For one reporter, witnessing the rounds of violence had become a familiar experience. Not this time.
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GAZA CITY — I’ve lived through some long and frightening nights during rounds of violence between Gaza and Israel.
Up until this point, the wait until dawn was all too familiar to me, as a lifelong Gaza resident who has reported from here for The Times since 2017 during perhaps a dozen exchanges.
Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement on Thursday, but whatever happens next, this war will always be different from the past battles for me because of what happened last week. I’ve never endured a longer or more horrific hour than I did beginning at about 6 a.m. on May 12.
After ordering in a quick meal of shawarma the previous night to break my Ramadan fast, I watched the back-and-forth between Palestinian militants and the Israeli military. Rockets brought airstrikes. Airstrikes brought rockets. Wait and repeat.
I’m 27 and single, so I am responsible only for myself. I’d like that to change, so I’m building a home atop my parents’ house. As yet, only one room is finished, but it gives me a vantage point and some privacy from my six younger siblings who live downstairs.
A friend who lives nearby called and asked to come over. He was scared. We spent a few hours together — he stared at the television; I watched the sky light up again and again from rocket launches.
My home is in a residential area, not near anything I can imagine the Israelis would consider a high-value target. And my parents were relieved a while back when the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees opened a school in our neighborhood. They imagined it might be opened up as a shelter in case of war. But it gave me no sense of security.
When Gaza militants launched a barrage of heavy rockets at central Israel, the sound was so thunderous, and from every direction, that I thought Israeli jets were bombarding Gaza City. But then I heard whistling and people chanting, “God is great.” The sound of that salvo was something new for me.
Before midnight, my friend felt tired enough to go home and get some sleep. I needed sleep, too — I had gotten maybe three hours in the past 24 — but every time I nodded off, rocket launches or airstrikes nearby woke me up. And then there were the drones, noisily hovering overhead.
Things were relatively quiet until 3 a.m., when a tower housing a currency-exchange shop operated by a friend was destroyed. He had recently gotten engaged and went into debt to pay for his wedding. He had just lost everything.
I braced for a Palestinian response, and it came quickly, with more rockets aimed at Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport, and a direct hit on an Israeli oil tank in Ashkelon.
This meant a new escalation, for sure. But strangely, it didn’t come. At 5:30, I tried to sleep. Not 20 minutes later, my phone rang. It was a friend calling from Turkey, a Palestinian who had emigrated from Gaza, eager to check in.
He realized I had been sleeping and apologized, but we kept talking. Through the phone, he could hear the drones hovering. We were both wondering why Israel hadn’t struck back. I said, “Maybe there’s a truce.”
He said, “Maybe this is the quiet before the storm.”
I wish he hadn’t said that. Moments later, Gaza erupted with the most violent and powerful explosions of my life. It felt like blast waves were hitting my face and body. It felt like our neighborhood was under attack. I staggered to my window to look outside. I got scared — Israel was lashing out, striking randomly and everywhere. But the neighborhood was still standing.
I ran downstairs to my parents’ apartment. I told them I wanted to be with them, because it was much safer on the first floor. My sisters, Ayda, 16, and Maysaa, 21, were crying.
My 14-year-old brother, Ayman, was very scared; his face turned yellow. My mother and sisters put on headscarves in case they had to flee.
I tried to control myself, to show that I could manage my fear, but I didn’t succeed. We moved from one room to another, debating whether this or that room was safer, whether the courtyard was too close to the street. There was no basement, no bomb shelter.
“We have no option but to die,” said my brother Asaad, 23.
This whole time, I was shaking. My heart was beating like a drum, and I was thinking of death. I was imagining myself in a grave. My brother Hatem, 18, said what we were all thinking: that he wanted both sides to stop shooting.
Ayman, the youngest, said he wanted to run away to a safer place. But my mother said no. “Where are you going to go?” she said. “There are no safer places. There is no safer place. Die with me.”