It’s the fourth day of the lockdown imposed on Gaza due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has finally arrived. An annoying Israeli drone is hovering high in the sky, it’s bee-like zzzzz invading my brain. Israel’s ban on fuel imports has reduced our electricity to four hours a day, sometimes less—bringing back memories of war.
Twelve years ago, during Israel’s first war on Gaza, I was only 15 years old; I remember asking my mom a question that popped into my head after listening to the horrible news all day: Mama, how it would feel if you lost me? My mom sat silent for a moment, not knowing how to respond. I still remember her facial expressions very well and the how she gazed at me that moment. I insisted. Please, Mama, answer. I believe it will be hard only at the beginning. Day by day, you will forget I ever existed. Mom hugged me tightly and whispered into my ear, You and your brothers are the reason I fight in this life. I can’t live without you. Never mention something like this again. I replied, I was just teasing you, Mama! You know how much I love you. I promise I will not repeat it.
The first war ended, but I never forgot my mama’s answer.
The second and the third wars also started and ended with the same drone of news of death and mayhem, each iteration stored in my brain. I’m lucky to have survived through all three. Death and losing loved ones are usual to us, the Gazans. How pathetic is that? It is pathetic as well that we have grown accustomed to so few hours of electricity per day (four when Israel decides to ban fuel imports, but even now, we have none for eight hours a day). It is pathetic that to even consider applying for a scholarship to study overseas, we must decide whether to leave everything behind and start from scratch or stay here and keep fighting? If we leave, returning to visit family is nearly impossible because we’d likely not get out again.
Three wars are more than enough for a novel—the heroes, the villains, the suspense….just no real resolution or conclusion. Three wars have made me hate the radio, the source of bad news. Three wars have me made an introvert. Three wars have made me feel too powerless to accept new challenges. Three wars have made me a person who spreads negativity to others.
Today, I am 26 years old and a mother of 10-month-old twins. I am so exhausted that I struggle to wake up in the mornings. I have spent my life fighting obstacles, believing I will win in the end. But here is a confession: I have never won. I lost. I lost because I was born in and cannot leave a place that denies its residents the basic rights of human beings. I earned a master’s degree in business administration and had high hopes at one point of finding a decent job as a result. Instead, I could get nothing. I have always dreamed of learning about and experiencing other cultures by traveling but getting a visa and exiting Gaza “just’ to see something different seems impossible. (Yet people from other countries post about their travels all the time on Facebook.)
In some ways, the pandemic has actually not changed our lives that much here in Gaza. The occupation has always been a hidden virus: the same symptoms, the same consequences. But COVID-19 is spreading really fast, with more people testing positive every day. Should I worry about myself? About my mom, dad and husband? Actually, I don’t really care about myself, but I cry because I have kids who need me. I have kids who need my support and encouragement, milk and diapers at the beginning of each week. I have kids who are too young to learn so quickly what a hopeless place we live in—short on even basic medical supplies, much less ventilators (60 for 2 million people!)
Today I understand what my mom meant when I asked her that question. I am really sorry, Mom. I am not sure I am like you. I don’t know if I can keep fighting.