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Voices from the Ruins of Gaza

Don’t Cry for Me

by SAM BAHOUR

As the latest horrific obscenity of Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Strip continues, the death toll mounts. Palestinian children are paying the highest price, both those who are killed and wounded, and maybe even more so, those who survive.

Since I have written for decades about how Israel’s prolonged military occupation and endless violations of international law—let alone their blatant disregard to their very own self-interests—would get us to this very point, fresh analysis and fresh vantage points are difficult to find. The only words I can muster now, while the images of the carnage are freshly etched into my mind, are the words that may have come from one of the child victims whose life was cut short by a U.S. supplied Israeli F-16 fighter jet missile.

Below is the imagined letter from the victim:

Dear Humankind,

Hi. My name is Eman; it means faith in Arabic. I doubt you will have seen or remember me; only particular photos make it to your TV screen, those are the ones you will remember. I’m a Palestinian child from Gaza. I like my dolls, playing with my sister, and swimming. I was told that many of you are crying for me, but please don’t cry for me. I just arrived to this place and wanted to write to let you know that I’m OK. Really, I’m fine. I just miss Mommy.

There are a lot of people here, just like back home in Gaza. Lots of Palestinian kids too, some have been here for a very long time. Why would you want to cry for only me?

My neighbor arrived a few months ago from the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria, he shares a room with someone who came from a different refugee camp in South Lebanon called Sabra who arrived in September 1982. I really don’t know what a refugee camp is, even though Mommy told me that’s where we live too.

Down the road I saw a really older girl, maybe 13 years old. Her name is also Iman, but she spells it with an “I”. Iman came here in October 2004. She told me she was walking home from school, not far from my house in Gaza, when an Israeli soldier emptied his magazine into her after she was wounded and laying on the ground. She says he was caught on radio communications saying he was “confirming the kill.” I don’t really know what that means, either.

There are a lot of old people here, too: mommies and daddies. Some have their kids with them and some are alone. I actually saw a sign on one house that said the person arrived from Kufer Kassem in 1948 (that’s a long time ago!). I think Kufer Kassem is not far from Gaza, but I really don’t know since Daddy never took us on trips far away.

Anyway, I made friends with another girl exactly my age, Amal, her name means hope and she is from Qana in Lebanon. She lives with her sisters; one arrived in 1996 and the other in 2006. There are really a lot of nice people here from Lebanon.

See, I’m in good company, so please, don’t cry for me.

I am exactly 8 years and 23 days old; pretty big girl, wouldn’t you say? I have one baby sister and two older brothers, or at least Mommy tells me that I have two brothers. I’ve only seen one, the other, Mommy says, lives in an Israeli prison and has been there for a very long time. Even though I never saw him, I still love him.

It is true that I was born in Gaza, but Grandpa told me when I was very young that our real home is in a place called al-Majdal. He still has the key to his house. It’s all rusted but I think it may still work. I bet you don’t know where al-Majdal is located, but you may know a place called Ashkelon. I understand how this can happen, it happens all the time. Those people who made Grandma and Grandpa come to Gaza keep changing the names of everything, even their own names. They not only changed the name of al-Majdal, they changed the name of many cities and villages too. Daddy told me that one organization called Zochrot goes around and puts signs up with the original names where Palestinian towns and villages were wiped off the face of the earth. This way no one will forget. You really don’t need to worry, because here they must have a very big computer, as all the names are what they use to be, nothing is forgotten. So please, don’t cry for me.

Let me tell you what happen to me last month. It was the beginning of Ramadan. I love Ramadan because at the end of the month there is a big feast and Daddy takes us all to the marketplace and we each are allowed to buy two toys. A few days before the end of Ramadan, Mommy takes us to buy new clothes and shoes. This is the happiest time of the year for me and my brother and sister. But this year, Mommy was sad. She stayed sitting in my room crying while she nursed my baby sister. When I asked her why she was crying she said that we would not be able to buy new clothes this year because all the stores were closed. I understood (I am almost 9 years old, you know) so I surprised her. I went to my closet and pulled out my dress from last year’s Ramadan and I dusted off the pink paddy leather shoes Mommy bought me on my last birthday and I told her she can stop crying because I don’t mind wearing old clothes, even if they don’t match. But she cried even more. I think I know why she was crying. The neighbors were playing with fireworks all night and day, even though Ramadan was only in its first week. Usually fireworks happen only at the end of Ramadan. I asked her if she wanted me to go tell them to stop but she said no, she liked to hear them. I pretended as if I liked the fireworks too, but I don’t think she was telling me the truth because they are scary, especially at night. I’m glad there are no fireworks here.

Anyway, just as I was putting my Eid clothes back in the closet something happened. I want to tell you what happened but I really don’t know how. I felt like I was swimming, but I wasn’t. The water did not feel like the bathtub, it was warm and sticky. When I glanced down I think it was red too. The last thing I remember is looking up and seeing the light fixture in my room, the one that looks like a clown’s head (Daddy bought that for me when my sister was born). It was falling, coming straight at me. I know this is not making sense, because ceilings don’t fall, but I swear that was what it looked like.

Next thing I knew, I was brought to this nice place. I love it here but I really miss Mommy and my baby sister. I wonder why they did not come here with me. Mom would love it. We have electricity all day and night and the stores never close. Really, I’m not joking. In my home here, I can drink water right out of the faucet any time I’m thirsty. One of my friends told me that when I get a little older we can even go on trips far, far away, even to Jerusalem. I’m not sure where that is but I’m sure I’ll be able to ride a plane for the first time ever to get there.

I want to tell you so much more but I’ll have to write again later because I need to go now. My two newest friends, Hadar and Issa, are bringing their bikes to take turns in giving me a ride. Can you tell Mommy to send me my bike? I also forgot my toothbrush in the rush to get here so I need that too. Tell her not to send me my Eid dress and shoes. I want my baby sister to wear them for Ramadan next year, because I doubt the stores will open anytime soon. One more thing, please: tell Mommy to empty my piggybank, and send all my savings to The Palestine Children Relief Fund because I’m sure that many of my friends who did not come with me are going to need a lot of help.

After going for the bike ride I’m coming back home to take a nap. I was so happy that I found the CD here with the same exact song that Mommy use to sing to me every night at bedtime. It’s this one.

So see, I’m fine. Really, don’t cry for me. Cry for yourselves.

Love,

Eman

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, Palestine, father of two daughters, and blogs at epalestine.com.