Posted by Joshua on Sunday, January 11th, 2009
La Repubblica in Italy has been publishng the diary entries of an extraordinary young girl from Gaza City under the heading of “The Gaza Diary”. It has rapidly become one of the most popular items in the national press. Here are three entries from Jan 3 (musicorig), Jan 8 (rain), Jan 11 (Jalal). This is how she was presented to me by someone at La Repubblica:
She writes in perfect English! She studied in New York, she is a candidate for a master in Public Policy at the Stony Brook University of New York. She returned to Gaza in 2007. Her father is a doctor, specializes in in-vitro fertilization! he keeps doing it even under these tough circumstances, because as she explained some women started the treatment a couple of days ago by taking very expensive medication, therefore they can not stop.
We communicate by phone, land line, her family has a generator, they must keep it to run the clinic, they turn it on for themselves one hour in the evening. That is when she sends her text. She speaks brilliant English with an American accent. You would never think she is anything else but American. Very nice family, including her brothers who sometimes come to answer the
I am adding you two more texts, one is a lengthier diary on “a day in the life of a family under the bombs” published Jan 6, the other on when their house was bombed, published Jan 10.
January 1 2009 (published Jan 3)
It’s interesting how, at the most terrifying and horrific of times, we still manage to make light of the events, and even enjoy a dark sense of humor that surprisingly comes out not inappropriate and even the more amusing given the constant state of tenseness and apprehension.
My 10 year old cousin was eating a sandwich, when my younger brother, 12, looked at him and, quoting a line from one of his favorite video games in his dead on imitation of the characters voice, while being extremely amused by the fear in the younger boys eyes, said “enjoy it, it could be your last!” I looked at him for a second and began laughing almost hysterically.
On another occasion, we looked around for my twelve year old and 14 year old brothers during an intense bout of air strikes and realized that they had snuck back to the living room, the room directly in front of the area being bombed, and were watching a sports channel. “But we had to see the scores” they retorted after being severely reproached”. They’re becoming desensitized, I thought, I went through this before while living in Ramallah in 2002. I laughed so hard, they had become totally oblivious!
I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate, the last few days, and looking at my siblings, I wonder how the rest of the world envisions the people who occupy the most despondent and unruly military zones in the world.
My younger brothers spend their free time out with their friends, or playing basketball and soccer at youth clubs. They are passionate about sports, play station, and music. They play the guitar and are exceptional students. My brother who’s in collage is obsessed with computers and gadgets, he’s an engineering student who comes up with the most ingenious projects for his classes. He listens to music and plays the guitar and prays regularly. He’s an honor student who has big goals and big dreams.
So please understand why I am infuriated when I see how we are portrayed on television. Hordes of bearded, teeth-gnashing, stone throwing blood thirsty savages in rags and tatters. And please don’t blame me for feeling utter rage against the state of Israel, that has been intentionally targeting the unwary, guiltless, promising children and youth of the Gaza Strip in its vicious attacks over the past 5 days. Already, between 40 and 50 children are dead while hundreds lie in the hospitals, seriously injured or disabled for life.
The people of Gaza have been suffering for decades under systematic and tyrannical oppression by Israel, the latest of its measures has been the siege and closures imposed on the strip that have completely devastated the livelihoods of Gaza residents and caused the economy to fall into an unprecedented and crippling depression. The people of Gaza have long been denied the means that have been afforded to the residents of countries with the same, possibly less, resources. And yet the amount of resourcefulness and zeal we demonstrate is a testimony to the potential of progress and advancement that lies within us.
To the rest of the world, Israel represents the democratic, civilized, patriotic, western, state whose representatives are well groomed, clad in smart suits and silk ties and talking all sorts of political correctness, stringed with terms such as self defense, civilian population, Palestinian terrorists and middle east peace.
And so after Israel launched its military offensive against Gaza 5 days ago, claiming that offensive was a retaliation against Hamas’ firing rockets into Israel following the cessation of the period of calm, to many, the Israeli attacks were justified. Never mind that Israel failed to at least ease the siege that has been slowly killing us over the past year (to be more precise over the last 3 years.) Never mind that Israel continued its incursions into the strip and its murder of innocent civilians throughout the truce. Never mind that compared to Isaeli gunships, war planes, tanks and other weaponry, Hamas rockets seem like toys. Never mind that our children are robbed of anything that resembles a normal life and future.
And yet we are continuously accused of being on equal terms with one of the strongest military forces in the world.
