The smell of incense escapes from the golden censer in a tiny, zigzag line of smoke. I like the smell. The peace of mind, the compliments that I receive when I cook a tasty dish, and the smell of the incense are indispensable rituals of Fridays.
There is an additional event that could make the 5th of August a very exceptional Friday. It is the day of my cousin’s wedding!
“Mama, which dress is more attractive? The off-white or the black one?” I eagerly ask. “The black,” she replies.
While I hang up the black dress in a way that is adjacent to the off-white one, a small hand pats me on the back. I slowly turn and look down. It is my five-year-old niece Malak, a child with shiny eyes, red cheeks, and charming dimples. My brother named his daughter after me because I am the only sister in the family. We share not only our name but also the way we talk and smile, and our shyness.
“Amto Malak, Auntie, I want to accompany you, please?” I bend down and look into her bright eyes; I cannot say no when I look into them. “Of course, darling,” I respond. “Let mama dress you first.”
I ask her to slow down as we walk down the stairs. I cannot stand seeing her injured or hurt.
A sudden flame reflects through the glass of the window, directly followed by a piercing bombardment. It is not a smoky zigzag; it is massive black cloud mixed with a red flame. It does not produce incense; it produces suffocating dust with hideous shrapnel and the smell of explosives.
I am 20 years old, a young Gazan woman who has experienced five Israeli wars. All I can do is close my eyes and take deep, even breaths. With my eyes closed, I see my younger self terrified. I am a panic-stricken six-year-old child asking my mom, “When will the Cast Lead* end?” My mom quietly replies, “We will be okay.”
I hear screams, so I open my eyes. It is my niece, Malak, who is madly screaming. She runs to me and falls into my lap; she hugs me so tight. I can feel her rapid heartbeat and shivering body. She is seeking comfort from me, a refuge.
My quiet and neutral countenance reassures her. Little does she know that behind this quiet countenance is a raging struggle. Little does she know that I am screaming and crying inside, exactly like her. Little does she know that I am in Operation Cast Lead, seeking the reassuring countenance of my mom to give me comfort.
I stroke Malak’s head and say, “We will be okay.” She nods repeatedly.
Fifteen minutes later, little Malak falls asleep in my lap, her small grip clutching my blouse. I look closely at her face. Dimples are gone. Her red cheeks have turned thin and shabby yellow. Little Malak submits to sleep, and I submit to my thoughts.
I realize that the ultimate torture that someone can experience is to appear fine while struggling inside. This is the situation of Gazan adults in every Israeli aggression.
I realize that the thought of having an exceptional Friday because of a wedding is a miscalculation. In Gaza, Israeli assaults and aggressive escalations may occur at any time. Massacres and genocide can be committed whenever an Israeli election is about to take place. Friday’s rituals can be spoiled because of any unexpected escalation.
Eventually, every Gazan is fatefully exposed whether the dress they choose to wear is white or black. One is the black uniform of a mourner and the other is the white coffin that encases the martyr.
*Operation Cast Lead is the name that Israel gave to its 2008 war on Gaza.
August 5, 2022