Shouts, a hurried evacuation, and then the bombs came

My colleagues' shouts awakened me, and the pounding of my heart drowned out the racing of my mind. What was happening? Had someone been injured on the streets of Gaza City, or worse?

Shouts, a hurried evacuation, and then the bombs came

My colleagues' shouts awakened me, and the pounding of my heart drowned out the racing of my mind. What was happening? Had someone been injured on the streets of Gaza City, or worse?

It was 1:55pm on Saturday. I had been napping on the upper floor of the two-floor penthouse that served as The Associated Press' offices in Gaza City since 2006.

This was not unusual in recent days; since fighting began earlier this month, I had been sleeping in our news bureau until early afternoon, then working through the night.

READ MORE:

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1393588899709177859?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

I hurried downstairs and saw my colleagues donning helmets and protective vests. They were shouting: "Evacuation! Evacuation!"

The Israeli military, I would learn later, had targeted our building for destruction and offered up a brief advance warning: They had taken out three buildings so far this week, warning residents and occupants sometimes minutes beforehand to get out.

Hurriedly, I was told: You have 10 minutes.

What did I need? I grabbed my laptop and a few other pieces of electronics. What else? I looked at the workspace that had been mine for years, brimming with mementos from friends, family and colleagues.

I chose just a handful: a decorative plate bearing a picture of my family. A coffee mug given me by my daughter, now living safely in Canada with her sister and my wife since 2017.

A certificate marking five years of employment at AP.

israel

I started to leave.

Then I looked back at this place that had been my second home for years. I realised this was the last time I might ever see it. It was just after 2pm.

I looked around. I was the last person there.

READ MORE:

I put on my helmet. And I ran.

After the most unsettling of days in the community where I was born and raised and now cover the news — in the place where my mother and siblings and cousins and uncles live — I am home now.

I wish I could say I am safe here, but I can't. In Gaza, there is no safe place.

On Friday, an airstrike destroyed my family farm on the northern edge of Gaza.

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1393531209611943945?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

And now, my Gaza City office — the place that I thought was sacrosanct and would go untargeted because both AP and al-Jazeera's offices were located on its top floors — is a pile of rubble and girders and dust.

READ MORE:

Many Gazans have fared worse. At least 145 of us have been killed since Monday, when Hamas began firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes.

israel

In Israel, eight people have been killed, including a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Saturday.

In our building, the clock in my head felt deafening as I ran out of the office. I ran down the 11 floors of stairs and into the basement parking garage. Suddenly I realised: My car was the only one there.

All others had evacuated. I threw my belongings in the back, jumped in and drove off.

When I felt I was far enough away, I parked the car and got out, making sure I had a view of my building. I found my colleagues nearby. They were watching, waiting for what was next.

Nearby, our building's owner was on the phone with the Israeli military officer who had told him to get the place evacuated.

The owner was begging for a bit more time. No, he was told. That won't be possible. Instead, he was told: Go back into the building and make sure everyone's out. You have 10 minutes. You'd better hurry.

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1393179636176199681?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

I turned toward our building to watch. I was praying that maybe, maybe it wouldn't happen. I thought of the families that lived on the upper five floors of the building, below the media bureaus and above the offices on the lower floors.

What would they do? Where would they go?

Other journalists clustered around, just at the edge of safety, steeled for what was next. My intrepid video colleagues tended to their live shot.

Then, in quick succession over the next eight minutes: a small drone airstrike, followed by another and another. And then three powerful airstrikes from F-16s.

At first, it looked like layers of something collapsing.

I thought of a bowl of potato chips, and what might happen if you slammed a fist into them. Then the smoke and dust enveloped everything.

The sky rumbled. And the building that was home to some people, an office to others and both to me disappeared in a shroud of dust.

israel

In my pocket, I still had a key to a room that no longer existed.

Standing with my colleagues about 400 meters (yards) away, I watched for a while and tried to process it all as the rubble started to settle.

White smoke was overtaken by thick clouds of black smoke as the structure crumbled. Dust and pieces of cement and shards of glass scattered everywhere. What we knew so well was gone.

I thought of all of my hundreds of mementos that were now in splinters — including the 20-year-old cassette recorder I used when I first became a journalist.

israel

If I had had an hour, I would have grabbed everything.

It was one of the most horrible scenes I have ever witnessed. But while I was deeply sad, there was gratitude, too — as far as I knew, no people had been hurt — neither any of my colleagues nor anybody else.

That would be confirmed in the coming hours, as more information came out and my bosses at AP condemned an attack that "shocked and horrified" them.

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1392967420357353472?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

I wondered how long I should stay and watch. It was then that my years of instinct kicked in — the instinct of covering so much violence and sadness in the place that is my home.

Our building was gone and would not be coming back. Already, other things were happening that I needed to cover.

You must realise: We journalists, we are not the story. The priority for us is not ourselves. It is to tell the stories of other people, those who are living their lives in the communities we cover.

So I spent a few more moments watching the end of the place that shaped so much of my life. And then I began to wake up from this nightmare.

