These are not my words. These are the words that my colleague Wafaa has shared with me over voice notes on whatsapp. Because of the intermittent and weak internet connection, I did not receive these voice notes in the right order, they came in depending on their size. Some were 1 minute long, some were longer … and I sat on them since 30 November 2023.

It was hard for me to listen to Wafaa unfold what she’s been through over the last two months, with more horrifying reality unfolding during the temporary truce. Her voice shook … not out of fear as she’s said but out of pure agony and pain. How am I to comfort her? How am I to comfort the amazing woman who refused to stop working since day one of the war on Gaza? How am I to comfort the one who’s lost loved one after loved one?

I didn’t … I couldn’t … But she carries on and these were her words:

“I, like almost everyone else here, was praying for a truce, even if temporary. I’ve decided after catching my breath from the non-stop bombing, that I want to try to visit the people that I was unable to reach during the attack days. After that I want to continue following up on work-related matters and check on our volunteers and colleagues from other organizations. Or that was the plan … ”

And here her voice broke and she paused then continued to say,

“But I found no one … so many of those I was seeking, no longer exist …

One of my closest friends and colleagues, the one I usually rely on during such circumstances and draw strength from, the one I reach out to knowing he’s the only one who could comfort me, was killed. So I tried to visit his parents, wife, and kids but I couldn’t find them or their home anymore… apparently they left seeking refuge somewhere else and we do not know where they are at the moment…

That was stop number one.

“I have lost touch with my close childhood friend, I thought that was due to the bombing and bad internet and phone connections … or maybe she was killed, or maybe their home was targeted and she’s buried under the rubble, or maybe she’s one of the hundreds or thousands of bodies left in the streets unrecognized by anyone and left there to perish unable to even give them a proper dignified burial …”

She paused and then said with a relatively hopeful tone, “or maybe she’s alive and I just cannot find her.”

That was stop number two.

“My third close friend I was seeking, I’ve come to learn that he was actually able to leave Gaza when the Rafah crossing was semi-open and he got his children out. I was relieved… at least I know one of my close friends is actually alive… ”

That was stop number three.

“Then I started moving towards my aunt’s. She’s in her sixties and she’s lost her son and her home. She sacrificed her entire life so she could raise her children well and build them a home. Then by one decision of someone behind a screen with a finger on a deadly detonator … he took away her child and her home. I don’t think she even recognized me when she saw me, she was still shock… she was still in awe. How could everything be gone in a matter of seconds?”

She paused again, then continued;

“You know what terrifies me the most? It’s not dying because of an Israeli bombing, no … that I wouldn’t even be aware of, but true fear lays in surviving and finding no one there waiting for me. I consider the most precious gift in life is the people we surround ourselves with, I invest in my relationships, I give them my all. I had three close friends, and now I have no one.”

I was listening to this and barely able to hold myself together, barely able to finish listening. And then I heard Wafaa’s voice explaining:

“You know, we have no time to collapse or cry or react or reflect, right now we need to keep pushing through and we need to continue working. As you know we’ve been working non-stop since the 8th of October in order to assess and respond to people’s needs in these horrifying times. We’ve been working non-stop with the different  local organizations, starting from Beit Hanoun up north to Rafah in the south. Then gradually, or even what felt all at once at times, we started losing our colleagues and volunteers one by one. They were either killed, injured or had to move with their families to other locations looking for safety. Finally, we ended up working closely with Al-Fajr Youth Association. And with them we planned a visit to Khan Younis during the truce.”

“Moving around for the past 50 days was not easy, hence I spent most of it working on the coordination part of our work, despite the communication cuts and blackouts. Yet this visit was one of the first one where I’ll be going across the Gaza Strip. When the attacks were happening, I felt them … I could hear the bombing, I could feel it, I still feel people’s screams in my bones until this very day … but on that day, it was the first day that I actually saw it. ”

Her voice shook again,

“I could not recognize my own street. Even people’s faces were different … it was a sea of destruction and agony! Entire neighborhoods were obliterated, disappeared … How did we survive all of this?! When we were going through al-Nuseirat, you couldn’t walk two meters in any direction without facing destruction. You know, we were waiting for the truce not to do anything but check on those who remained, if any … I can’t describe people’s faces and gazes, they were all going somewhere, but no one knew where to go … they did not know where to start, and they were terrified of what would unfold. Their eyes were filled with pure fear and pain.”

That was stop number four.

“I couldn’t stop to take in this scene for a second longer. I continued to try and call Jaber. He’s a journalist that we’ve been working with for years now on our visual content in Gaza. I couldn’t get through the phone to him, but I knew he was at al Aqsa hospital where there was a tent where all the journalists were, and so I went there. That was the worst place anyone could ever see … there were thousands of displaced people, there were hundreds trying to check on their injured loved ones while others were literally carrying bags their loved ones inside shrouds and blankets …”

Wafaa wept.

“I could not look anyone in the eye. How can I face them? How can I look them in the eye knowing there’s nothing I can do for them? I felt ashamed … I felt helpless … but I knew I couldn’t stop to fathom this as well and so I focused on finding Jaber and leaving the hospital as soon as I could.”

That was stop number five.

“I found Jaber, and so we started moving towards Khan Younis, and naturally mid-way we had to stop as our car ran out of gasoline. It took us some time to get some in order to carry on with our trip, but we did manage. When we finally got to our destination my main aim was to make sure each and every one of our colleagues and volunteers were okay. And thankfully they were. They looked tired and exhausted, they’ve been helping us since the very beginning on getting the supplies needed, organizing them, and then distributing the packages of aid to people. Yes, they were tired and exhausted from this work, but they were alive and okay, and for me that’s a blessing. All of them were youngsters who literally faced death under hales of bombs in order to help their people, and seeing them gave me strength and hope.

They were so organized too, they worked on categorizing everything in its place, there was storage room for vegetables, for health products, for water, for plastic sheets, for clothing, for blankets, for toys even. They also had lists of everything they’ve done and how many they were able to reach and what was missing. The past 50 days were beyond draining and exhausting, but to be able to realize that in the midst of all of this we were able to support at least 300,000 people was a blessing for all of us, and a further motive for us to continue going. I am beyond proud of MECA’s family and work, and of the amazing partner organizations on the ground and every single volunteer who put their lives on the line for this.

This was a long day, I was proud but I was also exhausted and the next day I couldn’t do anything but try to rest. I told myself that I need to cry, but I couldn’t… I know that after the war is over, we all will cry… we will do nothing but weep. Until then, we’ll rest for a bit and keep going.”

This was stop number six.

That’s when our conversation stopped, and I haven’t heard from her since … I still write her, and I wait for the two ticks on whatsapp to appear, and they rarely do. Even when they do, there’s no response, but at least I know that if her phone is still working and it’s receiving messages, then she must be alive.

To say that we’re in awe of our colleagues in Gaza is an understatement, our colleagues are physically and mentally broken yet they continue to work. They continue to do their best to attend to the needs of people in Gaza.

If they keep going, who are we to stop?

We should go out every day to the streets screaming our lungs out for a permanent ceasefire and for justice to prevail.  We should continue to boycott Israeli products and those who support Israeli apartheid crimes. We should keep the memories of the amazing souls lost alive forever, they were not numbers, they were dreams, ambitions, humor, and hope.

Keep talking about Palestine, keep organizing for Palestine, and never stop seeking justice.

Free Palestine from the river to the sea until we are all free.