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

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

Two ruined schools, hers and mine

Bader Alzaharna | 20-05-2021


brother and sister hugging
Hugging my sister Raghood. 

My little sister, Raghad, age12, is reluctant to agree with me when I tell her she shouldn’t attempt to do her school assignments “during wartime.” This is how we Gazans refer to those hours when we are bombarded by shelling and bombing and can feel the ground shaking.

“Tomorrow, I will return to school, Bader,” she whispers in a wobbly voice. “Pull yourself together.”

Full of melancholy, I remain silent as images of the schools turned into shelters or utterly damaged by the bombardment flip through my mind’s eye. I know that the area around her school had been hit, and it is certainly in shambles if not totally destroyed. Just one of the many schools targeted, in flagrant violation of the right to education as protected by article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It makes me profoundly sad, to think of how she will feel when she learns that her school is actually gone. I don’t want to break such news to her, yet tomorrow when she asks why I won’t take her to school, I will have to tell her. My dear sister’s heart will be heavy, and my soul will be pierced.

I don’t want her to live with the excruciating pain I had to live through when my school was flattened back in 2014. It still pains me to remember my classroom with all the colorful drawings plastered on the walls that themselves were brightly painted with our national colors of red, green, black and white. I remember the artificial turf where football teams warmed up for final matches and students rooted from the sidelines. I remember the concrete schoolyard where we played tag. All gone. Children build significant memories during their school years, and these memories shouldn’t be shrouded with images of beloved places in ruins.

“You are right, dear Raghood,” I say, using her family nickname. “Tomorrow you will go back to school.”

But will she be able to return tomorrow? Surely not. And it will take a long time until the buildings and grounds are repaired or rebuilt.

Even if her school is rebuilt, can the fire of loss and pain that will incinerate her heart be extinguished?

“Dood,” I say, using my own special nickname for my sister, “what if the shelling continues into tomorrow? Can we stay at home instead of going to school?”

“Bader, if you won’t come with me tomorrow, I’ll walk to school on my own.”

I smile and give her a hug.


Throughout the night, the heavy and unceasing rain of missiles that drop over the north are louder than they have ever been — so loud they must be reviving the dead. (In fact, the next morning, the news reported that warplanes had directly targeted large cemeteries in the north. The bones of the dead had been scattered over the land, turning it into an actual ghost city.) 

contrails and bird flying
The bird reminds me of Raghad's spirit. Photo credit: Salem Ghazal

All through that dreadful night, as the grounds dance, I hug my little sister and hold her warm hands in an attempt to comfort her. “I hope that we die together, or survive together,” I think to myself. “Either way, together.”

I continuously reassure her that the missiles are very far away, hiding from her the fact that they are probably as close to us as she is to me. The only time I have been able to rise over my fears for someone is this night, and for my dear sister.

“Dood, this will pass. Aren’t you going to school tomorrow? Did you do all your assignments?”

“No, I still need to make a drawing for my art class,” she replies. Her dark brown eyes are glowing with tears of unspoken fright.

I wipe her tears away. “What do you want to draw?”

“My school, which I hope is still standing.”

As the bombing escalates, I try to focus on the tiny lines she is drawing. In my head swirls disconnected thoughts of all the things that I might lose, either through their destruction or mine, or both. A necklace watch of sparkling gold, a favorite keepsake. My wrist bracelet, a gift from my grandmother, that has given me fortitude during all the hard times. Even my bedroom window with the crack running through it, I don’t want to lose. Loss, and fear of loss, is an unremitting pain that has haunted me since the first day of the aggression.

“Your school is still standing, darling sister.”

I lie, to give her a shimmer of hope.

Posted: May 20, 2021

Mentor: Catherine Baker

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