I left a piece of me in Gaza and I may never return

Palestinians flee Gaza City for southern areas amid Israel’s continued bombardment of the region, November 11, 2023.

It was Thursday night when we started negotiating. Do we need to evacuate to the south or not? The F-16 fighters didn’t leave the sky, the bombing didn’t stop, the real bullets were very close. The sky was misty, covered with gas bombs and white phosphorus. It was difficult to even breathe.

Our job is to document the war, to show the world what is happening. How could we leave? We asked this question for hours. I got a headache from thinking so much.

“What if they kill us? What if they arrest us?” one of the guys asked.

“I’m not leaving, I’d rather die here,” said another.

“We should leave, we have children and families.”

“We did everything we could. We report everything.”

Despite the noise of the bombs, I forced myself to sleep. I wondered if it would be my last night at the office, my last night in the city.

We had evacuated the office three times in 30 days. We evacuated to the Roots Hotel, but the journalists there were being chased, so we evacuated to Al Shifa Hospital. After the threats received by the hospital, we decided to take a risk and return to our three-story office in the Al Rimal area, near Al Saraya.

I lived on a mat on the office floor. It had a private bathroom.

The 11th floor office had the best view of Gaza. It became our home when we were displaced. It was our little house.

I slept while my colleagues continued to argue.

It was 6:30 am when my colleague Ali woke me up. “Go get ready, we’re leaving,” he said, in a hurry.

“Going to where? Nowhere,” I told him. “Let’s find somewhere else to go. I do not want to leave”.

“Hind, yalla, there’s no time to negotiate, we don’t have much time”, he stressed, while putting his cameras in his backpack.

I got up from the mat. Everyone was packing their bags, looking for their things. I realized that I actually have ADHD, as I always suspected, because I had no idea where to start.

It was a minor problem because I have practically no clothes anyway – a couple of dirty sweaters, my laptop and my camera. I have been homeless since October 9th.

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I grabbed my bag and ran with Ali to get his injured mother and my cousin. Ali drove very fast. We parked far from the entrance to Al Shifa. The entrance to a hospital has become a danger zone after several were bombed recently.

We started walking very quickly to try to get into the hospital. It was crowded, people were rushing to get out.

We started pushing people. It took us over 10 minutes to get from the entrance to the building, a distance that would normally be covered in just a minute or two.

I went to meet my cousin, Sara. She is a surgeon and has worked at Al Shifa hospital since day one. Meanwhile, Ali went to get his injured mother and sister.

I started knocking on the door. “Sara, open the door. It’s me, Hind.”

I continued knocking for three minutes until another doctor opened the door. Sara was sleeping.

I woke her up. “Hurry up, we’re leaving,” he told her.

She didn’t react. She started putting away her clothes.

Ali took his mother in a wheelchair. I took my cousin and some doctors.

My cousin, Dr. Sara, waiting during the exodus from Gaza, November 10, 2023, Gaza.My cousin, Dr. Sara, waiting during the exodus from Gaza, November 10, 2023, Gaza.
My cousin, Dr. Sara, waiting during the exodus from Gaza, November 10, 2023, Gaza.

My cousin, Dr. Sara, waiting during the exodus from Gaza, November 10, 2023, Gaza.

The hallways were becoming empty. Everyone was in a hurry. Even patients were being evacuated.

At this point, there were too many of us to fit in the car, so we started walking. We walked with thousands of other civilians. I even saw a hospital bed being pushed along the path.

Children, people in wheelchairs, the elderly, babies – everyone carried backpacks, pillows, mats.

Our job is to document the war, to show the world what is happening. How could we leave?

We waited at the intersection for 40 minutes until Ali found us. We walk together.

I watched the expressions on people’s faces. Terrified, they held white flags.

A truck that normally transported cows was full of people. Another truck, which used to transport gas cylinders, took people south.

People were crying, angry, sad, their eyes full of fear.

My emotions were blocked. All I could think was that I didn’t want to leave, that it was wrong to leave, that I shouldn’t leave.

