More than 10,500 Gazans and more than 1,400 Israelis have been killed since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war. Israeli assaults have destroyed thousands of homes in Gaza and damaged critical infrastructure. Leaving 95 percent of Gazans without access to clean water, Israel’s military blockade has set off a public health crisis which, if left unchecked, will lead to mass deaths from dysentery and cholera. The Israeli military has already killed more Gazan children in a month than were killed in all other war zones combined in 2022.1
Throughout the war, many Gazans have sent voice memos to relatives and foreign organizations informing them of their conditions. Some of these memos were sent to a US-based organization, which prefers to remain anonymous. This organization in turn forwarded the voice messages to a team of volunteer transcribers and translators in New York City and Chicago. The following testimonies, edited for length and clarity, represent a small selection from the transcript.
This is a loaf of bread. I bought it ten days ago. I am still eating it, out of this plastic bag. This is my ration for today. I’ll put a bit of labneh or za’atar on it, anything. I bought this loaf from the bakery behind me. The bakery was bombed.
This is one of the objectives of the occupation. Israel is bombing even small things.
Today, in the morning, I did my daily mission: finding bread and water. When I was at the market, they did four strikes, with one minute between each strike. There were a hundred people in the street: panicking, running. Whenever we heard the rockets coming, we started to run, but we didn’t know where to go. We took a rest for one minute and then another rocket dropped, then one minute more, then another one, and then another one. We woke up, but I think our hearts died from what happened yesterday.
People in the northern parts of Gaza lost service and internet connection yesterday. At night, all connection was lost. We woke up, had some connection, and then it was cut off again. There was a pattern. Each time the connection was lost, our area was bombed repeatedly and relentlessly. We noticed this pattern after a while, and it became another form of terror and another form of suffocation.
These past six days we’ve had no rest, we’ve barely slept through the night. Our family had to evacuate from three different houses. The neighborhood where I live was bombed with white phosphorus, which violates international humanitarian law. But nothing is too illegal to be used on us Gazans. We are not Europeans after all.
Two days ago, they asked 1.1 million people to go south. To where they did not say. They told us to go south because it was safer there. Then they bombed the south. They have cut off electricity, water, and all the resources a human being needs to live.
I am 16 years old and I have lived through seven wars. That’s almost more than a quarter of my life. This is all I’ve seen from living here. What we’re asking for is peace. We want this attack to stop. What is our fault as civilians? Is it our fault to have been born in this city? Half of the civilians around me are children, who don’t understand why this is happening to them. “Why?” they’re asking. Can you tell us why this is happening?
Another night, another nightmare. They bombed my area, so my family decided to move to the hospital. When we reached it, I asked my father a question: “Are we safe?” Yesterday they bombed Al-Ahli hospital, they can bomb our hospital too. Nothing is prohibited for them. No one tells them no. What stops them from bombing this hospital?
He didn’t answer. His silence meant we were in danger. We didn’t know if we did right or wrong. We stayed at the hospital the whole night and when the sun rose, we moved and returned to our house. I can’t describe how awful this night was, how terrifying, and . . . dirty. I’m sorry to use this word, but more than one thousand people were dead. We were dying. We were dying in dirt.
There is no space to work in the hospital. No space to take a single step forward. There are so many people sitting on the floor. They are everywhere! In the hallways, in front of the rooms, in front of the elevators, in front of the stairs. There are some patients who’ve refused to leave after being discharged. “Where do I go?” they ask. “My house is gone. My family is here.”
I just had two patients that needed the ICU. We had to choose between the two of them, to see which one to take to the ICU. We took one. In these situations, we don’t take the critical cases first. We take the one with the highest chance of survival. As one is more likely to survive, they become the priority. The other one—no, we won’t leave them to die, we leave them aside on mechanical ventilation until . . . we find a solution.
Every day, we say that this is the heaviest day. Every night, we say this is the heaviest night. And then they surprise us. No: there is more.
I woke up today to news from my aunt. Her house was partially destroyed when the neighboring house was bombed. The family staying in that house was killed. Six children and one adult. It is a miracle that no one in my aunt’s family was injured. I rushed out there, to help them remove the rubble.
