Fridays in Gaza are special, sacred, and a relief.
A time when I can slow down and be calm in the easy Mediterranean breeze. This is how I want all of my Fridays to be.
On Fridays, my whole family gathers around the white polygon dining table that I have known since childhood, which is always covered by the flowered tablecloth.
Everyone leaves work outside, behind the front door, and joins together for a family reunion. Now is a time that we can check in with each other. We trade news hidden during the week. My brother Ahmed makes us laugh with his jokes. Fridays are filled with laughter that comes from deep within our hearts.
My great father always has important life skills lessons and experiences to share. He emphasizes how important it is for us to learn English and plan for a better future. He is always reminding us that he wants better for us.
Fridays include a delicious Palestinian meal of maqlouba prepared by my wonderful mother. Each ingredient has my mother’s attention: rice, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, meat, and the special spices that are fragrant and fresh. When she stirs the pot, I will always find myself being pulled into the kitchen to get closer to the delicious scents.
Each family member has a task for dinner: My kind brother Mahmoud brings soft drinks from the market, I bring white plates and spoons. My shining only sister Nour brings the chairs to the table and we position ourselves close to my loving mother, at the head of the table.
As we scoop the food from the steaming platter, I hear music in the clinking sounds made against the plates. Even the sound of my mother’s maqlouba being served is special and loving.
After our meal, we sit together to sip tea with apples or oranges picked fresh from the trees. Sometimes we are surprised with a freshly baked chocolate cake prepared by my mother’s tender hands. We continue our debates, arguing over a newly released film or book, mainly with my brother Mohammed. We often talk about world news and debate how it will impact us.
Special Friday memories
Some of my most favorite Friday memories are of the ones spent with my great Uncle Saleh and Auntie Wedad, who were filled with tenderness and compassion. They spent time with us picking sweet, juicy grapes from the grape vines near their roof. I collected as many grapes as I could hold in my arms and would take them inside to eat fresh, squeeze them into juice, or take them to share with our friends and neighbors.
On Friday nights, my siblings and I would stay up talking and looking at the sky, watching the stars twinkling between the grapes on the vines. We would each try to count the stars, lose count and start over. In the summer, the grape vines would barely move and the stars made the grapes look like they were twinkling. At night, we would snuggle together and enjoy the warmth of our parents appreciating the beauty around us.
Some nights under the grape vines, I would read stories to my family or report the news, like a journalist, with a microphone made of paper. How I long to be shaded by our grape vines again!
This is how all of my Fridays should be.
A shrieking zanana
The memories that I have of those beautiful Fridays are few. Recently, on Friday, August 5, 2022, I was abruptly reminded how Fridays in Gaza are not the same as they are for young adults in any other part of the world.
On that Friday night, I was deep into reading the Arabic novel, The Bearer of the Purple Rose. Suddenly, without warning, the calm breeze was broken by a sound like thunder, the breeze changing into the force of hurricane winds. The walls and doors of our home began to tremble violently. And the shrieking sounds of Israeli zananas covered all of Gaza.
A zanana is an armed Israeli military drone that makes an agitating, constant humming sound as it conducts surveillance over Gaza. Its voice rises madly at times, but it always sounds like an electric generator buzzing nonstop. Whenever a zanana is overhead, the sound penetrates my mind and distracts me. It feels like it’s on top of my head. The sound surrounds me, in my home, outside, on my bed. I try to shut out the sound by closing the windows, closing my ears, and wearing headphones, but it never goes away. It is a constant reminder that my movements, my sleep, my words, and my family are under watch.
So on that Friday, when we heard the sounds like thunder and the zanana, I jolted up like a shot and dropped my book. I rushed to my family and searched the news on our phones, receiving information like lightning bolts into our ears. The tension was broken with exclamations of What!! Why!!! Which family must die this time??
Our happy, light Friday conversations suddenly turn urgent. The smile on my mother’s face was full of anxiety and stress. My father’s face changed from calm to defeat. We gathered in our family room to figure out how to best protect ourselves. Sadly, our survival is not governed by our decisions in Gaza. Each of us starts to predict, analyze, and plan for the next military rocket. We all know that nothing is predictable when you live under Israeli occupation.
Mirrors of destruction
During the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza, we were forced to leave our home. We walked without a destination and carried whatever we could fit in our trembling hands. During that journey, I kept my eyes fixed on my loved ones, thinking how to protect them as Israeli zananas and missiles zipped over our heads. Each step felt like an hour, a month, a year. So many happy Fridays were robbed from my memory and my family.
After two months, we returned to our home to find our simple kitchen destroyed and missing a wall. Through the open wall, I could see my Uncle Saleh’s roof that had completely burned. A black cloak covered the whole room, the furniture destroyed with the memories.
I rushed to search for the grapevines, and they were partially dry and wilting, but still alive. Beside them, all the green berry trees had been swept away and had disappeared completely, without a trace. What is the fault of the trees on our land?
Since that attack, we do not stay up late outside on Fridays. We do not search for the twinkling stars in the sky from underneath the grapes as we used to. We cannot find shade under the berry trees anymore.
From the destruction in our home, we no longer see our reflections in the mirrors hanging on the walls. Now we see the reflections of the remaining debris from the military attack. Before that attack, I hadn’t known that would be the last time that I could look in the mirror and see myself without the destruction around me. I never realized that would be the last family meal I would have in our old kitchen.
What we cook now does not taste the same as it did in our first kitchen. I wish I took 1,000 pictures throughout the years so that I could hang them in a frame forever to preserve my sweetest Friday memories. Now, all of my pictures are intentional, never by accident.
What is survival?
On Friday August 5, 2022, we survived three days and nights without sleep and in total fear. By Day 3, the waiting ended and somehow my soul was still alive.
I can say that I survived this attack. But what kind of survival is this? Survival this time does not mean survival every time. I am 23 years old, and I have survived six attacks by the occupying forces. To them, I am nothing but a stone turned to ashes. I am nothing but a tree, fallen in the fire and burned into the ground.
My survival depends on my country surviving, the trees and grapevines of Gaza surviving, and the Palestinian people surviving. My love and belonging in Gaza survives. I will live to experience better Fridays where I am free, unafraid, and respected as a Palestinian woman.