Gaza Diary: Countdown to a Cease-fire

Gaza journalist describes the treacherous last 24 hours before Hamas and Israel agreed to halt fire; 10,000 Gazans already been displaced.

“A cease-fire will be reached 9:00 P.M. tonight,” the breaking news read on Tuesday night. All of us in the office sighed. It’s true I was a bit disappointed with the cease-fire as I felt sorry for all the victims the offensive left behind, yet still it was the best paper on the table. Awaiting the relatively good news, I headed to a restaurant on the coast to have dinner before I go home.

7:00 P.M., 8:00 P.M., 8:30 P.M., I was desperately counting. 9:00 P.M., now and guess what? Israel started a new round of violent raids hitting the entire Gaza strip from north to south. “The cease-fire was delayed till tomorrow,” the restaurant screen showed.  More than thinking of how inadequate this was, I was mainly worried about one thing, I’m caught in the crossfire again.

Like the first day of the offensive, I couldn’t go back home because of the intensive bombing all over the city.  I left to my sister’s house nearby and stayed there the whole night. Telling my family that I won’t stay home tonight, they felt extremely worried.  “I feel this has happened for a reason, it’s either you or us will be killed tonight,” my sister told me. I was really convinced; no one can deny that everything happens for a reason.  

The bombing didn’t stop for a moment and more than it was too noisy to sleep, I was too scared to sleep. Naval ships, F16s along with artillery tanks were hitting everywhere. So close to the sea, I was expecting a missile from a naval shipat any moment. Contrary to my expectations, an F16 hit a building very close to my bedroom, things on the sideboards fell all over the floor making it scarier. Meanwhile, my sisters were having a worse night as a governmental building beside their home that was hit by 8 rockets at once.

As the sun rose, I got dressed and headed to my office to find it in totally new shape. The windows were shattered all over the floor. It was the same governmental building around my house. Looking over the roof of the high-rise building, I saw Gaza wearing the gray color of rubble. Until now, more than 10,000 Gazans have been internally displaced, evacuating their houses, heading to UNRWA schools.

F16 rockets, artillery missiles, naval ships and finally leaflets have been falling all over the houses of Palestinians in Gaza. After 6 days of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, Israel dropped down leaflets over the borderline areas telling residents to evacuate their houses into the central Gaza strip.

“IDF is not targeting you or any of your family members,” the leaflet said. The leaflets even mentioned the names of the roads Gazans should take while leaving. They haven’t said it loud and clear there will be a ground invasion but it was written between the lines. Surprisingly, the leaflets were dropped shortly before early talks about an imminent cease fire.

Carrying their bed sheets and blankets, tens of families started evacuating their houses to the UNRWA schools; the same scenes of 2008-09 were re-played. Gazans have been evacuating their houses since the offensive started but now a massive displacement is taking place.

Sabah Abu Samra, 44, has evacuated her house since the first day of the offensive along with her sons. She first fled to her married daughter house that was relatively safer than hers to find out she was mistaken in her expectation.

“After I escaped to my daughter house, I had to flee again to my friend’s house, it gets more dangerous every day,” Abu Samra said.  Abu Samra was hesitating to leave her newly built house but her twelve- year old forced her to.

“He wasn’t even able to go to the toilet by his own,” she noted.

She wasn’t the only one who is staying at the same host. Abu Na’eem was hosting two other families since the offensive started; among the guests were his daughter and his brother in law.  They all came from different areas but equally dangerous.
As she lives between mass empty lands, Om Eyyad, the daughter, has to leave her house as the lands that might be used by the resistance fighters to fire rockets from. “However I’m so worried about my house, I’m more worried about my family,” she said.

The Israeli offensive Pillar of Defense, started last Wednesday when Israel assassinated the senior Hamas commander Ahmed Al-Jabari, retaliating for the Israeli jeep that was targeted by the Palestinian fighter on the Israeli-Gaza border Saturday. More than 150 people, 1200 were injured since the Pillar of Cloud was waged last week

Om Eyad said that it’s the same hard experience of the Cast Lead and she is praying for a soon cease-fire. “I wish nothing but the war to finish and go back home.”

Waiting for the cease-fire that was postponed Tuesday night, Gazans were desperately following the news. “Israel might unilaterally announce a ceasefire,” this is the last thing I wanted to hear, honestly as I was praying. Luckily, the news was confirmed later and a bilateral Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was announced Wednesday night. Gazans were happy that the sleepless nights were over and no more blood will drain anymore.  

Hazem was one of those who carefully following the breaking news on his TV. When it was officially announced, he screamed out of happiness, “We won the battle, we won it!” He was so happy yet worried it might change with the shifts in Israeli governments.

“I thank God for this, I believe our Palestinian resistance got its goal; they lift the siege over Gaza. [Israel] failed to stop the Palestinian rockets and Netanyahu failed to promote himself for elections,” Hazam said.