Snapshots: A Palestinian photographer captures life under bombardment in Gaza 

Like everyone now in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Zaanoun has been living breath by breath, in fear of what might fall from the sky, but he continues to send photographs and video clips to keep the spotlight on what people there are experiencing. Here is his latest dispatch:

18 December – Aid shortages in the Egyptian border camp

As more and more of the roughly 2.3 million people living in the Gaza Strip – some 85% of whom have now been displaced by the bombardment and Israeli ground invasion – have been driven south towards the Egyptian border, Zaanoun’s focus this week is on a refugee camp of 70,000 people that has now formed at Tal al-Sultan, near Rafah. As the winter rains and cold temperatures hit, he says children don’t have blankets, not to mention shortages of food, water, sewage systems, and medical supplies. “Unfortunately, there are no big international [aid] organisations to support families in these areas,” he says.

Back in May, The New Humanitarian began working with Zaanoun on a special project to explore what daily life looked like in Gaza – a place where, despite the sporadic media coverage, the impacts of decades of occupation and the effects of war were constants.

Everything changed overnight on 7 October, after a raid into Israel by Hamas gunmen left 1,200 people dead, most of them civilians who were killed deliberately, according to the Israeli authorities. Hamas, the political and militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, also took around 240 hostages back into the coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.

Gaza has faced more than two months of intense Israeli bombardment since. A total siege cut off water and electricity and blocked the entry of food, fuel, and medical supplies. Only a trickle of humanitarian aid made it into Gaza – through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – before a seven-day pause from 24 November saw aid organisations scaling up the delivery of assistance. But due to the fuel shortages and the sheer level of destruction, this still failed to reach many people, especially in northern Gaza, and fighting resumed on 1 December.

At least 19,453 people – including 7,729 children – had been killed by Israel’s military operations as of 18 December, according to the health ministry in Gaza. UN experts have warned that time is running out to “prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe”.

To view the snapshots from before 7 October, click here, and find more of Zaanoun’s latest dispatches below:

5 December – ‘For the pain to go away, we will live here’

After Israel resumed its bombardment on 1 December, intensely striking areas across the Gaza Strip – including in the south, where most of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have now been corralled – Zaanoun sent this footage of a group of journalists gathering outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. “We will stay here,” they sing together in solidarity. “For the pain to go away, we will live here.” At least 57 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed since 7 October, in addition to well over 100 aid workers, mostly from the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA. Zaanoun says the situation has become “catastrophic” and he must now focus on the safety of his wife and their four children. No safe place is left for them, he says.

27 November – Pause brings some respite

The good news is that Zaanoun, who reported being sick after drinking dirty water in his previous dispatch, is now feeling better after managing to get his hands on some medication. But one of his four children isn’t doing so well, possibly due to the lack of food or the pollution. Zaanoun also had to pull them out of the rubble, for a second time, as the house they were sheltering in was hit by an Israeli strike. That was before the four-day pause in fighting began on Friday, offering some respite. In this clip, Zaanoun shows the Abu al-Ruk family taking advantage of the lull to gather around a fire near the ruins of their home in eastern Khan Younis. Zaanoun says his own family headed there in a rush and has no winter clothes.

23 November – ‘We couldn’t find anyone to help us’

In his last filing before being struck down sick, due, he believes, to drinking dirty water, Zaanoun filed this report, interviewing Asma Ayad al-Rifi. Last month, she had been ordered, along with many other Palestinians, to evacuate from their neighbourhood in eastern Gaza to an area the Israelis said would be safe. “They were lying,” Al-Rifi says, as she recounts how an Israeli strike led to the roof falling on their heads in the middle of the night. She describes how two women and six children were killed instantly as they became buried in the rubble of the building where they were sheltering, in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip. Al-Rifi had to pull others out, herself, by hand.

16 November – ‘It’s raining now in Gaza’

In this snapshot, we’ve combined Zaanoun’s photographs with an audio diary from Maha Hussaini, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist in Gaza. Hussaini was forced to leave her home in Gaza City on 13 October. In this voice note, she says that she loves autumn, winter, and the rainy weather that the colder seasons bring. But for the first time in her life she is praying that the rain will stop soon because it is making life harder for the around 1.6 million people in Gaza who have been displaced by Israel’s bombardment and military campaign. Many of the displaced are staying in tents. “I actually cannot imagine their situation now as the rain is pouring down,” Hussaini said. Listen to her full voice note below, and read her recent first-person article: In Gaza, death seems closer than water.

10 November – ‘Fellow journalists live in the same tent’

Zaanoun and other Palestinian journalists in Gaza continue to cover Israel’s bombardment and near-total siege of the enclave, even as they struggle to cope with the killing of dozens of colleagues and the effects of violence on themselves and their families. They are playing a crucial role by reporting from inside Gaza as Israel continues to bar international journalists who are not embedded with the Israeli military from entering the enclave. Many journalists in Gaza have been displaced from their homes and have sought refuge in hospitals, where they are able to charge their phones, laptops, and cameras, and where they have a better chance of connecting to weak internet signals to send their photos, videos, and stories to the outside world. If the dwindling supply of fuel for back-up generators powering the hospitals runs out, Zaanoun and others could find themselves completely cut off.

