Gaza City resident Amal Sarsour: ‘There is no place to go, death is around us all the time’

Israel/Palestine
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A Palestinian man stands amid debris following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 11. (Photo: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

A Palestinian man stands amid debris following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 11. (Photo: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

There is no where for Amal Sarsour to go–not when Israeli bombs, missiles, and artillery fire are blanketing Gaza. The 38-year-old Gaza City resident is cooped up in her home with her brothers and their families, who left their homes after the Israeli air force targeted their neighborhood. She doesn’t step outside.

“It’s not safe at all,” Sarsour, an academic and lecturer at Al Quds and Al Azhar universities in Gaza, tells me. “We can’t get out of our house…We are targeted by bombing, missiles around us.” In a follow-up e-mail, she wrote: “There is no place to go, we feel that death [is] around us all the time.”

I spoke with Sarsour late Friday evening (Gaza time) over the phone after being connected with her through a mutual contact. Before our conversation began, she warned me the electricity could go off and cut our talk short. It didn’t happen.

Amal Sarsour. (Photo courtesy of Amal Sarsour)

Amal Sarsour. (Photo courtesy of Amal Sarsour)

But as the Israeli military’s ground invasion began on July 17th, there were widespread reports that massive electricity outages occurred. The New York Times’ Anne Barnard reported that “Israel cut off the electricity it supplies to the strip, which is almost all the electricity that comes to Gaza, local and international officials said.” With no electricity, it’s hard to keep up with the news of the assault, let alone stay in contact with people elsewhere in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” is the third assault in five years Sarsour has lived through. The entry of ground troops has lead to fears that this war could be just as bloody as Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead.”

“I’m sorry to say that now the situation is horrible in Gaza because, can you imagine, suddenly your life changes totally from peace,” said Sarsour. “Israel doesn’t differentiate between people–not like what they said, that they are only targeting Hamas. No, they are targeting the civilization, civilians, our children. The situation here is very horrible.”

At least 342 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed by Israel’s assault, with the toll mounting by the hour. 48,000 Gaza residents have been displaced and are in United Nations Relief Works and Agency shelters. The death toll in Cast Lead was about 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians.

During that 2008-09 assault, Sarsour ventured out of her house to deliver food and water to the Palestinians who were made refugees again in their own territory. This time, though, Sarsour has not. “It’s very brutal, there’s no safe place, you can’t go safely outside. I feel that I’m very weak, I couldn’t do anything. That’s why I feel very sad,” she said.

So she makes do with comforting her nieces and nephews who are staying with her during the assault. But even that is proving difficult. “They want to play, they want to be safe, but all the time they are screaming,” said Sarsour. At one point, there was heavy Israeli artillery fire around her home, and then an F16 launched a missile. She held her four-year-old niece in one spot away from where the missile landed. But then another bomb exploded. “I want them to be safe, but even I know, inside my heart, that inside the home they are not safe.”

Sarsour’s daily routine has been badly disrupted. “Since the beginning of [the] massacre I couldn’t go to work or launch any activities as I used to do such as awareness campaign among children about environmental health and health promotion,” she tells me.

The Palestinians of Gaza are bracing themselves for the days to come in an operation that Israeli leaders said could expand. Israel’s goal is to weaken Hamas, its strongest Palestinian foe, but in Gaza, residents support the militant group fighting back, reasoning that this is one way they could get their rights.

“What we are looking for now is an end to this brutal war. But to end this, it should be under a serious condition, which should concentrate not just on a ceasefire,” said Sarsour. “A ceasefire doesn’t mean that everything will be ended. It means that this massacre and genocide will be repeated again suddenly.”

Sarsour and other Palestinians are looking for an end to the blockade of Gaza, which has crippled the economy and prevents freedom of movement outside of the tiny coastal strip. The end of the blockade is a key demand of Hamas. But for years, Israel has ignored calls from the international community to open up Gaza–and there’s no sign Israeli leaders are changing their minds.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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8 Responses

  1. just
    July 19, 2014, 5:31 pm

    “Israel doesn’t differentiate between people–not like what they said, that they are only targeting Hamas. No, they are targeting the civilization, civilians, our children.”

    FACT.

    Every single human will support Hamas right now. The Palestinians will never let their civilization die. Israel is losing, and will ultimately be lost. Zionism will go the way of the dinosaurs. The horrible part of this is that innocents are suffering and dying and being made cripples every minute.

