“We were surrounded by tanks. It’s a miracle we got out.”

“We were surrounded by tanks. It’s a miracle we got out.” February 4, 2024

Below is a rough translation of a voice message we got recently from our nephew Musa, after way too many days of silence. That silence was especially frightening for us since we knew the family were in Khan Younis, which had suddenly become the epicenter of the fighting and bombardment. Of course, nothing can compare to the fear they felt during those days.

(If you’re not familiar with the circumstances of this story, you can catch up in a few minutes – check the reading list at the bottom. If you want to refresh your memory, the last episode – from Khan Younis – read “We’re surrounded. Israelis are everywhere. We are dying.”)

Some of the news I read during the family’s silence included:

“Israel is pursuing a military tactic of “systematic destruction” of residential buildings in Khan Younis, targeting key infrastructure and forcing people to flee.”

“Much of Khan Younis has already been damaged or destroyed by Israeli air attacks, and now Israeli soldiers on the ground are blowing up residential buildings.”

“Attack drones are hovering everywhere over Khan Younis shooting at moving objects. So far 12 people have been killed overnight. Very dark days ahead as the situation gets worse by the hour.”

It was hard enough to read these headlines – our family (and two million other Gazans) lived it.

This is not an issue for which we need to take sides based on our political affiliation. This is all about human rights.

Here is some of what Musa had to say. I wish he had shared more detail so we could better understand the situation. I’m sure it was traumatic enough to retell in these general terms. To recall and describe the particulars would have been too much for him to bear.

I’m on the roof, sending this message [only place to get a signal].

Thank you for your voice message. It is comforting to know you haven’t forgotten us, and you are praying for us. My grandma always prayed for you. May she rest in peace. 

Our last few days in Khan Younis were desperate, tragic.

When we first got to Khan Younis, they [United Nations workers] told us it was a safe place, so we started getting acquainted and  settling in. Last Sunday night we went to sleep, and on Monday morning we woke up surrounded by tanks. There was a lot of firing.

We asked the UN people, “What happened? You said it was safe.” They said “don’t worry, it’s safe.” So we stayed another night. On Tuesday morning, everyone was gone. All the humanitarian organizations gave up on Khan Younis and left during the night.

We left Khan Younis that day under fire everywhere. We saw so many people killed and injured in the streets. We tried to bury the dead – the only place was inside the school compounds [it was too risky to bury them outside the school walls because of Israeli snipers].

We tried to help the injured, but all we could do for them was to stop the bleeding. 

Our phones were not charged, so we couldn’t take pictures or videos to prove this is all true. The scenes in the streets were unbelievable. It was miraculous that we weren’t killed.

We had to take a lot of different streets [probably for several reasons – fighting, rubble blocking the roads, snipers]. 

We traveled west till we reached the sea, and had to decide whether to go south to Rafah [where there are well over one million refugees already – look here] or north to Deir al Balah. We knew Rafah was a disaster – so many diseases, and no place to live or sleep. So we went to Deir al Balah. But there, we couldn’t find anyplace to stay.

So we decided to go back to [our hometown], Nuseirat. When we got there, it was barely inhabited, just a few families. At least we are not dying of disease, like in the south. Still, there is very little food. In Khan Younis we got a little food, but no aid trucks are coming to Nuseirat.

We found that in thirty days since we left Nuseirat, Israeli soldiers have systematically destroyed blocks and blocks.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Rafah for food. I’m not sure I can do it, but I’ll try to go, I’ll try to talk to Sami [his brother in Greece] and get the money [that we had sent]. [People have been killed by Israeli snipers while trying to get food, or waiting for aid trucks.]

No humanitarian aid is coming here. There is no safe place anywhere.

In Rafah, people are selling tents made of plastic and wood for at least $700. All the tents were stolen from humanitarian aid trucks. If you want to survive, you just have to have enough money or know the right people [read here about some of the inflated prices].  Whatever is available in the market, the majority or all all of it is stolen goods. There is a lot of corruption and desperation. 

Nowadays, people feel like the only choice they have is how to die. From hunger? From Israeli bombs and tanks? From cold weather? There are so many ways to die. It’s amazing that I’m laughing at this.

The most used phrase here is “I don’t know.” No one knows what to do, where to go, how to live.

We were relieved to hear that the family was “safe” back in Nuseirat, and things were calm – even though it’s cold and there’s no food or electricity.

Then I read this:

“Attacks continued on the Nuseirat refugee camp in the past hour where the Israeli military drones have opened fire against residential buildings there, amid ongoing efforts to force those people in these areas to flee to Rafah just to have a kind of full military mobility on the ground against the Palestinian fighters.”

Will our loved ones have to head to Rafah after all? “I don’t know.”

I share stories about our relatives so that readers can feel the humanity – not just of this handful of individuals, but of every Palestinian. They are no different than any other humans in the world, except that they are Palestinian. The issue of Palestinian liberation is not about politics, but human rights.

Please contact the people in Washington DC who (allegedly) work for you and tell them, “ENOUGH. CEASEFIRE NOW. NO MORE WEAPONS TO ISRAEL. STOP THE GENOCIDE. NOW – OR YOU’RE FIRED.”

Reach your Representative here, and your Senator here. Email President Biden here.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter. I write about the Palestine-Israel issue regularly, and other issues relevant to progressives or those considering becoming progressive. If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment. I welcome your thoughts.

Posts about my Gazan family (in chronological order):

Further reading on the Palestine-Israel issue:

FEATURED IMAGE: a photo by my nephew Musa of his neighborhood (now unrecognizable) in Nuseirat refugee camp.


About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses. You can read more about the author here.

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