A year after the attack on Gaza I still cannot forget that pain that took root deep in my heart when I heard the voice of my family mixed with the sound of bombs during that first phone call. In those beautiful summer days, in the calm of Sweden, for 51 days I wasn’t able to sleep due to the stress. An aching pain grew in my heart because every moment might bring word of another of my neighbors or classmates or relatives dead or injured, of another child’s life ended. My living room became a veritable work station for monitoring social media, TV, and local radios. I will never ever forget hearing the fear in the voice of my friends and family, as they spoke what they thought would be their last goodbyes to me.
I yearned to be with them rather than remain safe in exile and help them survive instead of as a spectator living with death behind my eyes. To be away from my family and to see them every moment awaiting death.
One day the biggest shock hit when I heard the news my friend Ali Abu Afash was killed when an unexploded missile detonated in the northern Gaza Strip. He died along with Simone Camilli, an Italian video journalist for the AP, and an AP photographer, Hatem Moussa, was injured.
August 13, was the anniversary of Ali’s death. As I view the videos and photos with him my heart begins bleeding all over again, and the tears come.
I first met Ali when I was a 19 year old volunteer in Alassria Cultural Center for youth, in Jabalia Refuge Camp. This center is part of big organization called Union of Health Work Committees. Ali was working with that organization as its IT maintenance engineer. I will never forget his smile and how he was willing to help me in every corner in my life. He was always encouraging me towards my career and helping me by giving advice with my graphic design and film projects.
He was my beloved friend and he would often say “if you need help do not hesitate to tell me”. He was always generous and open with his sharing of his technical and life skills.
One day I told him I wanted to send some video tapes to Canada to a production company, so if he or anyone he knew was going through the Egyptian or Israeli border out of Gaza, please let me know. Two months later he told me very politely, “Mohammed, I got news the Rafah border will open and I will go to Cairo tomorrow. I am so sorry to call you so late, but I just remembered it now. Please come to my home and I am waiting you”. I arrived around 12 at night and he was waiting for me; very tired from having to suddenly prepare to go abroad with only short notice, but with a big smile on his face. “Do you have second copy of tapes?” I said yes. “That’s good. As you know my brother maybe the Egyptian security agents will be in a bad mood and will throw it in the trash, or say that the tapes contain explosion material”, he said with a big laugh, adding “Do not worry: I will send it when I arrived Cairo, directly to address you gave it to me, and will call you to inform you”. I felt so proud that a person like Ali kept me and my hopeful project in his mind, especially in hard circumstances. He was really a human who cared about humanity and the needs of the people around him.
Ali got a job with the Doha Center for Media Freedom in Gaza, which has a fine technical center. One time, as a working journalist I asked him “Do you have any good way for uploading videos? The electricity is cut off in Gaza where we are, and I can’t upload my footage on internet”. He said with his usual nice humor “Just call me if you need to upload anything, or use our video editing equipment. My office is open to you”.
Later on I was trying to leave Gaza to study in Sweden. Getting through the border is an extremely onerous procedure; designed to prevent Palestinians from reaching the outside world and to break the spirit of those who try. Ali always helped keep the fires of inspiration alive in me and said “You will cross the border and will continue your education despite all obstacles”. And when I did make it out, and was living abroad, he was always supporting my journalistic work by sending fresh reports about the situation of journalist rights violations in Gaza. He would swiftly send information as soon as asked so his friend Mohammed could do his best spreading the words of journalists from Gaza. It was vital to him that accurate reports of the steadfastness and bravery of journalists, and the suffering of his people, be shared with the world.
It is really painful to write about a person like Ali. When I re-watch the video reports about his death it takes me back to our time together in Gaza, and the tears come directly. The pain is still there, as if I’ve lost him all over again.
Ali, you were killed by a missile but you still live in my mind and heart. I will continue fight for freedom and defend journalists’ rights, and in this way your work and journalistic spirit will continue.
A year has passed from since Ali died. The people of Gaza are still suffering under a brutal siege and the situation has become even more difficult for the people as they struggle to live day to day, making their way passed destroyed buildings that cannot be rebuilt, through rubble that cannot be cleared away.
Within this context countless Gazans like Ali are not giving up, while waiting for the international community to take responsibility to help them break the Seige of Gaza, and join them in their just struggle to gain their freedom.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, 2014. The 51 day bombardment killed 2,139 Palestinians, most of them civilians including 500 children, and destroyed 20,000 homes in Gaza.
Learn more about the attack here.