    • Kay24
      July 19, 2014, 6:04 pm

      You are right just. This is going to backfire on Israel like never before. The entire world (except Bill Maher and the US of course) can see the slaughter going on before their eyes, and are updated with what is happening. The hasbara machine cannot lie so much. Even their officials like Regev, Oren, and others, looked BIG liars, because people already know the exact truth. This time I feel as if I am a Palestinian and I am there, because flow of information is better. You are right, the Palestinians will feel even more in sync with Hamas, they will feel threatened, the kids who watch with horror while their love ones are being blown up, homes and belongings bombed into smithereens, hospitals not spared, deaths mounting. I will not fault those little kids for joining Hamas one day, I would too, because this massacre and violence, blessed by the US, is unforgivable, and devastating to any people. I am angry at those responsible for this slaughter, the lies, the pretense of the aggressor being the victim, so I can understand how the Palestinian people themselves must feel.

      • MahaneYehude1
        July 19, 2014, 11:18 pm

        @Kay24:

        You are right just. This is going to backfire on Israel like never before. The entire world (except Bill Maher and the US of course)

        For the convenience of the readers that didn’t hear about Bill Maher:

    • ejran
      July 20, 2014, 11:01 am

      You are hopeful. I wish I felt the same way.
      “Zionism will go the way of the dinosaurs.” Unfortunately, I feel that it is the human race that will go the way of the dinosaurs, because of zionism. Zionism is very dangerous and its architects have been very smart. It has murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians not only in Palestine and Israel but also in the rest of the middle east and the United States. Supremacy and greed are blinding. You can do horrible things and not even realize they are horrible.

      At this pace of brutality, lust for aggression, stupidity, and adolescent excitement with weapons, one day very soon someone will be irresponsible enough to unleash a nuclear war. And then it’s shalom to the human race. Maybe even earth.

  2. Citizen
    July 20, 2014, 3:43 am

    Why not watch the whole show? After his short chat with the pastor, most of the show is a panel discussion on Gaza, Israel, Jews, the Israel Lobby. It’s a Jewish Zionist Love Fest between a variety of Jewish Americans, a regular Zionist Circle Jerk. link to hbo.com

  3. michelle
    July 20, 2014, 4:56 am

    .
    the words of Amal Sarsour make me think of
    the story of Annelies Marie Frank
    .
    Anne Frank was a teenager when she was caught up in the horrors of Nazi Germany. She died in a concentration camp. She left behind a diary, where she wrote about her experiences, hopes, and dreams. Here are a few quotes from Anne Frank.
    “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
    – Anne Frank
    “I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh no, the common man is every bit as guilty; otherwise, people and nations would have rebelled long ago! There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder, and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”
    – Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
    “I have often been downcast, but never in despair; I regard our hiding as a dangerous adventure, romantic and interesting at the same time. In my diary I treat all the privations as amusing. I have made up my mind now to lead a different life from other girls and, later on, different from ordinary housewives. My start has been so very full of interest, and that is the sole reason why I have to laugh at the humorous side of the most dangerous moments.”
    – Anne Frank
    “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
    – Anne Frank
    “I see the eight of us with our ‘Secret Annexe’ as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds. The round, clearly defined spot where we stand is still safe, but the clouds gather more closely about us and the circle which separates us from the approaching danger closes more and more tightly. Now we are so surrounded by danger and darkness that we bump against each other, as we search desperately for a means of escape. We all look down below, where people are fighting each other, we look above, where it is quiet and beautiful, and meanwhile we are cut off by the great dark mass, which will not let us go upwards, but which stands before us as an impenetrable wall; it tries to crush us, but cannot do so yet. I can only cry and implore: ‘Oh, if only the black circle could recede and open the way for us!'”
    – Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
    “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
    – Anne Frank
    “We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.”
    – Anne Frank
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  4. Marnie
    July 20, 2014, 7:24 am

    Maybe americans are a lot more stupid than I give them credit for. They can’t see the forest for the sleaze. Well, karma (not khamas) is a bitch and I’d hate to see my friends and family knee deep in debris. Some people are able to empathize and have compassion even without actually experiencing the physical pain and anguish of others; however, many of us out there are very slow learners and have to feel the pain first. What a fucked up world.

  5. Marnie
    July 20, 2014, 8:46 am

    I started to watch Bill Maher for the first 18 seconds where apparently the pain and agony of trying to appear human was just too much and he went into attack mode. Yes it’s all very sad, nobody wants to see children get killed, etc., etc., yet we still see it Mr. Bill, day after day after day and you still think Israel has the moral high ground here because the israelis have to interrupt their favorite program and shag their asses to a bomb shelter? WTF?

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