|By Amira Hass|
Published originally in Italian in Internazionale
January 7, 2009
On Tuesday, January 6, 2009, Maher knew it was time to leave, to evacuate, to flee, to run for your life. Call it whatever you want, just take the children, your brothers` children, your mother who just had an open heart surgery, who was just the age of your daughter, 13 years old, when the Israeli army expelled her and her town`s inhabitants in 1952 (yes, not in 1948, I could have been an Israeli citizen you always joked, if 4 years old Israel had not expelled the remaining Palestinians of the city of Majdal and chased them southwards, to Gaza), who cares that in the past 15 years you and your wife saved every penny in order to leave the cramped refugee camp where your mother had grown up as a refugee and then brought you all to the world and then sent you to study because she always said that we refugees, our only capital is our brains, who cares that you studied and did well and your wife as well and not only did you find respectable and interesting jobs and not only did you travel but even built a rather spacious home, who cares if that home, at the fringes of Gaza, will now be bombed and ground and crushed and smashed and burnt by all the sophisticated hi-tech mutations of gunpowder, that have been showered on you for the past 11 days, 11 days which seem to be 11 years, everybody says, who cares for the books and laptops and children`s toys and furniture that are doomed now, your brother`s home - further north in this dangerous fringe-land - had been already evacuated and hit by a missile and he does not even try to go and see the damage, the only thing which is important now is to save everybody`s life, now you really know what it is to be a refugee you say, you care about nothing, everything that you had built during your lifetime is worthless, just leave the burning fields at the fringes of Gaza, where the army has been dropping leaflets from its helicopters, demanding people to evacuate their homes, and then, if you did not get the hint, this army shelled you from tanks which stood so near by, you could hear their engines humming and growling, then used some strange, new techniques - bombs that explode and turn into blades of fire which catches everything, and when you try to pour water it does not extinguish but the opposite, only rises up, all the trees have gone, burnt down, what is important is to escape the fire and the cloud of dust and smoke - so thick you don`t see who is ahead of you - and get into two cars, praying to the god you don`t believe in that an Israeli shell or bomb or missile will not just target them as it did some ambulances (and killed several of the aid crews), and some telephone company technicians, or maybe did not target but just like that, fell near them, by accident, as it did several days ago near a wake house which mourned the death of a young man who volunteered in one of those ambulances, we cannot remember all those cases and details we have been told about and heard about during the past 11 years, sorry, days, so many dead, forget about it now, the only thing is to have your family in a safe place, safe? we know no place is safe in Gaza, all your neighbors have evacuated their homes already, you and others have seen them, tens, hundreds, thousands, filling the streets, or what used to be streets and now are rubble of torn out asphalt and shreds of buildings, all are looking for a shelter, many of them are farmers, not refugees from 1948, some were wounded in their greenhouses and their fields, where they worked till the last moment, now UNRWA opened for them and their like 23 schools, families, crying babies, old men and women who thought 1948 was the last, pregnant women, terrified children, still in shock from the past thousands of bombs and shells and missiles that invaded into their kid-hood and sleep and struck them dumb, their big eyes are screaming, your wife is a maternity nurse, while you evacuated the kids she went to the school, Fakhura its name, proud it means, to see women and children and give advice as to how to handle and coop in the crowded place for who knows how many days, you just reached your own shelter in the better-off neighborhood Rimal of Gaza (which was bombed even more than refugee camps) when people`s wireless radios (no electricity so no t.v`s, but who cares now about electricity, it`s the water which we did not have for 5 days which really maddens us), where were we, yes, the wireless radio screamed the news about a shell which hit a school, peopled by hundreds of people who looked for shelter, you at first did not pay attention, were too busy unloading the kids and the few chattels you carried with you, then the `Fakhura` drilled into your busy-ness and you said can`t be, you called her cellular, but you knew before calling that the system had already collapsed, three antennas had been hit by missiles or bombs or whatever, you sms-ed her, it was around 4 in the afternoon, your mom asked where your wife was, you said oh she is attending to something and will soon come, your kids asked when was mom coming, you just kept silent and inside, you are an earthquake, in the past 11 years you saw death so many times you could imagine.... no you cannot imagine, she cannot be one of the ten who were killed, according to the first breaking news, then it`s 15 dead within a half hour, then 30 some say 40 we stopped counting, you vaguely remember that in the morning 13 people of the Al-Dayya family, in the eastern fringes of Gaza city, were killed, parents and kids, and 8 of their family members still not-found, maybe under the rubble, they will not have the `honor` to decorate the news head lines, just like so many other kids and women and old people who are being added to the statistics of death which, when you have the energy and listen to the Israeli radio, you learn they are `terrorists` or civilians that `terrorists hid behind and used`, and that is why they allow themselves to bomb and shell houses, where Hamas activists and seniors are supposed to be living, only that most of them have evacuated their homes and the