So while being cooped up in the house, watching local news stations when we have electricity, still in a state of disbelief, I wonder if the rest of the world would be so harsh in its judgments if they had the opportunity to understand. I wonder if people would as easily accept the unsubstantiated claims that the engineering faculty building of the Islamic university, which has been flattened during the attacks, was a workshop that produced qassams, if they had seen my brothers reaction. When he came back from a walk to the university building the next day, his face was white as a sheet and he had tears in his eyes. “Its all gone he said, even the project (electric car) we’ve been working on all semester.” We’d seen pictures, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Did he seriously have any hope that the car had survived.
A few hours ago, the home of one of Hamas’ senior leaders, Nizar Rayan, was struck by 4 missiles. Not only was the entire building flattened, killing all who were in it, but several other buildings surrounding it looked like they were about ready to collapse. It is said that there were over 19 deaths, most of them women and children, and scores of injuries. The entire street was littered with debris and rubble. We saw the images on tv, children being lifted from beneath the rubble, headless corpses loaded into plastic body bags, the whole works. We sent a taxi to pick up my aunt, whose home lies 100 meters away from the Rayan building, and had caved in due to the attack. She and her children arrived, shaken, but all in one piece.
Today the temporary halt of rocket fire coincided with the restoration of power to our home, at least for a few hours, at about 5pm. My brothers went to their rooms and played their videogames, I sat on the couch and read, and my sister went to take a nap. We tried to busy ourselves with regular daily activities in a situation that is anything but commonplace.
Much rain and little hope (7 January 2009: 12th day of the attack)
[Israel began a ground invasion of the Gaza strip on 3 January, 2009, eight days after the first air strike on Dec. 27.]
We prayed for rain, and at last rain came tonight. A heavy, tumbling shower of clear refreshing beautiful rain.
We prayed for rain hoping that it would blind the visual capacity of Israeli warplanes and Israeli gunship for the night. We prayed for rain to combat the fires that have been rising from homes, due to the attacks. We prayed for rain to wash away the heavy layer of sooty residue from rocket fire and debris that coated our building and our balcony, and to clean away the ashes and dust that lay heavily on the street.
We also prayed for rain to cleanse our street of the sewage water that has started to seep from the drains near the pavement. For over a week now, waste pumps have stopped working in Gaza city because of the lack of electricity. If it hadn’t been for the cutting off of running water, our streets would be flooded with sewage water. As it is the sewage water is already beginning to rise. We don’t know whether we should close the windows to keep out the stench or open them so they don’t blow in, in case of an attack.
Israel announced a 3 hour ceasefire today, in order to allow trucks of aid to enter Gaza, loaded with food and medicine. Our joy at 3 hours of peace was unbound, and we quickly began to ready ourselves to go to stores to buy some necessary items and some not so necessary, such as chocolate and chips. The time allotted was from 1:00 pm till 3:00 pm.
Our hopes began to fall as we heard continuous artillery fire at about 10 minuets to 1, in the close by Zatoun area. They almost dissipated (our hopes) when I called a friend from that area and he told me that he had barely escaped the shelling.
We stayed put, but at about 2:00 pm we went into our rooms and changed back into our sweat suits and heavy sweaters. Within the first hour of the ceasefire, Israel had launched 8 attacks. 2 homes were destroyed, collapsing over the residents in Rafah. 3 more homes sustained heavy damages due to artillery fire. A warplane bombed a civilian car in Jabalia, in it was a man who was driving taking his 3 sons and one of his relatives to buy bread, in what they had supposed, was the safety of the ceasefire. The drivers name was Khaled Kahlout. The ages of his children were between 10 and 15. In Beitlahia, warplanes struck a residential area while shelling could be heard in the distance.
Today is the 12th day of the attack and the only change we have witnessed throughout this period is the steady rise in the intensity and ferocity of the attacks. Israel is solely targeting residential buildings, houses, civilian cars and farming fields, and on a much wider scale.
We spent the rest of the day trying to get over the disappointment and wondering at the state we have been reduced to. To become overjoyed at the opportunity of walking in the street and shopping for necessities, and to lose faith to the extent that makes you feel your not worthy of even that, is a sad, sad thing indeed.
We all sat in my brothers room this morning listening to Jalal recount his story. He is one of my brother’s close friends and colleague in the engineering faculty. For the past week my brother had lost touch with Jalal, who’s home lies in the most dangerous neighborhood in Gaza city, al Zaytoun. This neighborhood has been closed off by the Israeli military with earthen barriers, even ambulances aren’t allowed in, while houses are being demolished over the residents’ heads. Tens, if not over a hundred people have already died there, and that’s why my brother was so worried about Jalal, being unable to reach him by phone.
Jalal called my brother yesterday evening to tell him he was ok, and came over to see us this morning. Let me tell you a little about this incredible young man.
