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 and peace: Working as a citizen journalist

Asmaa Tayeh | 14-11-2019

Me, posting away on social media in the We Are Not Numbers office

Since I started working as social media coordinator for We Are Not Numbers, in March 2018, I have lived through so many events in which I had to find and share Gaza news and stories. Starting from the launch of the weekly Great Return March protests, which erupted on the last day of that month, and then through the ongoing demonstrations and several Israeli attacks, I was always among the first to look for and receive news about injuries and deaths. Today, I’m living the same thing again and I feel compelled to share what it’s like.

How it started this time

I was awake for al-fajr prayer around 4 a.m. but didn’t hear anything until an hour later. I heard a sound that I thought was a storm descending. I was so excited about the coming of winter that the thought of rain made me happy.

But a minute later I realized with a sharp intake of breath that I was wrong. The sound had been an Israeli airstrike and there were warplanes in the sky. I checked the local news and found out that Israeli forces had just assassinated an Islamic Jihad leader named Bahaa Abu Alata. From that point on, the situation escalated, and “normal” life stopped. No school, no going to the office, no outings for any other reason. Just staying home listening to bombs and news about where they had hit and how many people they had kill and injured. (We constantly struggle to fight this emphasis on numbers. Each person has a story!)

That day, I had many plans and was supposed to visit several places for We Are Not Numbers, have pasta for lunch with my workmates, and meet my dearest friend, Mai. Every one of the other 2 million people living in Gaza had plans too, I’m sure, but that rocket ruined everything and restored the feeling of danger 24/7 to our hearts. This makes me feel like we’re not being dealt with as human beings, and that our lives never matter. I don’t think there is a worse feeling in a world that calls, or pretends to call, for the implementation of international law and human rights.

Citizen journalist

Normally, the content I share on social media for We Are Not Numbers is essays, stories and poems written by our youth members, detailing the daily life of people living in the Strip. I also share developments related to the deteriorating social and economic situation in the Strip. It is not our mission to cover or break news, since we are not a media agency and cannot pay a staff of people willing to drop everything to do what it takes to get all the facts. But we have grown a very large following and our fans increasingly look to us to reflect the reality in Gaza during crises like Israeli attacks. In addition, as more journalists follow our accounts, I strongly believe it is our duty to help reporters share the news and expose the truth.

My nieces and nephew

Israeli media seize every opportunity to call attention to the efforts of the Palestinian resistance to defend our homes and deter further aggression, blaming us for doing what they themselves would do if our forces assassinated one of their political leaders. It is nearly always them who start the escalations, but that is never said in the international media. This makes it all the more important to make good use of our social media channels to counter their hasbara (propaganda). That’s why I see myself as a citizen journalist whose role is no less than a freedom fighter.

Children and elderly

Every time Gaza is attacked, we live through the same heartbreaking ordeal with family members. Mothers weep and pray for fewer deaths, injuries, destruction and horror. Fathers urge sons not to leave the house and stay safe at home. And children? The elderly? That’s another story!

Three children live in my house, my two nieces (Iman, 7, and Sarah, 3) and my nephew (Mohammed, 10.) Unfortunately, they are used to Israeli attacks; even at their young age, they have lived through many. When Mohammed and Iman were younger, we lied to them, saying the sounds they heard were fireworks. They would look from the window and tell us they didn’t see any fireworks. We told them, “oops, you must have just missed them!” But now, they are old enough to realize we were lying. They are also old enough to feel afraid, but to pretend they are not. For instance, their mom told me that Iman wanted to go to the bathroom and asked Mohammed to stay by the door because she’s afraid. But when asked about it, she said quickly, “Oh I’m not! I only wanted Mohammed to wait for his turn near the door because he needed to use the bathroom too.”

As for Mohammed, he likes the fact that Israeli attacks means no school, because that also means (this time) no midterm exams. But still, he also realizes that the attacks mean he could lose a classmate or even a family member. Yet every time he hears an airstrike, he laughs – an attempt to prove he’s strong, I think. Meanwhile, Sarah, the youngest, still cries when she hears a loud bomb. She’s lucky to have all of us around her all the time for a hug and we do our best to distract her. And we say, “oh, don’t be afraid; it’s faaaar away from here and we’ll be safe for sure.”

Me and my grandma

My grandma is with us this time as well; she came to visit two weeks ago because she was sick. Being with us made her feel better. But then she heard the bombing. She asked, “What’s going on?” I lied so she wouldn’t worry. I told her Israeli forces were just practicing with their new weapons to the north of the Strip. She then asked if anyone had been killed. I told her, “No, no, it's safe.” Lying got me in trouble though, because then she wanted to visit my uncle’s house. That’s when I had to tell her the truth. Her way of coping was to sleep, so she doesn’t hear anything.

Grandma is 93 years old, which means she has lived through a lot more horror than me, starting in 1948, during the nakba, or catastrophe, when she was forced to leave her land so Israel could be created. She witnessed and heard about almost every Israeli crime since then. People assume she no longer gets afraid because she is so used to it all, but the reality is that she is afraid because she knows how cruel Israeli forces can be.

Wanna hear a funny story about her? I used to ask her to tell me stories about the 1948 nakba, when she fled her home in Bait Daras. She was only 19 years old. She remembers hearing the “Jaws” were coming for them soon. She didn’t know who they were or why or when they were coming. She was so naïve she didn’t know what the word “Jaws” (“Yahoud” in Arabic) meant.

“I wondered what they were until some armed people with green uniforms suddenly raided our town, destroyed our houses, and killed many Palestinians in front of my eyes,” she tells us. “People around me yelled, ‘Here are the Jaws!’ At that moment I knew. Jaws are human beings, just like us!”

I laugh every time she tells me this story but it also pains me deeply that Israeli forces used their power to oppress such simple, peaceful, unarmed people and stole their land—just like they are still doing.

A heart of stone

This image managed to make it into my 'heart of stone'

One of the feelings that scares me the most during Israeli attacks is "nothingness." I think I’ve become so used to death, loss, horror and grief that seeing or hearing tragic photos and stories doesn’t affect me anymore. People die and suffer, and I can’t feel their pain anymore. I try to share feelings along with details in my social media content, but it’s difficult. I even find it odd and annoying when female friends tell me they are afraid or something caused them to cry.

I know I don’t have a heart of stone. Not too long ago, this life I am living sent me into a deep depression. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t dig myself out. Just like when you’re under an Israeli attack, you just can’t run away from it. I’ve learned to just wake up deal with it. I realize this day could be my last, and nothing will change that. But you know what? It’s ok to feel “heartless" because Israel and the international community have not given us the opportunity to live like human beings with normal feelings.

Live it with me

To all the good people around the world, fearing for our lives and lifting up our voices: I invite you to share this story and call for the implementation of international law. Demand that Israeli authorities be held responsible for their crimes against the Palestinians of Gaza, including me and all those mentioned in my story.

You may want to tell your friends, family members, community journalists and government officials that you lived this latest Israeli attack with me by reading my story, which I wrote in two hours and during which I heard at least nine bombings in my area. Two of them caused my house to shake as if an earthquake had struck. And I read, and shared, the news that four more Palestinians were killed and at least 10 injured.

Posted: November 13, 2019


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