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Between the death of my nephew and my visit to Jerusalem, a Gaza story

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The author’s pregnant sister and her husband

My life story in its great detail is so unfathomable and forever surprising I can no longer make sense to myself, let alone to others. Life is so unpredictable and ever changing, my heart is never prepared for its unsteady rhythms. Between overwhelming happiness and extreme sadness, I am ripped apart. “Where am I? Where am I?,” I was found trembling and whimpering while asleep two nights ago. Nothing but the warmth of my mom’s hug could assure me I was home, safe. While I was still holding her tight, sobbing on her shoulder, my mom, too, broke into tears. “No no no,… mom please don’t…,” I pleaded, still in tears.

Awakened by our sobs, my sister in the other room managed to drag herself out of bed and walk towards us. “Why are you two crying! Isn’t he in Heaven? Didn’t you both tell me not to cry over him,” we were taken by surprise when we saw her staggering into the room, not yet strong enough to stand on her feet. We ran to her aid “no no, habibti, we aren’t crying.” Unsurprisingly, she burst into tears, again. My bad!

I was in the U.S. when my sister first informed me over Skype of her pregnancy. I was so happy I couldn’t believe I’d be an aunt for the first time, given I am the oldest among my siblings. A couple of minutes after we ended our Skype call, my heart sank as I remembered that during Operation “Pillar of Cloud” Israel launched on November against the 1.6 million civilian population of Gaza, 133 Palestinians killed and 840 wounded, my mom told me that during the war my sister couldn’t breathe properly because of inhaling too much toxic smoke. She didn’t know she was then two-month pregnant. Terrified, I prayed nothing would harm her or her baby.

I rejoiced at the fact I would be home by the time she was due, so I could be by her side. I could make it back home on her ninth month. My sister’s belly was so huge, sticking out so far I couldn’t hug her properly. We both laughed at its awkwardness. After we sat down, she jokingly complained about the street-harassment she had to put up with every time she’d go out because of her *funny* gigantic tummy. “Hey watermelon,” “Jeez! what a huge basketball?”, “How many twins are you holding?”; “have you been eating non-stop for a whole month?”; these were among many other inane remarks she’d overhear while doing her 15 minute walking workout. Though I was getting irritated that my sister had to endure all that, I smiled and told her to care less.

It was quite a daily routine that my family would spend the evening sitting in front of my pregnant sister as though she was a show, observing the baby’s kicks inside her belly, laughing hilariously, fighting over the answer to the question “what do you think that was? His head? His leg? His tiny arm?”. We’d then wait for our sister’s confirmation of whose guess was right. She would laugh and say “his tushie”. The nicest moment was when she’d make a conversation with her baby telling him how she grew impatient waiting to see him, to hold him, to breastfeed him, to celebrate Eid with him, to clothe him, to bathe him and to do everything for him.

We too were getting impatient waiting for our first grandchild. My parents were very excited to be grandparents. I myself couldn’t wait to finally become an auntie, to see him in his tiny cute outfits I brought from the U.S. For the full nine months, my sister has been the centre of attention. Though I was following up with her from afar, I could better feel both her joy and her pain as I was at her bedside, keeping an all-night vigil. She underwent disrupted sleep due to the painful contractions occurring abruptly at irregular intervals. The pain was so intense she became very short of breath. It was scary that my mom would lie to my sister about the fact all that was normal only to confess to me later that it wasn’t normal at all and that she was very worried about her. When doctors last saw her, the baby was said to have had a breathing difficulty and might need an operation once born. And her way-too-big tummy wasn’t a good sign. Despite the routine check-ups my sister was having during the 9 months, we were told this only on her ninth month.

She gave birth to a baby boy. It was so frightening an experience that doctors themselves were concerned she wouldn’t survive the pain. My mom, a mother of seven, recalled her own experience “yes, child-birth is hard but not this hard.” Her newborn baby had to be kept in an incubator and put on a mechanical ventilator due to his breathing problem. After her delivery, my sister couldn’t see him. She begged the doctor to bring her her baby. My mom tried to calm her down that he was fine and that she didn’t need to panic. The next day, she insisted she wanted to see him, if only for a second. My mom and her husband walked her to the room where she could see him through its glass wall. “Habibi (sweetheart) he looks more like you than me,” she looked at her husband, smiling as though nothing was aching her. “come on babe! How could you see this from a distance,” he said jokingly, “plus he looks like both of us.”

