In Gaza, we are not numbers
Gaza City, 17.5.2021*
In Gaza, we want to live. We want to enjoy our very basic rights. I am writing this piece as I listen to Israeli airstrikes in the background. I am terrified and try hard to not lose hope. We fear night-time the most.
Our life was not normal before the current Israeli aggression. Gaza has been under Israeli siege since June 2007, and under Israeli occupation since 1967. It is nearly impossible to exercise basic universal rights like travelling. My sister is living abroad, and we have not seen her for several years now. The aggression is a continuation of 73 years of Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe in 1948), the year when Israel was created and 750,000 of our families were forced to leave. We became refugees and internally displaced. We have been on the receiving ends of Israeli settler violence for far too long.
I am writing this article and I very much hope I will be alive to read it published. The sound of airstrike has not stopped in Gaza. This 365-square kilometer strip is home to some 2 million Palestinians. It is densely populated - we live very close to one another. We hear sounds from south, north, east, and west Gaza, and are not able to sleep. It is hard to express the trauma inflicted on us in this aggression. It is worse than anything we have ever experienced before. We are devastated to learn about new airstrikes and subsequent deaths every single day. We are shattered to see buildings holding loving memories destroyed to the ground. We are terrified to see thousands of people homeless. We cannot handle the trauma.
I want to emphasize that this is not an 8-day long aggression. This colonial violence has been inflicted on us for far too long and since the late 19th century with the Zionist movement attempted and later succeeded in colonizing Palestine. Today, this colonial violence continues. In Gaza, two-thirds of water supply has been wiped out. Most Palestinians get four hours of electricity every day. We have no health care and shortage of medical supplies because Israel blocks all shipments into the strip. Almost half of the two million people that live in the Gaza Strip are under the age of 14. If you are 13 here, you have been through four major wars so far: the 2008/2009, 2012, 2014 and now 2021. If you are 73, you have been through the Nakba of 1948 and many more aggressions in between.
I am writing this, and it is almost 9 PM in Gaza. The night of Gaza comes loaded with death and fear. We have been wishing that nights do not arrive. We wish it stays morning forever when there is a bit of light. At night, at times without electricity or internet connection, and with the loud blasts we hear constantly, things become even more unbearable.
I am scared of this night. The last three nights have been so hard. In the first night, we said this violence is unprecedented. It is the worst. On the second day, we said this is way more unprecedented. Last night, we were equally terrified. For me, Saturday night was the most tragic and brutal night on the Strip, thanks to the Israeli colonial forces that suddenly bombarded 3 residential buildings on the heads of their residents without warning, using tons of explosives. This massacre took place in al-Wehda Street, which is considered as one of the safest areas in the Strip. This neighborhood has previously been used by the Palestinians of Gaza (from east and north) as a less risky place when Israeli forces hit their homes or neighboring areas in previous aggressions. We all know today that there is no safe place in Gaza. The brutal Israeli attack took 43 lives.
Some people have stayed under the rubble of those destroyed homes for about 12 hours, during which they initially communicated with their families and informed them that they were still alive. I cannot imagine how they felt under the rubble in a dark and frightening space, alone with their feelings. They struggled with the smell of death, screams and tears.
A Palestinian kid, Ezz, was under the rubble with his family. When a member of the rescue team managed to reach them, Ezz said to him, “All my family were killed.” How did this child feel when he called his family and did not hear back? How did he feel, while injured, and under the rubble? How did he feel as he needed to embrace his mother who did not respond to his calls? How did he feel when he was paying farewell to his family alone before they were buried? How long will Ezz suffer from this psychological trauma? Will he ever heal? None of us can imagine his feeling.
We do not like the many farewell moments that we have seen frequently. A wounded father had to say goodbye to all his children at once in a wrenching scene. In another scene, a man had to pay farewell to his fiancé. They have been engaged for two years a half and were getting ready to have their wedding in three days. He was watching the rescue team for more than 13 hours as they got corpses, one after another, from beneath the rubble. He was praying that she was still alive. He had to say goodbye to her in a very painful scene. We all cried with him.
We saw a mother’s goodbye to her husband and children and all the memories they enjoyed together. These scenes continue to get more violent, and the Israeli strikes continue to be more barbaric. This city is filled with pain. We are tired. In the last few days, we have been paying farewell calls to one another because anyone may be the next target. The question today is how those who survive will live the rest of their lives normally? Will we survive? I really hope so.
We lost 200 people to Israeli colonial violence. We lost complete families. Do not think of us as numbers. Do not pass the numbers unnoticed, every person killed had a story, a dream, and a loving family that will live the rest of life missing them. They have dreams graduating, starting independent lives, traveling, and living in a space where justice is central. The colonial forces are stealing from the Palestinians of Gaza our loved ones and our loving memories.
Tonight feels like another brutal night. It is 09:52 PM now. All of us in Gaza will need lots of psychological support after these past three nights. Now, we are truly paralayzed. I am writing this while shaking. It has been hard to cry. I wish I can let these suffocating tears out. This does not make me strong. I am not resilient. We are not resilient. It is important the world understands this. It is important that we are not expected to be strong while missiles fall on our small city. Do not expect us to stay resilient when we see death in our own eyes. It has felt like death is surrounding us. It is so heavy on our souls.
The past three nights felt like nights of hell opened against us. We saw artillery shelling attacks coming from everywhere. We heard many airstrikes. We have to keep the window open because otherwise the heavy airstrikes would tear them apart. But we saw and smelled suffocating smokes because of Israeli airstrikes. We could hardly breathe. None of us could sleep until after four in the morning. We cannot not believe we survived those nights. We cannot believe it when we see the sun, a sign of another day in this life. As we woke up, we tried to reassure our loved ones and relatives we are safe. Or we are physically okay.
Deep in our hearts, we are burning for our country that is being obliterated while the Israeli colonial state enjoys full impunity. Our hearts are heavy. We no longer see features of our city. The Israeli colonial forces continue to distort all features of life, beauty and love here. We are tired and sick of it all. Our life will never be normal until there is justice and freedom in Palestine.
* the author is a research assistant on SuperCamp