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

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

War diary: exchanging fears across the ocean

Abdallah al-Jazzar | 26-05-2021

During the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, we wondered every day if the children of our neighborhood were lying dead under the rubble of bombed residential buildings (my prayers go out to them) or if even we would live long enough to tell the world about the reality on the ground. But I have lived. And this is one story about my own family. I write, since my words are my only weapon:

My family runs from room to room like birds hopping from wire to wire in their cages. We sing to distract the children. My little brother runs to our bedroom; my sister runs to the kitchen and ducks under the table. They are laughing, but their faces betray that they are terrified. We all gather again in the living room and catch our breath together.  

Adam and Aseel, my sister and brother

I have no great desire to be safe myself, but I pay close attention to my little siblings and keep up an appearance of being relaxed, so they will feel safer. I work on controlling my breathing; physiologists claim that helps ease stress. The kids, however, have no way of getting through this on their own, except for hugs from my dad and me. Just so you know, all of this pretending is a sham when bombs are falling near us. When that occurs, and it happens often, we cannot control our trembling. Our hearts beat fast, our breathing becomes shallow. I can see the sweat on my dad’s face and feel it on my own. My brother and sister freeze, their eyes locked onto mine or Dad’s. I cannot compose my thoughts or ease my fear. I do not care what happens to me, but I worry constantly about my family.

Do you know what sometimes happens? A mysterious “someone” texts neighborhood residents by cell phone, telling us to evacuate our homes near the Arab Mall so that the Israeli military can bomb it. My only thought is, “Our death is near. My beloved neighborhood will vanish.” Almost immediately, the neighborhood empties of people, as every one of us seeks UNRWA shelters. Then, as we wait for the bombs to fall again, we learn from government officials that the threatening message came from an Israeli settler, trying to terrify us with a prank call. After a while, I recover some degree of calm and return to my room. But I cannot stop feeling uneasy.

Mohanad (far right) and his friends in Turkey

On another occasion, I received a call at 7 p.m. from a Gazan friend in Turkey, Mohanad al-Saadawi. What could I tell him about the situation in Gaza except, “I am still alive, but I cannot promise I will be much longer.” Yes, this is how it works in Gaza; we cannot guarantee we will be alive for a minute more. I tried to suppress my tears. I am not usually an emotional person, but this is Gaza, where death might catch up to us in a second. He understood. After hesitating as he searched for words, he told me, “I am keeping my hope for your existence alive.”

Then, as a way of easing my fear, he sent me a photo of himself, taken during a demonstration in Karabük, Turkey, in support of Gaza. I saw thousands of people protesting together in the streets, waving Palestinian flags and raising their fists. I imagined their songs and chants. His photo gave me so much energy and hope.

Mohanad then expressed his fears to me about his own family. "I am not in Gaza but I still feel fear and helplessness more than ever,” he said, his voice quavering. He had already lived through three wars in Gaza (2008, 2012 and 2014). He is out now, but watches his family suffer. He goes on to say that he always feels like he is waiting for the unknown. He spends the nights without sleeping, just refreshing his social media feeds. Whenever he learns there is a bombing in Rafah, where his family lives, he gets a panic attack and can’t calm down until he hears from them or finds out exactly where the bombing was and how far it was from them.

“I am traumatized and scared that I will lose a member of my family or a dear friend in the blink of an eye,” he tells me. “I am so scared I will lose them, and that I won’t even get to say goodbye to them. I am scared that when I go back, I won’t find them and can’t do what we agreed when I left them, like learning music with each other and building a new house. They aren’t safe, and I don’t feel safe here by myself. I would rather be there than here by myself, so that whatever happens to them will happen to me, too. I really can’t imagine my life without them. I am praying so hard, hoping I won’t have to live such a nightmare.”

This is Gaza, and these are its people. Pray for Gazans, inside and outside of Gaza.

Posted: May 26, 2021

Mentor: Kevin Hadduck

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