'We Will Not Be Exiled': Final Messages from Gaza

People walk along a street as a plume of smoke rises in the background during an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023 (photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP via Getty Images & KMUW Wichita 89.1 NPR).

Thousands have died in the besieged Palestinian territory and records of their final thoughts are captured online in videos and messages.

Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza since 7 October has flattened entire neighbourhoods and left the besieged enclave resembling an apocalyptic nightmare.

The death toll, one month on, has surpassed 10,000 people and includes more than 4,000 children, as places of safety, such as mosques, churches, media centres, hospitals and supermarkets, have been bombed.

On the ground, Gaza's residents describe the air strikes, the constant explosions and near-death experiences.

The surrealness of the situation is seen on social media, as Palestinians use platforms like X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram to get their voices out, only for those same voices to disappear forever after the people who posted them are killed in air strikes.

Many post their stories with the caveat that this message might be their last.

Haytham Harrara, a journalist with Gaza’s government media office, was killed on 3 November. One of his final messages was published on X on 13 October.

It reads: “We will not leave, we will not be exiled, and you will not see anything from us other than steadfastness, certainty and resilience. If it will be migration, then it will be to our occupied lands or straight to God, Lord of the worlds.”

Harrara was pronounced dead at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, one of the area's largest hospitals where thousands have been sheltering and seeking treatment from the ongoing bombardment.

Another Gaza resident, Dr Asmaa al-Ashqar, who worked at Gaza’s al-Quds hospital recorded a message only 24 hours before she was killed in an Israeli air strike.

In the emotional voice recording, she says that Gaza is being “wiped out” before the world, and no one is taking action.

“[To the Arab states] We don’t need anything from you… Israelis are calling us human animals, Biden is talking about humanity and defending Israel, but is not seeing what is happening to us… we are being killed one after another and the entire world is watching us, entire families are being wiped out from the civil registry,” she said.

“People are just trapped under the rubble in their thousands… where are the nations? Who is helping Gaza? We only have God. I bear witness that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his messenger. God will hold everyone who betrayed us accountable… we will not forgive everyone who normalised with Israel and danced over our wounds,” Ashqar added.

Ahmed al-Shehab posted a video during heavy Israeli bombardment, starting it with “this might be my last video”, and was killed directly after posting it.

In the video, Shehab pleads for help with the sound of bombing in the background, saying: “This is my message for the world, we have been cut off from food, water, electricity, everything.

“We cannot leave our house because they are killing us from the inside and the outside and until now, no one has moved. We don’t want you to move because of us or Palestine only, we need you to move because of the violence targeting al Aqsa mosque. There is no difference between (the) Kaaba and al-Aqsa mosque,” he added.

“What are you waiting for? We don't want you to support us with food and money, please move,” he urges, with the video ending with him falling to the floor and the screen going dark.

Shehab’s entire extended family, which included 44 people, was killed in the Israeli bombings. Online, tributes poured in for him, with many sharing his video to demonstrate the scale of violence taking place in Gaza.

'The end of the family group chat'

Survivors have also shared screenshots of final messages in family group chats where the horror of war mixes with the comfort only loved ones can offer one another.

One screenshot of a family WhatsApp conversation is captioned with the title: “And this was the end of the family group chat".

In the group conversation, one family member asks about the situation in different parts of Gaza, and informs them that some people have been killed at Al Nakhl road, while other homes have been bombed.

No one responds to the messages sent on 20 October.

The final message in the group chat, sent on 22 October, reads: “May God have mercy on you, my loves.”

Hiba Abu Nada’s final post before she was killed inside her home on 20 October was a poem in Arabic titled I grant you refuge.

The 32-year-old wrote it on 10 October and it revolves around themes of destruction and the humanity of Gaza's people, as well as death, grief, faith and hope.

Abu Nada was an award-winning novelist and educator, with her novel Oxygen is not for the Dead winning the Sharjah Award for Arab Creativity in 2017.

The poem ends:

Our streets exalt God with every bomb.
They pray for the mosques and the houses.
And every time the bombing begins in the North,
our supplications rise in the South.

I grant you refuge
from hurt and suffering.

With words of sacred scripture
I shield the oranges from the sting of phosphorous
and the shades of cloud from the smog.

I grant you refuge in knowing
that the dust will clear,
and they who fell in love and died together
will one day laugh.

'Will I make it to the end?'

Another trend among the residents of Gaza has been to check in online everyday to let loved ones know they are okay, often simply with a message or video saying, "I'm alive."

Motaz Azaiza, a culture and lifestyle photographer turned journalist since the start of the war, has published multiple social media posts, clarifying who he is and what he has documented, in case he is killed.

“Will I make it to the end of this? I don't know. But what I'm sure about is: I've delivered RAW images to the whole world to watch what is really happening to the innocent people of Gaza Strip,” he posted on 5 November.

“I am not funded, moved or supported by any media or organisation to do that.

"I repeat that I'm an independent photographer-journalist who is not related to any militant groups or any kind of organisations, I'm a pure, independent Palestinian,” he added.

In a similar move, a Palestinian journalist named Bayan posted a message on social media to ensure she is not forgotten.

“When I go silent for long, it either means that I got no internet connection, that my battery died, or that I died. My full name is Bayan Abusultan. I live in western Gaza City. If you google me and find out I was killed, please take care of my books.”

Nadda Osman is a British-Egyptian journalist and editor based in the UK. She reports on human rights, social trends and issues as well as culture and arts in the Middle East and north Africa region.

( Source: Middle East Eye )

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