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Gaza’s New Martyrs


One look at Majda’s face and I felt consumed by her overwhelming pain. For a month Majda has lived on edge, knowing how ill her father was in Gaza and knowing he may die before she would be allowed to enter into Gaza’s closed gates.

Majda told me it was not her father’s death that pained her as much as knowing how worthless his life and his dignity had become, not only to a world that continues to turn a blind eye to Gaza’s misery, not only to the Israelis who have hardened their hearts to the Palestinian suffering, not only to Egypt that continues to act as jailer of Gaza’s population, but even to the Palestinian leaders. His illness was exploited by Fatah and his death was exploited by Hamas.

Majda’s father was in need of kidney dialysis. For a month he was in severe pain. His suffering was prolonged as shortages of drugs and spare parts for equipment in Gaza’s Shifa hospital reached critical levels as a direct result of the imposed siege. If this was not enough for Majda’s father, and for the countless other patients who lingered in the Shifa’s corridors reeking of illness and death, Fatah had called for a strike in the health sector. In other words, medical staff were told by Fatah that they would only receive their salaries if they stayed home.

The decision of Fatah union leaders, representing teachers and health workers, to strike until the end of this year was designed to weaken Hamas’s support base in the besieged strip. However, Fatah’s decision has been criticized by many international observers, as it caused grave harm to Gaza’s medical patients and school children, while failing its objective of weakening the Hamas faction.

Many doctors and teachers heeded Fatah’s call and stayed home. After all, the siege has lead to basic food shortages, and whatever supplies were available in the market were sold only to the highest bidder. No one in his right mind in Gaza wants the risk of losing a salary.

And so, for one long month, Majda’s poor father, who could barely walk from the pain, was shoveled back and forth at Shifa looking for a doctor, looking for a working dialysis machine, waiting for the electricity to come back on, waiting for a shipment of medication to arrive. Without working elevators, he was carried around from floor to floor by his desperate sons. Majda cried at how little dignity this whole process had given him.

Majda’s father’s death is another reminder of the ongoing brutality of the siege that has kept her and her family apart for years. It is a reminder for her that the lives of those she loves in Gaza is under constant threat. It is a reminder that even under the most dire humanitarian situations, she is prevented from entering Gaza to see her family and they are prevented from ever coming out. It is a reminder that we have all failed to intervene to stop the wholesale destruction and collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the world’s most densely populated strip of land.

Majda wept and her words came out broken: “Where else in the world do you have more than one million people locked up with little food and medicine and with no visitation rights?”

As I offered Majda my embrace, I thought of my own family in Gaza and I wondered whether my children will ever see their grandparents again. I wondered what it is that their loving grandparents have done in their life to be treated with such cruelty, so as to be deprived from the joy of being united with their first born son and their grandchildren?

Many families who are faced with an ailing father or a dying mother in Gaza are taking risks these days, paying suspicious gangsters and black market merchants a hefty fee so they can use the dangerous underground tunnels to travel from Egypt into Gaza – just to reunite with their loved ones. Others, like my family, are following the news daily looking for rays of hope that this siege will be lifted.

When Majda’s father died, the most that the Hamas officials in Gaza could do for him was to offer to burry him in Gaza’s new cemetery – they named it the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Siege. When Majda told me that, she smiled with a bitterness I have never seen before – a kind of infectious bitterness that ran through my veins. I understood just what she meant.

There is no solace in the fact that another father, son, mother, loved one is killed by the siege. Death by neglect, death by malnutrition, death by poverty, death by medicine shortages or death by any other means is death. Naming the dead martyrs brings little comfort to their loved ones. An Arab poet once said “We died until death grew sick of us”. I wonder when will death grow sick of Gaza?

SAMAH SABAWI is a Palestinian-Canadian writer. She can be reached at:



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