuesday morning to the sound of voices drifting through the window of my room, newly displaced people taking refuge in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school across the street. In the last two weeks thousands have been forced to leave their homes on the coastal side of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun to avoid being killed by a shell from a tank or a warship.
They have brought with them little but their desire to survive and have traveled toward Jabalia, the neighborhood I have lived in all my life. Jabalia is itself a refugee camp, established after the 1948 Nakba when thousands of were forced to leave their villages and towns across the country that was Palestine. Already the most densely populated camp in the Gaza Strip, Jabalia is now receiving a new wave of refugees after 66 years.
From my window, which overlooks the school, I can see old women, exhausted, sitting down on the little steps in front of the playground, their children clinging to them, many of them crying; old men are looking nervously up to the sky where drones are still hovering, making a noise that they will not forget in the years they have left. The UNRWA man is trying to organize everything in this chaos.
Monday night was a terrible chapter in the history of Gaza—especially for the eastern part of Beit Hanoun. Tanks moved in from the border toward the residential areas, destroying everything in their paths, erasing every building, every school, every orchard. You do not know whether the next shell will fall on your head. When you will be reduced to another number in the news. You think about what it means to disappear from the world, to evaporate like a drop of water, leaving no sign of your existence, and the thought drives you mad.
A shell killed a family of six people three days ago. Cousins of my neighbor Eyad. They were sitting around their food waiting for the prayer to break their fast. The four children were killed instantly, and the parents were mortally injured.
Eyad told me that one of the dead girls vanished completely; they found no sign of her body. No bones, no arms, no legs. Nothing that might suggest it belonged to her, that a little girl of 9 years existed in this place just a few seconds ago. Apparently the rocket hit her body directly.
In two hours the newcomers are settled in the classrooms and in the tents set up in front of the school. The UNRWA man gives his instruction through his megaphone, explaining that everyone needs to follow his orders. The sound of his voice echoes around my head as I try to go back to sleep. You have to sleep when you can in this war, as most nights you will not sleep a wink. You have to gather sleep up, as much as you possibly can, and store it, as they say in Arabic, “behind the eyes.”
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