Jalal comes from an extremely poor family, who’s situation was aggravated after his father lost his job due to the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza 19 months ago. Jalal is a very distinguished student, one of the top in the entire university, and professors marvel at his intellect, manners and perseverance. He walks an hour and a half a day to the university, and walks back home because he can’t afford public transportation. Unlike his fellow students, he can’t afford new cloths or even shoes, and wears old sandals in the middle of the cold winter. Yet he manages to continually get high grades and would have been able to finish his 5 year degree in 4 years, if he could afford to pay for the extra credit hours each semester. His small scholarship and what money he can muster up already leaves him short of part of the tuition.
Therefore, when Jalal told us his story, it broke my heart to see such horrendous circumstances inflicted on such an undeserving and already afflicted person.
Jalal, his brother, 4 sisters and mother had spent the last 4 days in a UNRWA school, that has been turned into shelters for Gazans who were forced to flee their home (15000 people) and where 48 people have already died due to attacks on these schools. The second day of the Israeli ground invasion a family was massacred in their home (the samouni family) only meters away from Jalals parent’s house. 30 people died that day. The next day Israel began to bomb the area with the internationally banned cluster bombes, large bombs that explode into smaller bombs once they hit the ground, “balls of fire” as Jalal called them, As the bombs fell the area was under heavy shelling that penetrated the asbestos roof of their home, they had to sleep in the kitchen, the only room with a concrete roof.
The ground attacks began on Sunday. The next morning as Israeli warplanes were striking with their cluster bombs, a “ball of fire” came in through the open back yard door and rolled past his sister. Another set their barn on fire.
The family left their home on Monday. Jalal’s father stayed behind fearing that if no one was there the house may be taken over by the military. He’d rather die there than allow the invaders to enter.
Jalal proceeded to give us a description of the school. “We are staying in a classroom, 4 families in each class, that’s between 30 – 40 people. We can’t sleep from the cold, and we all sit around a small radio, listening to the reporter, hoping that tomorrow we might be able to go home. We know we won’t but we have to hope. My mother goes to our house every day, walking through the shelling, risking her life, to check on my father and make sure he has enough food, we don’t receive regular meals, the first couple of days we went 45 hours without food.”
“What happened to the animals?” my younger brother asked.
Assuming a news reporter voice Jalal replied, “well the animal casualties are as follows: 2 donkeys were set on fire when the barn went up in flames, we managed to extinguish the burning donkeys and they are alive, but seriously burned. Another donkey was coughing up blood, the location of the injury is yet unknown, a camel was shelled and unfortunately died, another camel lost its leg in one of the attacks.”
It’s all true, Jalal sighed as we all stared dumbfound, thinking for a moment that this performance was meant to make us laugh.
A calm day (Published Jan 6)
I woke up to the smell of freshly baked bread, at around noon today. I stay up most of the night and catch a few hours sleep after the sun rises.
The house was freezing cold, as it has been for the past few weeks. I put on a number of heavy sweaters and a robe and wrapped a scarf around my neck, readying myself for yet another day if incessant drones and constant nearby explosions.
My mother has taken to making homemade bread the last ten days. Thanks her careful management of the small amount of cooking gas we have, and to her idea of buying a gas oven in anticipation of an Israeli invasion only days before the attacks began, she is able to bake occasionally. Furthermore, we had found a store with its doors partially open in our area a couple of days ago and were able to stock up on flour.
Having lunched with my younger siblings and my parents on bread, cheese, eggs and some leftover pasta, we all went out onto the balcony, and what a beautiful sunny day it was! The iciness had dissipated somewhat with the early day sun, the few trees outside were green and luminous and birds were singing!
We all stood for about half an hour, looking out through the metal railings like caged birds. We could hear an occasional explosion in the distance but that did not deter us from standing there breathing in the fresh air we so longed for.
It was time for the daily chores. My 3 brothers took 3 containers downstairs, where the residents of the 14 floor building we live in crowded around a small tap that had running water. Luckily we are on the second floor, most of the others had the task of walking up and down the stairs. All of our area has been without water for about a week. When they got back me and my sister poured some of the water into pails in the bathrooms and in the kitchen, and tried to tidy up the house as much as we could.
My father, a physician who’s medical center is located on the ground floor of our building, went down to see a few cases. During this time his patients try to keep in touch with him via phone only, but some emergency manage to make it to his clinic.
The first few days of the attack we were all glued to the radio, but for the past few days, being confined to our home, we have begun to become restless and agitated. I have started to read again, and write using a paper and a pen instead of my laptop. My brothers are spending time with the neighbors kids inside our building and my sisters try to keep the phone occupied for as long as possible (very inconvenient) . We have also began to spend a lot of time together, and value each other as people, friends and companions instead of just family.
