Face offs with death – We Are Not Numbers

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Young man on beach at night.
Image taken by a stranger of Ramez on the beach at night.

Death is universal, an unpleasant fact. But here in Gaza, violent death, or the threat of it, has become normal. No matter what we are doing, gathering to enjoy being together as friends or meeting in solidarity to resist oppression, we can feel death stalking us.

August 8, 2017

The day began peacefully. There were eight of us in my friend’s yard preparing a dinner of fried tomatoes, salads ,and grilled chicken wings. Waiting for the meat to cook, we played video games and relaxed. A shooting star appeared above us, or so we thought.

As it came closer, we jumped and ran for our phones, looking for news of any armistice violation or new war. “Nothing!” I said. We heard a low whine. The sky was red, the earth was shaking, nonstop sounds of multiple strikes were deafening. The street was full of people running and cars racing around. All eight of our cellphones rang at once. Sixteen parents were worried as hell; they ordered us home immediately. We began looking for a taxi for the eight of us. But I was a terrified 16-year-old, too upset and impatient to wait. I just started running.  Everyone except for my friend Ali and I finally found a taxi and climbed in. I shouted at Ali, “What are you doing? Go home now!” He found a cart dragged by a donkey, and luckily, it was very fast.  I kept running.

Because I live near to the beach, I was the first to arrive home. I was so relieved to find out that all of us got home safely. “At least this time!” I thought. Later, I asked Ali to remind me of the details of that night. He laughed very hard and said, “You were about to cry your eyes out!” It was not really funny, though, and death was not through with me.

Summer 2019

The memory is as vivid as if it were yesterday. I was walking on the beach by myself after a frustrating argument with my parents over my senior year grades. I often go walking alone on the beach just to unwind and forget my troubles. That night, the beach was full of people relaxing with their loved ones. Music was playing on my headphones and I was looking up at the stars, oblivious to my surroundings, until I bumped into a man walking with his wife.  Unfortunately, my headphones also drowned out the eerie sounds of aircraft overhead. The first missile struck some distance away.  The quakes felt the same as two years before, but this time they were more severe. Just as I started to feel really scared, my phone rang. “They hit Al-Frusiah! Get home now!” my father said.

I did not argue with him and began walking back rapidly. However, when I arrived at the tip of Al-Bahr Street, the second missile struck right behind me. I felt the smoke in my eyes and nose, so I sprinted the rest of the way home.

As I ran, the same old scenes recurred: fast people and fast cars with the very familiar red sky above all of us. A man kept shouting at his kids to get into their car. I slowed down and asked him to stop yelling, but he kept on. In my heart I excused him; it was a terrifying situation. No wonder he would not stop.

When I arrived home safely, my dad started yelling at me, “Where have you been? What took you so long?” But my mother, who was looking at me carefully, said, “Your face looks dull. Are you okay?” I nodded my head shakily, went to my room, and wondered, “What if I had been just one second later getting to Al-Bahr Street?”  It felt like death was coming closer to me.

May 16, 2021

Bus poster that says "Israel's attacking Gaza again. How many more times is this ok?
Poster by Image Stencil. Courtesy of the Palestine Poster Project Archives.

A day after my twentieth birthday, the Israeli occupation forces threatened to bomb our neighborhood. “THEY WILL STRIKE HERE!” a man shouted and another one followed, “We should all get out of here now!” But we stayed in our house.  I was sitting near the apartment door facing our storehouse. My mother warned me to stay back, but I was reckless, reassuring her that nothing would happen.

But something did happen. The window suddenly turned red and I heard the wall cracking. We could hear a bomb falling. We were very frightened. I started scrambling backward, shouting, “That window! It’s red!”  My mother grabbed me as if I were a kid. I said, “For God’s sake Mom, I am 20!” But she kept on patting on my head, and for a moment, I felt comforted all through my body.

Today

Somehow, I am still alive. The bomb that fell with such a roar never detonated; it simply lay there like it was on a summer vacation.  But though the “bombing” did not technically occur, it was the most terrifying experience I have ever had; it was my home! My safe place!

Yet again, that war left me wondering what would have happened if that rocket had exploded. Yet again, death taunts me: “What if…?”

Here in Gaza, we have a joke among ourselves: “I have a bachelor’s degree in survival,” because my generation has survived four wars between 2008 and 2021, not to mention the countless missile strikes in between.

Though some might say these near-death encounters of mine are not as terrible as the actual killings of so many Gazans by the bombs and bullets of occupation, the rest of us, like me, become more and more familiar with death as it comes closer, too familiar, until, inevitably, it gets us.

 

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