A shadow over our childhoods: The peril of occupation

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Hamza and his niece Rahaf. Photo supplied by Hamza Salha.

Editor’s note. Gaza is home to 2.2 million Palestinians, half of whom are children. 80% of Gaza’s children live with depression, grief & fear, according to Save the Children.

In a blink of an eye, another round of aggression halted our lives: my mother could not visit my sister-in-law, to check on her health and to hold in her arms her twin grandchildren born a few days earlier, my cousin has postponed his wedding until further notice, and I did not know if I’ll be able to complete the required number of training days at my school because schools are suspended.

On the ninth of May, four in the morning, the sound of my mother’s voice was strained and terrified as she woke me up: “Hamza, my son,” she said. “It is time for Al Fajr (dawn) prayer. Have you heard that over ten Palestinians were killed during the night?”  Soon after I heard that, I realized that another round of escalation had taken place. I went up the flights of stairs to my apartment on the third floor. During bombings, we have to crack open the windows just a little, to let in fresh air, but not enough to let in any debris.

I returned to my bed and started checking my phone. I scrolled down till I came to a video of a mother brushing her daughter’s hair before she leaves for school. This pretty child was Mayar Izz El-Din. I read that she was killed during the night. I kept scrolling down till I read a comment from a kindergarten teacher who was lamenting the loss of her student Ali and his absence from the school trip.  “My lovely Ali, the news of your martyrdom broke my heart,” she wrote. “You missed the kindergarten trip, but you are flying like a bird in heaven instead,” she added.

Ali Ezz El-Din and Mayar Izz El-Din are two beautiful children, brother and sister, who deserve to live life as it is supposed to be lived. They both have a blooming future, and wonderful dreams.  Despite being a very stoic person, I could not help having tears in my eyes. I said to myself,  “Look how beautiful and lovely they are. Why have they been killed? What kind of crime have they committed?” I wiped my tears and decided to close the phone and get some sleep, but I could not fall asleep. I was afraid. Maybe watching the scenes of loss made me fear losing my own loved ones.

‍My little niece Rahaf, six months old, is the shining star of our household. Delicate features and a cherubic smile, she is the only girl in the family and is spoiled beyond measure. Her mere presence brings a sense of warmth and joy to my heart. When she sees me, she smiles. I wasn’t in Gaza when Rahaf was born. I was so curious to see, to hold and to kiss her, and I was eager to behold the beauty of her face up close, without any distance. During my time abroad, her father, Abood, used to send me photos of her through the internet; at times, we would spend the entire night talking together on a video call. From the beginning, Rahaf held a special place in my heart. This heightened my sense of protectiveness towards her: even the smallest, seemingly insignificant risks provoked in me a profound fear, which  was amplified exponentially by the dangers associated with occupation. It upsets me that my niece is forced, as I am, to grow up amidst the harsh realities of war and conflict, with the sounds of airstrikes and shelling.

Pigeon.
A pigeon shelters under Hamza’s window. Photo supplied by Hamza Salha.

On the third day of the aggression, I saw her face change when she heard the sound of a very nearby bombardment: her fair skin and beautiful face turned red, her eyes opened wide, as if in disbelief and shock from the sudden, jarring noise of the explosion. The fear in her eyes was palpable, as she struggled to comprehend the chaos that surrounded her. She was staring at me, her eyes were asking me: “Why is your world so terrible?”

Since the second day of this latest aggression, I have been observing a pigeon building a nest out of branches from nearby trees on my bedroom window sill.  She laid an egg which she is now incubating. This cannot be a coincidence, this pigeon taking my window to be a bomb shelter. I thought for a moment that she must be aware of what is going on; she has realized that no one is safe.

I also imagined the children of Gaza, who are like the birds; none of them are safe. Both may end up flying in heaven!

I write the stories of people around me, those I have only heard about and those very dear to me, but one day, people around me might write my story. No one is safe.

This article was co-published with Palestine Deep Dive.

 

 



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