I said to myself: It has been done. Now let's figure out what to do next. Let's keep covering it all.

This is history, and there are more stories to tell. And like always, as the world shakes around us, it is up to us to figure out how.

Fares Akram is a journalist in Gaza for The Associated Press.

Source : 9 News More   

What's Your Reaction?

like
0
dislike
0
love
0
funny
0
angry
0
sad
0
wow
0

Next Article

Wealthy Indians shut out of Maldives as COVID-19 cases surge

Maldives has banned tourists from South Asia, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their own country's COVID-19 crisis.

Wealthy Indians shut out of Maldives as COVID-19 cases surge

Maldives has banned tourists from South Asia, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their own country's COVID-19 crisis.

The atoll nation's Ministry of Tourism and immigration authority announced the temporary ban on Tuesday, which applies to all visa holders from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as people who have transited those countries in the past 14 days.

The ban, effective Thursday, will be in place until further notice as Maldives tries to control a surge in coronavirus cases, which jumped from around 100 new cases in mid-April to 1,572 on Wednesday.

That's the highest number of daily new cases in the country since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Protection Agency.

And it comes amid a rise in new cases across the region, particularly in India, where a second wave is killing thousands of people every day.

Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists last year, and in recent weeks it has become a popular refuge for wealthy Indians, including Bollywood stars, whose luxury vacation snaps provoked anger at home.

The travel ban doesn't apply to people already in the archipelago, but it will frustrate the plans of those who had hoped of a potential escape to Maldives.

Bollywood blowback

As India sank deeper into a Covid-19 crisis that began in mid-March, a number of Bollywood entertainers reportedly left the country.

Actresses including Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor, Disha Patani and Janhvi Kapoor were among those who traveled to Maldives, according to CNN affiliate CNN-News18.

They were not alone. This year, India has become the largest source of tourists to Maldives. From January to March, almost 70,000 Indians visited the country - double the number of Indian holidaymakers who traveled to the islands in the whole of 2020, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The cost of flying to Maldives from India rose sharply in April, as countries began to impose travel bans to and from India.

Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt at the 20th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Mumbai, September 2019.

Commercial flight prices rose more than fourfold as international restrictions limited travel options, said Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, an air charter company based in India.Some individuals paid more than $65,000 for a one-way ticket for a charter flight to Maldives in April, Mehra added.

In the early weeks of April, several Bollywood stars posted sunny beach photos and vacation shots on social media - angering the Indian public and film industry figures who accused them of flaunting their wealth at a difficult time for many poorer Indians.

"These entertainment celebrities (are) posting vacation pictures at a time when the world is reeling under the worst recession," said Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, according to CNN-News18.

"People don't have food and you are wasting money."

Even celebrities who didn't fly to Maldives faced blowback for not doing more to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Critics argued the stars' massive social media base could be used to amplify calls for help or to coordinate efforts on the ground.

It appears some may be listening.

Since paparazzi images purported to show her leaving India for Maldives, Bhatt has shared helpline numbers for non-government organizations and state governments on her social media accounts.

In one post in late April she said India was facing "a time of great uncertainty."In early May, Bhatt and a number of other celebrities also took part in a virtual fundraiser, "I Breathe For India," that raised more than $2 million in Covid relief funds.

Covid spreads in India's neighbors

Maldives' economy is heavily reliant on tourism - before the pandemic, the islands welcomed 1.7 million visitors in 2019.

Numbers plummeted to just over half a million in 2020, and the nation had been keen to set itself apart as one of the few luxury retreats as the pandemic spread worldwide.

While many other destinations shut their borders, the Maldives chose to fully reopen to travelers from any country in July 2020.

Male, the capital island of the Maldives.

This April, officials announced plans to offer vaccinations to tourists on arrival, once all Maldives residents had received their shots. So far, around 25% of locals have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by CNN.

By May, Maldives was introducing new restrictions. All new arrivals were required to show proof of a negative test taken within 96 hours of their departure for the islands. Then, visitors from South Asia were only allowed to stay on inhabited islands.

Mehra, the air charter CEO, said that had reduced demand for charter flights to the destination.

Maldives is not the only place in Asia battling a Covid resurgence.

The India outbreak has been linked to a rise in infections in several nearby countries, with many reporting cases of a variant first detected in India.

Cases have skyrocketed in Nepal to the north and Sri Lanka to the south. And it's not just India's neighbors - further away in Southeast Asia, case numbers are also rising in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The rapid spread of the virus has placed enormous pressure on the countries' health systems and medical supplies, and some have called for international assistance.

But a handful countries in the region have been relatively unscathed by India's second wave -- and remain open for visitors.

Maldives' restrictions mean many wealthy Indians are now looking elsewhere for a getaway - and Dubai is emerging as a top alternative destination, with bookings increasing by up to 10 percent in recent weeks, said Mehra.

Some customers have paid up to $1,400 for a ticket - five times what it normally costs on a commercial flight, Mehra said.

The Maldives travel ban aside, similar flight restrictions from other countries could also be driving the increase in traffic to Dubai, he added.

Source : 9 News More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.