From the brink: Testimonies of survivors in Gaza pulled from the rubble
The mountains of rubble left by Israel's merciless bombardment of thousands of homes and buildings across all five governorates of the Gaza Strip hold many stories, including the tragedies of the thousands of dead still trapped, their bodies decomposing, underneath.
Those who escaped with their lives from underneath the rubble of their destroyed homes have told of how they came face to face with death.
They recall the specific, random details which saw their lives miraculously spared, while multiple beloved family members were not so fortunate.
"Those who survived a cruel fate crushed under the wreckage of flattened buildings have emerged to find they are now facing another sort of death – a half-life consisting of constantly fleeing the bombs while struggling not to succumb to starvation or thirst"
In some cases, Gaza's civil defence emergency workers managed to pull them out, and in others, they fought their way out alone.
Those who survived a cruel fate crushed under the wreckage of flattened buildings have emerged to find they are now facing another sort of death – a half-life consisting of constantly fleeing the bombs while struggling not to succumb to starvation or thirst, as Israel continues to severely restrict the essentials of life to the trapped people of Gaza. Those with injuries struggle to access any form of treatment.
Ahmad Zeineddin (23)
Ahmad Zeineddin (23) fled from Sabra, a neighbourhood in Gaza City, and is now in Rafah, living in a tent in a shelter for the displaced.
He lost several relatives, whose bodies are still under the rubble of the residential building they lived in, which was bombed as its residents attempted to flee for safety.
"When I survived by a miracle, I believed my mum would survive too, but God's will was that I stay alive to grieve for the martyrs"
Zeineddin said to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "I lost five family members — my mother Halima (60), two of my sisters, and two of my sisters' children. I survived because of the columns of the house which protected me from certain death.
"I got out alive with moderate injuries to my head and hands, then stayed by the house, waiting for any one of my family to be carried out… I hoped my mother and sisters would survive, but only my father Abdullatif (63) and my older sister Alia (37) were brought out. Then the civil defence team carried out the bodies of my mum and two sisters. They couldn't find the children, because of the rubble and mountain of wreckage."
Ahmad adds: "When I survived by a miracle, I believed my mum would survive too, but God's will was that I stay alive to grieve for the martyrs, and the children, who had such big dreams. One of them loved Ronaldo, the other Messi. They had so many dreams they wanted to achieve – maybe much bigger aspirations than anything I ever dreamt of achieving in Gaza."
Ahmad has a university degree in multimedia, but he no longer feels any excitement about the future.
"Before the assault, I was enthusiastic, I had so much passion. But today I look at life differently. If death came, I'd welcome it – I no longer have any hope in anything. I am not weak, or frustrated – I just live the same reality everyone in Gaza lives, where there is no future and no hope. It would take a lot to rebuild what this war has destroyed inside me."
Civil defence activities in Gaza reduced after Israel targets teams
Rescuing Gazans from under the rubble is practically impossible in many cases. When there is a glimmer of hope, there is no guarantee the rescue teams will be able to get there in time. Moreover, the rescue mission gets harder with every minute that passes.
Israel's intensified siege, especially around Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip, as well as parts of Khan Younis, further complicates the matter, impacting the potential for the much-reduced capabilities and manpower of Gaza's emergency services to reach sites and work effectively once there.
Moreover, Gaza's civil defence organisation, which undertakes many of the rescue operations across the Strip, is functioning at around 30 percent of its capacity.
This is because Israel has attacked many of the teams; over 50 civil defence personnel have been killed while attempting to rescue civilians. Additionally, over half of their rescue vehicles and much of their equipment were destroyed in the bombing.
Mohammed Al-Attar (60)
On October 28, some Khan Younis residents were witnesses to a scene they won't forget. An elderly man, Mohammed Al-Attar (60) emerged from the depths of a collapsed building near al-Balad Street. He was walking on his own two legs, and his face was a mask of dust and dripping blood.
"They wanted to pick me up because they thought I was hurt, but I told them I was fine, and that they needed to save who was still in the house. I lost eight family members there, including two of my sisters, and their children"
"Al-Hamdullilah, ma fiya ishi" ("Thanks be to God, I'm fine"), he kept repeating, over and over and kept walking, clearly in a state of shock, to a relative's home, where he washed his face and lay down on the ground. Then the ambulances arrived, and some survivors were brought out of the rubble of the building, followed by several dead bodies.
