In the middle of the morning on October 5, sounds of bombs reverberated throughout Gaza. The news would trickle out later that an extremist Salafi fringe group had shot a crude rocket into an Israeli settlement, reportedly as a way of pressuring the Hamas government to release some of its members from prison. (Some Gazans say, however, that the Salafis are actually being manipulated by the Palestinian Authority.*) Israeli forces responded with more than 30 airstrikes and tank hits in two hours.
Fortunately, there were no deaths or injuries, and seemingly no desire on either side to escalate. But with the prolonged war on Gaza waged by Israel just two years in the past, how do Gazans react when these “minor skirmishes” occur? Here are some examples, mostly from writers for We Are Not Numbers.
Omar Ghraib, on Facebook: “I was peacefully mixing my Nutella brownie batter when Israel decided to bomb the shit outta Gaza, I didn’t flinch. I finished and put them in the oven as the kitchen/area/window danced & shook. I would have been very mad if they burned, but gladly they didn’t.” The next day, he added: “I want peace when I’m baking, but obviously Israel had a different idea. So who is the terrorist? The one in his own home making brownies causing no one (but his waistline) any harm or the Israeli pilot in his F16, dropping bombs on us?
Anas Mohammed Jnena: “Sadly, I was not home at the time so I could not have any Nutella sandwiches. But when my friend Ahmed and I saw a black column of smoke rising into the sky in the distance, we argued over which area of Gaza had been hit. It was more like a game of challenge. I argued that locating the Israeli airstrikes requires some experience and ‘proficiency’—someone who has been directly exposed to such happenings, and that I was the right person since I’m from the Alshujaya neighborhood. [Shujaya was the site of one of the most notorious massacres of the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza.] I guess that the missile we had just seen had hit once again near my home. He said ‘no, I bet it’s in the Alzaytoon neighborhood. Later, we learn it had indeed struck in Alshujaya. I won!”
Israa Suliman: “I was mad when the explosion happened, since my sister changed her mind about going out with me to a circus show in Gaza City. I was screaming like a fool, ‘Damn Israel; this is not the proper time at all. Can’t you just wait until we get there!?’”
Weariness, boredom, indifference
Salsabeel Zeineddin: “I was checking my Twitter feed and saw some tweets about bombing in Gaza. I hadn’t heard anything though. Then I heard a terrifying explosion near me, in western Gaza. I turned off the wifi and went to sleep until Israel was done with us.”
Besan Aljadili: “I was watching a Korean TV series. I was so absorbed in it that I didn’t check my Facebook feed for hours. I can’t deny that I was scared when I heard the first bomb. I asked my sister, ‘What is this?’ and she said, ‘People are saying this night is going to be a bad one.’ I put my headphone on and completed watching my show. I’ve had enough of all these warnings in the media about a new war. If there is a new war, so what?! It’s not a new, strange thing; I’m already accustomed to hearing bombings, seeing injured people and losing people I know. So if there is another war, it doesn’t matter that much. If I will be one of the victims in the coming one, I also don’t care. If I am going to die in a war, it’s better to die in its very beginning instead of going through the whole war and then die.”
Mariam Dawwas: “I am a fixer and I took a journalist to one of the locations, as usual. I really feel sad and frustrated that such things have become normal and I myself begun regarding it like that. You hear people say, ‘Nothing is new. It is just a bombing and two kids were killed.’ [This time, however, there were no injuries or fatalities.] And they thank God Israel is not going to launch another war on us. I’ve done this [visit bombing sites with journalists] many times and I already know what I will see, what the questions will be and the answers. We collect the information needed and say goodbye to everyone and we leave. There’s nothing new.”
Lama Alhelou: “Unless I’m completely concentrating on doing something, I don’t really react when I hear bombing. The biggest reason for this is because even if the explosion is extremely loud, I never know if it’s an actual bombing or just another ‘air explosion’ or targeting of empty land, etc. Plus, occasional bombing has sadly become ‘typical’ in Gaza. Random bombing is truly just another day in Gaza. Still, there’s always that small, panicked voice in the back of my brain, reminding me of every explosion during every war, which wants to start freaking out. I hush it up, silence it and act cool because I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to panic and feel afraid. That’s what I think most Gazans probably do too, they silence the fear in their heads and move on with their day because they want everything to be OK, they what they just heard to be nothing more than another ‘air explosion.’ And we don’t want to react to things that are supposed to scare the shit out of us.”
Shock and fear
Mohammed Khalaf: “I returned home after a physically and mentally tiring day at university, wishing for nothing in the world but a few hours of sleep. But I live to the east of Gaza City, which was bombed heavily. I couldn’t sleep a minute thanks to the bombing. Today’s bombing reminded me of the terrifying day when my neighbor’s house was completely demolished in the 2014 aggression. I was asleep and I’ll never forget how I jumped off my bed, shocked. It felt like someone had pierced my chest with his hand, clutching my heart and squeezing it. Back to today, though: I was so happy to read in the news that the jet conducting the airstrikes, scaring the hell out of people, caught fire and the pilot was killed. Who is laughing now?!”
Basman Elderawi: “I was in a building near the Gaza port for a philosophy course. I only heard one bomb, but after arriving by taxi at home, I was surprised to hear on the radio that there more than 18 bombings. I was like, ‘what the hell is happening?’ I was shocked: when, how, where? Then, when I heard also about the first women’s boat to Gaza [which was seized by Israel], I felt like, damn the same scenario again.”
Yasmin Hillis: “I was reading a book when I heard the first air strike. I stood up and opened my window to see where exactly the bombing was. I saw some children who were laughing loudly, saying that the sound of bombing is not terrifying at all. I went to the living room, where two of my brothers were listening to the news on the radio. I joined them and heard there were no casualties. I went back to my reading. Fifteen minutes later, I heard another bombing. I was terrified. I was expecting a new war. And I was afraid to lose anyone whom I know. Scenes from the last war came again to my mind. Every time I hear the sound of bombing I become afraid. People do not get used to terror even if it continues for a hundred years.”
Tarneem Hammad: “To be honest, I start praying. I can’t live through one more war. Not everyone feels frightened, but for me, it’s like starting all over again. You build a life and suddenly all of your dreams for a decent life vanish and you start planning just to survive.”
* You don’t need to interview “pundits” or officials to get wise assessments of the forces behind the scenes, pulling the strings. Muhammad Shehata says, “Hamas is in an absolutely unenviable situation; they cannot bring another destructive war down upon the heads of Gazans, but they also cannot remain cowardly silent after all these airstrikes. So what do they do? They make strong, but meaningless statements that their patience is wearing thin, then continue to develop their primitive ammunition and improve the tunnel system to sustain their weak popularity. For better or worse, Israel has succeeded in developing a new reality in which Hamas militants anxiously do their best to maintain Israel’s security and prevent any rockets from being launched. But when they fail, and a rocket hits empty ground in Israel, the retaliation is harsh.”