Reflections of Horror, Remembrance and Our Refusal to Forgive

Picture of Hind Rajab. Photograph Source: Maktoob Media – Fair Use

On February 9, 2024, I took my family’s dog out for a walk around the park. It was an activity that I had resolved to begin doing for my mental and physical health. On our journey, the sun had begun to set, and we were surrounded by other people. Together, or alone, or with their dogs. Playing music, sitting at the lake, skateboarding, talking. Living. Seeing all these different people, looking into the small window of each of their lives that this one beautiful winter sunset had provided, I was overcome with a rush of emotion that I had not felt in months, perhaps even years. It was the feeling of finally being able to sense, unobscured by a spike in mental illness or stress from personal events, just how beautiful life was. That maybe I had finally reached the point of everything being okay. Perhaps it was just endorphins from taking that long walk, but such emotions had been building for some time since the new year began. I had a fresh start with the classes of my new semester at college, I was involving myself in more opportunities outside of my daily academic routine, and I was even losing weight. Everything seemed to be improving for the first time in a long, long while.

But as I grappled with this rush, I soon remembered the unimaginable gap between this improvement in my personal life and the horrors occurring in Palestine. How for every fifteen minutes I spent admiring the darkening sky and getting my daily steps in, a child in Gaza was dying from sickness, hunger, cold, infection, or being murdered by Israeli bombs and snipers. This moment of somber remembrance and realization of the continuing genocide is one I’m sure countless people have felt countless times in the past few months. The positivity was soon overcome with a complicated mess of emotions and questions as I tried to grapple with the situation that had endured even into this newer chapter of my life.

Even the sight of my dog wearing her little jacket struck a painful chord with me, knowing that such a piece of clothing was being denied to human beings freezing in their tents. Did I have the right to feel this carefree? Did I even deserve to, more than the Palestinians still under siege and suffering beyond comprehension? Where must the line between my mental health and the collective trauma of me and my allies across America be drawn? I didn’t want to dwell and come crashing down in this rare moment of tranquility. So, I took the easy way out and pocketed it all away for later. Maybe I would write it out in my journal when I got home or save it to speak with my therapist.

On February 10, 2024, I woke up and turned on my phone to see the news that Hind Rajab, the six-year-old girl trapped in a car with six of her dead family members surrounded by Israeli snipers and tanks for almost two weeks, was finally found. Dead. Murdered. Along with the charred remains of the ambulance and its occupants sent to rescue her.

This is our reality. An infinite cycle of starting to subconsciously calm down and grow accustomed to the state of things before news of the latest atrocity at the hands of the IDF reminds us that this is still happening. After 129 days, the bombs are still dropping. Humanitarian aid is still being blocked from entering Gaza. Israeli forces are still hardly trying to rescue the hostages held by Hamas. Pictures of the mothers and infant among these hostages, supposedly in immediate danger by the people holding them despite no reports of foul play emerging, were plastered across the city, and will hardly be replaced by the pictures of the Gazan child trapped and murdered among the corpses of her family members.

Another indescribable massacre has arrived, as Netanyahu launches a ‘military operation’ in Rafah, where over 80% of Gaza’s population has fled. And yet, the world wants us to forget. Social media conglomerates like Meta restrict and remove posts about Gaza, the media shifts their focus back to celebrity news, and Joe Biden himself assumes the performance of an unfortunate witness to Israel’s practices of collective punishment rather than a direct financial, legal, and moral contributor to it. Tax season approaches, and we must work and calculate just how much we owe to the government that we hadn’t already paid through our undervalued labor, knowing full well the dollars we send them will pay the wages of the monsters who celebrate the deaths of children. The Super Bowl has come and gone, drawing millions of eyes away from the bombs raining down on Rafah. Business in America moves on as usual, no matter how loudly we scream for a halt, for a chance to grieve the losses of humanity that pile up by the hour. Valentine’s Day sales, Oscars, Golden Globes, Taylor Swift, Apple products, all more of the same.

For the citizens of nations led by explicitly Zionist officials like America and the United Kingdom, the news of Hind’s body has once again crushed us with impossible despair and questions we hardly have the power to answer. How did we let this happen to this little girl? How did we fail the 13,000 children before her? How have we let the carnage go on for this long? How dare we live our lives for even a moment without awareness?

