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'A young girl died in front of us': The Gaza war through the eyes of a 12-year-old

Farah recalls a traumatic journey from north to south, as her family desperately sought refuge from Israeli attacks
Children react during the funeral of the Faojo family, killed in Israeli bombing on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 11 November, 2023 (AFP)
Children react during the funeral of the Faojo family, killed in Israeli bombing on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 11 November, 2023 (AFP)

From the moment Farah first opened her eyes, she was living in the world’s biggest open-air prison. 

I cannot believe she is only 12. Having lived through three previous Israeli assaults on Gaza, she knows more about war than peace.

Farah follows the news, knows the names of Palestinian and Israeli politicians, and has studied the Fourth Geneva Convention and laws of war. The scenes she describes should rightly fill any child with fear and sadness - but not Farah anymore. 

Today, she seems indifferent to the ongoing horrors. For many children in Gaza, these scenes have become frighteningly normal. 

The following is Farah’s account of the current war, from the bombing of her home to her family’s decision to flee to southern Gaza.*

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Our house was bombed. I do not remember the exact date. I do not know what day it is anymore; all I know is we have been in a war for around two months now. 

We lived near al-Quds Hospital in Gaza’s Tel al-Hawa area. My dad decided that we would all go to the hospital, thinking it would be safe. We could not initially go south, because my dad could not find a place for us to stay - but honestly, we were too scared anyway after seeing videos of people who were killed by Israel as they fled. Some people we knew from the north have died in the south.

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Living at the hospital during the war was a terrible experience. It felt as though I was waiting to die. Everyone at the hospital was scared. 

With my older sister, who is 16, I slept in the upstairs hallways with the other women, while my father and brother stayed on the ground floor with the men. Nighttime was the scariest: Israel bombs a lot at night, and because it is so quiet, the bombs feel extremely loud and close.

Watching someone die

My parents are divorced. I was with my dad when the war started; my mum’s house was also bombed, but she had to flee to a friend’s house in a different area. Every night, I wished I could be with my father and brother, but we could not keep going between the hospital’s floors.

I did not know whether I would see my mum ever again. The last time I saw her, I did not say a proper goodbye. I still wanted to cuddle with my mum, but I was also worried about her. What if she died before me? We do not know who is safer. I lost contact with my mum once for three days, because the phone signal at the hospital was too weak.

Israeli soldiers kept calling the hospital, urging us to evacuate. The doctors were so strong. They said they would not leave injured people alone. 

A young girl looked out the window and was swiftly shot by an Israeli sniper. She died in front of us

Tel al-Hawa was under constant, heavy bombardment. I did not know what buildings they were hitting, but I could hear it all. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything left to bomb - but still, the bombs fell.

One night, Israeli tanks began besieging the hospital, and we could not sleep - not even for a second. We could hear the tanks moving around. A young girl looked out the window and was swiftly shot by an Israeli sniper. She died in front of us. 

This was the first time I saw someone die in front of me. Her mum cried all night. No one dared to go near the windows after that. I cried that night more than I have ever cried.

Israel wanted us to evacuate the hospital, but did not give details. We did not know how to get out. Soldiers were shooting at anything that moved. The doctors told us that the Red Cross had been coordinating with Israel, and they were awaiting a “signal” from Israel that we could leave safely. 

Waiting for that signal was excruciating, but it gave me hope. Hours passed; as the sun rose, we were still in the dark and narrow hallways of the hospital. Then, just before 9am, we got the signal.

Another Nakba

In school, we studied everything about the Palestinian Nakba in 1948. We watched films about how Palestinians were expelled and killed. We learned about the massacres that happened in the villages. I felt that I was now in these same films. 

It feels very sad that one day, our story will be taught in history classes. Will I be like these grandmothers, telling my grandchildren about how we had to flee our towns because they were killing us?

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We were eventually allowed out of the hospital. I called my mum to let her know that we were on our way to the south, hoping I could see her there. I told her there was a dead body in front of me on the stairs of the hospital. Crying, she asked me not to look. But I kept looking the whole time as I walked away. 

Along with hundreds of other people who fled that morning, we took Salah al-Din Road, as ordered by Israeli forces. 

We walked for a long time, from around 9am until 2pm. I felt like my heart would stop at any moment. Sometimes I closed my eyes as I walked; I did not want this to be real. But I also wanted to keep my eyes open. What if Israeli soldiers shot my dad or siblings? 

In certain areas, where Israeli soldiers or tanks were assembled, we were not allowed to look around. We had to walk with our hands held up, adults holding their IDs in one hand. We were not allowed to take a water bottle out of our bag, nor have a sip of water. Moving our hands or grabbing anything meant we risked being shot. I did not feel hungry at all, but I was very thirsty.

Checkpoints and dead bodies

At one point in our journey, Israeli soldiers detained two young men. They appeared to choose them randomly, and asked them at gunpoint to take off all their clothes, except their underwear. They let one man come back to us and arrested the other. We do not know what happened to him. His family cried the rest of the way. I feared Israeli soldiers would arrest my dad or brother.

The more we walked, the more dead bodies we saw on the ground ... There were also scorched cars with burned bodies inside

Israel also installed security checkpoints, ordering us to go through a detector that used face-scanning technology. I feared one of us would be shot, as two Israeli soldiers tried to provoke us by shouting: “Thank us and thank Hamas for this.” But people kept telling each other to ignore what they said in order to get to safety. 

The more we walked, the more dead bodies we saw on the ground. I saw a woman lying next to a little boy. Some bodies were covered with blankets. There were also scorched cars with burned bodies inside.

Once we set foot south of Wadi Gaza, dozens of Palestinians were waiting for us, telling us we were safe now. They gave me a small strawberry juice and a chocolate cookie. I sat on the ground and could not move for awhile. I gave my dad a big cuddle and started crying.

My dad told me I had to be strong. We got back up and made it to a UN school.

*Farah’s story has been edited for length and clarity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Hala Alsafadi is a Palestinian journalist who worked with international channels in Gaza. She worked as a war correspondnet during the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2012 and 2014. She also covered the 2018 “Great Return March” on the borders between Gaza and Israrl. She holds an MA degree in Management and Finance from Durham University.
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