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.
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.