“Please let me in,” my sister pleaded. The doctor allowed her in to see her baby briefly. She wasn’t allowed to hold, touch or kiss him, however.

A couple of hours later, the doctor told my mom that she could take my sister home. “What about ibni (my son)?” my panicked sister cried out. “He has to stay here till we can figure out his breathing problem. He might need an operation.” The doctor shot back. “An operation? Why? What’s wrong with ibni mom?” she pleaded. My mom tried to assure her that he was doing well but just needed a simple operation to help him breathe more properly. My sister then left the hospital, in tears. She kept mumbling all the way “Why wasn’t I allowed to –at least –hold him? To breastfeed him? Isn’t he hungry, mom? Please tell me how he will be fed? I wanted to clothe him. Please let’s go back; I want to see him one more time.”

I was crying silently. I couldn’t handle this. Every time I tried to open my mouth to tell her not to worry about him, I found myself unable to utter any word of comfort. We spent two days just waiting a word from the doctor. Her husband, Monir, couldn’t endure seeing his wife groaning for her son. He went to the hospital to check on his son and register his birth only to be told that his son died a couple of hours ago. Such bad news was hard per se, but breaking it to us was even harder on him. He didn’t know what to do but to call us. The news had shaken us from the inside out. It was so shocking we couldn’t quite believe it.

We then heard our sister, who was still unable to move on her own, cry out “What happened? Who was on the phone? Something wrong with ibni? Ya emi wenek? (mom, where are you?). We all hurried toward her. “No habibti, he is fine. He is fine. No worries my dear,” my mom lied, tears streaming down her face. “Then why are you all crying? Is his operation dangerous?”. Silence. “What? is it?” More silence. “Oh my Lord, he died, didn’t he?” “No, he didn’t.” my other sister managed to say. “Yes he did. Just tell me. Why do you lie to me! Is he dead? Where’s Monir?” My sister was hysterically screaming.

It was such a moment of intense sadness. I tried to remember when my family had last been this sad. It dawned on me that we had never experienced sadness before. He was born to die. Weren’t we all born only to die? What a poignant reality! She called her husband “Please don’t bury him! I want to see him. I am sure he’s just hungry. He just needs me. He’s alive. Talk to me. Why are you silent? Did you bury him? how dare you? after nine months of me waiting for my son, you easily buried him in the sand? I didn’t deliver him so you could bury him!” My sister was inconsolable.

Instead of getting a birth certificate, Monir got a death certificate. For that matter, I then wondered why the baby would have a death certificate if he didn’t have a birth certificate in the first place! His name “was” Laith. His name means “strength”, “bravery” and “toughness”, yet he was neither strong nor tough enough to survive. He was just brave enough to leave such a terrible world for which he was too good and pure to be in. Laith is now in a better place. In Heaven.

The doctors said most babies born after the war didn’t survive. Should we then blame Israel for the death of my sister’s baby? Should the occupation be held accountable for such a crime! For all its endless crimes? Shall we blame/sue whom? I couldn’t help but remember all bereaved mothers who lost their grown-up kids in front of their eyes in a matter of seconds! My sister’s agony isn’t even comparable to that of those who lost their entire family overnight. My sister’s experience seemed to us one of its kind, yet she was definitely not the only, the first or the last one who experienced such a great loss. I had always thought I could understand the pain of those mothers. I was wrong. My sister made me feel it for real. I have never felt pain like this before. I wasn’t in her position, either. Her son wasn’t mine. Even when trying to put myself in her shoes, I will never feel the pain she feels nor feel the agony of all mothers when losing a child. I am not a mother after all.

