It’s a quiet and lovely night in London. Roughly half past eleven, the end of July.
I’m at home, just had dinner, now having a glass of wine whilst reading a book sitting comfortably on the couch. The radio is on and music flows gently into the living room. All the windows are open, a refreshing breeze coming in from outside. The street is silent, someone gets dropped off in a cab and walks home heavily, clearly having had one too many. I stop reading for a moment, I check Twitter. Few puns here and there, news from Ukraine, Russia, Libya and, of course, Gaza. Someone has posted a link to a live feed from Gaza City.
I don’t really know what to expect. Over the past three weeks photographs and videos from the Gaza Strip have been everywhere, from social networks to TV news. Shared by many, censored by few, hidden when too cruel.
I turn off the radio. I take my laptop and I open the link. A live video appears on the screen. It’s pitch dark in Gaza. What strikes me at first though has nothing to do with the images I’m looking at; it’s the sound that gets my attention. It’s a constant noise, like the one a helicopter would make but somehow more steady. The frequency is always the same, it never changes. It’s not annoying nor disturbing, it’s just there, almost as if it was lying in the background trying to go unnoticed. It doesn’t take long before I realise that it’s the sound of a drone, perhaps more than one. Definitely more than one.
Everything is covered in darkness, I can spot a couple of streetlights and the tenuous light they emit looks as if it was surrounded by a white fog. I wonder if it’s due to the poor quality of the video, after all I have no idea where the camera has been placed, nor where it’s been pointed at. Drones continue to fly, the buzz is still the same, although its constant presence makes it a little bit more sinister than before. There’s a car approaching the camera, but again, since I don’t know yet what I’m looking at, it may just be a matter of perspective. The driver must be in a real hurry, the car rushes down the street cutting the thick fog in half.
When it disappears off the edge of the video everything goes back into the darkness. The fog settles and all the shadows created by the car’s white headlights suddenly vanish. The drones are still hovering somewhere in the sky with their sinister and steady noise.
I’m about to lose interest and I’m thinking about going back to my book. Nothing has been happening for the past five minutes, the streetlights are still there, wrapped in that weird fog, the car is gone, the sky is dark.
Suddenly a bright flash of white light strikes the sky. It’s very, very bright. It’s so powerful my eyes have to close for a few seconds. When I open them again it’s almost like the Sun has been placed in the middle of the screen. But since it’s 1:40 in Gaza it can’t be the Sun. In fact it’s the light that comes from an Israeli’s flare. Finally I see what the camera was pointing at. It’s Gaza City in all its beauty and destruction. Its skyline stands in front of me. Tall white buildings and small grey houses, empty streets and sporadic green trees. What I thought to be fog are in fact smoke clouds rising from the ground.
The flare is now slowly falling towards the ground. It reminds me of the flares that were thrown over Baghdad at the beginning of the 2003 war. I am not a military expert so it may be a different type but its purpose is pretty much the same: illuminate the night sky for as long as possible.
The drones are getting closer to the camera, the sinister and steady noise gets louder and louder. More flares being thrown over the city. The artificial Sun I saw few minutes ago is still there but now there are two more next to it. Then a fourth one. And a fifth. The sky has turned from black to white. For someone who has never seen these scenes before it may even look like the prelude to a fireworks display, when you look up to the sky not knowing what’s going to happen. But this is not the case. This is Gaza, and there’s a war going on. I know what will come next. I know exactly what’s about to happen. And I am not ready for it. I am scared of watching it live on my computer, sitting comfortably on my couch on a quiet and lovely night in London.
And then it begins. The whistle of missiles flying by. The drones getting even more closer. A rocket hits a building. The sound of more missiles being fired, followed by the sound of more explosions shortly after. One blast after the other. Gaza is under an intense artillery fire. Another building being hit. More flares to replace the ones that are about to go out. A heavy blast near a group of houses. The drones getting louder, almost if they were standing right above the camera. Another massive bang. The fire is rapidly engulfing buildings already. The sky turns from white to orange.
Suddenly all the blasts stop. Flames and smoke rising from the ground. Gaza must be hell right now.
The sound of ambulance sirens abruptly covers the noise of the drones. I can spot them rushing all over the place with the blue and red light flashing through the smoke and the dust. Almost if there was a script written by someone, as soon as the sirens fade away the buzz of the drones replace them. Not a single second of silence. It’s either drones or ambulances.
I am honestly frightened by all these explosions and by that sinister and steady noise made by the drones. Even by the sirens of those brave enough to risk their own life to try and save the ones of others. There are no pauses this time. Another big blast shakes what I assume is the roof where the camera has been placed. More bangs, more fire, more smoke. Sitting comfortably on my couch on a quiet and lovely night in London, I try to imagine how terrifying all this must be for Gaza’s children. I struggle to cope with the thought.
All I can think of, while my eyes stare at the screen, is the passionate video by Jon Snow in which he points out that the high percentage of young people living in Gaza makes it almost impossible to avoid children from getting killed during air strikes. And I fear that tonight won’t be any different. In fact I know that tonight won’t be any different.
In the Gaza Strip, 1.8 million people, including more than 160,000 displaced people, live in a narrow, densely populated strip of land. Médecins Sans Frontières’ director of operations Marie-Noëlle Rodrigue said “Gazans are hemmed in by the sea and closed borders. When the Israeli army orders civilians to evacuate their houses and their neighbourhoods, where is there for them to go? Gazans have no freedom of movement and cannot take refuge outside Gaza. They are effectively trapped.”
To have a better idea of what this means one just needs to look at a map. The area of Gaza that Israel is bombing/ordered evacuated is 44% of the entire Gaza Strip. They have been told to leave, but where can these people go if they can’t go anywhere else?
Drones, missiles, explosions, sirens. The same sequence all over again. This is appalling to watch. There’s no end in sight. How naive of me for having thought it could have been over after the first, single round of strikes.
I wonder whether there’s anything I could do, right now. The question answers itself, sadly. I also wonder if sharing the link of the live feed might make any difference. Certainly not for those under the heavy shelling, but perhaps it will for me. I feel selfish thinking about that perspective, but the idea that someone out there may feel as powerless and useless as I feel right now by watching the war unfolding before my eyes gives me some sort of comfort.
Is this the best I can do? Is this the only thing I can do? A few clicks, a stupid hashtag and that’s it? I move the mouse over the “share” icon. I pause for a second. This is pointless, I think. The heavy buzzing of Israeli drones gets closer once again. I wait for the explosion to come. The missile hits the ground. The sky turns vivid red. The blast is huge this time, definitely louder than all the previous ones. I press the button.
After a couple of minutes a friend of mine replies. “This is horrible”, she says, adding nothing else. And why would she? It is horrible, that’s a fact. And being far away sitting comfortably on my couch on a quiet and lovely night in London doesn’t change the fact that what we are watching is horrible indeed.
Eventually even this war will end, as many others did before. With no real winners. Israel will declare victory by saying it has reduced the threat of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip and Hamas will say they resisted the strikes and staying alive would probably be enough for them to declare victory at the end of all this madness.
“Stay human”, Vittorio Arrigoni used to say, and he knew what was he talking about. It’s hard to follow his advice tonight. It’s impossible, I’ll admit it.
More than an hour of live images from Gaza left me speechless. Music is one of the few things I can rely on when I lose faith in humanity. Sitting comfortably on my couch on a quiet and lovely night in London I turn the radio on.