Everything was destroyed. Even the streets were damaged and destroyed. My eyes tried to document everything, I did what I could to capture everything with them. I wanted to shed my tears, but I kept them inside.

It’s not time to cry, I’ll cry later, I told myself.

We started walking from “Doula Square” – the starting point.

We found carts pulled by donkeys. They shouted that they could take us to the Israeli tanks.

We reserved two carts. The owner was in a hurry; he charged us 20 NIS – around R$25 reais – for a 10-minute donkey ride. Some could not pay and continued on foot.

I saw people carrying cats, carrying birds in cages, holding their suitcases, carrying as much as they could.

We arrived at the area that had been leveled by excavators. I saw an excavator, two tanks and a dozen soldiers.

The wagon owner said it was as far as he would take us. All the people started to extend their green IDs and raise their arms and white flags. Everyone was terrified. It was the first time that many people in Gaza, especially children, had seen an Israeli tank or soldier.

I saw Israeli soldiers in 2016 when I left the Gaza Strip through Erez, the fortified northern border. I wasn’t scared.

We were still walking. I was carrying two bags, one on each shoulder. Ali’s injured sister had been leaning on me the entire way. She had been hit by shrapnel in the leg when the Israelis attacked the entrance to Al Shifa hospital.

As I walked with the crowd, I looked at the ground. I saw baby blankets, baby socks. I saw clothes, toys, bags. I’m sure people were too scared to go back and get the things they had dropped.

We walked over decomposing corpses.

There were thousands of us, pushing each other along this one-way street. We wanted this to end. To our left, there was a tank and soldiers holding their rifles, who were watching us through binoculars on a dune. To our right were four soldiers in front of a bombed-out building, posing and taking selfies in the rubble.

Our group was stopped more than four times (for no reason) and released for no reason.

As we approached the soldiers, I saw a naked man standing in front of the dune, along with three other men with their heads lowered.

It was the first time that many people in Gaza, especially children, had seen an Israeli tank or soldier.

Another man, who was carrying a 20-liter yellow bottle of water, and a blonde child were called by the soldiers. They asked the boy to come closer without his father. He was terrified. We who were passing by were worried that they would take the boy.

The soldier told him there was nothing wrong, he just liked blonde kids.

We continued walking. As we walked, pushing each other, we saw bombed-out cars and bodies inside the cars.

Flies infested the cars, delighting in the blood and bodies inside.

A newborn in front of me was crying. Her mother tried to feed her while we walked. She began to breastfeed the baby without stopping walking. Another mother pulled her children in their car seats with a rope.

A man was pushing an injured woman’s wheelchair. Every time she got stuck in the sand.

We continued walking, stopping and walking, the soldiers a constant threat.

It felt like years of walking, even though it was only hours. It was crowded, and we were constantly looking for each other in the crowd. On the other side there were people who were already in the south and came to look for us. The people in the south were looking for us, for the people coming from the city. Everyone was tired. Everyone was thirsty.

I had lost my cousin in the crowd of thousands, but I found her in the end. She was crying, her leg couldn’t take it anymore. She was experiencing intense pain. We helped her keep moving until we found a car.

I can’t describe the sadness. We escaped being killed or injured, but I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want to leave the city.

As we got closer to where the cars were parked, people started handing out water to us. They told us we were welcome and their homes were open to us.

We were so tired. I couldn’t feel my shoulders, nor my legs.

Everyone was happy that we had evacuated. Everyone hugged us. We had managed to arrive safely.

But I didn’t feel that. A piece of my heart had remained in the city and I may never be able to return to get it. It is impossible for me to imagine that I abandoned my father’s house, that I left it alone. He built that house with his own hands and, when he died in 2012, it remained with his family. In my family, our home is so precious to us. We don’t know if our house is still standing, but we know we’re not in it.

Fifteen minutes after our arrival, the people walking behind us were bombarded.

This text was originally published in English on November 12, 2023.

Translation: Deborah Leão

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: left piece Gaza return



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