Gaza City – Freelance photographer Sameh Murad was at al-Shifa Hospital at the worst moment of his life on Friday, October 13.
The 29-year-old’s wife, daughters, mother and siblings had fled Gaza City earlier that day on the back of a pick-up truck, heading south to Khan Younis.
His wife, Dina Taher, died on that fateful day when an air raid bombed the convoy of fleeing civilians.
“She was the love of my life,” he told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think I will ever meet someone like her again.”
“We were in love for five years … but I heard that someone had asked her family for her hand in marriage, so I moved heaven and earth to convince her family I was suitable in 2021.”
Dina had been stressed for a week as Israel bombed Gaza City relentlessly. She was worried about the safety of their two daughters, 22-month-old Mayar and baby Mirna.
That day, Sameh said, Israel demanded that the Palestinians in north Gaza evacuate and head south, and Dina thought they should, to be safe.
“She wasn’t sure, but she was also worried, so in the end, she went,” he said, looking away. Sameh stayed behind in al-Shifa Hospital with other journalists who were working from there – the hospital was sheltering thousands of people on its grounds who had lost their homes and huddled together in fear.
But the evacuees were targeted by Israeli bombs from the sky. More than 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the convoys.
Sameh was frantic when he heard his family were in one of the trucks that were targeted, the dead and the injured were being brought to Shifa, he was told.
A passenger car brought his family back to al-Shifa Hospital. Sameh ran to the car and grabbed his daughters in relief.
Then he realised that Dina was not in the car.
“The ambulances take those who were killed to another entrance,” he said haltingly. “I knew she was gone.
“I can’t describe the feeling of getting that first phone call telling me to check on my family because the truck had been hit. The excruciating wait to see if they were all okay.”
The fateful decision
Sameh’s mother, 47-year-old Samah Murad Msameh, has been at al-Shifa since the convoy was attacked. She is looking after her granddaughters and Sameh’s brother Waseem who was hurt in the bombing.
Being in the same place as Sameh helps because whenever he has a break in his work he comes to find them and spends time with his daughters, playing with them and distracting them a bit.
It also helps him, he said, because his girls are nearby and he can go find them whenever a frightening sound happens and he wonders if they are scared.
Msameh is still in shock over what happened. “This aggression is on a whole other level,” she says, drawing a shaky breath.
They were barely out of Gaza City, near Shujayea she said, when people on the street started warning the convoy to turn back because they had heard that other evacuees had been killed. But the trucks kept going, for about 20 metres (66 feet), before an explosion sounded.
“I’d never heard such a noise before. We were engulfed in thick black smoke and screams rose up around me, my ears filled with other people’s screams but I couldn’t see what was going on.
“My daughter-in-law was bleeding from her forehead. I tried to wipe the blood and asked her what had happened to her. When she turned her face, I saw that she had lost her eye and I started screaming. Then I told her to stay awake, that she had to be strong, that I would call an ambulance and we would get out of there.
“Then my son Waseem started shouting that he’d been wounded in his leg. The attacks were still coming down on us from the sky. I managed to push my daughter out of the truck bed, which was full of dead and wounded people, and told her to run as fast as she could.
“My son was screaming for me to help him but all I could do was tell him to lie still because I feared his injuries would get worse.
“About 30 of us hid behind concrete barriers that used to be a police checkpoint near the road. Then an angel in the form of a driver stopped by the truck and I saw him carrying my son to his car. I ran towards them, and he took us all to the hospital.
Since then, I haven’t been able to sleep one minute. My daughter is lifeless, no emotion or reaction from her. My daughter-in-law is, well … God rest her soul.
“Every time I close my eyes, I see the people killed, my daughter-in-law bleeding, and my son screaming ‘Help me’. I know I’ll need months of therapy just to get through this. I can’t bear what I witnessed.”