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

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

One year later: memories linger but beauty still blooms

Allam Zedan | 17-09-2015

Photo by Ibrahim Faraj

“In less than a minute, you have to pack the most valuable things you have and run.” This is the message Israel delivered to so many families in Gaza during last summer’s assault, whether directly through loud speakers or through missile “taps” on the roof.

When our turn came, I chose to take my crippled, 80-year-old father and a bag I had previously prepared for such a day. It is where I keep my school certificates, the ones I hadn’t yet had a chance to use to secure the job I was working so hard to obtain. For the first time in my life, I really wanted to live, dream, achieve, have some memories and be a part of the future of others. I thought about the love of my life, the meeting that had not yet come, the eyes I hadn’t looked into, the places we hadn’t visited and the roses we had yet to share.

I opened the door. An old woman was clinging to life, running with her granddaughters. With tears in her eyes, she gave me that look as if she was saying good-bye, reminding me of the fact that we have no refuge in Gaza.

I closed the door. It was clear that nowhere was safe, and if I had to die, I would rather be at home. I went back into my house, smiled at my father, kissed my mother’s hand and returned to my room. Ironically, the lights were on. The electricity seemed to have come back on after five days of darkness.

It was the second month of the war on Gaza, and we could hear the sounds of bombardments, and the screams of my little nephew, in the arms of his mother, wondering if he would live another day.

Have you ever seen stars falling from the sky? That’s the way it appeared that day, as if they were coming directly at  me, my family, my friends and my people. That was when I decided to run. The star-like lights were shells used to illuminate the area, allowing the Israelis to better target their prey, falling randomly on the houses in my residential neighborhood. We didn’t have anything to defend ourselves, to silence our crying children or to extinguish the bombs hitting our homes.

For 11 members of the Balatah family, it was the last night of their life. They were hiding in the two-story home of their cousins, cooking a meal for their children, when they all got burned alive. It was neither a gas leak nor the carelessness of a woman. We heard the hateful, whining voice of the shells again and again. Those who helped the medical teams carry the bodies out came to us crying and covered in blood. The Israeli media described the incident as a mistake.

Balata family
The Balata family: from top left, Hadil Balata, Wafa Balata and her baby
'Abd al-Karim Balata. On the right, Na'im Balata, his wife Sahar
and five of their children. Photo: Anne Paq for B'tselem

There were too many mistakes.

A year later, not much has changed

It is just over a year later now. Nothing much has changed. It is still war, but with a different context and a different agenda. My older brother is a father of two boys and struggles to get loans to cover their expenses. He has a job, yet he doesn’t get paid because he works in the mental health sector for the Hamas government. (The “great” powers of the world rejected its election under allegations that it sponsors “terrorism” and now the Western-backed Palestinian Authority refuses to fund their salaries.) My many friends and neighbors, whose houses were demolished in the 2014 war, still have not gotten the “first aid” the world promised. They live in “caravans,” more like prison cells, and UNRWA schools, waiting for a benefactor to have some mercy upon them. As for Miss Electricity, Gazans are the only people in the world who must live according to a schedule. Power comes on for only six hours a day, if we’re lucky.

Each day, I see people with wishes they know will not come true. But they can’t stop themselves from dreaming. I also have dreams.

But people do make a life

Gaza is beautiful today. I never thought it would be like this again, but it is. After one year, Gaza is still alive.

Two months ago, I was in my home when I heard the sound of an explosion, I ran into the street, and there they were. The children of Gaza were celebrating a new Ramadan, playing with fireworks and wishing everyone a happy new year. Something touched my heart. I felt peace. I smiled. I saw love. I decided to write something. I became determined; I wanted to tell the whole world that we are from Gaza, and we are not numbers. The bright eyes of these children and the people waiting their turn to light the streets and bring happiness to everyone was something that I might have lost forever.

The third war on Gaza killed more than 2,000: brothers of my people, sisters of my people, as well as friends, neighbors and family; yet Gaza still stands with a smile. These people and their resistance…how they create life amidst their pain sometimes frightens me.

Abo Ahmed, my neighbor, is still telling jokes. He even plays football with the kids in the street. He is about 20 years older than them, yet he knows how to make them love him.

I love these people. I love my neighborhood, and I don’t want to leave here.

We have something called the sea. As my little naughty cousin, describes it, it is blue, full of fish and people. Everyone loves the sea. Everyone was banned from going there in the past year. But this year, the four children playing football who were murdered by the Israeli army are not preventing our children from fully experiencing life. They go there to say the same thing that I’m trying to say: We are from Gaza and we are not numbers. 

Mentor: Greta Berlin
Posted September 17, 2015

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