It is hard. It really is. Yesterday midnight, we heard her crying. We hurriedly got up to see her. We found her cling on tight to her baby’s clothes. Upon seeing us, she exploded into wild tears. “Say Alhamdulillah,” mom kept reminding her, “remember, my dear, he’s in Heaven, in a better place.” “I could be his Heaven, mom. I made his room Heaven-like,” my sister made us all weep uncontrollably. “Habibti, remember those whose kids were all at once killed in an airstrike, and say Alhamdulillah,” I finally managed to say something. “Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah.” She kept saying. I couldn’t bear the mournful look of her eyes. It was hard on all of us.

We haven’t yet survived the trauma. Broken-hearted, each one of us has his share of the pain. Both my parents and Laith’s parents have a bigger share. My dad is a story by himself. I didn’t see him as sad as he is now when his own father died a couple of years ago. I have never seen him break down like this before. We live a moment of deep sadness that made us forget if we had ever been sad or even happy before. We have felt substantially devastated. This moment of sadness killed our entire life’s moments of joy.

As stated in the title, yes, I made it to Jerusalem, and I prayed in Al-Aqsa Mosque. This impossible dream of mine finally came true. It was indeed so great a pleasure. However, I no longer feel its joy. I don’t want to feel it either. I even seem to have forgotten its detail. The death of my nephew, the agony of my sister, the intense sadness we have all felt has killed such a delight. Both visiting Jerusalem and being an aunt were dreams. The former was utterly impossible, and the latter was so much possible. The impossible became possible while the possible wasn’t really possible, at least not for now. Didn’t I say my life is so unpredictable I cannot even tell what I am up to the very next moment? Every day I am a new person and never quite the same as yesterday. Because of my Kafkaesque reality, I want to escape to a different reality and to a better world. In Heaven, probably, where Laith is. May he rest in peace. May I rest in peace.

(This story was crossposted on Fidaa Abuassi’s blog under the title, “My Mystifying Reality: Between The Death of My nephew and My Visit to Jerusalem”)

Fidaa Abuassi

Fidaa Abuassi is a Palestinian blogger from Gaza. She blogs at:

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36 Responses

  1. annie on July 25, 2013, 3:54 pm

    The doctors said most babies born after the war didn’t survive.

    this is heart wrenching. the death of little laith is representative of so many children. and the personal pain of so many people. and nobody even thinks about or knows about all the disease and deaths sill occurring from that cloud war.

  2. just on July 25, 2013, 5:26 pm

    Fidaa– I thank you for sharing your story from the bottom of my heart, and pray that you and your family will be free one day. Laith is free, but the rest of you share unbearable pain and memories. Please keep the fire and hope burning deep within you. Your fortitude and bravery as beautiful people are a steadfast inspiration.

    The picture of your lovely sister and her husband surrounded by the light in the picture reveals the truth. May they realize their dreams soon.

    “The doctors said most babies born after the war didn’t survive. Should we then blame Israel for the death of my sister’s baby? Should the occupation be held accountable for such a crime! For all its endless crimes?”

    The answer is an unequivocal YES/YES/YES. Israel has much blood on its hands, and so does the US by backing them unconditionally.

    • Bumblebye on July 27, 2013, 3:24 pm

      Yes, that picture is of a beautiful and loving young couple, and this is such a tragic and painful story. Fidaa, my heart aches for you and your family.

  3. BrianEsker on July 25, 2013, 8:18 pm

    Hey here’s a thought….maybe if the gazans didn’t shoot at Israel, fewer bad things would happen to them. Or does that make too much sense?

    • Cliff on July 25, 2013, 8:56 pm

      Bad things happen to them regardless, you troll.

    • just on July 25, 2013, 8:56 pm

      Hey, it makes NO sense Mr. Victim Who is Bereft of Humanity.

      • Ludwig on July 25, 2013, 10:39 pm

        It doesn’t help to dehumanize the other by saying they are “bereft of humanity” I actually agree that people in Gaza should completely cease firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

      • annie on July 27, 2013, 1:26 pm

        I actually agree that people in Gaza should completely cease firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

        and using chemical weapons on the entire society causing untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of innocent people including the deaths of babies, do you “actually agree” this is just too?

