Iftar on the Rubble

June 14, 2017

By International Solidarity Movement, al-Khalil team | Jerusalem, occupied Palestine

Seventy people gathered in the Sur Baher neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem for a communal solidarity Iftar on the rubble of the home of Ashraf and Islam Fawaqa.

The Fawaqa home was one of nine Palestinian homes and 3 stores that were demolished on May 4th, 2017 in occupied East Jerusalem. Home demolition is a strategic policy of Israel that is integral to their Judaization of Jerusalem and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Nurredin Amro, who is blind and the principal of Siraj Al Quds School for Inclusive Education spoke about his family being awakened at four in the morning in March 2015 when their house in Wadi Joz was being demolished while they were inside. “It was the most terrible thing that I have ever experienced. A home demolition is the demolition of a person. It is not just stone that is destroyed it is the demolition of the human spirit.”

Nora Lester Murad, one of the volunteer organisers of the event stated: “We want to express our solidarity with the tens of thousands of Palestinian families whose homes have been demolished, sealed, or who live every day under the imminent threat of demolition. We feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of need these families have, by the apparent impossibility of stopping future demolitions, and by our own sense of powerlessness. It seemed the least we could do to show these families – families who are on the frontline of the continuing Nakba – that they have allies.”

Islam and Ashraf talked about the uncertain future of their young family who now live in a temporary caravan on the site where their home once stood, even this caravan which is insufficient to keep their children, including their new born baby, warm in the winter, is in danger of being demolished.

Munir Nusseibeh, of the Al Quds Community Action Center, explained the excuses used by the occupation authorities for demolishing Palestinian homes. “Some homes are demolished because the occupation authorities claim they have no building permits, but it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian resident of occupied East Jerusalem to receive a permit. The permit system is setup to benefit the Israeli settlers and not to serve the needs of the Palestinians of the city. Some homes are demolished as collective punishment because one of the members of the family is accused of a crime. But no matter the excuse, home demolitions by the occupying power are illegal under international law.”

At the time of the call for the evening prayer food donated by members of the community as well as local businesses, such as the Jerusalem Hotel, La vie Cafe from Ramallah, The Tanour and Abu Zahra supermarkets was shared. At least for this evening the families were not alone in facing the uncertainty of their future.

April 2017 News from Palsolidarity

NYT: Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons

Six year anniversary of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni

Beatings, theft, and humiliation: Dismantle the Ghetto activist speaks of his ordeal following arrest at Land Day demonstrations

Israeli soldiers occupy home of Palestinian family during Pesach, al-Khalil Israeli soldiers occupy home of Palestinian family during Pesach, al-Khalil

al-Khalil on lockdown as Israeli settlers and tourists celebrate Pesach

al-Khalil on lockdown as Israeli settlers and tourists celebrate Pesach

AUTHOR: INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT

DATE: APRIL 14, 2017

Israeli Border Police occupy the area around the Shuhada Street checkpoint. The concrete barrier was also moved further up the road recenty by Israeli forces, extending their control in H1.

Israeli Border Police occupy the area around the Shuhada Street checkpoint. The concrete barrier was also moved further up the road recenty by Israeli forces, extending their control in H1.

Since the evening of April 10th, 2017, Israeli forces have imposed increased restrictions on the Palestinians of al-Khalil as colonial settlers and Israeli tourists celebrate Pesach – or Passover – across the city. So far, homes have been occupied, checkpoints closed, and Palestinian children attacked with teargas during the week-long holiday. Preparations for the festival began early in the week as an increasing number of Israeli soldiers and military vehicles arrived in Hebron.

Since the beginning of the week, an increased number of Israeli soldiers and military vehicles have arrived in al-Khalil.

Since the beginning of the week, an increased number of Israeli soldiers and military vehicles have arrived in al-Khalil.

Israeli soldiers gather in al-Khalil

Israeli soldiers gather in al-Khalil

Consequently, Palestinians have faced increased delays and harrassment from soldiers, both the areas of H1, officially under full Palestinian civil and security control, and H2, which is under full Israeli control – the two areas into which al-Khalil has been divided since this Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 1997 by a Jewish settler. The number of ID checks, bag searches, and body checks have increased across the city’s checkpoints as well as in the Old Town, as a result of Israeli military incursions, both day and night. Israeli forces also entered the homes of Palestinians living on Shuhada Street – for whom the only entry is through the rear of the house – before occupying the roofs of the houses for hours at a time.

