Rasha N. AbuShaaban*
Gaza, Novemebrr 15, 2018 (Alochonaa): Whilst sitting in a café, downtown of Gaza, I was taking my first sip of coffee. I am usually not a coffee lover but this afternoon I decided to try something different. Shortly afterwards, I hear a loud bang.
A series of bomb explosions had started, my hands began shaking and I stopped sipping the coffee, rushing outside with my friends to find a taxi home. For a moment, I thought things were back to normal following the news from the night before, where seven Palestinians, including a local militant commander, had been killed during a covert Israeli operation in Gaza.
This was an unusual item of news to hear given that an Israeli unit was travelling in a civilian vehicle inside Gaza, which they had used to assassinate these Palestinians. This was surprising as we have not seen any Israelis inside Gaza since they last pulled out in 2005, or at least not in such an exposed manner.
Nevertheless, this was not a passing incident as we might have thought. Hamas responded to the incursion later by launching approximately 400 rockets at different locations into southern Israel. Consequently, that night was the bloodiest 24hrs since the last offence on Gaza in 2014.
The Gaza Strip has witnessed an intense military escalation where Israeli forces have enforced the use of various warplanes and heavy artillery targeting residential buildings, kindergartens and media agencies. I cannot help but think about all these people who in horror, were notified a few minutes before they had managed to evacuate with a drone missile hitting their homes as an initial warning. This was followed by an Israeli F-16 warplane airstrike that destroyed the whole house, leaving families with nothing more than the items they were able to carry, if anything at all. It breaks my hearts to witness what is happening around me.
It breaks my heart knowing that it could easily be me. Who knows? Perhaps next time, I will be the one to lose my home, my belongings and my memories as has happened to countless other families.
I returned home from the café that evening contemplating whether this was a normal day for us Gazans, in hopes that the situation doesn’t deteriorate more than it already has. I looked around me and watched as I saw people rushing like crazy trying to get to their homes. Perhaps, they are rushing home thinking that it would be safer, but I wonder.
I wonder if there is a such a place that we can call safe in Gaza? The Gaza Strip has a tiny area of 360 km2, yet still manages to accommodate two million people, all squeezed in, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. This area is controlled by Israel who have full control over the water, land and even air supply that us citizens see. Yet, I, an ordinary Gazan girl, have no control over my simple daily activities, like drinking coffee in peace with friends. During the night, for a split second, I still couldn’t comprehend whether I was having a really terrible nightmare or whether I was facing a reality, once again, that ordinary Gazans should be accustomed to by now.
I have lived in Gaza my entire life, I have heard thousands of bomb explosions, I have seen missiles dropped from the sky and I have seen dark nights turn into daytime from the lightning of the flames and airstrikes.
Despite this, with every new bombing, my body is left shaken and my heart racing. That evening my youngest sister came to our house with her little child leaving her home which is located in an area considered unsafe towards the middle of the Gaza Strip. I held my three-year-old nephew as he screamed at the sound of each bombardment. I looked at him and wondered ‘is this the first war you will witness, if it even is a war, or is it a one-night stand?’ But even I do not have the answer.
We as Gazans do not know when this horror will be over with. My sister tried to comfort him by telling him that these are fireworks, but should we keep telling him these lies? Or should we tell him that this is probably what he is going to witness over and over again during the course of his life if he stays in Gaza. He will get older and know that those were not fireworks and that this is no fun at all.
He will get older and probably hate fireworks, in exactly the same way that I do. Fireworks are celebratory and festive in most of the cities around the world, but I cannot help but see them as some ugly lightning that remind me of the fear I felt during airstrikes and missiles. With all of this happening, I keep thinking of the people living near the border, some of whom I had worked with during an emergency project after the 2014 offence.
I wonder what happened to Safa, that strong lady who lost her leg and had severely injured both arms. Last I heard she underwent many surgeries and treatments to become more capable of taking care of her children and herself again. I remember she once told me “I should always be strong for myself, my children, my family, and for Palestine”. It took her three years of surgeries and physiotherapy to be able to gain independence and hold things with her hands again.
I remember when I visited her a year ago, she proudly showed me the notebook she decorated for her five-year-old daughter. For her, holding a pair of scissors and cutting a piece of paper was an incredible achievement that she had worked very hard for many years to achieve. What if Safa is affected again by this escalation? Would she still have that faith of staying strong for Palestine? How does she hold onto that faith despite Palestine not giving her back anything except for misery and suffering? I still wonder. What about Ibrahim that young man who became handicapped in a wheelchair after he was wounded in the 2014 war. Ibrahim started up his small project of opening a kiosk selling sweets on the beach.
What if his kiosk was destroyed? That would mean the loss of years’ worth of savings for launching his project. Do you know understand what it means to be a young person in Gaza? It means that you live most of your life from one war to another, living under political and economic instability. It is a dream to find a job or establish a family here, whilst in other countries these are basic rights. In Gaza, 54 % of the labour force is unemployed, of which 70% are youth. According to the World Bank, Gaza’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in world. I thought of them and so many other people whom I prayed God that they will be safe. On 13 November, Tuesday night, we heard the news that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have accepted an Egyptian-mediated agreement to halt two days of intense fighting with Israel which was sparked by botched Israeli special forces raid miles inside Gaza. Some Palestinians started to celebrate the victory of making Israel acquiescing to the ceasefire while rejoicing the military operations of killing few Israeli soldiers. Gaza on return is left with many lost souls and properties. Palestinian resistance fires rockets that happened to get to where they are targeted sometimes, but the Israeli Warcraft fire back F-16 missiles that usually never miss the target.
However, should not we step back a little and think about how terrifying it is to face relentless bombing because Israel has decided to start another war? I know it has brought us some hope to see our Palestinians resistance to be reckoned with by Israel. Still, that circle of escalation, tension, then ceasefire, then again escalation, ceasefire, seems endless over the years. Eventually, we woke up washing our faces and heads as if we are trying to erase the bad memories stuck on our minds from the last two days. We get back to our daily activities despite our weary bodies and souls because we should keep going and because we have no other option but stay resilient. Gaza is a city that never sleeps. The hovering of Israeli drones simply never stops even when the situation is relatively calm. Gaza is a city that never sleeps because of the bombings and lights, and no I’m not referring to the lights of skyscrapers like those in the city of New York, but because of the lights caused by Israeli missiles that are dropped from time to another. When there is no military escalation, we are still left with hundreds of unpredictable scenarios, thousands of uncertain worries about the future, and concerns of the uncertainty of the present.
All this keeps us awake, alert, worried, and frustrated at all times. “I wanna wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep…And find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap” as Frank Sinatra says in his song New York, New York.
*Rasha N. AbuShaaban writes from Gaza in the Occupied Palestinian Territories . She holds Masters Degrees from University of Birmingham and the University of Aberdeen, UK. She has been working for many years with the civil society sector and in the management of humanitarian and developmental projects in Palestine. She believes that empowerment and ensuring rights for the Palestinian children , youth and women are key for building a civilized and peaceful Palestinian society.
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