“heavy bombing around our house right now
5 houses have been destroyed
it’s from artillery
the dust suffocated us”
This is the message Ahmed Balousha, a Palestinian living in Gaza, sent me on Facebook last Monday.
It was the eve of what was to become the most gruesome night in the war that has been raging in the Gaza Strip for 22 days. More than 100 people died when Israeli tanks, boats and aircraft targeted residential areas throughout the area, including Beit Lahia, Balousha’s home. The total death toll is approaching 2 000, with the number of injured nearing 10 000.
On Wednesday last week, Balousha and his family decided to leave Beit Lahia and move to the safer part of the Strip, near the centre.
“We are now just trying to stay alive”, Balousha told me on the phone. “Inshallah we will all survive this war.” Since an Israeli attack targeted Gaza’s main power plant, most people are without electricity. “We don’t know how to get information out any more because no one in Gaza has access to internet; the situation is getting worse.”
On Friday the Baloushas returned to their home. “There’s death everywhere in Gaza now”, he said. “I’d rather die in my room.”
This is what he wrote for us:
I have survived many battles, but I am too old now to remember what it feels like to see the aircraft through children’s eyes. My niece always waves at them and greets them in her own language that I do not understand. But it is the same language she uses when she greets me or plays with me in the back yard. I know she is afraid of the shells, but she doesn’t make the connection between them and the planes.
I haven’t tried to count the days of the invasion. Perhaps because I am too busy telling stories of what happens in the streets and outside of the buildings, stories of the people who disappear suddenly and without warning. I’ve started taking initiative in contacting and calling people: How are you? Okay? Yes, we are too.
I try to understand the pain that has hit the people, and how the children feel. I check what my friends post on their Facebook walls. Each of them has a different life and a different story to mine, but all of them are waiting for the death to end.
What could be worse than the end of dreams and laughter? What could be worse than the lost future of a martyr? The time he or she was looking forward to before disappearing forever.
One child was killed by a missile while on his way to buy Katayef, sweet dumplings filled with yoghurt or nuts. He was a pure child who told his mother that he preferred the Katayef with yoghurt, though his father always tried to convince him to broaden his tastes.
In the neighbourhood, a man was talking to his neighbour, telling him news from Khuza’a, an area in the south of the Gaza Strip. A missile interrupted their conversation.
Another man in the street died from a heart attack from the shock.
One boy had a mother who always begged him not to go out into the street, but when she took a nap, he went out to join his friends. They were killed. When his mother woke up she begged him again, this time to intercede for her on the day of resurrection.
What if I were a child now? How do these children feel?
Huda discovered her father’s secret. He was always a hero in her eyes, a father who could hold the clouds in his hand and beat the strongest wrestlers, and fly if he needed to. Huda was surprised when she saw her father moving everything to a corner of the house, carrying his children like a dove protecting its nest, opening the windows and sitting in the corner. At that moment she realised her dad couldn’t be a hero any more.
On the street a man was crying, moaning, shouting: “My wife died twice! Twice!”
She had died few years ago and that day she died again when a missile hit his house and tore apart the only image of her, hanging on his wall.
A father closed his eyes, trying to hold back his tears, and wished that he had responded to his daughter when she asked for something in the middle of the night. She left him with nothing but a last hug.
We can no longer wait for an aircraft to kill our loved ones and then apologise to them for an old quarrel. We cannot wait for the war to end so that we can tell our brothers the most beautiful stories that happened in our lives. We cannot hesitate to kiss our mothers, to thank our fathers, to be reluctant to show love and respect to our neighbours, and not to regret the martyrs.
War teaches us to know one another so well.
After each missile the broadcaster mentions the name of a family and everyone goes to check on them. We all know one another. We are all friends. That’s what war has reminded us of.
We are all friends in battle.
Pic Credit: Mohamed Jabaly