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Gazan journalist says over 20 members of his family were killed in airstrike

Ahmed Alnaouq is a journalist in London and the founder of the group We Are Not Numbers. Alnaouq lost more than 20 members of his own family on October 22 when a missile hit his home in southern Gaza.
Ahmed Alnaouq
Ahmed Alnaouq is a journalist in London and the founder of the group We Are Not Numbers. Alnaouq lost more than 20 members of his own family on October 22 when a missile hit his home in southern Gaza.

When Ahmed Alnaouq's brother Ayman was killed during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in 2014, he said he spent a lot of time next to his brother's grave. As he grieved the loss of his brother, he said he became so depressed he lost all interest in life and wanted to die.

"I felt that we are unheard," Alnaouq told Morning Edition. "That people don't care about us, that our stories are not heard, that our suffering is not noticed from anyone in the world, especially the West."

One day, Alnaouq heard from one of his American journalist friends, who asked how he was really doing. He started crying, and said he was spending his time in the graveyard. She told him he should write about how he feels in English. At first, he didn't think it was a good idea.

"I told her, why would I do that? They will not care about our stories. They look at us as subhumans. That we are all terrorists," he said.

But he eventually decided to pen his story, and he got a positive response from readers.

"They read my story and they care about me. It made me feel better that I was wrong. Some people care about us. Not all the listeners think of us as subhumans," he said.

After going through the process of sharing his own personal story, Alnaouq wanted to offer an outlet for other young Palestinian writers to do the same. He started training writers from Gaza and pairing them up with international mentors to help them write their stories in English. The project then grew into him founding the organization We Are Not Numbers, and he's been working for the project ever since.

Since 2015, We Are Not Numbers has published hundreds of stories, poems and features telling the stories of Palestinians. Over time, they've expanded to include writers from the West Bank, Lebanon, and Palestinians from all over the world – with Alnaouq moving from Gaza to London in the years since launching the project.

After October 7, most of their writers have lost internet connection and electricity. We Are Not Numbers has managed to get some stories out from writers who have been able to briefly connect to the internet. And Alnaouq says the stories that do get out make a difference.

"I think Israel knows that citizen journalists in Palestine are making a huge difference by talking and posting about what's going on in Palestine. And that's why they are cutting the telecommunications in Gaza. Because they don't want the world to know what they are actually doing [on] the ground," said Alnaouq.

He says it's more difficult to get stories out of Gaza than ever.

"Three of our writers have been killed already. Some of our writers lost their loved ones. Many of our writers lost their mothers, their fathers, their brothers and sisters. Many of them had to flee their homes and move south to live in a hospital or in a school," said Alnaouq.

The UN Secretary General's office released a statement on Monday calling the humanitarian situation in Gaza a "catastrophe" that is "getting worse by the day." Over a million people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza, sleeping in crowded school classrooms and hospitals to shelter from Israeli bombardment.

"No words can actually describe the horror that they are seeing now in Gaza," said Alnaouq.

Alnaouq never imagined an Israeli airstrike would hit his family home in South Gaza because Israel had been asking people to evacuate to the area. Alnaouq said his father, two brothers, three sisters, and 14 nieces and nephews were killed on October 22nd. The only two who survived were his sister-in-law and nephew. His brother, who was next to them on the same bed, was killed.

"They were peaceful people who just wanted to live in peace, and wanted to have a good life," Alnaouq said. "They were sleeping in my home when they were bombed and killed."

The only family Alnaouq has left in Gaza are two sisters. He says he forces himself to check in on them every two days, although he dreads the call.

"The last time I talked to my sister two days ago, she told me that her children are starving, they don't have food, they don't have fresh water," he said. "Two days ago, she told me that Israel just bombed her home. Every time I talk to them, they tell me some harsh news that I can't deal with."

Alnaouq says he is a different person now.

"I'm changed forever. No words can actually describe what I am feeling, what I'm going through right now," said Alnaouq. "My home, where I grew up, where I went to school, where I had all my memories. It's all gone in one minute."

Alnaouq remembers his family in the tribute below.

(Left to right: Tala, Mohammed, Alaa, Nasri, Mahmoud and Dima around five years ago.)
/ Ahmed Alnaouq
Ahmed Alnaouq
(Left to right: Tala, Mohammed, Alaa, Nasri, Mahmoud and Dima around five years ago.)

"My father was a very, very gentle man. Very kind person, very compassionate. He did not have dreams, to be honest. He was a very simple man who just wanted to live with his children and his safe home. And he was very proud of his children. He believed in the one-state solution. For example, he just wanted to have a state in which the Palestinians and the Jews and Muslims and Christians can live together in peace and in harmony. He worked for 30 years in Israel, as a construction builder. So he was a very kind man. And he did not deserve to die in this barbaric way."

"My older brother is a lawyer and he was a civil servant. My younger brother worked at a human rights organization. He was a translator and a researcher. My younger brother got a scholarship to do his master's degree in Australia just a few months ago and he was very excited to travel and to pursue his master's degree. He was very, very happy. And then he was killed. He did not survive to go to Australia."

"My older sister, she's a computer engineer. She's married and she had four children. She and her four children were killed. My other sister, she's a teacher and she had five children. She and her five children were killed. My other sister, she is an accountant. She's very smart. When she graduated, she graduated top of the university. She was very, very talented. She is married. Then she had three children. She and all her children were killed."

This level of loss is not uncommon to see in Gaza. Alnaouq's family is one of many who have been nearly or entirely wiped out. Since his family was killed, Alnaouq hasn't had the time to grieve.

"I really need time to grieve, but I don't. Because I believe for the Palestinians, we don't have the luxury right now to grieve. We have the responsibility to speak. And we are all willing to speak. So please, when you have the choice to give the Palestinians a voice, please do that, because they need you."

Treye Green edited the digital article. contributed to this story

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Mohamad ElBardicy
Mohamad ElBardicy is an editor on Morning Edition and the UpFirst podcast. Before joining NPR in 2019, his career focused on international news with Al-Jazeera, CNN, Eurovision and other outlets during his 15 years in journalism. He's produced, edited and reported stories from around the world. ElBardicy's field work during 2011's Arab Spring helped shape his mission to bring global views and voices to American audiences. He is an American-Egyptian who speaks Arabic fluently and, when he's not being a news junky, you can find him practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Kaity Kline
Kaity Kline is an Assistant Producer at Morning Edition and Up First. She started at NPR in 2019 as a Here & Now intern and has worked at nearly every NPR news magazine show since.