The legacy of displacement also loomed large inside Israel, said Nathan Thrall, author of “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama,” a book about the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. “Beyond the shock and atrocities of the attack, it played to the deepest Israeli fears — that all these Palestinians, who live on the other side of the wall, are going to come back and try to retake their villages and homes,” he said.
On the fifth day of the war, Mr. Abujayyab received devastating news. An Israeli airstrike had crushed an apartment block in the Jabaliya refugee camp, in northern Gaza, killing 45 members of his extended family. The dead included a month-old boy.
“I consider myself a tough person,” Mr. Abujayyab said in a video call the next day, his eyes welling up. “But I had to take a moment and cry it out.”
A split developed inside the family WhatsApp group. His grandmother was still defying the Israeli order to evacuate, even though Israel’s military would soon warn that residents who stayed risked being considered a “a member of a terrorist organization.”
But his sister, Doaa, was less sure. Mr. Abujayyab and his siblings argued about her next move: Stay at her grandmother’s apartment? Or risk the short but dangerous journey south?
Even below the evacuation line, nobody was safe. Mr. Keshawi, the Crisis Group researcher, had moved his family to a friend’s house in southern Gaza. On Saturday an airstrike hit next door, collapsing the roof on top of his 29-year-old son. It fractured his skull and crushed his chest, Mr. Keshawi said by phone. But he survived.
Then Mr. Abujayyab’s grandmother had a close call. Early Friday, the Israeli military ordered the residents in a cluster of 25 apartment blocks near his grandmother, to evacuate. A small drone strike on a rooftop reinforced the message.
Soon after, jets bombed the apartments, blowing out his grandmother’s windows. With his sister, she took off into the night with about 6,000 other people, sleeping on the roadside. Eventually they found shelter at a small hospital run by a relative in southern Gaza.
By Wednesday, the Israeli assault had killed more than 6,500 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the territory.
A few nights before, two other grandmothers got out of Gaza: Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, who had been kidnapped on Oct. 7 during a massacre at Kibbutz Nir Oz, barely a mile from the fence. Hamas released the two women through Egypt. But their husbands, and more than 200 other captives, remained in Gaza.
Mr. Abujayyab’s sister or grandmother likely didn’t hear that news. They had no power, limited internet and more bombs were falling, his sister said in a voice message to her family.
“There are many reasons you can’t reach us,” she said. “Don’t worry.”