“There Is Nothing, Just Dead Bodies”
A journalist’s personal messages reveal the horror of reporting from a war zone
“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears” – Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet and author.
It was on late evening of October 11 that my colleague and friend Kasturi Chakraborty messaged informing me that she was leaving for Gaza. The visuals of what is happening on the ground is out there for the world to see. With recent visuals of what many are calling the “second Nakba” we are watching the horrors unfold in front of us.
But for my friend in Gaza, everyday has been a nightmare.
“There are just dead bodies piling up. People are crying everywhere and doctors are overburdened as injured patients keep on coming. I do not understand what is happening anymore,” Chakraborty, who is an Indian journalist and has been covering the Middle East region for a long time, told me in a text message.
While she has visited Palestine before, she told me that never in her life could she imagine the scenes she witnessed there. “From charred bodies of babies, to people stuck under the rubble and decapitated bodies, people have been living this nightmare ever since October 7,” she told me later.
The Indian journalist who in August had visited Gaza with her colleagues was just going back to her normal routine in Delhi, when the violence on the Palestinian people was unleashed post October 7.
“My colleague who was left behind in Gaza because the Israeli occupation shot at him was in the hospital. During the initial days Israel attacked a hospital, where he was admitted, killing him and many others,” Chakraborty sent me a voice message when she reached Gaza in the second week of October.
Since then, she has been posting the horrors taking place in Gaza every day. There are days her posts are so broken; it takes courage to just message her back. “I have seen the most brutal side of a regime and I will never forget it. They are mercilessly killing them,” she wrote to me.
“They are taking people out from within the rubble. Kids are crushed underneath. There is nothing, just dead bodies,” she said.
Many journalists are taking shelter in hospitals, along with lakhs of displaced refugees, as it was supposed to be “safe”, however the continuous bombardment has left people with no option.
The night Baptist Hospital was attacked, I messaged Chakraborty. My nervous hands typing “are you okay” not knowing what else to say. She did not respond till the next day due to the disruptive network issues.
“I saw a child barely five standing alone in a corner. He had no one with him. He was shaking and alone standing in a corner. His parents had died. He was so tiny. I broke down and hugged him,” she wrote in multiple one line messages.
“All journalists are breaking down. This is so hard to comprehend,” she wrote next. Disappearing again as the network disrupts our conversations.
Since then, everyday has been about deaths and destruction. “I spoke to this family today. They lost so many family members. I don’t even know what to ask them. Same questions, different families,” she wrote, going silent again.
There were days when she did not respond, leaving me tense. One time she left me on 'seen' for a day, responding the next day with, “Things are so chaotic I am not able to text back because we are literally trying to save our lives. This is why I left your message on 'seen'. This means I am alive,” she wrote assuring me.
I wondered whether Palestinians families are leaving messages to each other letting them know they are alive?
“People are writing wills on their hands, children are writing their identity on their bodies so that if they get bombed, someone can identify them,” Chakraborty told me.
As of October 11, the Israeli Army has intensified the attacks and have targeted hospitals, schools and residential buildings. One of the biggest hospitals, Al Shifa Hospital has been witnessing intense fighting between the Israeli Army and Palestine resistance group.
Meanwhile, with Gaza under continuous air strikes and attacks, the occupied West Bank has been witnessing intense raids and air strikes by the occupied army.
“West Bank has no Hamas. Why bomb the West Bank?” she asks. Chakraborty also mentioned how people are being arrested at a large scale in the West Bank. “My colleague’s young son is getting arrested. We are heading there,” she messaged later.
Reports suggest that Israel has intensified security checks and severely restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Israel controls all entry and exit points to the West Bank through roadblocks and checkpoints which are staffed by soldiers and armed police.
Meanwhile, back in Gaza City, as the situation remains uncertain and dark, disturbing visuals of piled up dead bodies on roads and families crying are all across the social media.
Chakraborty also said that the stench of rotten dead bodies is so strong it has become difficult for people to breathe. “There is no place to bury the dead because there are continuous air strikes taking place. people have not one minute of solace so they can figure out what to do next,” she said.
