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A Palestinian child wounded in an Israeli bombardment on a residential building in Gaza.
VOICES

My story The horrific hours of fear for my family in Gaza as Israel rescued four hostages

Ahmed Alsammak is a Palestinian man living in Ireland. He thought his family had been lost last week in Israel’s operation to rescue four hostages.

IT WAS ALMOST 9 am last Saturday, Dublin time when I woke up to my landlord’s dog barking. I was so sleepy and tried to sleep but the loud barking made it impossible.

Since 7 October last year, my family has been stuck in the war-torn strip, so I turn on the Wi-Fi first thing every morning to check the latest news from Gaza.

Suddenly, tens of messages from WhatsApp and Telegram groups, all from relatives outside Gaza and friends, flooded the screen. My heart lurched because it mirrored the flurry of notifications I’d received back in January, following the horrific news of the killing of my uncle and four cousins in Gaza.

My hands trembled so violently. I could barely hold the phone. Sweat beaded on my forehead, dripping down. My body became so cold despite the warmness in my room.

The breaking news read: “Israeli tanks have imposed a siege on the Alnuseirat Camp from two different entrances and on the Albureij Camp under the cover of unprecedented intensive bombings from tanks and warplanes, and indiscriminate fire from helicopters and quadcopters.”

“Oh my God! What the hell is going on!” the cry burst from my lips while trying to call my family who was taking shelter in Alnuseirat at the time, along with my uncles and extended family who were in Albureij. But there was a communication blackout; a tactic the Israeli army always employs when they launch operations in the strip. Panic gnawed at me as their numbers remained unreachable for over an hour.

Shock and fear

My tears were falling even though I wasn’t crying. My body felt like stone, frozen to the bed. The coldness in my hands extinguished the hell itself. It was one of the worst moments I’ve ever endured. Even the grief of losing my uncle and his children couldn’t compete with the agonising terror gnawing me at the time.

What should I do? I didn’t know anyone in Meath, where I had moved only two weeks ago for a short period to do my dissertation in a quiet place away from the bustling city of Dublin. My mind spun with the worst: “What if…?” Images of Malak Naim, my Gazan friend studying at UCD and the horrific bombing that killed her three sisters, two nieces and grandmother and left the rest severely injured just a few months ago, haunted me. Were my family facing a similar fate?

“No, God, please, no! I can’t take this. It’s too much for me. Please no!” I cried out, a desperate prayer echoing in the empty room.

While desperately trying to call my family during the communication blackout, I was watching videos from Al-Aqsa Hospital, in the middle of the strip, one of the few remaining hospitals that the Israeli army hasn’t bombed yet, claiming looking for Hamas.
The footage was horrific: a chaotic mix of the killed and injured. I scoured the names, praying none belonged to my mother or siblings. Thankfully, I did not see their names and I felt they were alive.

‘It was like day of judgement’

Then, a miracle. My call to my mother connected! Through her sobs, I heard a single, agonising phrase: “Your brothers…” The line died before she could finish.

Honestly, and I may never be able to explain this truly… it may sound shameful, but at that moment, only one thing mattered – my mother’s survival. A slight relief washed over me, a stark contrast to the chilling dread that lingered. I didn’t have the space to process her pain. All I knew was that she was alive and had survived.

After that rush of relief, my immediate concern shifted: my two brothers. Were they alive and safe? Relatives outside of Gaza were trying to call them too. Finally, a connection. Momen, my younger brother, 24, answered, his voice breathless. He was running home from Deir Al-Balah camp, where he worked for a charity.

“I’m okay, don’t worry and just spoke to Osama (my older brother, 32). He’s safe too. Bombings are everywhere but don’t worry if you can’t reach us again. We’ll do our best to keep in touch with you.” He told me almost at 11 am, after two hours,

I was reassured a little bit about them, but I felt severe pain in my heart with uncontrollable crying. I felt like it was a heart attack. I didn’t know what I should do. I decided to go to Dublin to stay with one of my friends until I got better. I got off the bus near sea, next to the Dart station, to get some fresh air.