My aunt was hosting six other families from Gaza and the north. Then the IDF targeted another one of her neighbors, and that house was also damaged. A young boy, Muhammad, one year old, was killed. This was the first time in my life I stood in front of someone who I care about, speechless. I didn’t have the words to say anything that could help them handle what they were going through. I used to be the one who was always there, supporting everyone around me. Today I was completely useless. In front of a father, holding his 1-year-old son.
When we were going to the graveyard, I couldn’t say anything. I was imagining, “What if it was me in that situation?” I don’t think I have the strength to handle losing one of my children. I don’t know how I can say this, but I would prefer it be me, and not any one of my children.
I haven’t slept in two days. When I close my eyes, I hear a bomb or see a light or hear a scream. I wonder: “Should I evacuate now, or should I just wait for my death in my own house?” There are no safe places around.
Yesterday, we had to evacuate our building. I had to leave my room, my house, and my memories. But where we went was no safer, so we had to return home. Now I’ve made a decision: If I’m going to die, I’m going to die in my home.
We feel very close to death here in Gaza. We really feel death every second. We smell death everywhere. Without shelters or safe spaces, we are exposed to massive attacks, massive strikes that are wiping out whole neighborhoods.
I have two children: a 6-year-old little girl and an 8-month-old little boy. It’s hard to look into their eyes when what you see is only fear, and tears, and you feel that you’re not able to protect them or save them.
I originally come from a small village called Taybeh, in the West Bank, near Ramallah. Taybeh, in the Bible, was called Ofra. This morning I received a message from a relative there: people in the village were going to harvest the olive trees. This is the time for the harvest.
But they were confronted by well-armed Jewish settlers who threatened to kill them if they harvested the olive trees. This is going to mean economic hardship for them because they harvest the olive trees once a year. And now they can’t.
We woke up and found leaflets from the occupying army falling from the sky. They said Evacuate Gaza. Now, I am living by the seashore. I used to wake up in the morning and go to the sea to listen to the sound of the waves and relax. Today, as you can see, we are living in a tent. We suffer from the cold at night. We’re supposed to sleep on this mat but instead we’re covering ourselves with it. It’s full of thorns. They don’t come out easily.
We were not born to die. We were born to live. We envy the martyrs because they’re gone and don’t have to endure this. I am unable to save myself, my children, or my parents. We don’t eat or drink. Food and water are not as important as living. We are souls, meant to live.
This is what my 3-year-old son drew yesterday. I asked him, “What did you draw?” He said, “A worm that got attacked by an air strike and a little boy protecting it.” I asked him, “Why did you draw this?” He said, “I don’t know.”
10-year-old Salma Alghalayini
Six days ago, my mother and I woke up to the sounds of bombs. These sounds are very loud. They made me cry. My grandparents came over. A few days later, our neighbor’s house was bombed, and we evacuated to a family friend’s house.
Another few days later, a bomb struck a tower next to us. We evacuated again. From house to house to house. Then they took the electricity from us, our internet, our food, our water. I can’t even sleep at night. And all my family can’t sleep. And it’s so hard, but it’s not new. It’s actually very old. From year to year, we have always lived a hard life.
When they asked us to evacuate, we had no idea where we would go and how far it would be. We went to a house in Uzzawada, me and my family and maybe another three or four families. We shared the same beds, the same food, the same bathroom.
We’re living day by day, I guess. Not day by day—we’re living minute by minute and second by second. I’m talking to you right now, and I don’t know if this message will reach you because I could be bombed at any minute. Yes, I don’t know what you want me to do or to say but—this is what I have.
I really hope you can imagine it. I’m talking to you, but I’m tired from speaking, because I feel it’s useless. Everyone knows the truth, but everyone is closing their eyes. It’s hard for me to make a video. Of course, the circumstances don’t help. I’m in a place with a lot of people. I can’t make a video in a place where I can’t be alone.
Shadia Al Ghoul
Today is the eighteenth day of the war on the Gaza Strip. We had to leave the Gaza area after my house—it was four floors and housed five families—was completely bombed. We moved to the Zawayda area at the request of the Israeli occupying army. This area was designated as a “safe zone,” but as I send this message I see a house in front of me with flames coming out of it. For two days now, bodies of children and women have been retrieved. It’s estimated that thirty individuals who sought shelter on the first floor of this house, who hoped to find safety there, were found. There is no safety. There are flames everywhere.
