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

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

The red nightmare

Noura Al-Ashi | 08-07-2016

Green is my favorite color; it reflects a mixture of serenity and harmony. I’ve hated red since I was a kid; it gives me negative emotions that make me feel overloaded and unable to think creatively. This ongoing battle of colors has finally led me to see that green and red, with their strong relationship in the color spectrum, belong together.

These colors also form, along with black and white, the colors of the Palestinian flag. White symbolizes purity and the Palestinian hope for peace and love. Green is for the soil, the peasants’ memories of their occupied home and the blessings the land bestows upon her children. Red symbolizes the blood endlessly spilled in the struggle for freedom. Black signifies the ongoing assault, oppression and grief that Palestine has too long suffered.

Talking about colors may seem frivolous, but when I see in my mind’s eye the colors of certain days, I find myself silently reliving the worst moments of the last major aggression on Gaza in 2014. Thinking back to those days, I can only see black, orange and red. Even the

blue of the sky and the sea were drained alongside these colors, faded into the gray of simultaneous explosions in neighborhoods across the Strip. I dreaded nightfall, when the sun seemed to say, “Goodnight, Gaza. Stay safe and strong. Tonight will be even worse than last night.” I heard these words every sunset and felt them while listening to the interminable whirring of the drones at all hours of the day and night.

The worst night of my life was during that month of Ramadan, July 20. Gaza was completely cloaked in darkness after a stifling day of blasts as our battery-powered radio documented the destruction in different places.

My family was napping and I lowered the volume of the radio to hear the drones, F-16s and airstrikes. Blackness fell on our area, with no sound but the occasional ambulance. Then sleep invaded my eyes and I was on the brink of what I hoped would be happy dreams, far from the war, when suddenly, the harsh bombing of a nearby neighborhood began.

I opened my eyes and, through the eastern window of our house, saw dozens of thermal bombs falling on the other side of Gaza. I knew immediately that Shujaiya was being attacked. One of the biggest neighborhoods in Gaza, with approximately 100,000 residents, Shujaiya sits on Gaza’s eastern border a few kilometers from my family’s house. The Israeli Air Force seemed to be launching a barrage of thermal bombs, and they sounded as if they were falling right next to us—turning the all-encompassing black of the night into red.

I prayed for the sound to stop if only for a minute. Lying there motionless, I could clearly see all that was happening outside. The night passed slowly as I lay sleeplessly, my thoughts racing to Shujaiya and its people. I wondered why the explosions sounded so close when Shujaiya was so far. I couldn’t stop thinking of my relatives and friends there. My family and I were safe in our home, as they faced missiles, bombs and tanks, fear and death all around, a red nightmare with no escape.

I stayed up all night. I remembered that my friend had close family in Shujaiya and began to worry. I thought of the many families I knew there, all facing death. Gaza certainly have witnessed other bloody nights, but this was the first that killed so many and even wiped out entire families. (I would later learn that more than 90 Shujaiya residents were murdered that night. Hundreds more became homeless.)

The night passed slowly; I prayed for time to speed up, but I lost the struggle. I tried to find peace and strength by reciting the Holy Quran.

Finally, dawn came to welcome a new day and the darkness of the red nightmare was over. I said the fajr (sunrise) prayer and finally slept. I awoke at 10 a.m. and fortunately, the electricity was on for the first time in days. My family turned on the TV and we could see the awful scenes of indiscriminate destruction left during that crazy night. Some of the people I had been worrying about were now martyrs. The TV was filled with the names of the dead, their numbers, the places of catastrophe and the other details of destruction.

I called my friend, Haneen Harara, who was originally from Shujaiya and had a lot of family there. When she answered, I asked, “How is Al-Shujaiya?” We both knew the answer as our pain melted into tears of loss, grief and relief. She told me that many of her relatives were gone, but when she mentioned Hedaya Alhelou, she began sobbing. I didn’t know how to console her. I could only say, “May Allah bless her soul!”

It turned out that not only Hedaya, but also her daughter, twin brothers, husband, mother and father – 11 family members in all – had been killed. She used to visit her father’s house during the day, but that day, he told her to stay with her husband.

She and her family spent the whole night calling each other every hour to make sure they were all safe. At 2:55 a.m., Hedaya called her parents. It was the last time they heard her voice. They could hear how much her voice trembled. It was five minutes later, at 3 a.m., when shouts arose a house had fallen on the heads of 11 people. It was hers.

“We went to my brother’s house,” her father sobbed, “but there was no one. It was a heap of stones. I knew then that my Hedaya, her daughter, sons, husband and the rest of the family were all gone, may they rest in peace.”

The attack went on without let-up until dawn. No one could call an ambulance or leave their homes. Many trapped under rubble could not call for help, since the civil defense, ambulances and rescue teams were forbidden to enter the zone. When they did, they were targeted by planes and tanks. Many were killed that night and were left for days, buried under the stones, until a cease-fire was finally called.

Despite all that was lost, however, the spirit of resistance continues.

“The resistance lifts our heads and preserves our dignity,” Hadaya’s father said as he concluded his sad memory. “We will always need the resistance in our life. We stand with it. We will never abandon it.”

Two years have passed since the last assault, but the memories have not died. Life goes on, and we must learn to live in the moment, not fear the future. I will not let fear inhibit my mind any more. The wars have reinforced my determination to be a leader and a good teacher.

Mentor: Peter Cohen
Posted July 8, 2016

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