Gaza, the stories that come after

Israel/Palestine
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palestinians inspect destroyed office
Palestinians inspect the destroyed office building of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in Gaza City on November 17, 2012 (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Tears pooled in her eyes as she began to talk. Maysa, one of my closest friends at college, happens to live a few meters away from the Prime Minister’s Office in the Gaza Strip (5-10 meters away). The building was flattened on the fourth day of the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. Gathered around her in one of the university’s rooms, two of my classmates and I listened to Maysa as she, albeit quite reluctantly, narrated what happened on Saturday, the 17th of November.

She said it was dawn, around 5 o’clock in the morning. Maysa’s father and two younger brothers were praying in the mosque across the road from their house. Maysa and her mother were alone at home. She had just finished her wudu/ablution when an Israeli F16 targeted the ministers’ building, knocking her against the floor. Lying next to her was her mother, who also fell on the ground once the place got bombed.

“Then we heard the second airstrike. My mother and I were still on the ground. The third airstrike… the fourth… I had no doubt we were going to die. We both closed our eyes. We started to cry. We hugged each other so tight. Then came the fifth airstrike. It was the last one. They made sure the Prime Minister’s Office was leveled to the ground. Pieces of glass and bricks were still falling on my back, scratching my shirt and slightly cutting into my skin. They didn’t hurt, though. I was numb. Mum tried to cover me. She hugged me again. She hugged me so tight.”

As she went on, I was trying to concentrate on Maysa’s story and take notes as much as I could. Tears started running down her cheeks. The three of us felt like crying. Gaza is so small all people here share the same pain, although probably in different degrees. Maysa was courageous enough to speak of the unspeakable. She was courageous enough to speak of fear, of horror and death.

Throughout history, the typical Zionist occupier has viewed Palestinians as some sort of sub-humans averse to life and yearning for death. Colonizers have tried their best to make the colonized look bizarre, to portray our steadfastness as fearlessness and indifference to imminent danger. They have twisted the concept of martyrdom, depicting it as something we aspire to for no specific reason, not as resistance against their killing machine, not as something we have to live with that they brutally cause.

I was jotting down her words again. As Maysa sipped some water and sighed, my other friend asked her whether they considered leaving their house earlier, since this Prime Minister’s building adjacent to theirs was obviously one of Israel’s targets. As painful as it is, Maysa’s answer was not shocking at all, “Where do they expect us to go? The only place we could go to is my grandparents’ in Rafah, but it wasn’t any safer. They bombed it on the very same day. In my neighborhood, 2 people were injured. In Rafah, 4 people were killed on the same day. 4 people.”      Of course, there was no Hamas headquarter in Rafah. Israel still bombed several places there, including civilian areas and a man on a motorcycle.

It has been over than three weeks now since the ceasefire was announced in Egypt. Maysa still flinches when doors bang aloud, thinking they’re some Israeli bombs falling over her head. She still sleeps in the living room because the furniture in her room is entirely gone. A wall in her parents’ room has been damaged, leaving the room partially exposed to the street. Maysa’s father had this house built only 2 years ago. He has not yet finished paying off the cost of building it, which makes the damage caused by Israel only more dreadful.

Maysa is just one story. And despite the terror she lived for a couple of minutes and continues to live until now, she deems herself relatively ‘privileged’. She is still alive, unlike the 172 people (mostly civilians) Israel killed in 8 days; her house still has a foundation, unlike tens of other houses which were reduced to rubble.

I have seen the Israeli terror. I have seen it in the faces of the elderly mourning the loss of their grandchildren. I have seen it in the smiles of Palestinian kids as they went back to their schools passing by damaged roads, even more determined to learn. I have seen it in the tears of men, sitting on what is left of their houses and concealing their fear of the unknown. I have seen it in the curses of the wounded and the maimed. I have seen it in my traumatized friend, in her tearful eyes and trembling hands.

Resuming life after such frequent attacks is never an easy task. Coming back to school right after the offensive was sheer torture, at least for me. The pale faces. The stories friends tell. The faint smiles and the exhausted beings. It is through the resiliently renewed attempts to live, nonetheless, that I realize how strong my people are. It is through Maysa’s coming back to school, talking literature and simultaneously dreaming of a free Palestine that I believe in our just cause more fiercely than ever.

Minutes after she told us about her experience, my friend Maysa was eager to discuss Percy Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, a poem we’re studying this semester. As she began reciting the poem to me, she couldn’t but refer to the light rain nowadays in Gaza, hoping it will wash away the pain Israel continues to inflict on us and praying that it will help those who have lost beloved ones, to survive, resist, and rise all over again.

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