For two and a half days, there has been no drinking water, and no water to extinguish the fires. The smell of death is everywhere. We live in an apartment that is no more than 120 square meters. It houses six families, most of them are children and women, without electricity and without internet. I struggled for hours to get internet, so that I could send this message.
This world has decided our fate for us, and we don’t have the right to defend ourselves. We don’t have the right to decide our own destiny like you do. We live in uncertainty, not knowing if we’ll survive the next few hours. If my voice reaches you, know that this area and these people have faced genocide. This genocide is not an exaggeration—it’s a reality. Death is always near us. And every now and then, it walks among us. Since morning, death looms before me. I see it and it sees me, and I know I am heading toward it.
Innocent children were chasing each other and playing together, before this. They dreamed of growing up to be doctors, engineers, and teachers. Their dreams would have been tough to reach but in some ways, lay within reach. The siege has made parents fear that their children will never achieve their dreams, or that their dreams will be limited. But they are living in hope and still dreaming. They don’t know if they will die from bombs flying over their heads. If they die, their dreams will disappear. Then they will be free of this siege forever, resting in heaven.
At 12 AM, they dropped white phosphorus. I’m carrying wet clothes so that I can wash my nose and my eyes. They’re trying new weapons on us. We are not used to all these types. We are experienced in being bombed, we know some weapons, know some war planes, but these all are new. This is a war crime, this is against international law, this is against everything, as the occupation itself is. But they are committing more and more crimes in the dark, without anybody around to notice anything.
How did the building fall? We don’t know. How did the building fall? I don’t know. Everyone who was in the building, everyone who was in the building . . . it fell . . . and they all died. My daughter, my wife, my mother, my sister, my brother . . . [cries] they’re all dead!
There were more than thirty people there, most of them displaced from other places. They’re all dead.
I’m an American citizen stuck in the Gaza Strip. I came here to visit my older brother’s family. Two days after I arrived, the war began. We evacuated from one family member’s house to another, but a bomb struck next door. It was so frightening. I have seven grandchildren with me.
I used to buy water to drink. Now we drink salt water. I haven’t showered or shaved in twelve days. It’s hard to find food. I want to send a message to President Biden. I voted for him. He is my president. He has to get me out of here. Life here is so bad. I can’t handle it here. There is no life here. I can’t sleep. Bombs are everywhere. Bomb. Bomb. Bomb. I have no place to go. I have family in Michigan. I have a business. I own my business. I have eleven grandkids. They are crying on the phone every day. They need me. I need to go to see my business. I don’t know what to say.
Dr. Abeer Barakat
I’m in the third generation of the Nakba refugees. When my grandparents or my grandmother migrated from Jaffa in 1948, she was only 30 years old. I’m 43. It really saddens me to see the pictures of the Nakba happening again. Seeing these tents being built in southern Palestine in Khan Younis makes me remember all of the pictures of the Nakba. Why does it have to happen again? Why are we the ones to be kicked out or thrown onto the borders? Why is it so easy for the international community to deal with us as inhuman creatures? Why is that?
I remember every word of agony and sorrow that my grandmother told me about how difficult it was for them to leave their land, to leave their homes. My family was a wealthy family in Jaffa, but they have to live in poverty and in sadness in Gaza because of the occupation. The world has a distorted logic and distorted sentiments and distorted morals. I’m sorry to say that all of the international laws and all of the human rights and all of the international declarations of human rights are a big joke. They only apply to the white world. They do not apply to us Palestinians.
We’ve already been displaced seven times, moving from one house to another, hoping that the next house in the next neighborhood will offer refuge. Each time we moved, we took the people of that house with us, and so our numbers increased. When we got to the last house, there were about 120 people, with over 50 children staying in the same apartment.
Every night, we would lay down on the mattresses and pretend to be asleep so that the kids next to us could get some sleep themselves. But the rate of bombs during the night time has increased. The rate has doubled, and the sounds are horrifying, because quiet is all you hear otherwise. Every night has been like this in Gaza during these last seventeen days.
However, last night the bomb sounds were different. You’d hear a whistle and then the core of the building would start shaking. And by that, I mean, literally the building would start moving left to right—while you, yourself, shake with the building.
