This October 7 was Palestinian Heritage Day, and the minister wanted to celebrate it in Gaza “for the first time in history,” he said from his office in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered in the territory. occupied since 1967 by Israel. The ceremony was scheduled for that morning at the Al-Qarara museum in Khan Younes, southern Gaza. But it never happened: Hamas had launched an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil a few hours earlier.
This attack resulted in the death of more than 1,160 people, the majority of them civilians killed the same day, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures. In response, Israel vowed to “destroy” Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched an offensive which, according to the Islamist movement, left more than 27,800 people dead in the Palestinian territory, the vast majority of them women, children and adolescents.
Born in Gaza, Atef Abou Seif, 50, says he spent the first 48 days of the war with his 17-year-old son and members of his family in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. But their house was hit by a strike that he blames on Israel, forcing them to flee, like more than half of the territory’s 2.4 million inhabitants.
They headed south to Rafah, a town on the border with Egypt, which the Israeli army now considers as the next stage of its military campaign.
From his stay in Jabalia, which was largely destroyed, the minister has painful memories. “We were shocked to discover that the body a friend had pulled out (from the rubble) was that of his 16-year-old son,” he recalls. “The war in Gaza is hideous.”
Atef Abou Seif said he left Gaza through the Rafah crossing to return to Ramallah via Jordan, after 90 days spent in the besieged Palestinian territory.
“I can’t imagine what my neighborhood in Jabalia camp looks like now,” he says, adding that Palestinians put aside their sorrows “because sadness no longer has meaning.”
More than 100 members of his family died
Before the war, the minister used to travel to Gaza from Ramallah on Thursdays to meet his friends. “Today, almost half of them have been killed,” he assures, noting that “more than 100 members of his family” have died.
On Saturdays, he often met friends within a Gaza journalists’ association. ” NOW […] there is no one left,” everyone was killed, he said.
Atef Abou Seif says he is “terrified” at the idea of returning there at the end of the war, tormented by an obsessive question: “In what state will I find Gaza?” »
Heritage sites destroyed
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, around 24 cultural institutes and 195 historical buildings, including mosques and churches, were damaged or completely destroyed by the war. Heritage sites such as the Al-Qarara museum, which was surrounded by 5,000-year-old Roman columns, and an ancient Phoenician port were also destroyed, assures the Palestinian, criticizing the “silence” of Unesco.
Upon his return to the West Bank, the minister urged Palestinian authors and academics living in Gaza to describe their daily lives. He made a book called “Writing Behind the Lines”, which contains the stories of 24 writers. One of these writings, titled “The Donkey of Return,” tells the story of Gaza residents forced to use donkey carts to get around amid a severe fuel shortage.