The night Israel killed my family

The night Israel killed my family

On the night of March 2 Israel wiped out four generations of my family. I barely survived the slaughter. It is now my responsibility to tell their story.

by Reem A. Hamadaqa, reposted from Mondoweiss, June 13, 2024

On March 2, Israel wiped out four generations of my family in one night. An Israeli strike at about midnight killed 14 people in my family. It took the very essence of my life, my most precious beloveds, and marked me as a “survivor.”

“Go to the south, or we’ll bring this school down on your heads,” was the warning Israeli soldiers sent us when we first decided to leave our home in northern Gaza. At that point, my family had survived 40 long days of bombing, often receiving dozens of displaced people into our home. After that message, we were forced to flee.

Our first stop was a nearby UNRWA school. Those were our first steps in the journey of looking for an unclear notion called “safety.” We left and walked on foot for over six hours, into the sun. We eventually made it to the south, and in the end, my family was killed in the “safe” zone where the Israeli occupation had told us to go.

Killed at midnight

We survived nearly 100 days at my maternal uncle’s house in Khan Younis. This was not a better place for getting food or water, but it was supposed to be designated as “safe.” His house was located in Block 89, which the occupation designated as a “green” block. For this reason, we stayed there and did not flee. But we were already displaced.

The house was full of a dozen women and children, and on March 2, the intense bombing began at around 10:30 p.m.

About an hour later, I had my last look at my parents, my sisters, my cousins, my grandma, and sadly, my whole life, although I didn’t know it at the time. I read the third chapter of a novel. I chatted with my parents. We called my sister, displaced in Rafah in a tent. I teased my younger sister. I went to sleep, unknowingly closing the final chapter of my life.

I woke up to the massive bombings, the kind that are essentially a series of continuous explosions.

Terrified, I woke up, screaming. My father and mother stood beside the door. Heba, my older sister, stood beside me. We screamed. Through the window, everything I saw in front of the house was on fire. These scenes echoed how our hearts felt.

“Dad! Do not open the door!” we screamed. Within seconds, the house was on our heads. I felt the walls and ceiling collapsing, and the room exploded in my face. I saw Dad’s and Mon’s backs, and I felt Heba standing beside me, screaming. I saw Ola, sleeping, not bothered by the massive explosion.

I woke up in the rubble.

The moon was full. It was so dark that it was probably midnight, and it was so cold. Winter had not yet left us. All alone, I found myself stuck within the rubble and unable to move.

As much as I had read stories about how it felt to be stuck under the rubble, it was never what I had imagined. I could not tell how long I was unconscious. Once I woke up, I thought I was dreaming. A nightmare. It was so much pain.

I screamed my lungs out, looking for something I did not know. I removed the rocks that covered my hands, my chest, and my belly. They were heavy, but my breathing was heavier. I waited for the unknown.

I heard my uncle screaming, calling for his sons, and I heard a man running away from the tanks, calling my uncle coming from behind. I was incapable of removing the rubble from my legs. After nearly an hour, my brother and cousin, who lived in the opposite house, found me. Miraculously, Ahmad rescued me. He lifted tons of rocks covering my body.

Tanks instead of ambulances

Ahmad lifted me and ran, carrying me on his back. Each step and move he made shattered my soul out of pain. He took me to his house, just meters away. This house had been hit, too. Shards of glass and furniture covered everything and cut whoever entered. Ahmad put me down in there.

Children and women sat in horror in the dark as shells fired from nearby tanks surrounded us. They were in shock that these houses had been targeted even though broken glass had showered over us. But to me, it was clear. I was pulled from under the rubble, my face and clothes burnt, covered in blood and dust.

Moments later, my sister, then living at a nearby home, ran into the house after an attack destroyed the building she had been staying in with her husband and her five children. The house had collapsed over their heads. Five young children in tattered, seemingly burnt clothes stood there. All of them were alive and well. She pulled them all out of the rubble, miraculously unscathed.

We called an ambulance, and we called the ICRC, but our calls went unanswered. Although the block we were in, which was bombed, was a “green” one, which meant it was supposed to be safe, the area was now considered “red” due to the invasion, and the ambulances would not come. The tanks and bulldozers invaded instead. The ambulances said, “There are dozens of cases like you. There are dozens of martyrs and wounded. We cannot come.”

They added, “The area is dangerous. May god help you.”

