[The following was transcribed and edited from a series of voice notes sent by Mohammed Zaanoun to +972 in the evening of October 13, 2023.]
On Friday morning, I left my neighborhood in Gaza City with my wife and four children and drove south to Rafah, on the border with Egypt. Like all Palestinians here, I had received Israel’s messages ordering us to evacuate the northern half of the strip within 24 hours. My home had been destroyed by an Israeli missile the night before.
On Salah al-Din Road — the main highway that runs through the strip from north to south and connects all of its towns — thousands of families were making the same journey. Some were hurrying on foot, carrying whatever belongings they could, and others were riding on large trucks or in their cars.
Immediately after I set up my wife and kids with our relatives in Rafah, I returned to Gaza City in order to retrieve other family members. On the way back north, the number of displaced residents had swelled, and the roads were congested with people fleeing.
Many people were targeted by Israeli aircraft on Salah al-Din as they were going south, even though the Israeli army, via audio messages and leaflets, had threatened them into making the trip — and this is the primary road to do so. When I arrived at the Kuwait roundabout, near the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, I heard the sound of a large explosion that shook the earth. The havoc forced people to turn around and head back north. It was later reported that about 70 people were killed.
I arrived at my relatives’ house in Gaza City to pick up more family members. But I was told that some of them — those who were based in Rafah but had also driven up north to bring others to safety — were killed in the missile attack I had just witnessed. They had come to rescue people, and were killed for doing so.
With Gazans’ main escape route now becoming a target, I headed west to the road that runs along the sea, hoping it would be less dangerous. The scenes of death, destruction, and terror on the way were horrific, but I could not stop to photograph what I saw; I was carrying children, women, and elderly in my car, and I needed to protect them. I had to lay down my only weapon in this war: my camera.
When we reached the sea road, however, we found that it was closed. I took a detour through a dirt path into agricultural land, fearing that the car would be targeted, but thank God I reached a relatively safe route.
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At the end of that road, however, lay a house that was completely destroyed, and the road was closed off there, too. I found another dirt road, which brought me to the Nuseirat area in the center of Gaza City, where there were large crowds of people, many of them also trying to get out.
We waited hours until the road could finally open up and we could begin moving again. I’m sending you these messages just as I finally arrived in Rafah with my family at around 10 p.m. This has been the most difficult day of my life. I am not well.