There is also the pressure that comes from the people. One woman—fleeing the Israeli shelling with her children—expresses anger at the New York Times coverage, which she says is not balanced. I worry that her loud complaints will bring others. Luckily there are those who respect my work, and respect that I will go to places that many journalists avoid.
Al-Shifa is the main hospital in Gaza City, and there are faces and voices there I don’t forget. A girl declares loudly—in conservative Gaza run by an Islamic movement—that she is losing her faith in God. She blames her mother for the loss of her sister’s leg. I ask the crying mother why, and she explains that she thought it would be safer to send the girl to her uncle’s home because it is built of concrete. The concrete wasn’t much protection.
Another mother wishes aloud for the extermination of Hamas, having seen her daughter cut in half by an Israeli bomb. I pretend I didn’t hear that sentence, and then security guards ask the woman’s relatives to take her out of the hospital.
A father searches for his son, who he says is twenty-two. I listen to him talking quietly to God: I always prayed. Please save him. He is my only son. I know the guards will show sympathy when the man learns his son is dead. “He is a martyr,” they tell him later. But the father doesn’t stop talking to himself. I will cry until I die, my dear son.
I am in the hospital interviewing a nurse. A young man orders a woman to leave. She begs to see her injured husband. I step outside and four drones are hovering above the hospital; the rumor is that the hospital will be bombed.
Suddenly, between two buildings, I hear shooting and run toward it. I find a man on a stretcher, shot in the right side of his head, his brain emerging from the left side. I express horror, and a young man—the one who had ordered the woman to leave—scolds me: “Are you horrified for an Israeli collaborator who killed resistance fighters and civilians?” I learn that the dead man is the husband of the woman who was ordered to leave; she had come to the hospital after Israel bombed Al-Saraya (the site of Gaza’s central prison), where collaborators were held.
Another man takes me aside and tells me firmly: “You never saw anything.”
“What’s his name?” I ask.
He repeats, “You never saw anything. You won’t report that.”
“No way,” I say. I thought, You don’t know who you are talking to.
One Week In
My driver, Mofid, and I head to Jabalia, a couple of miles northeast of Gaza City. I put a TV sign on the car and wear my flak jacket and helmet. I ask Mofid to do the same, but he refuses: “Whatever God wants is going to happen,” he says. “This will do nothing.” I feel responsible, and ask him to tell his wife that he is not listening to me. As always, I ask Mofid to wait away from the crazy areas, and I walk in.
In Jabalia, I enter a location that has been hit five times by Israeli bombs. I worry that the drones could hit at any moment, but try to focus on the story. I attend a funeral for more than thirty people, and talk to a father while staring into his dead daughter’s brown eyes. “From now on,” he says, “I’m Hamas.”
Back at Al-Shifa hospital, an ambulance arrives with bodies from Zeitoun district, east of the city. I ask the driver how many were killed. A man next to the driver screams at him: “Don’t answer her! She is saying ‘killed,’ not ‘martyred.’” The driver pulls away.
I want to leave before it gets any darker, but a taxi stops in front of the emergency room and a Hamas fighter steps out. Finally, I’m seeing a fighter. In the emergency room, he asks to have shrapnel removed from his leg quickly, so that he can get back to the battle.
“How were you injured?” I ask.
“I fired a rocket and ran away,” he says.
I step away. A young man’s body is on the floor, his brains seeping out. A mother tries to calm her daughter, who is screaming from the pain of having shrapnel removed. A baby cries nonstop. A woman wails at the loss of her Ukrainian neighbor, and curses Israel. A doctor weeps at the loss of his Ukrainian wife and his son. There was fighting near where they all live.