First person, Gaza City

I can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively.

survey_gaza_world_pressure (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
I live alone in my office. My wife and two young children moved in with her father after our apartment was shattered. The neighborhood mosque, where I have prayed since I was a child, had its roof blown off. All the government buildings on my beat have been obliterated. After days of Israeli shelling, the city and life I have known no longer exist. Gaza City, with some 400,000 people, stopped supplying water when the fuel ran out for the power station driving the pumps. We listen to battery-run radios for news, even though the outside world watches what's happening to us on television. Grocery stores are closed and food is scarce. Hospital officials say more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's military operation to crush Hamas. Many are civilians. Three days after Israel began its air strikes on Gaza on December 27, my apartment building was shaken by bombs aimed at a nearby Hamas-run government compound. My brother took a picture of the room where my boys, 2-year-old Hikmet and 6-month-old Ahmed, once slept. Their toys were broken, shrapnel had punched through the closet and the bedroom wall had collapsed. I don't know if we will ever go back. The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas compound, which it posted on YouTube. I can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively. On Tuesday, I stood outside my apartment building but didn't dare to enter. I was worried the remains of the nearby Hamas compound might again be shelled without warning. Driving back to central Gaza City, I took the road where Gaza's two main universities are. It was covered with shards of glass, telephone cables, electricity wires and flattened cars. This road was once crowded with students, taxis and street vendors. It was always noisy and jammed. The only shop I found open was a pharmacy run by my friend Eyad Sayegh. He's an Orthodox Christian, and I stopped to wish him a Merry Christmas - Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on January 7. Eyad told me he forgot it was Christmas. All the landmark buildings I covered as a reporter have vanished. The colonial-era Seraya was the main security compound for the succession of Gaza's rulers - the British, Egyptians, Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and then the rival Palestinians of Hamas. We used to fear the Seraya, where the central jail was. Now it's rubble. Of the presidential office overlooking the sea only a few walls remain. For many Gazans it was a symbol of our statehood, even though President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Fatah movement, hasn't been there since Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Someone planted a Palestinian flag on the building's remains. The huge gate at the western entrance still stands, giving an illusion of something big behind it. And across the city, the Parliament house is half destroyed. On Jala Street, one of Gaza's main roads, I saw about 30 boys around a leaky irrigation tap on a traffic island. They were clutching empty soft drink bottles and jerry cans, trying to fill them with water. Samir, who is 9, told me his family has no water at home and he wanted to bring enough for a bath because he and his brother smell. So do most people in Gaza right now. In my father-in-law's building, residents throw out bags of spoiled food. With no power, refrigerators don't run and fresh food quickly rots. Shortages are getting worse, leading to unusual gender equality in the bread lines. I saw about 150 men and women gathered to buy bread - but standing in separate lines. The men complained the women, normally so deferential to men, kept pushing, so now they have two lines. There are few cars on the roads, and most of those are media cars, ambulances and vehicles packed with civilians. Some look like they are fleeing, with mattresses tied to the roofs, but who knows where they can go. Israeli helicopters fly overhead. I hear blasts in the distance. The roads have been ripped apart by explosives. I drive into downtown Gaza, trying to prove to myself I can still do something I have done so often before - drive through my city. I reach the Catholic school I attended, where my late father used to bring me every day. The building is undamaged. I stand in front of it, wondering if I will ever walk my children to this school. Ibrahim Barzak has been AP's chief correspondent in Gaza City for 17 years.