photo by Abid Katib, courtesy of Care International West Bank and Gaza
January 1st 2009 brings a new year and a time for reflection. Safa, bunkered with her family in Gaza City, shares her thoughts with Israelity Bites. How one family copes with the violence around them is instructive. Anyone from Beersheva or Sderot want to contribute their experience, too?
It's interesting how, at the most terrifying and horrific of times, we still manage to make light of the events, and even enjoy a dark sense of humor that surprisingly comes out not inappropriate and even the more amusing given the constant state of tenseness and apprehension.
My 10 year old cousin was eating a sandwich, when my younger brother, 12, looked at him and, quoting a line from one of his favorite video games in his dead on imitation of the characters voice, while being extremely amused by the fear in the younger boys eyes, said "enjoy it, it could be your last!" I looked at him for a second and began laughing almost hysterically.
On another occasion, we looked around for my twelve year old and 14 year old brothers during an intense bout of air strikes and realized that they had snuck back to the living room, the room directly in front of the area being bombed, and were watching a sports channel. "But we had to see the scores" they retorted after being severely reproached". They're becoming desensitized, I thought, I went through this before while living in Ramallah in 2002. I laughed so hard, they had become totally oblivious!
I've had a lot of time to contemplate, the last few days, and looking at my siblings, I wonder how the rest of the world envisions the people who occupy the most despondent and unruly military zones in the world.
My younger brothers spend their free time out with their friends, or playing basketball and soccer at youth clubs. They are passionate about sports, play station, and music. They play the guitar and are exceptional students. My brother who's in collage is obsessed with computers and gadgets, he's an engineering student who comes up with the most ingenious projects for his classes. He listens to music and plays the guitar and prays regularly. He's an honor student who has big goals and big dreams.
So please understand why I am infuriated when I see how we are portrayed on television. Hordes of bearded, teeth-gnashing, stone throwing blood thirsty savages in rags and tatters. And please don't blame me for feeling utter rage against the state of Israel, that has been intentionally targeting the unwary, guiltless, promising children and youth of the Gaza Strip in its vicious attacks over the past 5 days. Already, between 40 and 50 children are dead while hundreds lie in the hospitals, seriously injured or disabled for life.
The people of Gaza have been suffering for decades under systematic and tyrannical oppression by Israel, the latest of its measures has been the siege and closures imposed on the strip that have completely devastated the livelihoods of Gaza residents and caused the economy to fall into an unprecedented and crippling depression. The people of Gaza have long been denied the means that have been afforded to the residents of countries with the same, possibly less, resources. And yet the amount of resourcefulness and zeal we demonstrate is a testimony to the potential of progress and advancement that lies within us.
To the rest of the world, Israel represents the democratic, civilized, patriotic, western, state whose representatives are well groomed, clad in smart suits and silk ties and talking all sorts of political correctness, stringed with terms such as self defense, civilian population, Palestinian terrorists and middle east peace.
And so after Israel launched its military offensive against Gaza 5 days ago, claiming that offensive was a retaliation against Hamas' firing rockets into Israel following the cessation of the period of calm, to many, the Israeli attacks were justified. Never mind that Israel failed to at least ease the siege that has been slowly killing us over the past year (to be more precise over the last 3 years.) Never mind that Israel continued its incursions into the strip and its murder of innocent civilians throughout the truce. Never mind that compared to Isaeli gunships, war planes, tanks and other weaponry, Hamas rockets seem like toys. Never mind that our children are robbed of anything that resembles a normal life and future.
And yet we are continuously accused of being on equal terms with one of the strongest military forces in the world.
So while being cooped up in the house, watching local news stations when we have electricity, still in a state of disbelief, I wonder if the rest of the world would be so harsh in its judgments if they had the opportunity to understand. I wonder if people would as easily accept the unsubstantiated claims that the engineering faculty building of the Islamic university, which has been flattened during the attacks, was a workshop that produced qassams, if they had seen my brothers reaction. When he came back from a walk to the university building the next day, his face was white as a sheet and he had tears in his eyes. "Its all gone he said, even the project (electric car) we've been working on all semester." We'd seen pictures, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Did he seriously have any hope that the car had survived.
A few hours ago, the home of one of Hamas' senior leaders, Nizar Rayan, was struck by 4 missiles. Not only was the entire building flattened, killing all who were in it, but several other buildings surrounding it looked like they were about ready to collapse. It is said that there were over 19 deaths, most of them women and children, and scores of injuries. The entire street was littered with debris and rubble. We saw the images on tv, children being lifted from beneath the rubble, headless corpses loaded into plastic body bags, the whole works. We sent a taxi to pick up my aunt, whose home lies 100 meters away from the Rayan building, and had caved in due to the attack. She and her children arrived, shaken, but all in one piece.
Today the temporary halt of rocket fire coincided with the restoration of power to our home, at least for a few hours, at about 5pm. My brothers went to their rooms and played their videogames, I sat on the couch and read, and my sister went to take a nap. We tried to busy ourselves with regular daily activities in a situation that is anything but commonplace.