An ambulance arrives at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir El-Balah with Palestinians they were able to reach who were injured in the Israeli attacks in Khan Younis on March 2, 2024
An ambulance arrives at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir El-Balah with Palestinians they were able to reach who were injured in the Israeli attacks in Khan Younis on March 2, 2024 (photo)

Within half an hour, Israeli tanks and bulldozers besieged the whole area. I covered my whole body with a blanket; otherwise, broken glass would have left unforgettable scars on my face.

As we heard the unceasing Israeli artillery shelling get closer, women and children hid in a back room. It was only me, unable to move, and my uncle, rescued but completely and severely burnt, lying near the balcony.

My brother, sister, and cousin helplessly went in search of other survivors. They pulled out three of my cousins, Hani, 24, Shams, 16, and Muhammad, 18. As they were getting them out, shells targeted them nonstop. Hani and Shams were completely burnt and broken. Muhammad was bleeding. None of them received any medical treatment. All of them bled to death. All of them had dreams and goals. They were all killed.

As the bombs fell, the whole family hid, each mother with her children. Men went to get any others who were screaming for help. I was moved again to the room everyone was in. Minutes later, an Israeli tank fired a burning shell into the room beside us. The wall fell on my sister’s kids. They were not lucky. The room was set ablaze, a conflagration in seconds.

Kids were trapped under the rubble. The door and the window were sealed shut due to the pressure. My brother tried to break the window. He threw the kids from above as everyone in the room suffocated. Broken is better than burnt, after all. Another Israeli shell was fired. The door was blown wide open and fell toward me. Every mother screamed for her kids. Everyone ran.

I saw Ahmad holding Maryam, my 8-year-old niece, dead. Her long blonde hair swung, blood covering all of her little face, her eyes, her nose, her ears. She bled out. Anas, a 3-year-old, did not bleed a drop of blood. We thought he was asleep. His face and hands were still warm. He was like an angel.

My sister held her two lifeless babies for the whole night in her arms. She kept trying to check their breath the whole time. She called the ambulance in vain.

She asked for their help over the phone. “How can I know if they’re still alive or dead?!”

With the relentless bombardment, the family was divided. No sounds were any longer heard from beneath the rubble. My parents and my sisters did not utter a sound. No one knows if they were killed by shockwaves, bled to death, or suffocated.

We ran away looking for shelter. The sound of the tanks and bulldozers drew nearer. If we did not flee, they would have dragged us and killed us, running over our bodies. I left my family behind. Ahmad bore me on his back, and I left them there, screaming.

We spotted the tanks on the main road and hid in a nearby tent. We waited for long 15 hours until we decided to run from the tent, no matter what happened. I fainted many times. I waited for my family to be rescued. I waited to know what happened with my wounded cousins. I waited to know what happened with Maryam and Anas. “My mum was diagnosed with diabetes,” I kept insisting. “She cannot make it if she bleeds.”


At about 11:00 a.m. the next morning, my cousin succeeded in getting an animal-drawn cart to take me, my uncle, and the martyrs to the hospital. The cart was full. I recognized the four people I was looking for. “Those are my family, my parents, and two sisters,” I said to myself. No one uttered a word.

I asked my brother, “Are all of them dead?” He did not reply, but his teary eyes did. They left me there, beside the martyrs. I saw Maryam’s long hair swinging, but other tiny feet appeared, too. “Why are Maryam’s feet that tiny?” I asked. “This is Anas.”

I asked for my wounded cousins. “Where is Shams? What about the boys?” I was told they bled to death.

We went two long kilometers to al-Rashid Street, and then to the sea. We waited for the ambulance. People along the whole road were crying. “I survived,” they said.

I lost 14 precious people from my family. I lost my parents, Sahar, 51, and Alaa’, 59. I lost my sisters, Heba, 29, and Ola, 19. I lost my grandmother, Shifa’, 80. I lost my niece and nephew, Maryam, 8, and Anas, 3. I lost my maternal uncle and his whole family, Ahmad, 49, Samaher, 43, his sons, Farid, 26, Hani, 25, and Muhammad, 18, and his daughters, Sundus, 21, and Shams, 16. All of them were deprived of achieving their dreams. All of them were youths and full of life that Israel uprooted.

My fourteen people did not have the luxury of being buried immediately. Only after two weeks, and only after the tanks and soldiers left the area could we bury them. We have not yet been able to bury my uncle’s wife, who is still stuck under the rubble.

I am left with many scars, both physical and psychological, and I have a difficult recovery period ahead. But I, Reem, despite these serious wounds, will almost certainly survive.

If my family must die, then I must live. To tell their story.

Reem A. Hamadaqa is a teaching assistant at IUG, translator, and writer who is interested in writing for and about Palestine. You can follow her on Twitter @reemhamadaqa.


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