Later, Israeli forces decided to push the inhabitants out of most parts of Khan Younis, as they continued to pressure Gaza's inhabitants southwards. Al-Attar fled with thousands of others to Rafah, where he now lives in one of the makeshift camps.
He said: "I remember there was a lot of rubble and dust on top of me when the occupation [army] bombed the building, but I managed to get it off myself and get out, and I remember when I reached the ambulance and civil defence team, they wanted to pick me up because they thought I was hurt, but I told them I was fine, and that they needed to save who was still in the house.
"I lost eight family members there, including two of my sisters, and their children, who I was sitting with at the time [the bomb struck]."
Al-Attar adds: "Life is worth nothing. This is not a proverb, nor a wise saying, it is the truth as I lived it. It has made me keen to become as close as possible to my grandchildren and to advise them to continue their educations. I believe what happened to me has made me more patient, despite the shock, even though I was on the brink of death.
"Suddenly I was out and walking. There was some blood on my trousers, from my martyred big sister, Suad. I don't know how I withstood death - it was like a spirit was inside me that wanted to stay in the realm of the living. I got up like I was throwing off bed covers, but it was all ash and bits of wood."
He continues: "I went through a huge shock, I still don't believe what happened. After the funeral of my two sisters and their children, I returned home and started to feel a sense of loss and longing. Then I began to absorb that what happened was God's will.
"My health is good, and have become more attentive and concerned for my family. But the enormity of the loss is overwhelming, and every day we hear news of martyrs who we knew in Khan Younis and Gaza City — many were relations, neighbours or friends. My family has given many martyrs, and this has made me resolved to plant patience, faith, and sacrifice in the spirits of my grandchildren, and encourage them to work hard for their futures, and their cause."
Gaza health ministry sets up link to register martyrs and missing
Over 7,000 Gazans are still registered as missing, and there is no information on them. Many Palestinians have been forced to write or put markings on the bits of wall and rubble to mark the sites they believe their relatives' bodies are. They hope they'll be able to retrieve them at a later time for a proper burial once the assault is over.
Gaza's health ministry has set up an online link to register the names of the martyrs and missing. This action comes due to the difficulties official bodies face in reaching many parts of Gaza, because of Israel having seized control over numerous regions. Families are being asked to record information on the place and date of burial of the martyrs, as well as details of the locations of those missing.
Hala (7) and Ismail (40)
Seven-year-old Hala was shaking when she was pulled out from under the rubble. Before they reached her, they had followed her voice calling out: "I'm here! Follow me! I can't see anything."
This sentence is still going round and round in her head. While she miraculously survived, she is heartbroken because her mum did not, and died with two of her brothers. Only her, her dad, and one brother survived, and the three of them are currently sheltering inside the Al Shifa hospital complex.
Ismail Al Ramlawi (40), Hala's father, is a resident of the Al-Karama neighbourhood in Gaza City. He says: “My daughter and I survived the bombing of our home in December. The force of the explosion caused me to be thrown from the house, and I found myself injured in the street outside, with some shrapnel in my body, whereas Hala suffered burns to her leg and her right hand was fractured.
"I am with Hala and her big brother Hussam (17) now, and we are all grieving after the death of my wife and two of my children. Hala suffers from intense anxiety since she was pulled from the rubble, by a miracle, by the civil defence teams and some people who were there. They were able to save her because one of them heard her voice calling out for help – maybe it was just her good luck he was close by… they informed me that a child had alerted the rescuers to the fact that she was still alive."
"In the first days after we survived she couldn't sleep at all, and she was hearing voices from under the rubble as if they were following her, including the voice of her mother calling for help. She believed her mother would follow her with the other survivors, but no one was able to reach her, and she died under the rubble"
Ramlawi adds: "There were people who were still alive under the rubble, some of them were talking to us, telling us they were wounded and couldn't move. I told the civil defence teams at the time, but they didn't have enough equipment, and the scale of the destruction was enormous, so they weren't able to reach those trapped underneath the ceiling of the collapsed first floor.
"My child wakes up from nightmares every day. In the first days after we survived she couldn't sleep at all, and she was hearing voices from under the rubble as if they were following her, including the voice of her mother calling for help.
"She believed her mother would follow her with the other survivors, but no one was able to reach her, and she died under the rubble. Hala is still in a deep state of shock, and she can't sleep unless she's in my arms."
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko
This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.
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