When Israeli bombs start falling on the besieged Gaza Strip, what you hear people saying over and over in despair is “again, and again, and again.”
Following the blood-red days of Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza during the 2021 war, and the nights that erupted with booms and sirens and fires, I kept remembering the terrified screams of my brother, Mohammed, who has lived through four wars though he is only 13 years old.
Yet I still hoped to live a peaceful life without being attacked again.
Then on the night of Monday, May 8, 2023, my mother, two brothers, and I lay down after a long day at our home in Gaza City. We tried to sleep despite the loud buzzing sound of the Israeli drones that we hear every day, everywhere, from the east to the west, day and night.
My family did not realize that another wave of bombing was on its way. We have grown accustomed to the eerie sounds of the drones in addition to all the other kinds of harassment from Israel that impacts our goals and ambitions and makes us so fragile.
In Gaza there is no opportunity for us to pursue our passions and loves, like my love for exercise by running on the beach. I tell my foreign friends, “I want to live like any human because I am a human who longs to live, to love, and to give.”
Suddenly that night my mother’s shouts broke into my sleep: “Get up, Ahmed, get up!” The whole family rushed to mom’s phone to find out what was wrong. “Israel assassinated at least two leaders of Al Jihad,” she said.
Immediately our hearts began to beat rapidly and the blood rushed in our veins. In Gaza the effects of war — bombings, hollering, rushing around, and death — always take place inside people’s homes. We were worried, and still are, that Israel might kill us inside our house. Your home is not a place of safety here.
By the following afternoon, Mohammed was so anxious and scared by the bombs we could hear falling about five streets away and the news of residential buildings being blown up, that he went red in the face and almost collapsed.
I tried to calm him and encourage him to stay away from the bombs and atrocities outside. I sat with him on the floor of our home where it would be safer and we played rock, paper, scissors while the rest of the family watched Al Jazeera’s live streaming of the airstrikes. I let him win many times to try to lessen his suffering. But ignoring what was happening outside was impossible.
My aunt rang us on a video call from her home in another district of Gaza City. Mohammed became terribly upset when he saw the tears on his cousins’ faces and their heads hanging down in misery.
“Gaza is nothing but a place of war,” one of our cousins said. “I have no desire to live here.”
I tried to comfort them. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Just hope and pray.” But the question is: “What have children done to deserve any of this?”
That evening I went on Al Jazeera’s website to watch the aftermath of the day’s attacks. Children, women, and other innocent people were killed, as usual. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 33 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed, including at least six children, and many more injured.
There were also huge fires with billowing black smoke and scary sounds everywhere. I covered my face with my pillow and began to give up on my life. I was shouting inside: “I don’t have a peaceful life. I don’t know what will happen to me. I have no future.”
I want to complete my studies, get a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English so that I can work as a translator. But when the bombs were falling, I could not translate a single word because of my anxiety and bad feelings. I could not even speak.
By 11 p.m., my eyes were getting sore from lack of sleep. My family tried to get some rest, but it was difficult when every missile shakes your house and the bed inside it that you are lying on.
“Turn off the news,” my mom ordered. I switched my phone off and put it on a shelf so that Mohammed would hear no more about bombs. Mom started to embrace him and I realized that telling him about the news was a grave mistake. I will not repeat that again.
The next morning when Mohammed woke up, he did not ask for water or breakfast. His first words were, “Is the aggression over? Are we going to be killed? Will there be more?”
In Gaza, the biggest dream for a child is to wake up to a morning free of conflict.
By noon there were no vegetables, no fruits, almost no water. When the bombing starts, everyone scrambles to buy necessities, so I went to get groceries from the mall. Suddenly there was an artillery strike behind the supermarket. Kids started screaming and running. Then my mother called.
“Where are you, son?” she asked.
“I am almost done getting everything on the shopping list.”
“Leave everything and come home now.”
When I reached home, I saw mom’s tearful eyes staring through the window. “Are you fine?” she asked me anxiously. I couldn’t answer her. I kept silent.
Then I sat on the couch, praying for an end to this misery. All I could think of was the faces of the people who had been murdered by Israel in these attacks. Will we also be killed without cause? Will I lose a brother one day?