What are we even doing?

As hard as we fight for accountability and action – in the media, the courts, even the streets, we are ruled by a gaggle of decrepit, senile warmongers who have shown time and time again that they have no concern for the sanctity of a single human life that does not align with their best interests. And they are desperate to make us numb, as they have with all the domestic crises their citizens are living through day after day. But I refuse. And I will continue to refuse, along with the brothers and sisters and everyone in between in this movement. We will refuse to be numb, refuse to call this normal, and refuse to adhere to the morals and criteria of the oppressor who has committed the unthinkable for more than 75 years.

It is the burden of the survivors to live with all that they have gone through, and the burden of the witnesses to carry even just a fraction of the pain of those survivors to every part of the world that will hear them, and never let it settle. And now, in this age of instant transmission of videos and messages, we have all become witnesses. We cannot look at children without remembering the images we saw of the remains of infants even younger than them, not at animals without reflecting on the Gazan civilians giving the last of their water and food to the emaciated strays, not at the horizon without reminding ourselves of those who are forced to see a wall instead. We will never look at these things the same way. Endless lists of brands, taxes, schools, hospitals, militaries, world courts, banks, college campuses, ambulances, missiles, casualties, bulldozers, graves, corpses.

And we never should.

I do believe that one day the bombing will halt. But whether it is after actual global intervention or of Netanyahu’s own volition after destroying every inch of Gaza has yet to be seen. But what I have come to fear is that we are struggling so much just to make it through each passing moment, to grapple with what we’ve seen and heard, that when the massacre is finally put on pause, the relief of silence and the chance to grieve will overpower us even more than the censorship and demonization of our cause. Genocide Joe will continue to try to convince the world of how appalled he is at Netanyahu, his partner in crime, for using the money he gave and the power over the media he secured and the fearmongering of Zionist Americans he encouraged to commit genocide, just in time for the 2024 election. And we may be too exhausted, and too broken, to raise our voices any louder. But we cannot let a ceasefire be our stopping point. There has been too much lost for any semblance of forgiveness to be given to the spineless celebrities who will one day sheepishly apologize for their support of the IDF, to the brands who will put out a statement of ‘inclusiveness’, to the student government presidents who will claim to have cared for all their students as the genocide happened. I know the ability to forgive is a virtue, both for religious purposes and in the name of mental health. But there simply is no possibility of it anymore.

We, the witnesses, cannot let go of the pain and trauma we’ve seen. heard and endured these hellish four months. Not after a ‘peace’ treaty, not after the blockades are removed, never. Nothing will ever be the same, and we must make sure everyone knows it, no matter how much they tell us how much they tell us to focus on something else. They want to make us a trend. Our boycotts, our protests, our reporting, our social media posts. But Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King, Lays, Sephora, Zara, Dove…they must never see our money again, and the Zionists and the moderates must never have our votes again. I have already contended with the fact that I may not see my father and his family’s land liberated in my lifetime, but I cannot bear the thought of what we are witnessing being known as just another entry in the list of massacres of the Palestinian people. My father’s people. My people.

I am aware that this piece is much more pessimistic than my other writing. Perhaps it is morally wrong to beg the people around me to hold on tightly to the pain we feel right at this moment and never let go. But this is simply the point we are at now. The point where the bombing of Rafah began as I was writing this, the point where the giant Israeli flag hanging in the store window I pass every day going to class feels like a mocking declaration of immunity to justice. And the point where all our financial and legal systems have failed us to where the most impactful thing we seem to be able to do is to remember all we’ve witnessed. It is human nature to wish for emotional wounds to heal and disappear, but by now, we all hope they never will, because we know the blood of those lost in Palestine will never dry, and the horrors will never be comprehendible. Bodies piled into an ice cream truck. Thousands of people starving, running out of animal feed to make bread from. A child hanging from a wall, their legs blown off. A baby covered in ash; their lower half gone. The screams of Hind.

We’ve seen it.  We’ve heard it. We won’t forget. We won’t forgive.

Julia Abusharr is a 20-year-old Egyptian and Palestinian woman living in America.