My family was in Denver for the holidays when we awoke to peddling images of bombardment. Gaza was on fire. 250 people dead. From our television set we quickly tuned into the perversions of war, watching reports from both American and Arab media. We are safe. We do not smell burned flesh, hear cries of agony or see before us military planes. We view from a distance, but feel none of the anxiety and melancholy that the rest of our family feels in the besieged coastal strip.
Scattered throughout the refugee camps of Khan Younis, Beit Lahya and Jabalya, my relatives are living through another war. We try to call each and every relative to ascertain their safety, but mostly to see whether or not they are still living. The telephone networks were either busy or not working at all. We forgot that Gaza only gets electricity for six hours a day.
After failed attempts to contact my family in Jabalya (due to Israel’s bombing of the Jawal towers, which is Gaza’s only mobile provider), we get through the landline network to my cousin Anan. He had no desire to speak, mentioning only that the Israeli army was 3 km away from the camp. He then passed the phone to his wife, but she too did not feel at ease on the phone, she was distressed, her children constantly crying, the youngest only 6-weeks-old.
Thirteen years ago my father moved back to Gaza and bought a home in Beit Lahya. He died two years ago, leaving the house to his nephew. Now my cousin and his family live in the house.
We call Beit Lahya. No answer.
Finally, we decide to call our family in Khan Younis. My cousin’s mobile is working. The Jawal towers appear to be intact in Khan Younis. Mohamad, a 26-year-old father of two, works as an executive director for the Palestinian Student Care Association, a non-profit organization that promotes formal education to Palestinians in Gaza.
Comforted to hear my voice, like a prisoner receiving a call from the outside world, he asks me how I am doing. Baffled by his question, I don’t know: is he is being earnest or polite? I answered by repeating his question.
“We haven’t been able to leave the camp since the ground invasion began. Israeli tanks are blocking all entrances to the camp,” Mohamad says, “Of course, nobody has been to work or school for the past ten days, we are all staying in our homes at the moment.”
80 percent of Gazans cannot support themselves and are dependent on humanitarian assistance, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Right now, flour and sugar are not available,” Mohamad is weary, “If we want bread we have to be at the bakery by 5 am, and all we get is 1 or 2 loaves.”
Food supplies are depleting and with Israel’s complete restriction over movement into and out of Khan Younis, many residents are coping with what little they have, resorting to tediously baking their own bread using the taboon, an oven made of clay, which requires long hours of watching the bread to make sure each side is equally cooked.
Thinking of Mohamad’s children I ask him how they are coping with sights and sounds of death.
Mohamad said his 6-year-old son Munir stands at the window and pretends to shoot down Israeli apaches and fighter jets that fly overhead. His two-year-old daughter Saja cries every time she hears renewed sounds of bombardment and runs to hide.
“Yesterday we got electricity at 8 p.m. and we immediately turned on the television to watch the news. My children are frightened not just by the sounds of the bombing and gunfire, but by the images they see on the news. They see the Israeli tanks in the camp and they correlate the tank with death.”
Mohamad says he doesn’t believe that any outside government will intervene, especially that of Arab countries.
“They [Arab governments] have never helped in the past, so why would they help us now? This is something natural that we have come to accept. The Egyptian government won’t even open Rafah for Palestinians in need of urgent medical care without permission from Israel.”
I asked him if he would leave Gaza if the Rafah border were to miraculously open.
“Of course not,” he says, “If I die, I want to die here in my country and most Palestinians you ask will say the same thing.”
Mohamad laughs into the phone. He asks me if I know why he is laughing. Though I said nothing, there was the thought that maybe war hysteria had finally begun to set in.
“I’m laughing because this is a very complex situation,” he says, “Every party wants to govern Palestinians, whether it’s Hamas, Fatah or Islamic Jihad. They all look out for their own self-interests. Palestine as a whole has never been their priority. The Israelis are different. Their priority is focused on the Jewish State, and this is why they are successful.”
I turn off the phone and turn to the news frenetically searching for some sort of meaning to all this bombardment. With the help of the press displaying the war as something needed to create security or harmony for Israel, giving justification to Israel’s rocket rhetoric and dubious claims that this war is a war on Hamas, I become more disenchanted with the docility of the press. This war has only created more chaos for Palestinians, a chaos intended to lead Palestinians to give up their fight against the Zionist state, to becoming subservient to the collaborative Palestinian president. What victory do Israel and the Palestinian Authority seek in Gaza. A place with no food, no army, no state.
SOUSAN HAMMAD is a writer, and coordinator for the Houston Palestine Film Festival. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org