I’ve been through wars before, two of them, in 2008-2009 and 2012. The difference this time around is that I am responsible for a six-month old daughter.
I have to be strong for her. I have to be around her all the time. I have to be ready to make funny noises as soon as the Israeli F-16s resume the bombardment.
The nights are much worse than the days, and each night is rougher than the night before. Ten days now.
My heart is sick whenever I watch the news, particularly when I see footage of parents crying over their dead children.
The fear I see in my neighbors’ eyes as they talk about ground invasion is indescribable.
Every night we wait until the morning to snatch one or two hours of sleep.
Every day we pray the electricity will stay on so that we can watch the news. The broadcasts are full of blood and oppression, stuffed with warnings of food shortages and fuel shortages. Medicine shortages. Medical equipment shortages. And neither regional actors nor the “international community” do anything to redress the urgent needs.
All the justifications for the continuous closures are silly. But the silliest one I’ve ever heard came from an Egyptian journalist, the deputy chief of one of Egypt’s most famous newspapers. He said the Rafah crossing must remain shut so that people from Gaza (most of us are 1948 or 1967 refugees) won’t be displaced again.
That’s right — “Egypt will not assist Israel in displacing the Palestinians again!” Instead, Egypt will help the Palestinians to die under blockade.
The most stressful day so far was Tuesday. At 10:50 pm, somebody rang the bell and told us over the intercom that we had to evacuate immediately. A resident on the sixth floor had gotten one of those warning phone calls from the Israelis. They were about to bomb his house.
I live on the eighth floor.
Before a minute had elapsed, I was hurrying down the stairs, holding my baby daughter. All of our neighbors (there are more than 30 flats) were already hiding in the next building over. We all stayed there for 30-40 minutes.
We were afraid to go home. I went with a neighbor to my father-in-law’s house. It was difficult to find transportation. The men (my husband and other neighbors) stayed behind, in case the bombs did come and caused a fire. Also, we had all left our homes unlocked.
Yesterday, a first-floor resident got a warning from the Israelis to leave his house. They were about to bomb.
He was brave enough to tell them that he is a UN staffer and unaffiliated with a political party. The person calling said he would check.
He called back a few minutes later, and said the target was not the first floor but the ground floor, so my neighbor should still evacuate.
We don’t know who rents the garage down there. We used to see a person park his car there. He doesn’t live in our building. So those of us who had come back home had to evacuate again.
Nothing was bombed.
Was it psychological warfare? Maybe, but most of us did not want to risk going home.
Today, people used the five-hour ceasefire to go out and buy food for their families. I managed to get home and grab some important papers, some money and and a few items for my baby. Then I left the house again.
Belonging to an oppressed people means being uncertain of everything.
It also means that the children stay awake for days on end, spending the hours between the moments of horror discussing the types of military aircraft launching the missiles. “Is it an Apache or an F-16? How big was the bang? What did it sound like?” I guess Palestinian kids have their own vocabulary.
Being oppressed means enduring outrageous lies by news channels that show destroyed Palestinian houses and claim they belonged to Israeli families. The media always serves the powerful.
It also means celebrating Ramadan with the smell of gunpowder in the air, the deafening noise of explosions, the continuous vibration of the house. As a Palestinian living in Gaza, you learn to stay away from windows. You “redecorate” your house so that one room is the place for everything — eating, sleeping and watching the news. You have to be on alert. Any sound could be a “warning rocket” to be followed by actual bombardment of your house.
It also means trying not to breathe when the house opposite to you is bombed because the air is full of dark smoke.
No place is safe in Gaza. The Israeli drones make ears buzz. F-16 missiles suck air out of lungs. People who live close to the sea (like me) have constant headaches and knots in the stomach from the growl of the warships offshore.
The death is not the story. The story is experiencing the death every moment. The words become hollow when you live under fire.