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The young girl from Gaza tells me how she yearns for the red and white bird. It used to come every morning to the little veranda where her mother served a breakfast of bread, tea, water and fruit when the weather was good. Each morning her father left to look for work in Gaza City, and sometimes he was successful. Most of the time he came home late at night.
She used to throw out a few seeds or breadcrumbs to the red and white bird. It came every morning at the same time, as if it had its own clock. They used to have breakfast together.
The girl talks about the time before that day in 2004, when everything disappeared. That was the day when one of the many wars ended. Before then, Israeli soldiers had passed by every day in their big metal boxes. She could see them clattering by when she drank her morning tea. Behind the thick grey steel sat the young soldiers. On these days, she would remain at home rather than going to school.
They were all scared of the uncertainty and of the unknown. They often heard them in the distance, the sound of big machines with their heavy engines, the roar of rockets, the rattling of machine guns. They were afraid that the machines would come too close, that the sounds would come up to them and stop, and that the machines would turn their jaws directly at them. It was on these days that the red and white bird would not appear.
The adults used to sit in the evenings and whisper about what they had seen or heard that day. Everyone dreamed of the day when everything would be quiet, no more machine gun fire and no clattering of heavy metal. The girl longed to go back to school.
In the middle of the cold refugee room, with a few possessions piled in one corner, she sits and tells her story. She speaks in a calm and quiet voice as she spreads a rug on the cold cement floor and helps her little sister with her math lessons.
She speaks slowly, as if she wants to be sure that every word is true, no exaggeration and nothing left out. Back then, they had a house with a veranda and a red and white bird. She shared a room with her little sister. Now the whole family is squeezed into a small room without a veranda and without a bird that comes to visit.
On the morning of the last day of the war, the soldiers stopped their heavy metal box and aimed the long cannon barrel at the house. That was the morning they didn’t just pass by. The girl will never forget it. She saw how they went by the house and slowly turned back, and in their wake followed four bulldozers. Daddy had already gone looking for work. They were surrounded by tanks carrying soldiers and heavy, specially built bulldozers. The houses were emptied of women, men and children. The soldiers were screaming, and so were the women and children. The soldiers only gave them a moment. She forgets how long, but it wasn’t long enough.
“I don’t understand,” she says. “I don’t understand. They just came, as if they were passing by our houses. Then they stopped. Someone called out. A soldier approached and asked us to leave our houses, leave them at once. We could bring a few things, but most of our possessions were left behind. The time was too short, everyone was just running around. We wanted to go into the house while it was falling down. The sound of your house being destroyed is terrible.”
Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at email@example.com.