That night alone we lost over 400 people. The rockets that were fired and the bombs that were thrown were strong enough to destroy whole residential buildings. Families were wiped out of existence completely. Every morning we would try to get an internet connection to reach our loved ones and confirm they were alive, and every morning we would get news that we lost one more person. Every day. That is the situation we are living in.
The fire needs to be ceased as soon as possible. We can’t bear this anymore. People need to rest. People need to go back to their lives. And the fire needs to be ceased as soon as possible.
At a shop in Khan Yunis that does various types of printing, I found a graduation hat with text that reads, With my husband’s love, and my parent’s prayers, I’ve fulfilled my dream. The shop owners told me that the hat was ordered by a student celebrating their graduation from Al-Aqsa University. The party had been scheduled for the sixth of October, a day before the conflict began. It might seem trite to be talking about celebrations given what’s going on. But the mainstream media seems to forget that Palestinians are also people with hopes, dreams, aspirations—which have all been denied by the Israeli occupation.
My family and I left our homes in Gaza last Saturday. We evacuated from two further places before arriving in Khan Yunis. Now I’m here with fifteen other family members: two of them elderly, one disabled, two teenagers, and two very young children. We’re all squeezed into our cousin’s three-bedroom apartment in the center of Khan Yunis. We’re thankful to have a roof over our heads. Without mattresses, we’re sleeping on the floor. There’s no power, hardly any water. We have diverted sinks to buckets underneath, using the collected gray water for flushing. We have a single camp-style stove to cook on.
I’m pointing to a drone that you probably can’t hear. Drones are now an ever-present part of our lives. They can bring death at any moment. I’m worried they will target me for documenting what’s going on.
I have passport privilege and could leave, potentially. I’d love to leave. I’d love to be able to be somewhere where there’s running water, where I don’t have to worry about charging a device to have light, where I can just flick a switch or turn a faucet, where I can get bread, just like that.
But ultimately I think there’s something more important than that: taking a stand and making sure that Israel does not drive us out of our land once again. Israel did it in 1948, they pushed out 700,000 Palestinians. And Israel is continuing what they started in 1948. Israel is a state that was founded on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and they’re trying to finish off the job.
I want peace, like every single Palestinian. And the only route to peace is through this stretch of land that Israelis and Palestinians both call home. The only route to peace is through justice and human rights and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians, not through bombing, intimidation, and violations of human rights.
I’m six wars old. The situation here is really dire, like our worst nightmares. I don’t know if there are words in the glossary or the dictionary that can describe what has happened here.
We don’t have the internet or a mobile network. We don’t have any kind of communication. We don’t have water and are running out of food. Our job during the day is to fetch water or search for someone with solar power. It would be like a treasure for Gazans to have enough electricity to charge their phones 30 percent. That way we could stay updated on what is happening and where the bombs are falling, and evacuate.
I’ve lost connection with most of my university friends and childhood friends. I don’t know if they are alive or not. I call their homes but no one answers.
We are hosting more than fifty relatives in this house. It’s a struggle to put food on the table. Each morning my father walks more than six kilometers to stand in a very long queue. And then he comes home, after many hours of waiting, with only one bag of bread for fifty people in the house. This amid a nightmare of bombings.
I keep begging him not to go, telling him I don’t want to eat, telling him we don’t want to be fed. But he refuses and goes every single morning. This tragedy is repeated every single morning. My mom pretends to be very strong, but she’s not.
When the war began, when this brutal aggression started, my own brother, Ahmed, was in the north, at our second home, where our aunt lives. On the Thursday of the war, that whole neighborhood was flattened. We lost that home. It’s rubble now. For hours we did not know if Ahmed and my aunt were alive or not. We could not know, and I was hysterically crying for him and praying he’s alive. But it turns out they managed to evacuate in time and come south to Rafah.
We were sleeping at night and when we sleep, we, as women, wear our going-out outfits. We wear our abaya and scarf, and we sleep with them, and when they bombed nearby, I felt like I flew away, from how strong and how brutal the bombing was.
I have always dreamt of flying but not this way, not due to a bombing. I dreamt of flying as a bird.
Today is my birthday. I was planning to have a big birthday, but the war prevented that.
I wish the war would end so that I can get a Rubik’s cube.
I wish the war would end peacefully.
This statistic has been corrected from a previous version of this piece. ↩