The author of several novels, Atef Abu Saif has been the minister of culture for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank since 2019. He happened to be visiting Gaza when attacks by Hamas were met by weeks of unrelenting Israeli airstrikes. As of this writing, the number of people killed in Gaza has exceeded 10,000, some 4,000 of whom were children. In this diary of life—such as it is—in Gaza since Israel’s violent campaign began, Atef Abu Saif writes of enduring trauma after trauma, day after day. Here, he learns that his wife’s only sister has been killed:
For a long 10 minutes, I cried and cried. Overwhelmed by the horrors of the past few days, I walked out of the hospital and found myself wandering the streets. I thought idly, we could turn this city into a film set for war movies. Second World War films and end-of-the-world movies. We could hire it out to the best Hollywood directors. Doomsday on demand.
Who could have the courage to tell Hanna, so far away in Ramallah, that her only sister had been killed? That her family had been killed? I phoned my colleague Manar and asked her to go to our house with a couple of friends and try to delay the news from getting to her. “Lie to her,” I told Manar. “Say the building was attacked by F-16s but the neighbors think Huda and Hatem were out at the time. Any lie that could help.”
In the morning, I rejoined the search for bodies. The building was, as T.S. Eliot would say, “a heap of broken images.” We searchers picked through the ruins under the cricket-like hum of drones we couldn’t see in the sky.