An Israeli soldier aims his rifle at Palestinians making their way past the boys’ school

An Israeli soldier aims his rifle at Palestinians making their way past the boys’ school

A Palestinian is subject to a body check by Israeli soldiers outside Mutannabi boys’ school, H2.

A Palestinian is subject to a body check by Israeli soldiers outside Mutannabi boys’ school, H2.

Israelis and colonial settlers celebrate outside the kindergarten on Shuhada street, while Palestinian children are made to pass through a military checkpoint every day on their way to school.

Israelis and colonial settlers celebrate outside the kindergarten on Shuhada street, while Palestinian children are made to pass through a military checkpoint every day on their way to school.

A group of Palestinian boys are questioned by Israeli Border Police in the souk, al-Khalil’s Old Town.

A group of Palestinian boys are questioned by Israeli Border Police in the souk, al-Khalil’s Old Town.

On Wednesday 12th April Israeli forces closed and barricaded the Ibrahimi mosque and the adjoining checkpoints, further restricting Palestinians’ rights to free movement and worship in and around the mosque. ISM activists were also informed by the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) that teargas was being fired at Palestinian children by Israeli Forces outside Saleymeh checkpoint. Whilst the checkpoint nearby the Ibrahimi Mosque had reopened for Friday Prayers, Palestinians continue to face long delays and harrassment at the hands of Israeli forces.

The checkpoint leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque was closed on Wednesday, an barricaded with an upturned table.

The checkpoint leading to the Ibrahimi Mosque was closed on Wednesday, an barricaded with an upturned table.

Palestinian residents are made to wait outside the Ibrahimi Mosque checkpoint following its reopening on Friday.

Palestinian residents are made to wait outside the Ibrahimi Mosque checkpoint following its reopening on Friday.

Meanwhile that day, Israeli forces gathered outside Shuhada checkpoint for over five hours, shutting down a whole road in H1 to allow (often heavily armed) Israeli settlers and tourists to pass through the area. Two military vehicles blocked the road, causing significant traffic congestion along Bab es-Sawiyah, while upwards of ten Israeli soldiers and fifteen Border Police filmed internationals and prevented Palestinians from passing through. Shuhada checkpoint leads to Shuhada Street, an area where Palestinian vehicles – including ambulances – are forbidden. Palestinians are only allowed to enter the street if they are numbered and registered as residents of the area.

Soldiers escort heavily-armed colonial settlers during an hours-long incursion into H1, near Shuhada Street.

Soldiers escort heavily-armed colonial settlers during an hours-long incursion into H1, near Shuhada Street.

Colonial settlers walk through H1 as part of the Pesach celebrations.

Colonial settlers walk through H1 as part of the Pesach celebrations.

Armoured personel carriers block off roads in H1

Armoured personel carriers block off roads in H1

On both Wednesday and Thursday, the Palestinian-owned shops surrounding the Ibrahimi Mosque were ordered to close. Further closures and roadblocks were also imposed by Israeli forces during several incursions by large groups of colonial settlers which passed through the souk in Hebron’s Old Town. Whilst these settler ‘tours’ happen every Saturday in al-Khalil, this week’s incursions follow similar events in occupied Palestine this week, most notably in occupied East Jerusalem where 385 settlers stormed Al-Aqsa.

A group of colonial settlers make their way through the Palestinian souk, escorted by heavily armed Israeli forces.

A group of colonial settlers make their way through the Palestinian souk, escorted by heavily armed Israeli forces.

This year, Pesach is celebrated from the evening of Monday, April 10th, until the evening of Tuesday, April 18th. For Israeli settlers, the holiday this year has an additional significance in marking the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of Rabbi Moshe Levinger and followers of the Greater Israel movement – the first colonial settlers in al-Khalil – to the Park Hotel in 1967, posing as Swiss tourists. Today, around 700 colonial settlers live in the H2 area of al-Khalil and are accompanied by almost 1,500 Israeli soldiers as well as Border Police and Israeli civil police.

Israeli soldiers occupy home of Palestinian family during Pesach, al-Khalil Israeli soldiers occupy home of Palestinian family during Pesach, al-Khalil

AUTHOR: INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT

DATE: APRIL 15, 2017

Israeli soldiers walk down the stairs of the family home, where some of the children wait, after occupying the roof.

Israeli soldiers walk down the stairs of the family home, where some of the children wait, after occupying the roof.

A Palestinian family living in the Old City of al-Khalil were subject to nightly home intrusions by Israeli forces throughout the week leading up to Pesach, or Passover. On Wednesday 12th April, ISM activists visited the home on Shalallah Street before staying with the family overnight to monitor the situation.