Later that evening we all gathered around are television, after turning on the power generator, which we do for only an hour a day, due to the extreme shortage of fuel. Today was different however. There was non of the usual excitement, the rushing to charge cell phones and check emails, the flipping between TV channels… The atmosphere in our home, which had come close to being gay earlier in the day, was somewhat downcast and gloomy. We all understood what the other felt, we had lead the exact same life for the past 11 days, we had grown into the exact same state of mind, and we were experiencing the exact same emotions. Instinctively, and by the collective mentality of a people living under tyranny, not to mention the feelings communicated by family and friends, and the surprisingly similar courses of speech and action we knew that the state we were in was reflective of every single household in the entire strip at the moment.
It was a state of unease, a state of nervousness, disquiet, dissatisfaction and need to experience life again. It was a state that made you feel lost in limbo and wandering if the real world ever existed. It was a state of wanting to be anywhere but here, wishing that the clock would turn back and things were as they had once been before. It was a state of missing your school, your friend who you will never see again, your office that had been destroyed and the corner store that has been turned into a pile of rubble.
My mother looked at us all and, in a soothing and understanding voice said “its ok, at least we have our home, at least we’re together, at least we’re safe”.
“But what does that mean if you’re entire life has been taken away from you” asked my 13 year old brother.
At that moment a news report was telling the story of the the Samouni family in Alzaytoon area of Gaza city. 60 people living in one large building. Several families, brothers, their cousins their children and their nephews and nieces, their elderly parents. 60 people. Israeli tanks entered Alzaytoon last night and called on the family to stay within the building through microphones after posting a tank outside their front door. 60 people in the house. Israel proceeded to bomb the house, striking it through artillery fire. At least half of the 60 people died, the rest were seriously injured. One young man who had survived was sobbing hysterically as he lay in the hospital bed and the camera rolled.
I looked at my younger brother, I admit I was a little hard on the young boy but I couldn’t help saying somewhat distastefully, “that’s what it means”
That morning our relatives had left in order to clean out the rubble from their home and try to make it as inhabitable as possible. We worried for them, but the activity on the street told us people were ready to resume their lives, at least partially, despite the ongoing offensive against the city and its people.
A taste of destruction. (Published Jan 10)
Today we came close to experiencing the destruction and disposition experienced by 15 000 Palestinians in the past 13 days. As we sat down to a dinner made from scratch we heard a loud explosion that seemed to come from right above of our heads. We sprang up and didn’t know what to do. Should we go outside? If the building was being targeted that would be dangerous. In a matter of seconds tempers had flared and we proceeded to argue over the next course of action. Our argument was cut short by a banging on the door and shouts coming from outside “The building has been hit!! Evacuate the building”.
It took us a few seconds to gather ourselves, and we immediately sprang to action, gathering small bags containing our official documents, pulling on jackets and shoes, grabbing cell phones and rushing to the door. We made our way downstairs along with the residents of our 14 floor building and ran across the street, gathering in front of the gate to the UNRWA headquarters.
Everywhere you looked people hung on to each other, young children stared open eyed and infants wrapped in blankets began to wail. A fight arose between two men from the building and an UNRWA guard. The guard refused peoples request to open the gate and allow them to take cover inside. “If anything happens our children’s blood will be on your hands” screamed the impassioned father. “Go to the UNRWA shelters”, the guard screamed back, there’s one 10 minutes away. 48 people have already been killed in these shelters and we all new that.
We found out what happened as an ambulance pulled up to the curb. “It was just a small rocket” someone said. “There was just one injury, a small boy on the 12th floor, a block from the wall fell on his back, the rocket came through the window. Small rocket, everyone can go back to their apartments”.
Were we supposed to be relieved?? Because we weren’t. I prayed for the boy as we made our way down the street, each 2 at a distance from the next. We have learned from walking in a group is dangerous, we walked about 300 meters and decided to head back. Where were we going to go?
Reaching the entrance of the building we saw that some people were walking away with bags, perhaps going to shelters or relatives homes. Other’s were angry and vowed never to leave their homes, or smiled and made light of the situation. A few were afraid that this “small rocket” meant that a larger one was coming.
There was much debate among my family. My mother wanted to take my siblings to a friends basement apartment, my brothers and father, always the biggest jokers, said that since we were on the first floor, if something happened, we would just jump out the windows and make a run for it.
We walked into the building together and decided to go to our home. Before going in I took a look at the night sky. The stars were beautiful and seemed to shine brighter than ever. I counted 5 Israeli warplanes in the sky.