Thankful to be alive in Gaza: My family’s story of survival

on 15 Comments

My two-year-old nephew Omar had been confined to a small apartment with six other screaming children and their families since Israel began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip eight days ago.

Shortly after a ceasefire was announced on Wednesday, he and his parents returned to our family home in Bait Lahia. My mother, who I spoke to over the phone, said that the first thing that Omar did was rush up the stairs in search of his most prized possession: his bike.

Omar on his bike.

“I wish you were here to see his face when he found it,” she said. “It’s like he discovered one more reason to live. He wouldn’t stop riding it back and forth in the living room.”

I tried my hardest to hold back tears as she and other members of my family recounted the terror they faced as Israel, once again, targeted Gaza’s civilian population.

Omar, like other Palestinian children who’ve lived through war, suffers from trauma. Loud noises and the sound of airplanes flying overhead set him off.

The moment he starts crying, my mother reminds him to “pray for us”. He responds by raising his little hands toward the sky and begging “Ya Rab” – or “Help us God”. He then buries his face in my mother’s arms while waiting for his own mother to console him. She’s often busy trying to calm his 10-month-old sister.

“We had four new mothers in the house, and each of them slept next to her child,” my mother told me. “Your sister-in-law Amani covered her one-year-old boy with her own body to protect him from harm.”

Omar has just witnessed his first Israeli war and his family wishes this would be the last war they would ever have to see again, but even the most delusional among them knows this would be asking for too much.

Majid, my younger brother, was tasked with making grocery runs for the entire family. His apartment, which is usually home to six, served as a refuge for 25 people during Israel’s deadly siege. Half of those camping on his living room floor were children.

He confided to me that it wasn’t easy supervising that many kids at once. One of my nephews, who is in the first-grade, somehow managed to escape into the open street and was nearly hit by a speeding ambulance – not once, but twice.

Mazin, my oldest brother, quickly became restless. He packed a hookah and set up camp in his closed store – where he remained the duration of the siege. He’d periodically check on his three young adult sons to make sure that they weren’t putting themselves in harm’s way. But he admitted to me that “sometimes harm comes your way no matter what you do”.

As he spoke, I could tell that his mind was burdened with sadness over the massacre of the Al-Dalu family. Israeli missiles had targeted their home, killing 11 family members – including four women and four children.

Amaal, my aunt has seen a flare from a rocket fall near their home and she thought this would be the end of her and her family. And ever since that incident she has not been the same. Her family is contemplating seeking professional help as Amaal has trouble sleeping and experience severe nervous breakdowns. But as of right now, they have put their home up for sale. Sadly, their home was their ticket out of their refugee camp where they were born, but now they feel they are being pushed ever closer to the refugee camp for their own imagined safety.

During all of this, my niece Walaa began her new life as a married woman. Her in-laws had planned to throw a lavish wedding celebration, but were forced to cancel after Layalina, the reception hall they had booked, was destroyed in an Israeli strike.

Her mother-in-law explained, “You make my son’s life worth living, but a large gathering is unfeasible and just too risky right now.” Their neighborhood was grim with so many recent deaths that it wouldn’t have been much of a party anyway.

Walaa did not protest. She let go of all her childhood fantasies for a dream wedding and quietly moved in with her new husband. Ironically, she had requested that fireworks be shot into the sky on the night of her wedding.

Still, Walaa – like the rest of my family – is thankful to be alive. Other Palestinians were not so lucky.

About Hani Almadhoun

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15 Responses

  1. LanceThruster
    November 27, 2012, 4:14 pm

    When I think of the death and destruction Isreal regularly unleashes on the people of Gaza, I think of these lines from the movie “The Untouchables” as far as intent goes —

    Capone: I want you to get this fuck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!

    My heart is warmed by the simple joy young Omar experiences, despite all else he continues to confront, over finding his beloved trike unharmed.

    To Omar and his family, and friends and neighbors –

    Be well.

  2. Citizen
    November 27, 2012, 4:29 pm

    Obama is on public record as identifying his sleeping daughters with the little sleeping children of Israel under their blankets, afraid of Palestinian rockets. So what’s his mandate now after winning his second term of office? Seems, it’s the same as far as Israel is concerned. He’s not concerned about little Omar on his bike.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      November 27, 2012, 5:58 pm

      Yes, Obama exploiting his daughters to show his utter luv ‘n’ devotion for Isreal made me feel a bit ill. He might as well have come out and said ‘I couldn’t give a toss about Palestinian kids. There’s no votes or money in that kind of thing.’ At least that would have been honest. What a nasty individual Obamarama is.

    • chocopie
      November 27, 2012, 11:36 pm

      What’s so amazing about that statement of Obama’s is that he doesn’t seem to recognize his kids would be Palestinian. Their grandparents were Muslim and Christian, so if they were from that region, they would have all been tossed onto a truck and shipped to Gaza years ago, along with all the others from the wrong religions.

      It’s bitterly amusing that he identifies with the oppressor when they wouldn’t even want him or his kids.

      • Citizen
        November 28, 2012, 4:33 pm

        @ chocopie
        Considering his mother always championed the black and brown underdogs; indeed she made a career of it, and his father came from colonial Africa, and his 20 years sitting in a Chicago pew, listening to the black preacher we all know, it’s beyond belief he does not know the score on Palestine. Thing is, he owes his whole career to the likes of Chicago Establishment Jews like Penny Pritzker, and his chief handler is Axelrod.
        There’s no escaping the conclusion he ditched his Cairo speech thrust due to the advice he got from the mainly Jewish PEP honchos responsible for both his POTUS political campaigns, not merely his start in Congress. Now, although a lame duck POTUS, he still needs their support in his second term, AIPAC-JSt support to carry out his otherwise progressive place in history, which he cannot do without the Democratic-controlled Senate, which genuflects before AIPAC. In other words, he decided Palestinian children are expendable in order to (even more than?) fully reverse the historical impact of slavery on African American children no matter the cost to all others, in USA or overseas.

  3. mmayer
    November 27, 2012, 8:24 pm

    This is what is referred to as the threat, people praying to survive, yet another Israeli assault on a helpless civilian population? I know that if the shoe was on the other foot, just basic joy to be alive wouldn’t be demonstrated. Demand for reprisal, collective punishment, systematic destruction of infrastructure would be the call of the day. Oh, I forgot…they already call for this and do this.

  4. American
    November 27, 2012, 8:38 pm

    Sign this. From JVP. Asking BO to stop US aid for weapons used to attack Palestine.

  5. HemiFaulk
    November 28, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Looking at a kid on a bike or what I had which was a big wheel, I went thru three before Dad said you ride too hard Hemi, not the last time I heard that either,

    but seeing this kid he is just like a kid anywhere in the world, a human being that deserves a safe environment in which to grow without being molested by rockets, bombs, or soldiery.

    I understand that Israel must protect itself. They have stated over and over that they are careful and try to reduce or eliminate civilian casualties whenever possible, yet the record reads like Bleak House

    “containing one of the most vast, complex and engaging arrays of minor characters and sub-plots ” Kind of like Palestine but not exactly.

    I would also refer to the late Leon Uris and his 1984 work The Haj, good book, see Chapter Four just for kicks.

    Seems strange that thru journalism and fiction we ought to have life figured out by now, not that murder or racism would ever completely disappear, but the State Sponsored variety is a concern for us all. Surely the tide is about to turn, towards peaceful resolution, not the bloodbath that continues in Palestine.

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