The father of the family told ISM activists how six soldiers would arrive at the house at roughly 2 am, banging aggressively on the door with their M16 rifles before forcibly making their way up to the roof of the family home. These incursions occurred several times throughout the week as the same soldiers would arrive in the middle of the night to access and occupy the roof where they would sit for just one hour before leaving again through the family home.

The father believes these nightly intrusions come as punishment from Israeli forces in response to him welcoming tour groups and tourists onto his roof to witness the family’s situation. The rooftop overlooks the illegal settlement of Beit Hadassah – from which members of the family often experience harassment from neighboring colonial settlers – as well as the nearby Israeli military outpost.

The family has eight small children, all of whom are frequently woken-up scared at the sight and sounds of Israeli soldiers entering the home. The intrusions occurred all week before culminating on Wednesday the 12th of April when Israeli forces – this time consisting of eleven soldiers and two dogs – appeared at the house a total of four times throughout the day.

The entrance to the family home, located between Shuhada Street and Shalallah Street. To the left of the house is the playground for the children of Israeli settlers.

The entrance to the family home, located between Shuhada Street and Shalallah Street. To the left of the house is the playground for the children of Israeli settlers.

The past week in Khalil has been characterized by an increased military presence, house intrusions, closures, and harassment as Israeli settlers and tourists celebrate the Jewish holiday of Pesach. However, incidents such as these are not unique, as many Palestinian families living close to illegal Israeli settlements or outposts across the occupied West Bank often experience night raids, vandalism, and harassment at the hands of both colonial settlers and Israeli soldiers.

Beatings, theft, and humiliation: Dismantle the Ghetto activist speaks of his ordeal following arrest at Land Day demonstrations

AUTHOR: INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT

DATE: APRIL 15, 2017

ISM activists spoke to Badee Dwaik the day following his release from Ofer military court.

ISM activists spoke to Badee Dwaik the day following his release from Ofer military court.

Last week, amidst a slew of arrests by Israeli forces and subsequent court hearings, ISM activists had the opportunity to meet with Badee Dwaik; one of the four men arrested during the Land Day demonstrations in occupied al-Khalil. Badee, a seasoned activist of many decades and committee member of the Dismantle the Ghetto campaign, believes his arrest was targeted and spoke of how conditions inside the jails were “worse than they’ve ever been before” during his four nights of detention.

ISM activists spoke to Badee Dwaik the day following his release from Ofer military court.

ISM activists spoke to Badee Dwaik the day following his release from Ofer military court.

The peaceful Land Day actions began with the planting of olive trees near Kiryat Arba – an illegal settlement of roughly 8,000 people in occupied al-Khalil. The decision to plant olive trees was made because, as Badee put it, “we fear this land will be confiscated in the near future.” Throughout the action, many settlers attempted to provoke the demonstrators with violence, but nobody gave in: “They try to break us or block us but we ignore it and the army does nothing,” Badee says. He’s only a day out of jail, but seems calm and eager to tell his story. Every so often he takes breaks from talking to put a hand on his ribs, where he says they beat him.

“After we planted the trees, we marched up to the hill where we continued to protest,” where one of the soldiers held a sheet of paper which – as revealed during military court hearing –  declared the area a “closed military zone.” Out of nowhere, Israeli forces began pursuing individual demonstrators and Badee found himself on the ground beneath a group of soldiers who beat and arrested him. Those detained by Israeli soldiers were taken down the hill, where Israeli police and Border Police were waiting: “They took us to the police. I was surprised to see Annan there.” It had appeared that the soldiers knew exactly who they wanted to arrest, and picked them from the crowd. They arrested three active members of the Dismantle the Ghetto campaign in what Badee believes to be part of a wider effort by the Israeli occupiers to silence the campaign and put an end to their non-violent demonstrations.

An Israeli soldier films demonstrators whilst holding a piece of paper declaring the area a Closed Military Zone during the Land Day action in al-Khalil. This image was taken an hour after the arrests made that day.

An Israeli soldier films demonstrators whilst holding a piece of paper declaring the area a Closed Military Zone during the Land Day action in al-Khalil. This image was taken an hour after the arrests made that day.

During their time in jail, Badee spoke of how the Israeli guards sometimes would not give the detainees their meals and did not administer Badee’s diabetes medication. When he told the guards that he suffers from diabetes, they told him “it’s not our business to bring your medication to you.” Only after being moved to another prison later that week was he taken the the medical doctor who told him he was at serious risk and he was injected with insulin on the premises. Badee was then moved to a third jail, where he said he was subject to conditions he had never experienced before. “The conditions were bad. When we arrived to this jail they made us throw our belongings away.” Here, Israeli guards made the men remove their clothing and do humilating acts while naked. When Badee refused, he was punished for it later: “We had no mattresses. We slept on the metal. They didn’t feed us a few meals and only gave cigarettes to those who cooperated with him.”

