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Gaza was in a near total blackout as Israel expanded its ground and air campaign

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It was a weekend of terror in Gaza, and for the next few minutes, you will hear what it was like to live through it. On Friday, Israeli bombardments knocked out communications and plunged the Palestinian enclave into a near-total blackout. Through the night, and for roughly 34 hours, there was no internet, no cell service across Gaza, just as Israel widened its air and ground assault in response to Hamas' attack earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

FADEL: In the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, a mosque blared a message from its speakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: The video was shared on a Gaza messaging group and widely on social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: We have no communication with the outside world, the voice says. We have no power but the power of God. Please pray for us.

Families outside Gaza desperately tried to get through to their loved ones inside. Dalia Shurrab kept calling and calling from Jordan.

AUTOMATED VOICE: The number you are calling is currently unreachable. Please try again later.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISCONNECT TONE)

DALIA SHURRAB: I've been trying, like, in the past two hours to call my parents, but there are no connections. I just pray for them. I pray for their protection and for them to be OK and survive this. I don't know what to do, actually. I can't think, and I don't want to think.

FADEL: With Gaza in the dark, all the world was left with were the images and the voices from before the blackout - the pain of a mother who's lost her children...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Screaming).

FADEL: ...The anguish of a little girl who's lost her mother....

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Non-English language spoken, crying) Mama.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Non-English language spoken, crying) Mama.

FADEL: ...A child in a purple dress pulled from the rubble, limp in the arms of the man who found her...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: ...Two little boys, brothers, on a stretcher saying thank you, I love you, to the paramedics rescuing them...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: With the blackout, the world didn't know what was happening in Gaza. Only those with workarounds like foreign SIM cards could get messages and videos out. Journalist Hind Khoudary shared voice memos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HIND KHOUDARY: All we hear is explosions and the sky is lighting as if it's rain and thunder. I'm watching, and I see where the explosions are happening. And it's a place surrounding my neighborhood. It's also very sad that we don't hear any ambulances, and this may mean that the ambulances are not being able to move and transport under all of these airstrikes. We're very scared, and we're terrified, and we don't know if we're going to make it till the morning.

FADEL: Khoudary did survive the night, and by sunrise, communication started to come back. People in Gaza began sharing what it was like to be cut off from each other and the rest of the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAIMAA AHMED: I really have no words to describe how we were living the past two days.

FADEL: That's 20-year-old engineering student Shaimaa Ahmed. In a voice memo, she says those hours without communications were among the most terrifying since the start of the bombardments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AHMED: We hear different sounds every moment now. New kinds of weapons are being used. We lost connection to everyone - not even the people who are in Gaza. We lost connection to the...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

AHMED: ...Outside world. And the bomb raid, as you hear, has gotten closer and more terrifying and has doubled. We were already in the dark with no electricity. Now we're in the dark about what's going on around us. We were basically buried. We were suffocated. It was just unimaginable torture. And many people died in the past two days because ambulances weren't able to get to them in time. So this made the genocide even more horrifying and more horrible.

FADEL: Now death feels nearer than ever for Ahmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AHMED: The idea of getting your house bombed is just becoming more terrifying because now, as you know, there's a complete blackout in the hospitals. There is no anesthesia. Every day that passes, you just wish that you stay with your family, and if an attack happens, you just pass away with your family and you don't have to live all the suffering and all the pain.

FADEL: There's no sign that this scale of suffering will lessen anytime soon. During Gaza's blackout over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference that Israel's war will be, quote, "long and difficult."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE: The mobile number you have dialed can't be reached at the moment.

FADEL: By Sunday night, we could no longer get through to many in Gaza. Communications were down again in parts of the Palestinian enclave. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Majd Al-Waheidi
Majd Al-Waheidi is the digital editor on Morning Edition, where she brings the show's journalism to online audiences. Previously, Al-Waheidi was a reporter for the New York Times in the Gaza Strip, where she reported about a first-of-its-kind Islamic dating site, and documented the human impact of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war in a collaborative visual project nominated for an Emmy Award. She also reported about Wikipedia censorship in Arabic for Rest of World magazine, and investigated the abusive working conditions of TikTok content moderators for Business Insider. Al-Waheidi has worked at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, and holds a master's degree in Arab Studies from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. A native of Gaza, she speaks Arabic and some French, and is studying Farsi.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Nina Kravinsky
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