The screams of my colleagues awakened me, and the throbbing of my heart drowned out the competition in my heart. What happened? Was someone injured on the streets of Gaza, or worse?
Saturday was 1:55 pm. I was taking a nap on the upper floors of a two-story penthouse, which had been the Associated Press office in Gaza since 2006. This was not uncommon these days. Since the fighting began earlier this month, I’ve been sleeping in the news station until early afternoon and then working all night.
I hurried downstairs and saw a colleague wearing a helmet and protective vest. They were screaming. Evacuate! “
The Israeli army, as we will learn later, targeted our building for destruction and issued a brief advance warning. They have removed three buildings so far this week and warned residents and residents a few minutes ago to leave. In a hurry, I was told: you have 10 minutes.
What did you need? I got my laptop and some other electronics. what else? Overwhelmed with souvenirs from friends, family and colleagues, I saw a workspace that had been mine for years. I chose only a handful: decorative plates with pictures of my family. A coffee mug I got from my daughter. I have been living safely in Canada with my sister and wife since 2017. Certificate of employment for 5 years at AP.
I started to leave. Then I looked back at this place, which was my second home for many years. I noticed that this was the last time I might see it. I looked around after 2 pm. I was the last person there.
I wore a helmet. And I ran.
After spending the most disturbing days in the community where I was born and raised, I’m now on the news — where my mother and brother, my cousin and uncle live — I’m at home now. I can say it’s safe here, but I can’t. There is no safe place in Gaza.
On Friday, the airstrike destroyed my family’s farm at the northern end of Gaza. And now my office in Gaza-a place I thought was sacred and untargeted because both the AP and Al Jazeera offices are on the top floor-is a pile of rubble, girders and dust.
Many Gazans got worse. At least 145 people have been killed since Hamas began launching hundreds of rockets into Israel on Monday. Israel has attacked the Gaza Strip on strike. In Israel, eight people were killed on Saturday, including a man killed by a rocket in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
In our building, the clock in my head felt deafening when I ran out of office. I ran down the stairs on the 11th floor and entered the underground parking lot. Suddenly I noticed: only my car was there. Everything else was evacuated. I threw my belongings behind, jumped in and got out of the car.
When I felt far enough, I stopped the car and went outside to see my building. I found a colleague nearby. They were waiting and watching for the next thing.
Nearby, the owner of our building was calling an Israeli military officer who told him to evacuate the place. The owner was begging a little more. No, he was told. That is impossible. Instead, he said: go back to the building and make sure everyone is out. There are 10 minutes. You should hurry.
I turned to our building and looked. Maybe I was hoping it wouldn’t happen. I thought of a family living on the upper 5th floor of the building, under the media station, and above the office on the lower floor. What do they do? Where are they going?
Other journalists gathered at the edge of safety and worked hard to prepare for: My brave video colleagues tended to do their live shots.
Then, in the next eight minutes, there was a quick series of small drone airstrikes, followed by one after another. And three powerful airstrikes from the F-16.
At first, something seemed to collapse. I thought of a bowl of potato chips. What if I hit my fist? Then smoke and dust wrapped everything. The sky rang. And both the homes of some people, the offices of others, and for me both buildings disappeared in the dust cover.
There was still a room key in my pocket that no longer existed.
I stood with a colleague about 400 meters (yards) away, and after a while, the rubble began to settle, so I tried to handle it all. When the structure collapsed, white smoke was overtaken by thick clouds of black smoke. Dust, cement shards, and glass shards were scattered everywhere. We are no longer familiar with it.
I thought about all the hundreds of souvenirs that are now fragmented, including the 20-year-old cassette recorder that I used when I first became a journalist. If I had an hour, I would have grabbed everything.
It was one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen. But I was deeply saddened and grateful — no one was injured as far as I know — no one was my colleague or anyone else. It will be confirmed in the coming hours as more information came out and my boss at AP blamed the attacks that plunged them into “shock and horror.”
I wonder how long I should stay and see. That was when my long-standing instinct began — an instinct that covered so much violence and sorrow in my home.
Our building is gone and will not come back. Already, other things I needed to cover were happening. You have to understand: we are journalists, we are not stories. Our priority is not ourselves. It’s about talking about other people living in the communities we cover.
So I spent a little more time seeing the end of the place that shaped much of my life. And I started to wake up from this nightmare.
I told myself: it’s over. Think about what to do next. Let’s keep covering it all. This is history, and there is much more to tell. And as always, when the world rocks around us, it’s up to us to understand how.
Also read: Israeli air raids destroy Al Jazeera, a building in Gaza that houses other international media outlets
“Screaming, hurrying to evacuate, and the bomb came.”
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