I’m writing now from my home, but I still feel dizzy from shock and nauseated by the sights and smells on my visit to Khan Younis and Khuza’a.
Yesterday I decided to use the opportunity of the ceasefire to visit my family in Khan Younis. I especially wanted to see my sister who had open heart surgery before Israel’s assault. I hadn’t seen her for 36 days. I’m lucky that I have enough fuel in my car to drive 24 kilometers (15 miles) so I struck out towards the south.
I drove down Salaheddin Road and passed rubble from mosques, houses, and factories. Some buildings were destroyed completely and some partially. Later on in my drive, I saw dozens of big trees uprooted and smashed, fruit trees destroyed and farms and gardens decimated and ruined. The Israeli bombs were aimed to destroy the infrastructure, to destroy Gaza’s economy. Even the main cookie factory was targeted and destroyed.
I passed UN trucks distributing food to people in long lines. This siege and assault by the Israelis has made everyone in the Gaza Strip live as a refugee, missing basic needs and struggling to survive.
When I drove up to my family’s place in Khan Younis, it was a very emotional moment. We’ve lost many family members and, excuse me, my friends, I’m not going to talk about this meeting because every family in Gaza is going through the same thing.
My sister and relatives decided they wanted to go to see Khuza’a, a village located east of Khan Younis. At first I didn’t want to go to Khuza’a. I didn’t want to be reminded of the massacre, to witness more horrors. But I decided to go so I could give you, my friends from the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), and others living outside of Gaza my first-hand account. I know you are following the news closely but I also know the news might not tell you what has gone on and is going on in Gaza.
As we set out to the east, my niece pointed out the devastation, “You can see where the Israeli tanks were—here and here.” When we came to the village Abbasan, there was an Israeli military vehicle destroyed. Palestinian flags were flying from it and Palestinian children were playing on it while their families stood watching them.
We continued toward Khuza’a. It was a model Palestinian agricultural village with open fields and green everywhere. They had fruit trees and vegetable fields. But there was nothing left of the village I remembered.
The smell and the sights we saw were shocking. The moment we parked and I got out, a very strange smell hit us—the smell of dead bodies. That smell will never leave me; it is still stuck in my nose. We saw totally flattened houses and other houses partially destroyed. It reminded me of pictures from war-torn areas where years of fighting erased a village. I could tell that something huge and terrible had happened here, the rubble and the destruction were extreme. Some villagers told us they had found two bodies in the rubble a couple of hours before we arrived. Still people were searching the ruins for their relative’s remains. Many times I had to stop myself from vomiting because the smell was so strong.
This Israeli assault has hit the Palestinian people more deeply than the last two military attacks. This one is even more deadly and destructive. Whole neighborhoods and villages have been wiped off the map.
I ask myself now how can we start again?
Dr. Mona El-Farra, Director of Gaza Projects, is a physician by training and a human rights and women’s rights activist by practice in the occupied Gaza Strip.