neighbors remained, but it`s five pm and still no word from your wife and the flashes of dead people, limbs, torn flesh, all what you have seen in the past 11 days of a continuous nightmare pass through your mind and you chase them out, if the 11 days were long, the one hour between 5 pm and 6 pm, when she showed up, were a million time longer, she showed up and you started shouting at her, why did you not call, why did you not sms me, how the consciousness lags behind the reality, you cling to normalcies such as scolding your partner for being late or to the use of a cellular, even though in eleven days we were thrown back to stone age, you shout and she apologizes, also the apology is a normalcy which does not fit into the reality, then she starts weeping, there was blood everywhere she says, people took me home by ambulance, then I took our car and came here, I am tired, I need to sleep, she said and you know she is in shock, she is a nurse and has seen much, especially in the last 8 years, but not that, nothing prepared her for this, we all need collective psychotherapy now, you say, what I saw is not conventional war, people in their homes and bombs outside and then there is smoke in every home, children suffocate, you try to extinguish the fire and it only rises up, you all are afraid, each shows it in a different way, women all shake, their hands tremble, they cannot stop it, that is what Yaakub, our common friend, remarked, he shook the hand of my friend Salwa, his old neighbor from Shabura refugee camp in Rafah and he noticed how it trembled, but her voice is quite and composed, by the phone you could not tell, I am surprised when I wake up to discover that I am alive, she tells me by phone, I know it is only by accident that I am alive, but her hands tremble, our common friend Yaakub whispers in my ear, by phone, of course I am afraid as well, he admits, but I don`t show it, he forgot how he screamed into the telephone, on that bloody Saturday of 27 December 2008, when the Israeli air force dropped at once a hundred bombs all over the Gaza strip, half of his children were just returning from the school`s first shift, the other half of the children and his wife were going to the second shift - classes are so crowded that schools have expanded the two shifts system, more than a half of Gaza population are children below 18 - and all those children were out in the streets when the pride of Israeli and American technology showered its might on vacant training camps of Hamas and busy civilian police stations of which so many are built in the centre of the cities, near schools, Yaakub forgot how he shouted on the phone, when I called with the breaking, frightening news, he shouted that nobody of his kids replied, he does not know what happened to them, and his wife just left the house to the school where she teaches, are they out of their mind he shouted, and in the next days he became quieter and quieter, his sentences more and more jumbled, sometimes he let out a strange burst of laughter, for example when he told about a night radio program, at a local station which still miraculously functions, and all kinds of merchants and workers who used to work in Israel and know Hebrew call and try to analyse Israeli policy and Israeli statements, and then start reminiscing about those years when everything was open for them, just as Ahmad Sammour did when I spoke with him on the phone, on the first day of the new year, Ahmad Sammour, Abu Imad, a locksmith, who had worked 31 years in Israel and built an entire neighbourhood in Ashkelon (Majdal, Maher`s mom`s hometown), until the world closed on them and he opened his own shop at the east of Jabalia village, you can call Jack, my former boss, I worked in his locksmith shop in Ashkelon, he told me on the phone, in Hebrew, you can call him, he`ll tell you about me, till today I call him Dad, he`ll tell your army that I am not Hamas, you have many experts, let them come and see that the truck their missile hit was my truck, and that the `tens of Grade missiles` that were in that truck according to the Israeli army where my shop`s machines and a few oxygen containers we use for melting the metal, it`s doors and gates that we produce here, not rockets, but they hit my truck and my son is gone, dead, so are 7 other young men and boys who helped me to clear my shop after a neighboring house was bombed, we were afraid the open doors would tempt thieves, so hours after the house was hit we came by truck and my brother in law`s white Golf, and started clearing and loading, what exploded were the jars of petrol and diesel gas we always store, because of the shortage in the market, what blew up was not missiles, as your army said, but our oxygen and petrol, my brother in law just left in his car, which we loaded with electrodes - 50 packages, 4 kilos each, you use it for melting as well - and he heard the explosion, hurried back, saw everybody dead, his boys, my boy, our neighbors who helped us, and he came home and since then hits his head at the wall, you have experts, let them come and see there were no Grade missile, it all stands now , burnt, next to the shop, nobody dares to touch it or remove it, lest the drone detect them as Hamas and fire a missile, you can call Jack, I still call him my father, he just called me and asked for my bank account number, to send me some money, Abu Imad does not know I did call `Jack` who, in a strong French accent, refused to speak with this shit of a paper, Haaretz, I did not insist to speak with him not only because I was sure abu Imad was not Hamas, but because there are so many phone calls to make from six in the morning till midnight, you check if we are still alive, Salwa laughs, it`s okay, okay, we do the same, every morning we call each other to check that we are still alive, she appeases me, always her voice so composed and quite, as if she told you about a film and not about the bomb that hit the ministry of education just across the corner, it hits the building and you think it fell on your house, and all the windows glass shattered but the metal frames were plucked out and the door twisted in a crooked way that you needed three neighbors to come and fix it, now the cold and wind are permanent tenants, no electricity, forget about the electricity, it`s water that we need, and still we are better off in comparison to others, on the news we heard a Qassam rocket hit Qiryat Gat, that is Faluja, the village my father came from, and I said, excuse me Qassam, nobody gave you a permit to hit my land we once went there with my father, when we were young, he recognized it even though all houses had been razed, my mother`s house in Shabura refugee camp in Rafah was hit, not directly, but by the blast of a bomb that hit one closed room in the camp`s square, you know what a home it is, tin and asbestos, she refused to evacuate and stay with my sister, until the roof fell a few centimeters away from her head, her only wish now is to die before something happens to us.