Today, August 5, 2022 — like every day — I woke up thinking that things would be normal. But, how could I kid myself? Each day in Gaza is far from what one could accept as “normal.” And also, in the past few days, there has been a charged sensation in the air as tension grew at the borders, leaving everyone to wonder what was about to happen.
This evening, I was sitting in the living room trying to plan my summer holiday, only to have it decided for me. Instead of applying for jobs, taking courses, volunteering, or making memories with people I love, I am about to embark upon another summer of trying to put the pieces of our lives back together again.
The turning point is when I receive a voice note from my friend and immediately played it.
“TURN ON THE T.V. WATCH THE NEWS.”
His voice was in the tune of fear that only a Gazan could understand — we are no strangers to unimaginable horror. I do as he commanded, to find that Israeli occupation forces had targeted two residential apartments in the middle of Gaza City. With this came the declaration of a new war against the living to add to Israel’s 15-year tally.
They even had a name for it locked and loaded: Breaking Dawn. What the hell?! It’s hardly been a year since their last military offensive, and they couldn’t help but rip off The Twilight Saga while they’re at it?
Now, while one should never get used to apartheid aggression, we in Gaza are familiar with the violence being sent our way. But even we weren’t prepared for such wide-scale harm at such a rapid rate — but how does a person begin to fathom preparing for this? It used to be a two-year gap between attacks, but they’ve picked up the pace. Our homes being bombed has become an annual occasion for the occupying forces. So, this is the reality: in Gaza, we brace for the latest round of trauma we’ll be saddled with, while knowing that the next round will come sooner than the last.
Today, I’m 21 and have spent my entire life in Gaza. I have lived through four different wars — this will be my fifth — and too many heavily armed escalations to count.
“Do you love war?”
“Do you love war?” Ask this of any reasonable human being, and they’ll likely say no. But, my modest life experience has made me question whether our adversaries do. The 2021 war alone resulted in more than 250 Gazan deaths, over a third of them minors. But you likely wouldn’t know that, as most mainstream media outlets have framed our deaths as happening in “Israel and surrounding territories,” making it sound like those levying the attacks are actually the ones under siege.
In reality, Gaza is the only land that faces real hardship. Each day —before this new aggression— I would walk past the rubble wondering if it happened in last year’s attacks, or had already been there. We have not recovered, nor do we even get a chance to. And that’s just the physical damage we can see with the naked eye. I can’t even begin to illustrate the mental and emotional toll.
As if last year’s bombing never stopped
Night falls upon us, and Israeli jets take over the skies above Gaza, the sound of them soaring through the air and blending into the backdrop of bombs, rushing ambulances, cars screeching, and the shouts of news crews scrambling to survive and report at the same time. It is a chaotic, depressing melody of destruction, but a familiar one. For many of us still recovering from last year, it’s as if those bombings never stopped.
Seconds feel like hours, and I am still confined to that same living room with my family as the world booms around us. Many families spread around between buildings as best they can so that the whole isn’t erased in one shelling. Yet, the unspoken pact for my family is to stick together in the same room so that if we are bombed next, we can die together.
We watch the TV with increased trepidation as each raid lights up the pitch-black sky just outside our window. Being fully transparent, I write these words not knowing if I will live long enough to see them published, let alone finish writing my thoughts. With each explosion, my hands tremble, my fingertips go numb, and I can’t keep my leg from shaking. To calm myself, I turn to proverbs. A popular one: you won’t hear the rocket that kills you. So, if you can hear it, then you are not the one being bombed.
Later in the night, there is a moment when the shelling stops, so I go to stand at the edge of our balcony to feel the breeze. It’s odd to relish in something as simple and calming as a cool breeze, with all that panic that surrounds us. In the distance, a wedding party defies all odds by blasting music as loudly as possible, my people trying to feel some joy before it is too late.
As I peer out over the city, for a second, I feel like I am in the Titanic movie as the waves of crisp night air meet me. However, it isn’t long before my ship sinks, as the moment is interrupted by a bright light from the Israeli Iron Dome. Not long after, an explosion echoes and my dad yells as me to get back inside.
Ready for death
I bury my face into my phone, attending to each notification that flashes across the screen. My friends and I all live in different parts of the Gaza Strip, so we do our best to check in on each other through a group chat. After exchanging a few messages, I wish I could say I am surprised to find that none of my friends fear death — in fact, they seem ready for it. I guess this is what it means to be dead inside, to feel like you have nothing left to live for, since our deaths seem to mean nothing.
My plan for the rest of this night and the coming days is to pray. As occupation forces thrust us into another war, I join every Gazan in hoping that the bombing subsides sooner rather than later. But I can’t stop thinking of what we do if, God forbid, our house is targeted. Will we know before it’s too late? Will we evacuate, or am I sitting where I will die? And if we are to survive, where do we go? The questions flow through me, one after the other. All the while, I can’t help but pray we’ll never need the answers.
August 5, 2022