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From Palestine Corespondent Falastine M El-Ghezawi…
Time is merciless, moving forward no matter what the cost. But time is also about renewal and hope. Two years ago at this time, the people of Gaza began to slowly dig themselves out of the destruction laid upon them at the cold and pernicious hands of the Israelis. It’s hard to believe two years has passed. When I close my eyes and think back, it seems like only yesterday.
There was no warning of the war on Gaza before it happened. Things were calm and everything was going normally; at least normal for Gaza. There was a lack of the usual – medicine, milk, diapers, even electricity – but we have long suffered to simply acquire our daily needs. I certainly didn’t expect anything horrifying.
Three nights before the attacks began, I had a dream. I saw a fearful butcher with a sword in Gaza central market, his clothes covered with blood, bones and flesh. I wanted to pass through and was terrified. He pointed, blood dripping from his outstretched finger, and told me to leave the market through the opposite gate. And so I did.
When I told my mother about the dream, she explained the butcher was the angel of death and the sword and blood symbolized the massacre that was yet to come. Him asking me to leave meant I was going to pass through the horror of the Israelis ungodly attacks on Gaza alive.
In the midst of my law degree, we were sitting through a university lecture when my friends and I heard the bombing. One of my friends joked that we better escape fast before the Israelis placed a case against us. We all laughed, but left quickly. We tried to call our relatives to check on them. It was hopeless, as they had already paralyzed our communication network. All phones and computers were rendered useless immediately.
The school day was just ending and the streets were full of terrified children. The bombing intensified and soon it was chaos. I could think of nothing but my four children. I tried to calm down a little girl who was screaming in fear, but she didn’t hear me, her hands over her ears. Ambulances and police cars were everywhere, medics didn’t know where to go or who to help; dead bodies and wounded were suddenly all around me; blood soaked the streets.
Surrounded by explosions, fires and chaos, I didn’t know how to reach my home. I wondered if I would find my four children, my brothers and relatives safe. I also wondered if I were killed, how my children would manage. The smell of death was everywhere and I could think of nothing else. Amidst the chaos I eventually found a driver who would stop to pick me up. I prayed along the way for my family’s safety. It was the longest ride of my life. I thanked God when I found them alive.
I never thought the attack was going to continue beyond a raid. Raids, you see, are commonplace as bursts of gunfire and bombings to remind us we are indeed all prisoners in Palestine under the oppressive boot of Israel is simply a part of life here. I wondered what Israel hoped to achieve from this attack beyond the inhuman suffering already caused by their illegal blockade that had left Palestine almost dying. “We will put Palestinians on a diet,” Israel said. I asked myself, “Will the Israelis take pride in a victory over an imprisoned, exhausted, and malnourished populace living in near squalor?”
The people of Palestine were without any supplies whatsoever, and we couldn’t provide anything except our local vegetables. And even that couldn’t last for long. Our family managed ourselves with peas during the war. We stood in long lines just to get some bread, but food wasn’t the biggest concern, when compared to thousands of homes riddled with bullets. Within only hours many lay in ruin. We had nothing to inform us of what was going on except radios. Even at the best of times we had problems with electricity, but now we didn’t even have fuel for our generators.
Days passed heavily, planes and heavy guns never stopped, ambulances worked day and night in areas they could reach. It all drove me mad. I didn’t allow my children to leave home, because I was afraid of them being hurt, but also I didn’t want them to see parents crying for their dead children.
We have lived under Israel’s occupation for a long time. With the first and second Intifada, we thought we’d seen the worst. I didn’t forget the blockade of Palestinian refugees camps in Lebanon that still exist today either. No matter what has happened however, the Israelis always end up proving they still have even worse in store for us.
The New Year’s Eve sky looked like burning bombs. I wondered if there was anyone even thinking about Gaza in the outside world. Do we live alone with Israelis on this planet? Why has no one moved to stop her savage aggression? My heart grew weary.
People were calling for clothes and food on the radio round the clock. I thought the least I could do was share some clothes, blankets, pillows and pots. In the end, I shared everything I could. I watched people doing all they could to help others and still the onslaught continued. Schools, pharmacies, UN and Amnesty International buildings, even hospitals were attacked. The situation at hospitals couldn’t have been worse. Simply closing their wounds as quickly as possible, most of the wounded then left the hospital immediately to call for blood donations. There weren’t even blankets to cover the dead bodies of hundreds of children, women and men and no graves in which to bury them.
Many of us were forced to both cook with and drink unhealthy water. Candles soon ran out and we had nothing to light a cold winter night’s darkness. Within hours there was no room in the hospitals. Over the radio we heard again and again how Arabic and international efforts were being made to stop the Israelis latest crimes against us, but we knew Israel would never respond except to its own racist tendencies. Their extreme desire for the killing, humiliation and destruction of all things Palestinian knows no end. This much I know to be true. This much I have lived everyday of my life.
In the last days of the attack, my family’s neighborhood was bombed while I was on the phone with my mother. I heard a missile hit the next building. My mother hung up the phone and with some of their neighbors quickly went to my uncle’s home, making it out on time. Just two days before the war ended, my children insisted on going outside. I accepted as things had calmed a little, but suddenly changed my mind. No long after, Israeli bombers dropped two missiles killing two neighborhood children playing just where my kids would have been had I let them go. I was grateful for a while, but this feeling turned soon to pain and guilt. Two mothers lost their children and I cried for them, as well as the many other mothers out there who suffered the same fate.
After the Israelis withdrawal from our beloved city, we found ourselves living in a wasteland. Many neighborhoods and roads that were once there, were now simply gone, wiped off the map. As an added insult, many of our oldest olive trees were pulled out of the ground. In the end, Gaza became one large homeless shelter. People stayed in camps, having not so much as a pot to cook in, children lost their books, toys and clothes; so much was lost. The next day however, I witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. With the Israelis gone, markets opened in the rubble to offer people with what little supplies they had. People were shaking hands, helping each other however they could, there were smiles and tears, there were stories of bravery and tales of woe. I knew at that moment that we were still alive, that Palestine lived on and that she would never be defeated. We didn’t win the battle against the Israelis and in the end, how could we? But we didn’t bow either. Try as might they couldn’t make us kneel.
I walked home from the market that day filled with pride and I knew deep in my heart that Palestine would never give up the fight.
Looking back now, I saw two opposites unfold throughout the war – destruction and survival. It reminded me of our great poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who indeed was the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging. I can think of no better words to end this piece than his.
I BELONG THERE
I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a
single word: Home.