When bombs shake our apartment block and the jets and missiles howl overhead, children start to scream on every floor of the building. ‘They’re going to hit our house! Our house!’
This has been happening for so long that everyone is exhausted. During the day, we adults try to reassure our own children, promising they will be safe, though we cannot know this is true. We distract them with endless card games.
When darkness falls, we lie close together, the children hugging us or holding our hands. We whisper to them, telling them how lucky we are to be alive and inside, instead of out on the streets or sheltering in the rubble of a bomb site.
We tell them too that the bombing is not close, that we are in the south of the Gaza Strip and the missiles are landing in the north. What we do not say is that bombs and missiles often miss their target by miles, and that they do not care who they kill.
Sometimes, around dawn, there will be a break in the bombardment and we fall asleep, still shaking with fear. When I wake, I have the strange sensation of not knowing – for the first moment or two – whether I am alive or dead.
My two cats panic, too, when the explosions rock the walls, terrified out of their senses. I keep them locked up, to prevent them from running off. My sons and I brought them with us when we fled from Gaza City in the north, escaping as bombs obliterated everything around us.
Now we are with my sister, our cousin and my nieces and nephews, in a two-room apartment in Rafah.
When I wake, I have the strange sensation of not knowing – for the first moment or two – whether I am alive or dead. Pictured: Amal Zaqout with sons Mohammed (L) and Sammer (R)
People ask me if we are safe here, and the truthful answer is that we could all be killed at any moment – but that is still better than staying in the north. Pictured: Palestinian injured in Khan Yunis, Gaza, today
It is so cramped that my sons Mohammed and Sammer, who are both young adults, have to sleep in the corridor. There are 11 of us here. In the same two-room apartment downstairs, there are more than 20.
People ask me if we are safe here, and the truthful answer is that we could all be killed at any moment – but that is still better than staying in the north.
We pray that if we die, we die together. I didn’t want to abandon my home in the Tal Al-Hawa district of Gaza City. Many of my friends and neighbours were not able to leave, and I wanted to stay with them and help them survive. But for the first seven days, the bombing was non-stop, and every day at first light we saw more streets wiped out, reduced to dust and ashes with everyone in them.
The majority of victims are the ones who are most defenceless: the children, the old and the women. People I have known for many years were dying daily. I have not been able to grieve for any of them properly because the shock of each death was so quickly followed by another, and another.
Whole neighbourhoods have been destroyed and entire families killed. The devastation is so total that it is unlikely all their names can ever be tallied. It will be as if they never existed. Those who survived, like me and my sons, have made their way south, crowding this small city more than it can bear.
Rafah is near the coast, and every time we look out to sea, we fear the sight of an invasion force of Israeli landing craft.
And my private fear is that the supplies of drinking water will run out. We have fewer than 15 litres left in plastic bottles. That’s about two pints each. Our neighbours have shared what they have with us, because everyone here does whatever they can for their friends, but the whole of Rafah wants drinking water – and there just isn’t any.
When an aid truck did get through, it brought a delivery of burial shrouds. If they do not send water soon, they will never be able to bring enough of them. Without water, we are on the brink of cholera and typhoid epidemics, and a humanitarian crisis on a scale that cannot be exaggerated. I went out last week, willing to buy all the water I could find, but no one would sell it at any price. As for water to wash with, we have just a few bowlfuls that we reuse, and save for the toilet.
Some of the supermarkets are still open, but their shelves are swept bare. We want flour for bread but there is none. When a small amount of bread was last distributed, an endless queue snaked through the streets.
People were told they’d have to wait five hours. I didn’t waste my time: I knew all the bread would be gone long before it was my turn, and meanwhile my sister needed my help at home.
Every time I step outside, there is a real danger I might not return. But I have to take the risk, because I am the head of the household. Pictured: Palestinian children inspect the site of an airstrike today in Khan Younis
Injured Palestinian child arrives at Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza, today
We pray that if we die, we die together. I didn’t want to abandon my home in the Tal Al-Hawa district of Gaza City. Pictured: Palestinians gather at the sight of an airstrike in Khan Younis today
I have been able to get rice, and that means at least that the children can be fed. There is no electricity, but in Rafah the power grid has been unreliable for years and most people cook with gas, stored in metal canisters. So, by being frugal and inventive, we are managing to eat.
Every time I step outside, there is a real danger I might not return. But I have to take the risk, because I am the head of the household.
My sister’s husband is in an Egyptian hospital, being treated for a brain tumour. Even before this war, there was no treatment for that kind of cancer in Gaza.
The system had collapsed, and hospitals were largely run by volunteer doctors who worked long shifts doing surgical operations. Now, there is no treatment for any kind of illness. Healthcare is non-existent. I am Palestinian, though I was born and brought up in a refugee camp in Egypt. My mother, who was my whole world, died suddenly from cancer when I was 17.
I came to Gaza with my sons in 2007, after the death of my husband and my 14-month-old daughter in an accident in Yemen.
We arrived with nothing, and it took me nine years to pay for my apartment – and another two years of hard work to pay for all the furnishings.
Now I am fearful that it will have been destroyed and once again we have nothing. I am sad beyond words. At the age of 52, I am not afraid to die. We all die: what matters is to do good with your life.
I am a charity worker, a community programme officer with Medical Aid for Palestinians, a non-government organisation based in Britain.
My work focuses on women with breast cancer, as well as survivors of gender-based violence and girls with learning difficulties.
I believed in that work with all my heart, and now there’s no way to help those people. I don’t even know whether my colleagues are still alive.
Every morning I go through the ritual on my phone of sending each of them, and many other friends, a message – telling them I’m OK, that I’m thinking of them, that I want to hear from them.
Not all of them have answered me. My phone, an essential piece of equipment for my job, is our best lifeline. My neighbours help me to keep it charged, plugging it in to a solar panel source for four hours each day. If we lose that trickle of solar power, we will have no electricity at all.
It is a desperate situation here.
The message I want to send is to the politicians, especially to the British government which has so much influence on the Israelis, the United Nations and on the United States. That message is a short one: please make the bombing stop. We are desperate women and children who want only to live in peace.
No matter what happens, I will not leave now. Gaza is my home. If I am not killed, I will be here to help rebuild my country. My name, Amal, means ‘Hope’ in Arabic. Right now, hope is all we have.