Back in May, The New Humanitarian began working with Zaanoun on a special project to explore what daily life looks like in Gaza, a place where occupation and the effects of war are a constant.

It all changed on 7 October after a raid into Israel by Hamas gunmen, who killed around 1,400 people, according to the Israeli Health Ministry, many of them civilians. Hamas, the political and militant group that governs Gaza, also took around 200 to 250 hostages back into the coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.

Gaza has been under intense Israeli bombardment since, and on 9 October Israel announced a total siege that cut off water and electricity and blocked the entry of food, fuel, medical supplies, and humanitarian relief to the roughly 2.3 million people living there. Only a trickle of humanitarian aid has been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt.

Israel also launched a ground invasion into northern Gaza on 27 October, but little independent information is known about how it is progressing because Israel and Egypt are not allowing international journalists into Gaza, and Palestinian journalists in the enclave are working under extremely dangerous conditions – at least 34 have been killed since 7 October.

More than 11,000 Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed by the Israeli bombardments, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. As Israel’s military action in Gaza continues unabated, UN experts have warned that time is running out to “prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe”.

To view the snapshots from before 7 October, click here, and find more of Zaanoun’s latest dispatches below:

6 November – ‘My friend, his family was killed’ 

Dozens of people were killed in a blast in the densely populated al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday night, including the family of Zaanoun’s friend and fellow photojournalist Mohammed al-Aloul. The blast was one of several in refugee camps in Gaza over the weekend, as the death toll from Israel’s now month-long bombardment and siege of the enclave continues to spiral. The health ministry in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, said at least 45 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on al-Maghazi camp. The Israeli military has said it cannot confirm whether it was responsible for the blast. Four of al-Aloul’s five children were killed. His wife and one-year-old son survived.

3 November – ‘How long will we be removing bodies?’

Zaanoun reports from al-Shati refugee camp in the north of Gaza, where rescuers are digging through the rubble after an Israeli airstrike. It appears too late to find survivors, and they are now just working to retrieve the bodies of some of the children killed. One man tells Zaanoun that seven homes were destroyed and at least 14 children killed. His sister is among the dead. “How long will we be removing bodies in Gaza?” the man asks. “Until when? You have destroyed us, that’s enough.”

31 October – Shut off completely from the world

For roughly 36 hours, between 27 and 29 October, almost all cellular and internet service in the Gaza Strip stopped working amidst heavy Israeli bombardment and the beginning of a ground invasion. The communications blackout made it so people couldn’t call ambulances after airstrikes, speak with relatives, or deliver information about what was happening in the enclave to the outside world. Even as services have been restored, concerns remain over access to information. Israel and Egypt are blocking international journalists from entering Gaza, while at least 26 Palestinian journalists have been killed, most by Israeli airstrikes on the enclave. After communications were restored, Zaanoun was able to resume sending photos.

27 October – ‘We bid farewell to the family of our colleague’

Zaanoun goes to Al-Aqsa Hospital to share condolences with fellow journalist Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza, whose family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. He says people have been told to go to the south of the Gaza Strip, but then shows civilians bringing in their injured after a strike hit their homes near the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis. “There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, and no safe road,” he says.

18 October – Gaza reels from hospital explosion

Zaanoun photographs the aftermath of the massive blast at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on 17 October that killed nearly 500 people and wounded 300, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Thousands of civilians had taken shelter from Israeli bombardment in the facility. Health officials in Gaza said an Israeli airstrike caused the blast. Israeli officials blamed it on a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an armed group based in Gaza that has denied any involvement.

17 October – ‘The smell of death is everywhere’

Before the al-Ahli blast, people in Gaza were already suffering the effects of Israeli bombardment and siege. In addition to those killed and injured, around one million people have been displaced from their homes, out of a population of roughly 2.3 million. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble, and first responders and residents in Gaza have scrambled to dig people out from under flattened buildings, often only using their hands.

12 October – ‘Maybe this is the last message from me’

On the night of 11 October night, shortly after Gaza’s only power station ran out of fuel, and as Israeli artillery thudded nearby, Zaanoun took shelter in Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the enclave. Israel cut off the electricity it provides to the territory after Hamas fighters launched a deadly assault inside Israel on 7 October. Many Gazans have headed to hospitals and UN-run facilities hoping to find safety. 

11 October – ‘Civilians thought they were safe in their homes’

Zaanoun reports on the worsening situation inside Gaza. In his first video for our latest Snapshots series, the Palestinian photojournalist says civilian buildings have been destroyed by Israeli strikes that have killed dozens of people.

Videos edited by Ciara Lee. Text edited by Andrew Gully and Eric Reidy.

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