      • talknic on July 29, 2013, 12:28 am

        Ludwig “I actually agree that people in Gaza should completely cease firing rockets at Israeli civilians”

        IDF statistics show more Israeli military personnel than Israeli civilian deaths or injuries.

        Maybe Israel should get the h*ll out of all non-Israeli territory for once! It has never been tried :-)

      • Shingo on July 29, 2013, 1:05 am

        I actually agree that people in Gaza should completely cease firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

        Do you agree that Israel should lift the blockade of Gaza and completely cease bombing Gaza?

      • Ludwig on July 29, 2013, 1:14 pm

        Hi Annie,

        I am against using chemical weapons on an entire society. However I have not seen any reports in history of an entire society being hit with chemical weapons. I have heard scattered reports of attacks or misuse of chemical weapons during warfare.

        Even Saddam, when he gassed the kurds could not have possibly used chemical weapons on an entire society as many kurds live in Turkey and Syria.

    • ritzl on July 25, 2013, 11:09 pm

      The Gazans did almost completely stop firing rockets at Israel in the summer of 2008. And what did they get? The Cast Lead slaughter.

      “Almost” is significant and notable as well because Hamas unilaterally gave Israel 95% of what it wanted (a reduction from about 150 rockets per month to about 5 per month, for the entire summer of 2008. Israel had two choices to get the last 5% of what it wanted, negotiate to address the issues of blockade-related deprivation, or kill a bunch of innocent people as punishment for lack of perfection. Obviously Israel chose the latter.

      Pretty sick sh*t if you ask me. And yet another stark indication that Israel has zero intention of solving any of this. Zero.

  4. talknic on July 25, 2013, 10:45 pm

    BrianEsker “maybe if the gazans didn’t shoot at Israel, fewer bad things would happen to them. Or does that make too much sense?”

    Thanks for showing folk another inane comment by the type of person vile enough to support the Jewish state’s illegal expansionist policies.

    Gaza is a part of the Arab territories, which include the West Bank. If your territory and countrymen were under occupation by your so called ‘peace loving’ neighbours for 65 years and your territory was being illegally acquired by war, illegally annexed, illegally settled, you’d send your occupier flowers …. right?

    • Ludwig on July 25, 2013, 10:46 pm

      Talknic, could you please site the relevant laws that make Jews living in Gaza illegal? Thank you.

      • Bumblebye on July 27, 2013, 3:22 pm

        *Israelis* living in parts of a foreign country uninvited and due to an illegal occupation is illegal. So happens that, oooh, at least 99.999% of them happen also to be Jewish, no?

      • jon s on July 27, 2013, 4:36 pm

        Bumblebye, Jews in Israel are not living in a foreign country. It’s our homeland, and the Palestinians’ homeland, too.

      • Bumblebye on July 28, 2013, 9:43 am

        I didn’t claim that Jews in Israel were living in a foreign country. Jews living in occupied Palestine *ARE* living in a foreign country. Examine your thought processes jon s – you have internalised that *all* the land is Israel, and none of it Palestine. That is the only way you could be able to misread what I wrote.

      • jon s on July 28, 2013, 12:19 pm

        Thanks for the clarification, I’m sorry I misunderstood what you were saying.

      • MHughes976 on July 28, 2013, 1:14 pm

        Well, Bumblebye, I would not say that the violent partition of 1948 legitimately created two countries, so I think that there is still only one. Let me call it the disputed Holy Land, currently constituted so that a minority, defined by race or religion, is in all but complete power, to my mind for no good reason. Shouldn’t the status of ‘belonging in the Holy Land’ be determined in the same way as ‘belonging in France’ – nothing being different because you’re in Jaffa rather than in Ramallah, in Calais rather than in Limoges. The questions should be in both cases where you were born or whether you are or should be a valid immigrant and these questions should be answered with the minimum of reference to race or religion.

      • talknic on July 29, 2013, 12:13 am

        jon s “Jews in Israel are not living in a foreign country.”

