Wesam Alnaouq | 07-08-2017
It was January 3, 2009; I was 12 years old; and it was the first of what was to be three major Israeli assaults on Gaza.
We huddled, 10 in one room, because we hoped it would be the safest place in our house. We waited for the long night to end. Waited for the sun to rise and wipe away our terror. We waited until we heard the birds sing instead of planes in the sky. We waited for the rain to fall to clean the blood off of our streets. The tanks were very near, and drones swooped low like falcons looking for something to hunt.
When morning came, the sun was hesitant, as if it wanted protect us from seeing the destruction. The birds didn’t sing, made voiceless by the sound of bombs. And the clouds were too polluted by gunpowder to allow drops of water to fall.
Suddenly, we heard men shouting for help, panic and fear in their voices. I rushed to the window. My mother pleaded for me to stay away, but I kept looking until I saw three men running down the street. One was clearly injured and the other two were carrying him. They knocked on every door, but the houses were empty. Most families had fled our area. The three men screamed for help, but no one responded. Everyone was gone, or maybe, like us, they were too afraid to go outside. Tanks and airplanes still scoured the sky. Anything that moved was a target.
I heard the injured man begging his friends to leave him and run for their lives. They refused. My family lives in a five-story building with seven other families. I ran downstairs to open the main door for them, but our neighbors stopped me. One said, “If you do this, all of us will die.” I did not pay attention; I could only think of the three men needing help. I pushed my neighbor back, but he was older and stronger than me.
”I have a family and I'm not going to let you put us in danger,” he hissed. Two minutes, later the three men moved on.
I went back to our apartment and looked out of the window again to see where they were heading. I spied them moving toward a mosque. But then I heard the sound of drones return. I knew what was going to happen. I shouted out, to warn them, but my voice didn't carry far enough. I saw something hurtle from the sky, bright light surrounded by black smoke. I was thrown to the floor by the sound of the air strikes – five of them. It was a sound like falling thunder, followed by an explosion so loud it caused our walls to shake. Those three men didn’t have a chance.
With every explosion, I lost part of my soul. Later one of the neighbors called an ambulance, which was allowed to enter the area. When the Red Cross came to warn us to leave as the tanks closed in, we made our escape—carrying white T-shirts as flags. The spot where I had seen the three men last was red from their blood, with tiny pieces of flesh. A smell like gunpowder was in the air, with white smoke spewing from stones in the street. We all knew what that meant: white phosphorous—which burns upon touch.
We all escaped, while all three of those brave men died. But their memory remains in my heart, even nine years later. I still dream about them at night
For me, they have come to symbolize the thousands of people in countries from Syria to Yemen who share the same fate every day. In war, we all lose. I still have some faint faith in an eventual peace, but many people in Gaza no longer can dream that dream. So I must dream for them. Let us live, in peace.
Posted: August 6, 2017
Mentor: Louisa Waugh