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

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

Life lessons from a glimpse of horror

Asmaa Tayeh | 24-03-2017

Even after 12 years, I still remember every detail of that long, horrifying night. I strongly believe it's the main reason I live everyday passionately, looking forward to making my dreams come true, believing I deserve the best of reality and what is possible.

Improbably, that night was both calm and chaotic, calm because of my deep meditation about life, and chaotic because of the devastating Israeli air strikes. At the time, I was only 8 years old and people still thought of me as an immature girl. But even at that young age, I believed myself to be a unique individual with the heart and mind of an adult.

That night, around 9 p.m., my parents and I were sitting in the living room watching Al-Jazeera. The broadcaster was talking about ongoing Israeli air strikes.  Initially, I only understood we were in imminent danger, as clearly portrayed by the images of dead bodies, destroyed houses, crying women and running paramedics. It was much later that I learned the strikes were part of an Israeli operation that killed dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, and destroyed many homes, schools and other vital infrastructure.) Soon after, the broadcaster noted that Israeli forces had declared that the strikes targeted resistance rockets. I thought, “Don't we have the right to defend ourselves after all the crimes they committed?” More questions crossed my mind as the images became more intense.

My parents believed children shouldn't watch such violent images.  On the other hand, I believed I was old enough to know what was really happening in this world, particularly in Palestine. I also believed I had the right to be informed of the truth, including who owns this land and who is trying to steal it—even if that causes an 8-year-old girl to see horrifying images.

After eight to 10 minutes of watching TV, I looked around; my mom was nowhere to be seen! I quickly walked around the house looking for her, then found her in the kitchen preparing dinner. I stood at the table, near the door, saying nothing. My mom suspected I was about to say something.

"Do you need anything, Asmaa?" she asked. At that moment, I blurted out the question that comes to my mind every single day, the question that changed the way I look at my life. It was also the question that made me realize how desperate and helpless Israel was trying to make us feel, with success.

I asked, “Is it our turn today? Will we die this night?”

I could see shock and sadness in her eyes. Nevertheless, while still smiling, she tried to instill calmness and strength, saying, “No, honey, it's not our turn! They strike only those who harm them, and we have done them no harm, right?”

Naïvely, I replied, “Yes, why would they hurt those who are innocent?”

However, I spent the night thinking, “Did she lie to me only to make me relax? Will I live until the end of this vacation and join the fourth grade? Will I be able to attend university? Will I ever be able to travel abroad like my brother did?”

Since that night, almost everything has changed. Whenever I am promoted to a new grade, I say to myself: “Well, God has given you the chance to graduate from the previous grade. Be strong and complete this one as well.” I am now also convinced that waking up in the morning means a new opportunity has been given to me. So, I seize every opportunity and try my very best to live everyday as if it were my last on this planet.

I have learned, now, to look for and treasure the beauty in life.

Just knowing that every single day is a gift from God has taught me the precious value of life. In addition, I know how important our life is, even in Gaza. After living through three Israeli assaults, I have realized I was thoroughly mistaken when, as a naïve 8-year-old, I believed the Israelis would not hurt us as long as we left them alone. They have, in fact, caused devastating harm to thousands of innocents during the last 69 years.

What did that glimpse of horror that night teach me? It prompted me to choose to take pictures of nature and food instead of destroyed houses and wounded children; to visit the seaside instead of sleeping when I feel bad; to make sweets instead of complaining when I get depressed or stressed; and to dream of living in peace instead of taking revenge on those who are responsible for this miserable life. Even with all of the difficulties we face, there will always be a light inside of our hearts, a light they can never extinguish.

Editor's note: The night Asmaa describes was in 2004.It reminds us both that it is not just during major wars on Gaza when these experiences occur; one- or two-day assaults happen on an ongoing basis. It also reminds us of the long-term psychological effects of the occupation. Thank God Asmaa is so resilient, and has striven to learn something positive from such tragic events. 


Posted: March 24, 2017

Mentor: Les Filotas

Get updates to your inbox. Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter.