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Gaza Diaries. Don’t Look Left by Atef Abu Saif - vital testimony from a man who survived ‘only by mistake’

This outstanding book details the privations and inconveniences that beset a population under constant attack, and also the psychological torment the situation engenders

Don’t Look Left: A Diary of Genocide
Don’t Look Left: A Diary of Genocide
Author: Atef Abu Saif
ISBN-13: 978-1912697946
Publisher: Comma Press
Guideline Price: £11.99

On October 7th last, Atef Abu Saif, novelist and the Palestinian Authority’s culture minister, was visiting family in Jabilia, the refugee camp in northern Gaza where he grew up, when the Israeli military started bombarding the exclave in response to the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel earlier that day.

Abu Saif’s government position would have given him the opportunity to flee to his home on the West Bank but he refused to abandon his family and, along with his 15-year-old son Yasser, stayed put as the war began. As he had done in the 2014 Gaza War, he has published a detailed diary, giving an account of the 85 days he and his son stayed in the Gaza Strip before they escaped, racked with guilt, to Egypt on December 30th.

Abu Saif is an expert diarist, his prose succinct and poetic in devastating measure. Don’t Look Left doesn’t quite encapsulate the visceral horror of what Gazans have endured for the past five months but it is no worse for that – there is no shortage of news reports and social media posts that do. Where the book stands out is in providing a breakdown of the privations and inconveniences, both big and minor, that beset a population under constant attack, and also the psychological torment the situation engenders.

He and Yasser survive, he writes, “only by mistake, because a rocket failed to reach us. Because death didn’t recognise us, or mistook us for someone else. We wake up each day, only by these accidents.” Gaza is a place where people come to expect death at any moment, where women go to bed at night fully clothed for fear their corpses might be pulled from the rubble in a state of undress.


The author loses friends and relatives in the bombings, including his sister-in-law, her husband and their two sons, and journalists such as Mohammed al-Jaja and the director of the NGO Press House Bilal Jadallah, the latter of whom the book is dedicated to.

Don’t Look Left is necessarily incomplete, given its author left before the humanitarian situation got even worse in Gaza. But, even in a conflict as thoroughly documented (and sometimes mis-documented) as this one, it is a vital testimony, if a grim and distressing read.

Oliver Farry

Oliver Farry is a contributor to The Irish Times