        Correct. However Israelis living “outside the State of Israel” .. “in Palestine” are not living in Israel. None of the territory “outside the State of Israel” “in Palestine” has ever been legally annexed to Israel.

        “It’s our homeland, and the Palestinians’ homeland, too”

        Only Jewish folk can automatically immigrate to the Jewish people’s homeland state. A Palestinian cannot.

      • talknic on July 29, 2013, 12:04 am

        Ludwig “Talknic, could you please site the relevant laws .”

        You’re not connected to the internet? Can’t use a search engine? Don’t know how to find UNSC resolutions?

        GC IV per UNSC res 476, emphasizing, recalling and otherwise reminding Israel of its binding legal obligations. You’ll find valid links to primary documentation there

        “that make Jews living in Gaza illegal?”

        Uh? “jews” ? Israelis , be they Jewish or not. All citizens of an Occupying Power are prohibited from settling in occupied territories, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.

        “…Thank you.”

        No no no. Thank you! For again providing opportunity to show honest folk verifiable information

      • Shingo on July 29, 2013, 12:50 am

        Talknic, could you please site the relevant laws that make Jews living in Gaza illegal?

        Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Conventions on Human Rights

        And you’re welcome

  5. ritzl on July 25, 2013, 11:12 pm

    So sorry for your and your family’s loss, Fidaa. Better days…

  6. Obsidian on July 26, 2013, 12:13 pm

    “The doctors said most babies born after the war didn’t survive”.

    There should be ample proof of this claim. Where is it?

    “Should we then blame Israel for the death of my sister’s baby?”
    No. Not unless you can provide one scintilla of proof.
    This article offers no proof. Not even circumstantial evidence.

    If you stand back and look at it, this article is blood libel.

    • just on July 26, 2013, 7:43 pm

      “Blood libel”– give me a break!

      There was plenty of blood and death and maiming and poisoning with noxious and dangerous weapons, and Israel owns it.

      Man up.

    • Jan on July 27, 2013, 3:57 am

      Obsidian, In Fallujah Iraq the number of babies born with terrible birth defects has more than doubled. Cancer rates have soared. The US used many of the same weapons against the people of Fallujah that Israel used in Gaza. Is that a blood libel against the US too?

      BTW, you should know that Israel uses Gaza as a testing ground for many of its weapons so that it can then tout the testing when it goes to weapons shows around the world. Is that also a blood libel?

      It is sad that when Israel is rightfully accused of war crimes those accusations are called “blood libel.” If Israel does not want those accusations then it should stop committing the crimes.

  7. Susan Johnson on July 26, 2013, 11:22 pm

    Fidaa, My sympathy to you and your family on the loss of baby Laith. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Yours is yet another tragic story coming from Gaza…year after year after year. When will it end?

    It is disappointing to find Mondoweiss readers ignoring the humanity in this story. We now have two tragedies; the loss of a child and the loss of a humane response on the part of some readers.

    Palestinians deserve to be seen as people, individual human beings with much in common with Israelis and with us….dehumanizing needs to cease and commonality must be sought, identified and emphasized …recognize that their hopes are much more alike than different. Folks, we need to identify with the average, everyday Palestinian and Israeli. What’s it like to walk in their shoes, raise children, put food on the table earn a living, attend school.

    Is it too threatening to read Fedaa’s story and react with compassion? Read it for what it is…the outpouring of of an aunt’s grief, pain and loss on the death of her nephew and for the family’s lost hopes and dreams.

    • just on July 27, 2013, 4:48 pm

      Agreed, Susan.

      “What’s it like to walk in their shoes, raise children, put food on the table earn a living, attend school.”

      Sadly, these things are all abundantly available to the average Israeli.

      Not so for the Occupied Palestinians– not at all. I think just breathing takes fortitude.

  8. jon s on July 27, 2013, 5:31 am

    A touching story…up to the point where she asks whether Israel should be held responsible for the baby’s death and that “most babies born after the war didn’t survive”. Most? If the majority of babies in Gaza die, I’m sure we’d know about it.
    Sure , blame the occupation. Wait a minute, what occupation? Who occupies Gaza?

