This story was first published by We Are Not Numbers, on November 16, 2023. It was written by Nowar Diab, as a personal narrative from under the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel. The story stands unedited, presented as the unfiltered testimony of a war witness. It is published as part of a content-sharing agreement.
The windows are always open, to avoid the danger of shattered glass. Every morning I am woken by an obnoxious fly buzzing around the room. It gets louder the closer it is to my ear. Sleep is very precious because I get so little. Therefore, it is annoying to be deprived of it by an insect.
I get up and feel irritated. I wonder how I managed to sleep at all through the sound of my grandpa’s annoying radio. Every Gazan family has the same battery-powered radio. It is our source of information when there is no electricity or internet. I really hate that radio because of what it represents. It makes me feel so tense because we only use it during times like these: when we are under attack and when people we love are dying.
I go to the bathroom. I wash my face using a Coca Cola bottle that I filled with water. Then I go to the kitchen to make coffee with the small amount of water I have left in the bottle. I sit there in the kitchen alone and drink it with feelings of guilt — because water is very scarce, and some people are going days without drinking anything.
Next is the hardest part of my daily routine. I contact my friends one by one to check if they are still alive. I have to prepare myself mentally before I start messaging them. I do this out of habit, although I know it is in vain. I feel very anxious wondering whether I will ever get a response back.
I keep calling my best friend Maimana because I heard that there had been a bombardment where she is staying. I try again for the thirtieth time but her phone is still not ringing. She has no connection. I feel afraid for her safety, and my heart starts pounding. I repeatedly tell myself that it will be okay and she will call me back when she has a connection.
Eventually, the rest of my family wakes up. I am no longer alone. We sit together and have our daily conversation about which neighborhoods Israel bombed last night. It is our morning ritual to catch up on what happened during those precious three hours of sleep.
There are 14 of us staying together in a relative’s house. Each of us has a chore to perform in the morning. The men go to the bakery to try and find some bread. Then they take the empty bottles and tanks to the well to fill them with water. Meanwhile, the women start doing the dishes, cleaning the floor, and preparing lunch.
Lunch depends on whether there is bread or not. Mostly there is not. Our options are limited, but at least we have options. Some aren’t so lucky, and we hear about people suffering from malnutrition.
My mom calls and sounds like she has been crying. I ask if she’s okay, and she tells me that she is. I know she is lying to me. My uncle takes the phone and goes into another room. I immediately know that something is wrong. My heart feels heavy for the rest of the day. I have a feeling that my family is acting weird and holding something back from me.
We receive internet connection just for limited periods throughout the day. Each time we are reconnected, I rush to text my friends, check the news online, and post on social media about what is happening to us. We are bombarded with the same questions about Hamas and the seventh of October. This shows a complete lack of understanding from the Western media about what is happening to us.
The internet is disconnected again. So like every other normal Palestinian family living through this struggle, we play cards while the stupid radio tells us what is happening via news reports.
I have the urge to ask my family if they know something that I should know about. But I hold back because I am scared that the news will break my heart. Instead, I go to the balcony so that I can listen to my favorite song, Hymn to Gentrification by Faraj Suleiman. This song feels like talking to someone who understands my agony.
My solitude is interrupted by a phone call from a friend. I pick up but it doesn’t connect so I leave it. I keep listening to the song and telling myself that everything is okay. I know that is a lie. I have a dreadful feeling in my stomach.
My phone rings again. It is the same friend. I pick up and this time we are connected. “Is it true that Maimana and her family have been killed?” My heart falls and shatters into a million little pieces. “No, no. Who said that?” I reply, while tears fill my eyes. “Everyone,” he said back to me. I scream, and the tears start falling from my eyes.
She was my very best friend. I loved no one like I loved her. At that moment, I feel like I have lost everything. It hurts how you can be talking to someone, and they get killed the next day. The memories we shared start playing back in my mind. I can hear her laugh. I remember singing in the car with her mum. It is all too much, and I break down.
This is the second time in as many weeks that I get the news about losing a loved one. The first time was my dear friend Abraham. He was unlike anyone else: funny, clever and with such a big heart. I can’t describe the feeling when you get this type of news. It’s shattering — like when you drop a plate and it breaks into many pieces.
It always gets worse at nighttime. That is when the horror begins. We all sleep together in the same room because it feels safer. I try to sleep through the noises of heavy bombing sounds and news reports on the radio. My eyes get heavier and heavier. And then my mind eventually gives up and I drift off to sleep.
The next morning I wake up. But this time there is no annoying buzzing around the room. The fly had been scared away by the bombing overnight. And I get up to face another day of heartache and listening to my grandfather’s radio.