Afte four nights of detention, Badee was sat before Ofer military court, near Ramallah, on spurious charges largely based on a “secret file.” “I’ve never seen this [secret file],” he said, and was alarmed at the allegations they presented. Badee is convinced that there’s an initiative to break their coalition. The judge claimed Badee and the others were “dangerous, holding an illegal demonstration” and that the Israeli state should be “harder on these men,” however his lawyer managed to negotiate their release late that night on the condition that they paid 3,500 shekels per person. When Badee and the others were finally freed, many of their belongings had been stolen.

Whilst Israeli settlers living in the West Bank are subject to Israeli civil law, the Palestinian population lives under Israeli military law. Under this law, Palestinians like Badee can be held indefinitely in ‘administrative detention‘: detained without trail and often based on secret information. There are currently 500 administrative detainees in occupied Palestine.

Six year anniversary of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni

AUTHOR: INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT, GAZA TEAM

Date: April 16, 2017

16th April 2017 | International Solidarity Movement, Ramallah Team | Gaza, occupied Palestine

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the death of Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and an italian activist working with the International Solidarity Movement, in Gaza.

Arrigoni first went to Gaza in 2008, on an activist-organised flotilla seeking to defy the Israeli blockade over Gaza, imposed two years before. On April 16th 2011, when Arrigoni was 36 years old, his body was found in Gaza city, only a few hours after “The Brigade of the Gallant Companion of the Prophet Mohammad bin Muslima”, a Salafist group operating in Gaza, released the video where he was blindfolded and wounded. After investigations, his alleged murderers were arrested and sentenced to life-imprisonment (15 years after appeal).

Vittorio “Vik” Arrigoni wearing a kaffiyeh.

Vittorio “Vik” Arrigoni wearing a kaffiyeh.

Vittorio Arrigoni was one of the international activists present in Gaza during Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip in 2008-09, while volunteering with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and was one of the few international voices dispatching information during the attacks, especially after Israel banned the entry of journalists into the territory.

For almost his 3 years living in the Gaza Strip, Arrigoni was a committed ISM activist, working in solidarity with farmers and fishermen, whose lives were being severely constrained by the blockade. His presence in protests and demonstrations allowed him to document and report the impact of the blockade, warfare and human rights violations in that territory. Arrigoni’s involvement with the Palestinian struggle made him a target for arrest and injuries by the Israeli military several times, and also led him to volunteer in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon.

After breaking the blockade in 2008, Arrigoni described that moment as being on of the happiest of his life, as “it became clear, not only to the world, but Palestinians also, that there are people who are willing to spend their lives to come and hug their brothers here in Gaza.”.

As it has been happening every year, Palestinians have commemorated the sixth anniversary of Vittorio Arrigoni’s death yesterday, by gathering in the port of Gaza. Vittorio’s memory is also honored in Gaza by the street and school that carry his name. Some of his thoughts on his experience in Gaza and on the solidarity with the Palestinian people have also been collected and turned into a book, “Gaza: Stay Human” (a nod to the way Vittorio used to sign his emails), first published in 2011.

ISM mourns this loss and hopes to honor Vittorio’s death by supporting and showing solidarity to the Palestinian people in their daily, non-violent resistance to the blockade in Gaza and the occupation.

“We must remain human, even in the most difficult times …
Because, despite everything, there must always be humanity within us. We have to bring it to others.”

Vittorio Arrigoni

4th February 1975 – 15th April 2011

NYT: Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons

Author: Marwan Barghouti

Date: April 17, 2017

marwan-barghouti

Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.
Continue reading the main story

I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.

A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.

The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.

Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.

Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.

How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?

Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.

Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.

Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.

A Childhood Measured in Wars

A childhood measured in wars

Living through a war is an experience I don’t wish on my worst enemies. It’s one of the most excruciating experiences a person could have, and I first had mine when I was 10 years old.

It was 2006 when Fatah and Hamas fought for control of Gaza. I find myself at loss for words when trying to describe how I felt when my uncle rushed my cousin and I out of school, ducking behind a wall to escape gunshots as we tried to get home in one piece. Or when guns fired endlessly through the night, practically shattering my eardrums, while my grandma held me so tightly I could barely breathe, assuring me everything was going to be okay.