    • annie on July 27, 2013, 1:38 pm

      If the majority of babies in Gaza die, I’m sure we’d know about it.

      jon s, why are you choosing to argue a strawman and omit “after the war” from the equation? it has been 8 months since the war. and yes, if these statistics bear true..which is something that will likely be fully calculated after 9 months, you will be hearing more about it right here.

      when i was in gaza after the 08-09 massacre we met with doctors and hospital administrators, and what they witnessed was horrendous. chemical warfare has devastating effects and gazans are used as test subjects for all the new horrendous experimental new weaponry like the dime weapons too.

  9. Denis on July 27, 2013, 6:12 pm

    @annie: “if these statistics bear true..which is something that will likely be fully calculated after 9 months, you will be hearing more about it right here.”

    I agree, but it’s going to take longer than 9 months as one of the worries regarding depleted uranium is cancer. But until the data are in on Cast Lead II, the best we can do is, like you suggest, extrapolate from what we know about Cast Lead I. Is there anything from CL-I that would support the idea that munitions used by IDF could damage a fetus? Well . . . here’s a clip from a MW comment by Wallid on May07:

    On 20 December 2009 Al-Dameer had published another paper in Arabic on the increase in the number of babies born in Gaza with birth defects, thought to be the result of radioactive and toxic materials from Operation Cast Lead. The birth defects included incomplete hearts and malformations of the brain. During August, September and October 2008 the number of cases had been 27. In the comparable months in 2009 the numbers had risen to 47. There was a similar rise in aborted foetuses. Al-Dameer had called for scientific monitoring throughout the Gaza Strip to obtain statistics on deformed foetus cases relating to the intentional use of internationally banned weapons. . . Regarding the teratogenicity of parental prenatal exposure to DU aerosols, the evidence, albeit imperfect, indicates a high probability of substantial risk. Good science indicates that depleted uranium weapons should not be manufactured or exploded.

    And three days before Fidaa published this piece, RT had a piece on the incredible rise in birth defects in Iraq attributable to the use of depleted uranium rounds, which pulverize concrete and produce huge amounts of radioactive dust.

    In cities like Basra and Fallujah, where American and British forces used heavy munitions at the start of the war, it is estimated that over half of all babies conceived after the start of the war were born with heart defects. According to a study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology between October 1994 and October 1995, the number of birth defects per 1,000 live births in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital was 1.37. In 2003, the number of birth defects in the same hospital was 23 per 1,000 live births.

    That is almost a 20x increase in the rate of birth defects, most likely from the toxic munitions.

    We know from a number of discussions here on MW that one of the i-Jews’ solutions to the “Palestinian problem” is population control, aka genocide. The i-Jews are scared sh*tless that the tilted demographics are going to derail their 60 year program to purloin the entire Levant. What better way to get control of the Palestinian birth rate than periodically boosting birth defects with toxic munitions?

    BTW, annie, as to your travels to Israel or Gaza, you are pretty outspoken on MW as to your views of Israeli apartheid. Has your participation on MW caused you any difficulties getting into Israel or Gaza? I mean, if they don’t screw with you, or Phil, or Alex at the border, the lowly commenters here should be well below the IDF radar.

    • jon s on July 29, 2013, 3:12 am

      Denis, In one comment you try to connect Israel to the use of depleted uranium, accuse the “i-Jews” of genocide and of having a program to “purloin ” the entire Levant.
      Anything else?
      All of your accusations are false. And seeing that the Palestinian population is increasing nicely, that would make the “i-Jews” the most incompetent perpetrators of genocide in history.
      Incidentally, the IDF doesn’t control entrances and exits at border crossings, it’s the police and Ministry of Interior.

  10. Obsidian on July 28, 2013, 1:20 am

    “We know from a number of discussions here on MW that one of the i-Jews’ solutions to the “Palestinian problem” is population control, aka genocide. ”

    Genocidal ‘i-Jews’ aside, Palestinians have a remarkably low infant mortality rate.

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