Israel-Palestine war: '180 of us were waiting for bread. We could have all been killed'
Mohammed al-Hajjar is a freelance photojournalist and longtime contributor to Middle East Eye. Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and its relentless bombing campaign has plunged its 2.2 million people into severe food insecurity. Most of Gaza's bakeries closed their doors after Israel cut electricity and fuel, and others have been bombed. The few bakeries that are still open see hours-long queues of people waiting to secure bread, as the supplies of other foods and water dwindle. From Gaza, Mohammed describes the moment dozens of Palestinians standing in line outside a bakery escaped death as Israel struck the area around it:
Today, 25 October, at around 2.10pm, I took two of my nephews and headed to the bakery to get bread for the family.
We had been standing in line for two hours, when, at precisely 4.15pm, the first missile struck only 100 metres from the bakery, located on al-Jalaa street.
Perhaps that bombing on the nearby al-Yarmouk street is what saved us from certain death - thanks to God’s grace.
It was miraculous that we didn't die. We were around 180 people waiting in line at the bakery. Had the Israelis targeted al-Jalaa street first, we could have all been killed.
The bombing was so close that residents were able to determine its location and run in the opposite direction. We saw people running our way from all directions.
At that moment, less than a minute after residential towers on al-Yarmouk street were targeted, Israeli jets attacked al-Jalaa street itself - right where we were standing in line for bread.
Since Israel imposed a total blockade on the Gaza Strip early in the war, most bakeries have been forced to close.
And now people have to queue up for up to 10 hours, for one pack of bread, in front of the few bakeries that are still running.
Several bakeries have been bombed since the war started, and yesterday, the exact spot where people just moments ago had been waiting for bread was hit by six to eight missiles.
Almost everyone who was standing in line managed to escape. But 120 people were killed in their homes as Israel bombed those buildings, and 300 are still missing under the rubble.
I had two children with me, but one of them was no longer beside me when the bombing started; he had run away, and I lost sight of him.
I grabbed the other child and sought shelter inside a building and hid behind a concrete pillar, thinking it was the safest place for us.
As the bombing shifted from al-Yarmouk to al-Jalaa, I was about to leave my hiding spot to search for my other newphew.
But just as I moved, al-Jalaa street was hit right in front of my eyes. I saw death staring me in the face; fire and debris from the street flew towards me.
God saved me and granted me a new lease of life.
I went back to hiding behind the concrete pillar, holding tightly onto my nephew. I hugged him, prayed, and recited the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, until the bombing stopped, after four long minutes.
I then took the child and exited through a side street to look for my lost nephew. I found him hiding in a building far away. I took them both and tried to head home.
On our way, al-Labedidi street was targeted. The attack took place in front of us, and I didn't know where to go, so we once again hid inside a building.
We stayed inside for around 15 minutes until the bombing stopped.
When we left, the street looked completely different from how it was just five minutes earlier; it was entirely destroyed.
Three or four residential buildings had been flattened - people’s homes were in ruins.
There were wounded people everywhere. That's all I could discern in those moments because my main concern was to bring these two children home safely.
People were rushing around, and ambulances were arriving at the scene.
Moments like these are an opportunity for any photographer to capture the event as they experience it.
But yesterday, despite being a photographer, I wasn't thinking about taking photos at all.
After getting home and recovering from the shock, I thought to myself that sometimes, as a photojournalist, there come moments when you don't think about your job as much as you think about survival.
I wasn't thinking about capturing the event as it happened; I was thinking about surviving and saving the children who were with me.
Thank God. He saved us from certain death that day, and I pray to him - the only one capable of stopping the war on us - to end the war and the bloodshed against our people.
Today, we speak of 7,028 victims, a massive majority of whom are children and women.
This Israeli aggression is against us - its victims are only civilians. The infrastructure is destroyed - streets, buildings, towers, everything is ruined.
You enter a neighbourhood today, and when you enter it again the next day, you cannot recognise it. The features of the neighbourhoods have changed, the features of the houses have changed.
Everything in Gaza has changed.
We pray to God to have mercy on us and to get us out of this war without loss or damage. Me, my family, and all the people of Gaza.
I pray to God that the war stops right now, as I record this voice note.
Pray for us. I know that most of the people in the world can't do much but pray, so please, pray for us.