As a child, it baffled me how people who were supposed to be from a strong Islamic brotherhood could do this to each other. How could you possibly point your weapon at another human just like you? It didn’t take my 10-year-old self long to figure out this was going to be a recurring event in Gaza. But next time it was waged by a stronger enemy who wasn’t just looking for power, but to wipe us out completely.

2008

It was a day only about two years later, as I was leaving school after my first final exam in fifth grade, when I heard a massive explosion and saw a huge cloud of black smoke in the sky. I didn’t understand what was happening. By luck, my usual bus driver was running late that day and we were assigned another one who didn’t know my home address exactly. He dropped me off a mile or so away from my house, and I walked like I was in a daze, explosions still going off in the distance, ambulances rushing through the streets, people running around all over the place. I didn’t feel scared though; I felt confused.

As the days passed, the war kept getting worse and worse. I think the first time it hit me that the Israelis with their so-called “defense” forces wanted to hurt us was in the middle of one night when the bombing kept going on and on. With every bomb, a car alarm would go off, and suddenly I felt so scared for myself and my family that I started sobbing. To this day, the sound of car alarms makes my heart race.

2012

When the war was finally over, I thought it was never going to happen again. I was mistaken, of course. The 2012 war came. This time, I was much more aware of what was happening. I thought, if I was scared shitless, then how must the people who were defending us feel? The resistance fighters who were out there in the middle of it all risking their lives for us?

I was growing stronger, but there’s always a moment in a war when you feel death is so close it’s breathing down your neck, sucking you in; when all your senses are on such high alert the world around you seems to still. That moment in 2012 happened when I was with my aunt and brother. I distinctly remember standing by the balcony door watching huge bombs drop in the distance, lighting up the world around us in the pitch black night. I don’t remember the bombs having sound, I only recall the blinding, orange light.

That war ended after a “mere” eight days. But the worst was yet to come.

2014

The Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014 was the worst, the war that left me so bruised and hurt it’s impossible to describe. It was the longest and scariest; there wasn’t just a moment when I felt death was near, it was all the time.

I felt its presence when all six members of my family gathered in one small room for the worst night of our lives, the night bombs kept going off every five seconds until dawn. I felt death slowly tightening its grip around my neck every time we jolted awake to the sound of explosions. For the first three seconds after waking up, I felt relief, thanking God I was alive–until I remembered another family just like mine has been killed instead.

That war went on so long. I remember sitting like a lifeless skeleton in the candle light one evening, just staring into space, waiting for the end, waiting for our deaths to be reported on the radio. That war left everyone in Gaza deeply scarred.

After that war ended, I knew better than to think it would never happen again. Of course it will, on an even worse scale. It kills me that so many people around the world either stand with Israel or refuse to take sides. It kills me that an Israeli teen who spent the war in a fancy bomb shelter underground says her experience of war was horrible, while I spent it out in the open praying the next bomb would miraculously miss its target.

My words are nothing but a glimpse inside these wars, a glimpse from a fortunate person who never personally lost anyone or anything as a result, yet still feels their massive effect. I hate never feeling truly safe, knowing an Israeli assault could happen any day. I hate that everyone in Gaza has to live with that fear for the rest of our lives.

Do not judge us until you understand what we’ve gone through, because we’ve all been to hell and back. Every war that doesn’t kill us truly makes us stronger, even if it batters us and smashes us into pieces. We always seem to get back on our feet, and that’s what we’ll keep doing until this occupation comes to an end.

Lama Alhelou/ WeAreNotNumbers

I apologize for being alive

I feared I wouldn’t be able to go back to my former life after the war ended, but I did.

It felt so awkward. Everything was normal and people were acting as usual. How did I go back to my life, loaded with the guilt of being alive, of breathing?

I apologize for being alive. I apologize to the son who asked his dad to bring him some chocolate, but he got neither chocolate nor his dad. I apologize to the woman who dreamt of having her first child in two months, but a rocket stole her sweet dreams of motherhood. I apologize to the boy who wanted to see the sky, but it was the last thing he saw. I apologize to the people who went to an UNRWA school believing it was safer, a haven, but it was their graveyard. I apologize to the kids who prepared kites for summer, but never had the chance to try them out or boast about how good they’re flying. I apologize to the kids who had to spend a soulless Eid, forced to stay home, deprived of joy, sweets and swings.

I apologize to the man who worked overnight to build a house for his children and then witnessed it turning into rubble.

I apologize to the girl who thought her father abandoned her when her mother couldn’t be candid with her and tell her they could never find his body.

I apologize to Gaza, my love. I apologize that it must carry such a burden.

WeAreNotNumbers

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