“Doctors are operating under phone mobiles because there is no electricity and medical aid and fuel is almost over. This is monstrous. Dead bodies are on the ground,” she added.
While trying to cover the ground situation under continuous air strikes, documenting the brutalisation that the Israel government is unleashing on civilians and having to write amidst all this chaos, Meta shadow banned Chakraborty’s account, including many others. Gaza reporters had also been sharing the issue since the beginning. Many had even lost their accounts, but revived after public outrage.
Chakraborty has been publishing various reports from the ground due to which they are under the Israel government’s radar. “Things were considerably safer for foreign journalists earlier compared to Gazan journalists, however that is not the case now. We are being called Hamas sympathisers by Israel. It is becoming dangerous and we might have to come back,” she wrote to me.
According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and officials at least 42 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed, several have been injured and others are missing during the war in Gaza.
Chakraborty is a passionate journalist who has been bringing out the voices of people in her career spanning over seven years. However, she told me, never had she witnessed something so gut wrenching.
Every night, as the world watches helplessly the gruesome videos of lifeless babies or crying parents, or fathers bringing body parts of their children in a poly bag, Palestinian and few foreign journalists stand in the middle of it, covering every aspect.
There are times when things become too much and they break down, is what Chakraborty told me. “I am crying standing in front of a bombed building. I am questioning my whole life here. Mothers with empty laps, children without anyone left in the family, clueless kids in the hospital. I shudder looking at them,” she said.
When asked if there is somewhere people can go to be safe, Chakraborty replied with only one line, “There is no safe space in Gaza.”
In the middle of these dark times, there are days Chakraborty narrated to me the strength of Palestinians and the resistance they are born with. “The people of Gaza are so brave. They are not leaving their homes. They will not bow down. They will not leave their land or their homes. This is their resistance. This is Palestine for you,” she wrote one by one with passion.
I open my phone each moment, like the many of us, sitting far away, helplessly watching innocent lives getting lost and it breaks our morale. Social media is a bloodbath with videos of people and children dying right in front of us, as world leaders benefit from it.
In one of her stories, she shared a picture of a white dove holding a leaf, while wearing a bulletproof vest, with a target on its chest. But the bird is flying already.
Chakraborty wrote: I took this photo during my last visit to Palestine, and it holds incredible significance. Graffiti like this can be found on nearly every street corner in Palestine, adorned with messages of revolution. I remember leaving the memories of countless smiling faces. But now I am watching it all before my eyes.
The situation is dire, with nearly 6000 (now more than 11,500 people, according to the Palestine Health Ministry) lives lost. Hospitals are struggling, and the unbearable scent of bodies hangs in the air. People are forced to lie on the floor, and doctors are sleeping in hospitals. Because people (both living and dead) are pouring in continuously.
The constant airstrikes, raids, arrests, and bombings have left people in unimaginable hardship. Words truly fall short in describing the suffering that is unfolding right now.
But it was this one thing Chakraborty said that sat with me for a long time. It was on the resistance of Palestinians. “Nearly every Palestinian family has been touched by the loss of their loved ones, and the fear for their own safety. While Israel is aiming to displace and erase them, Palestinians assert their rightful ownership of this land and refuse to flee. Palestinians serve as a profound lesson on the true meaning of strength for the world.”
Demand for a ceasefire is getting louder as protests erupt all over the world. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia hosted an extraordinary summit on Saturday, bringing together countries from the Islamic and Arab worlds to discuss the worsening situation in Gaza.
Delivering the opening remarks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) called for an immediate cessation of military operations in Gaza and the release of all captives and prisoners. “This is a humanitarian catastrophe that has proved the failure of the international community and the UN Security Council to put an end to Israel’s gross violations of international humanitarian laws, and prove the dual standards adopted by the world,” he said.
“We are certain the only cause for peace is the end of the Israeli occupation and illegal settlements, and restoration of the established rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of the state in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” MBS added.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas highlighted that besides Gaza, Israeli forces’ raids in the occupied West Bank have also escalated and called on the United States administration to put an end to “Israel’s aggression, the occupation, violation and desecration of our holy sites”.