Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

I thought I was going to die, but it turned out to be my cousins

Ahmed Elqattawi | 26-02-2015

The bombed home of Ahmed's neighbor, just one block away

The summer of 2014 was not the first time the Israeli occupation forces waged an assault on the Gaza Strip. Here in the middle of Gaza, it was outrageous. The sky was almost full of Israeli warplanes of various kinds. They flew as fast as they could, and sometimes hovered very low in order to bomb houses and their occupants. There were many kinds of Israeli warplanes – helicopters, drones and jet fighters. It was hard to take a step outside my house due to the rockets that fell from the sky. All kinds of buildings were badly damaged or destroyed and most were at least partly damaged. For instance, the main hospital in my town, Al-Aqsa, was damaged by random Israeli artillery. Doctors could not reach the hospital’s patients who were pregnant because the stairs leading up to the maternity department were no longer there.

On July 19 of that year, during the month of Ramadan, my family and I were about ready to break our fast. My little sister, Shahid, was standing on a small chair by the window, looking at the beautiful horizon shrouded in thick, black smoke. A poisonous smell combined with the smoke of bombed buildings and blew with the wind. My siblings and I couldn’t bear the smell of it, and I started to cough uncontrollably through my mouth and nose. I sprayed some perfume to hide the smell of the air we were breathing and it gave us some relief. Shahid was looking at the sunset again when she saw something small flying toward us from far away.

“Come here, Ahmed, and look at that thing flying right toward me,” she pointed.

“Get inside and close the window, Shahid, before something bad happens,” I warned.

“I hope that flying thing is some super hero like Superman, because I just know he can save people whenever they are in danger,” she said, staying by the window.

“You must be crazy!” I answered.

Suddenly, she realized what she was seeing. She freaked out and started running all over the house, screaming, “A rocket is breaking down the sky!”

My siblings ran to the east of the house to take shelter, because by then we could hear a scary sound from above. I ran as fast as I could to open the window and confirm what she saw. I thought maybe the sound of the rocket was really warplanes passing over our house or hovering at low altitudes, but in fact it was a rocket dropping from a helicopter onto a specific target just a few meters from my house. When I saw it, all I thought about  was how the shrapnel would fly everywhere and damage everything – including us. I left the window open and bent down toward the floor with my hands covering my ears.

An explosion, then the house was gone

A few seconds later, there was a massive explosion, and then a second one that shook my house fiercely. Everything was shaking and moving under our feet, so I thought at first that my house was the one that had been bombed. However, it was the home of our neighbor, a civilian, less than one block away.

Ambulances came to get some of the injured and killed. My family started to eat again, even though the food was cold. When night fell, I went to bed. But whenever I started falling asleep, a dreadful sound of bombing awakened me. I couldn't sleep a wink because I was afraid of what might happen to my family; I turned my mobile radio on until the sun rose.

When the morning came, there was no  food to prepare because we had not been able to leave the house to go shopping for almost 25 consecutive days. My father decided to take me along with him despite the risk of walking in the street. We relied on canned food for two reasons: First, there was no electricity after the power company was targeted by Israeli artillery; consequently, it wasn’t possible to keep fresh food inside the fridge. Second, canned food is easier to prepare quickly.

I was already used to spending days without electricity, which meant there was no Internet to communicate with the outside world, no news to be heard on TV and no water in the rooftop tanks because the pump needs electricity. Only my cell phone’s radio kept me up to date with breaking news, because it was charged on my father’s car battery.

I knew something was wrong

Then someone called my father’s cell phone and as he talked, his expression changed. We were listening to the news about a new bombing somewhere in my town, but he didn’t say anything about the call.

“What’s wrong, dad? Did something bad happen?” I asked.

He acted as if he didn’t hear me at first, so I repeated my question with different words to get his attention. “What’s going on, Dad? Is there anything I can do to help you?” I asked.

“No my son, there is nothing you can do about it,” he said.

“Would you let me know then, so we can find a solution?” I pleaded.

“I don’t know how to put this,” he said, “but umm….” My dad was not able to say what happened in front of my family and especially not in front of my mom.

Ahmed's cousin, Belal

Later that day, he could no longer keep secret the news that two cousins from my mother’s side had been killed that day by an Israeli air raid. When my mom heard, she fainted, as he feared she would. When she woke up, pain was squeezing her heart. I tried to calm down my siblings and make them feel better by saying that God would grant our cousins entry into paradise, but you just can’t control someone’s emotions. They kept crying because they were very close to our cousins, considering them brothers and friends.

I called my heartbroken uncles to express my condolences on the loss of their sons. My family decided to go to their houses to console them personally on their loss, so we went and stayed there until evening came. The Red Cross was able to dig out the body of my oldest cousin, Abdallah, from the rubble during a ceasefire that lasted for only 12 hours. But every time the ambulance's crew tried to reach the body of Belal, who had not yet reached 20, Israeli forces would shoot missiles at them. Many of the ambulance's workers were injured and had to stop to save their own lives.

It was about seven days before Belal’s body was brought to his family. I was the closest to him, because he was almost my age. The two of us had volunteered together to help families who were homeless due to war, by bringing them food, clothes and blankets. Belal loved children and would play games with them.

I remember going to Belal’s funeral, tears running down my face. We prayed and after that we took his body to the cemetery. Although I felt that I couldn’t handle it when I saw people lifting his body in the air to put him in the dark hole in the ground, I went with the flow and told myself I should be strong, because he is still alive through his achievements. Despite the fact that Israel burns up and destroys our mosques, homes, schools, hospitals and universities and murders our relatives, the Palestinian spirit of struggling for what is rightfully ours will always remain; in fact, we grow stronger each day that we are treated with disrespect and denied our dignity, humanity and freedom.



Posted: December 29, 2015

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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