Once I reached the beach, I called my family again to check on them. Thankfully, the call connected on the first try.

“There are more than 50 of us [along with my extended family members] sheltering under the stairs, and we are looking for another safer place to shelter in, but we are fine,” Osama told me.

Then the Israeli army announced they had finished their operation and freed four hostages from the Alnuseirat Camp.

“Suddenly, chaos erupted in Alnuseirat market. It was the most horrific scene since 7 October. People fled barefoot and terrorised. Mothers clutched their children, desperately searching for escape. The market ground was full of the killed — children, women, youth and the elderly.” Osama, who had been there to buy milk and nappies for his two-year-old Yafa, described the first moments of the incident.

“It was like the day of judgement. Shootings were coming from everywhere with intensive Israeli bombings, maybe more than all the bombings Israel dropped on Gaza for a few months.”

My two brothers and mother were in different places at the time, and there were massacres close to each of them. My mother collapsed and could not stand again out of fear for the whole day.

The price of a life?

To free the four Israeli hostages, the Israeli army killed 274 Palestinians, mostly civilians including children and women, injured 600 others and bombed more than 70 houses, according to Palestinian officials.

The next day, the presidents of the US and France, Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron said in a joint conference that they welcome the return and the “safe rescue” of the hostages. However, none of them, as always, even mentioned the Palestinian casualties that Israel killed to free the hostages. In other words, killing more than 37,000 Palestinians since 7 October, wounding over 84,000 others, bombing hospitals, destroying Gaza and imposing famine are completely fine for Biden and Israel’s allies, as long as Israel achieves the “safe rescue” at the end regardless of how many Palestinians are slaughtered.

tel-aviv-israel-08th-june-2024-protestors-line-up-in-front-of-israeli-police-while-chanting-and-holding-paintings-of-the-israeli-hostages-among-them-rescued-hostage-noa-argamani-whose-sign-says Tel Aviv. Protestors line up in front of Israeli police while chanting and holding paintings of the Israeli hostages, among them rescued hostage Noa Argamani whose sign says: 'Noa is home! We want all of them back!' during the demonstration. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Every single Palestinian desperately needs this genocide to stop. Israel’s systemic and indiscriminate killing of Gaza civilians needs to stop. All Israeli hostages need to be released, and all Palestinians illegally held in Israeli prisons must also be released. Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian territories. The last few months have seen an eruption of utter hatred and madness in the region and the people of Gaza, like my family members, have suffered untold horrors. 

But for Israel, its agenda is different. “Gaza Arabs will not stay in the Gaza Strip. Who will stay: Jews. Africa is big. Canada is Big. The world will absorb the people of Gaza. The normal people don’t want to live in hell. If you want to call it ethnic cleansing (or) if you want to call it apartheid, you (can) choose your definition. I choose the way to protect the state of Israel,” said Daniella Weiss, the godmother of the Zionist settler movement in the West Bank told CNN a few months ago.

We are sick and tired of the Israeli occupation and it’s high time for the world to take action and end it as they did with South Africa last century. Please consider us “full human beings” as you have done with Ukrainians. Human nature being what it is, if the Israeli occupation continues with its ethnic cleansing policies, the Palestinian resistance will emerge again, and we will face the same cycle of hatred and violence as we have seen for so many years. Now is the time to break that cycle. Where is the international political will for peace?

We have lost a lot of family members and only a few have survived who are living under unbearable circumstances. Since 7 October, Israel has cut water, electricity, gas, petrol and most of goods and food aids to enter the Gaza Strip, causing severe famine that has affected the most vulnerable. 

Three days ago, I spoke to my niece, Yafa. She said:

“Please, Amo (uncle in Arabic), take me to your place (Ireland). There’s so much bombings here. Please, Amo. 

Someone please call a halt to the madness. 

Ahmed Alsammak is a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. He is currently based in Dublin to pursue his MBA studies. He was a project assistant at We Are Not Numbers, a youth-led Palestinian nonprofit project in the Gaza Strip. Twitter: @Ahmed_al_sammak.

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