Ask us Palestinians about our love: It’s like the relationship between an olive tree and the soil. We, like the olive tree, are steadfast on the land of Palestine. But this is only a hint of our love, since it is boundless and comprised of countless stories. I'll tell you some of them.
I’m a Palestinian refugee living in the Gaza Strip. Because I’ve never seen my home village of Breer – my grandparents fled in 1948 during the Nakba – my stories are about life in Gaza.
I always say to myself that I’m strong enough to face the unfair and violent Israeli occupation because I believe in my legal right to this land. We Palestinians struggle with all our power to protect the land and our brothers, sisters, parents, children, spouses, homes, and souls from the occupation. It doesn’t have the right to control our ambition and prevent us from flying – and it won’t, because it’s Palestine and we will survive.
From the earliest stages of my life, the Israeli military seemed to me like a monster. Before 2005, about 8,000 Israeli settlers lived in Gaza, fortified by hundreds of Israeli soldiers. I couldn’t go out and play peacefully, nor could I sleep well, because I was afraid of the soldiers. I saw them break into homes with their big dogs, searching for youths who had thrown stones. One day they forced their way into my grandfather’s house, searching for my youngest uncle because he had been seen throwing a stone at their huge jeeps. My grandmother opened the door and a soldier pushed her down, causing her to hit her head. Her nose bled, but the soldiers would only allow my father to take her to a local clinic, not the hospital.
When houses were searched, the entire neighborhood was placed under siege. They shouted through their megaphones, “No one leave their home! Everyone stay in place!” Even those who were praying at mosques weren’t allowed to return home without permission. If the military saw anyone in the streets, they would either arrest them or shoot, mostly in the legs. And if someone tried to escape, they’d be shot in the head. Fortunately, they did not find my uncle, who today lives in the West Bank.
My uncle’s murder
However, my other uncle, Sayed was not so fortunate. When I was growing up, my aunt and cousins lived without him in a home near mine, since he had been murdered.
I remember that day like it was yesterday, even though I was just 5 years old. My uncle had gone to a local hospital to have a glandular problem checked out. I was in the kitchen with my mother when a neighbor called from the window to her, “Sayed has died in the hospital!” We were shocked; my uncle less than 40 years old and had three children under the age of four.
After a long investigation, the Gaza authorities discovered the doctor had murdered my uncle, stole his organs and escaped to Israel. We don’t know more than that because the authorities were unable to detain the doctor, since Israel protected him. (There have been numerous charges of Israelis harvesting organs from Palestinians who die in their charge, but this was a first for Gaza.)
To this day, my aunt still tells her children stories about their father. But Sayed’s youngest daughter is married with two daughters and has no memory of him. His son, recently married and still unemployed, cannot remember his father’s hugs. His oldest daughter hardly recalls how he smiled at her antics. Now 31, she is married with two sons and two daughters. Life goes on.
Martyrs and angels
I teach English, and for an exercise on verb tenses I asked my students to write about something that happened in the past. One, Ihab Farid Abu Mehsen, wrote about the martyrdom of his cousins:
“I was in my second year of university during the 2014 war. We called one of the worst days Black Rafah, when Israel bombed our city incessantly and killed many people. I woke to the cries of my family, because two of my cousins – Saher and Shareef – had been killed when their car was shelled. After two days, we found their dead bodies and Saher’s mother almost fainted. She had been preparing for his wedding. My cousin Shareef left a very young son and daughter. His wife could not comprehend his death; when the funeral passed in front of the house, she ran to his body, wanting to touch him and see him for the last time. It was a very difficult period; sadness and darkness overcame us.”
Yet Ihab’s story did not end there. Life indeed continues, and we deserve happiness. On the day of Saher’s and Shareef’s death, new angels came into the world to comfort us: Saher’s sister-in-law gave birth to twin boys, and they named them Saher and Shareef. These boys bring the family much happiness, hope, patience and strength. Nothing can affect this love. We are Palestinians and Palestine will survive.
Love from the diaspora
It is not only the people inside Palestine who love it; those who live outside don’t stop thinking about their homeland and their relatives.
Nada Abu Ibaid is a Palestinian girl who came from the UAE to study at a university in Gaza. While her immediate family is in the UAE, her extended family is in Gaza. Nada was in the UAE when Israel attacked Gaza on July 20, 2014.
Nada and her family saw the news on television. “It was during Ramadan and the newscaster announced that Israel was bombing Gaza. My mother was so afraid she sent a message to my cousin to make sure he was okay. My cousin told her, ‘Don’t be afraid, the rockets are far from us.’
“Then at 6 p.m. in Gaza (8 pm in the UAE), my sister heard that an apartment building had been bombed, and the people killed inside were Hani Mohammed Al Hallaq, his wife, his son and his mother-in-law: my cousins. We were devastated. My sister called to verify the news. Could this be real? Is it our cousins? The answer was yes.”
Despite this tragedy, Nada says she loves Palestine and hopes to live there one day.
As for me, after I grew up, I realized the fault for all this suffering is ultimately Israel’s. The Israeli authorities and soldiers also should suffer sleepless nights, loss and exile. Even if they offer money or another piece of land, we will not accept. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our true love: our land. We will breathe freedom. Yes, Palestine will survive.