Flashbacks of smoke and solidarity

illustrated woman's head

May 17, 2021: Day 6 of the Israeli military attack on Gaza

“Hanan, it’s 1:15 pm now and you haven't slept since yesterday,” my sister said. I had been tossing and turning in bed for two hours. At least I tried to sleep. I still remember the way my sister’s worried voice trembled, and I remember the way she looked at me with heartbreak.  She was shaken after seeing me weep in reaction to photos of a young Palestinian child who lost his father. I looked into her eyes and tried to show her that I was okay, but an abrupt beep from my phone pulled me away.  

It was an email from Diane Williamson, an administrator from the Durham Palestine Educational Trust in the United Kingdom.  A woman that I have never met in person, yet whose solidarity and strength gave me hope that we have not been forgotten. Once again, I started to fall asleep and drifted away from reality. I thought, I will respond once I wake up…


Three hours later, Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up! The very loud sounds of Israeli military drones, missiles, and warplanes filled my room. The sound was horrifying and indescribable, impossible to imagine without living through it in person. I quickly covered my ears and hunched down into a small ball on the floor, reverting to fetal position, wishing that I could disappear and be reborn somewhere more peaceful, more hopeful, safer. 

The scent of toxic smoke from a nearby rocket explosion spread through each of my nostrils and burned inside them. I ran to the living room, where I found my brother holding his phone. Where are the bombs? Whose home was hit this time? Any injuries? Any losses? Can you hear the cries!!! Which sound is worse? The missiles and warplanes or the sounds of civilians shrieking after a brutal attack? 

“No news yet, but it seems close by,” my brother mumbled quietly while he slowly approached the window to witness the devastation. I did not have his courage. I was too scared to look out the window and too scared to check the news. I could not bear to see what I could hear and smell. My mind raced and I imagined a destroyed building full of entire families buried alive, a deep crater on fire with mangled and disfigured cars melting under the rocket fire, a gash in the earth scorching entire streets, playgrounds, shopping centers. Breathe Hanan, Breathe. No more sleep, who can sleep or dream in these conditions?


I returned to my bed, sat down and peered at my phone as it lit up with a string of messages. A rescue line pulling me out of the suffocating siege closing in around me. Each time the sound of a message floated through my phone, I was shaken more and more awake. My amazing cancer research team across Palestine in Gaza, the West Bank and in Jerusalem sent message after message of resilience, support and prayers for our safety. I read each message carefully. I read each message twice. Every single word washed over me like magic and filled me with power.

Together, we shared experiences of horrific violence and dispossession inflicted by the Israeli military.  Checkpoints, home demolitions, heavy bombardment unites us.  We are one. We have one state, we are one people. Our grief is real. Our solidarity is real.

If I die

April 17, 2021, just one month earlier, I spent my days and nights buried in medical research, reading, writing and drafting an article on cervical cancer awareness for the BMC Women’s Health Journal. I shared drafts and revisions with our research group, all of us so hopeful and impressed by our work together across international lines. Through this article, I was educating women on early cancer screening and prevention to save lives. I am a doctor and my purpose is to protect and save lives.  Now I wondered, will I live to celebrate the publication day of our article?

Just weeks earlier, I stood at the beach, eyes closed, hearing the sound of the waves cleansing my soul. I inhaled the sea air deeply and let the sounds wash over the wounds of surviving three previous Israeli bombardments of Gaza. My feet were buried beneath the sand firmly rooted in my place.  This is my home.  

Now I wondered, will I ever live to hear and taste the sea air again?

Today I read that the United States approved $735 million of weapons sales to Israel. For what? To kill more children and women? I cannot accept this reality.

The “If I die” scenarios haunted me so many times during this attack. Still, I looked at the mirror and repeated; I am alive, I am alive and I will live. I was afraid and unsure, but I kept repeating. Hanan, you will live. Move forward, Hanan.

More solidarity

street protestBeep. Another message. The German doctor who is the senior author for the BMC Women’s Journal article, this time with a message of solidarity: “I hope you are all safe and your families are well.”  This solidarity helped me say I am safe, I am alive. I said it louder, with a clear determined voice this time. 

Oh! I haven’t responded to Diane’s email yet. I continued staring at the three simple words in the subject line in her email: ‘Solidarity from Durham.’

‘Just to let you know that we are thinking of you. I know from our many friends in Gaza the horror of what is happening there and what a nightmare you are all living through.

Be at least encouraged that there are lots of people who support you in the UK and indeed in the world. We have been organizing protests in Durham and find that people are keen to understand what is happening and are appalled by Israeli brutality.  Please let me know that you and your families are safe. 

Yours in solidarity, 


Diane’s message was another hand in my hand interlocking Palestine with the cause of justice, freedom and humanity with Palestinian solidarity all around the world. 

I replied to Diane: Please pray for those alive under the rubble, pray for those injured in the hospitals, pray for the families of martyrs and injured, pray for Gaza. Please pray that the international community will WAKE UP and stop these war crimes!

Put your hands in mine.

Category: Story Tags: , , , Comments: 0

Mentor: Ban Al-Wardi

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.