Far apart, surviving together – We Are Not Numbers

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bombs falling on young people over word "Palestine."
Artist: Carlos Latuff. Courtesy of the Palestine Poster Project Archives.

Since October 7, 2023, maintaining communication from  England—where I currently live and study—with my siblings, relatives, and friends in Gaza has proven to be a challenge. The conversations we now have are brief, because we do not have the privilege to indulge in normal, lengthy ones. Our conversations mainly revolve around checking whether my siblings have a sufficient supply of food and access to water.

With them living amid these harsh conditions, I have become increasingly apprehensive about their mental health and overall state. Yet all I feel is a sense of helplessness, unworthiness, and powerlessness now that distance and borders are tearing us apart.

My brother continuously brings death into our conversations as though it is a commonplace topic. He thinks of the pain he would feel if, God forbid, the house gets bombed. He holds the hope that if the bombing is inevitable, it will take place whilst he is asleep, sparing him from the ordeal of being a helpless witness amid the rubble.

These thoughts have preoccupied him lately, and I cannot do anything to block them from going further. Thus, it has become second nature for me to treat every conversation or call we have as if it might be the last. But I have never told him this, because we both cannot afford to appear vulnerable; one of us has to fake strength.

Because leaving the house is dangerous, walking is dangerous, and engaging in all outdoor activities is now fraught with risk (not that staying at home is not risky), my brothers keep mentioning how privileged I am to have a life which forges ahead whilst they are at standstill, stuck with life being suspended. They continually voice desires for an end to life, deeming it a preferable option to living the terror of ongoing bombardments, the uncertainty of who might be the next target, and surviving in total seclusion, with no interaction with the outside world.

Even though it tears me apart to hear them expressing their yearning for death at this age, I draw comfort and feel relieved that I still can hear their voices, speak to them, and know they are alive. With every message I send on WhatsApp, I heave a sigh of relief when those two ticks appear, a signal that confirms their presence.

Amid the 24-hour bombing, it is nighttime that fills me with fear. I find myself frequently messaging my brother meaningless texts only to see the appearance of those two ticks. In the absence of the internet, I resort to scanning local news, assuring myself that for now, they are at least alive.

Sometimes I wonder if I keep them awake so that the comfort of their presence calms my anxiety, only to remember that the longer they stay awake, the more they are exposed to scenes of devastation and destruction, the more the scent of blood pervades, and the more they endure relentless bombardments. Opting for sleep might grant them and their worn-out bodies a momentary rest from the madness encircling them. I cannot determine who is greedier—them, yearning for an end to life and escaping the ongoing genocide, or me, yearning for their presence and the comfort it brings.

In the past few days, I have lost all communication with my friends. I have stretches of days without hearing anything from them. I get to know they are alive either through reading local news or by reaching out to other Gazans whose phone network is functioning to inquire about the welfare of my friends. With all these heartrending conditions, it is surreal to fathom that we are in the 21st century already.

The events unfolding in Gaza keep bringing to mind a seminar I attended in which the instructor raised the question of our responsibilities toward distant nations, inviting us to ponder whether distance should hinder these obligations. This question keeps recurring in my thoughts, causing me to contemplate if humanity truly recognises any boundaries. I, anyway, have lost hope in humanity. Now I am waiting for a miracle to save my siblings, my loved ones, my people, and my Gaza.

While the ethnic cleansing and slaughter of Gazans continues unabated, the world is rejoicing over the arrival of 20 trucks filled with humanitarian aid, mostly food, to Gaza. When will it become evident that Gazans are not seeking mere humanitarian aid, but rather, we yearn for liberty?

How many more Gazans must be sacrificed for the world to recognize the insignificance of humanitarian aid in the face of ongoing bombardment and colonialism? Humanity at large seems to also be complicit in the dehumanisation of Gazans.

I have never seen my siblings and loved ones this depressed. With every passing hour, Israel’s aggression is on the upswing, the death toll is on the rise, and the siege enforced on Gazans is intensifying.

This leaves me with no choice but to proceed in projecting strength, faking hope, and forcing a smile, assuring my siblings and loved ones that a resolution is in sight, although I myself need assurance myself that there is a glimmer of hope.

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