Is this peace that I’m feeling?

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Family at beach.
Every weekend, my family spends time at the beach with our neighbors. Photo by Hamza Ibrahim.

“We make war that we may live in peace,” according to Aristotle. And while anyone who’s ever lived in peace might see some truth in this statement, Aristotle has made a critical mistake here. War does not always lead to peace. In Palestine, things are different.

I woke up but haven’t woken up yet

Gaza, Palestine, June 19, 2023. As I open my eyes around 6 a.m., I see the reflection of a tree dancing on the ceiling. I meditate peacefully in the shadow of leaves, and I smile inside.

But while I lie in my cozy bed, a motorcycle roars past and my eyes pop wide open. For Gazans, every unexpected sound, even fireworks or a slamming door, can feel like a bombing. In this case, the motorcycle’s loud engine sounds like an incoming missile. It takes me back to an utterly dreadful situation that began a month earlier, on May 9, at 2:49 a.m., while everyone was sleeping.

On any normal night, it would have been a tranquil atmosphere that felt like humanity had vanished from the universe—but it was not a typical night.

Indeed, I wasn’t paying attention when my phone buzzed with messages; I thought it was my morning alarm, so I didn’t answer and went back to sleep. But five minutes later, a loud, fiery explosion hit the house like a massive earthquake. There was a burst of flame as the windows smashed into my bedroom. I started screaming until I almost had a heart attack. I choked and had trouble seeing due to the dense dust that covered me.

I rolled out of bed onto my face, my pulse racing furiously. I could hardly stand to walk. I felt dizzy, and my chest got increasingly tight as sweat streamed down my forehead.

I rushed out of my room to check on my family. Everyone was yelling and crying. I could barely hear due to tinnitus from the explosions.

I was shouting, “Ya Elahi!” My thoughts raced: What’s going on? Is this a terrifying nightmare—has a meteor crashed into Gaza? Has World War III begun?

It was like trying to stop a train by throwing a boulder on the track. It was a disaster. Oh! I just want to deny this was happening.

My face was dripping with blood, but I managed to grab my phone despite my trembling fingers. The flashing screen was hard to read. Numerous calls and messages popped up from my relatives from the West Bank and friends, alongside news alerts.

It turned out that Israeli warplanes had assassinated three major commanders in the ranks of the Islamic Jihad movement by conducting a dawn bombing raid on their residences. As a result, the leaders’ entire families and many others were murdered or wounded.

My heart was shattered, and I hurried to look out the broken window. Black smoke was billowing and rubble covered the entire area. I could hear ambulances coming to pick up the injured, as well as the martyrs who lay buried beneath the debris.

I looked down at my floor, covered by glass fragments. My house had become uninhabitable.

It’s May again!

Boy waiting on street in Gaza.
My cousin waiting for his best friend, Ali Ezz Alden, to go with him to play on the beach. Ali was martyred in the most recent war. Photo by Hamza Ibrahim.

The Israeli airstrikes in May 2023 caused a catastrophe by killing innocent children and adults. It reminded me of Nakba Day, or Day of Catastrophe, May 15, 1948, when the Jewish state of Israel was established and the Palestinian people were expelled from their homes and land and lost their homeland. The Nakba is ongoing in the efforts to displace us and destroy our political, economic, and cultural existence.

Since then, Gazans believe the month of May comes with a terrifying surprise. It is the month of aggression and destruction, of loss and displacement. As the Gazans say, “Ya Habibi, Ati Shahr may,” “Oh, May again.” That month, many of our loved ones leave without saying goodbye.

It would not happen anywhere else on the planet, only in Gaza. Any Gazan knows that one second they are alive; in the blink of an eye, they could be dead, homeless, injured, or without a family. They might go to sleep and never wake up.

Therefore, what do you think—have we attained peace yet? Or should we “go back to sleep” once more?

May I find peace at my grandfather’s house!

This back story helps explain the depth of my feelings for what happened next on June 19, 2023.

In April 2020, we received an invitation from my grandfather to visit him in Jenin. This would be my first trip with my family to the West Bank, and I was filled with happiness. My face radiated joy. I rushed to call my friends in Gaza to tell them that I would be traveling to the West Bank.

However, I got a little anxious when my father told me that traveling to Jenin was not an easy trip due to the strict Israeli security checkpoints. He had traveled to my grandfather’s house several years earlier and faced difficulties at the Israeli crossing checkpoints.

After a week, we finished the procedures to obtain a permit (approval) from the Israeli occupation to enter Jenin. The many conditions of the Israeli occupation for entering Jenin made it almost impossible. I was smiling, yet inside I felt fear, like overlapping feelings.

My father told my family to prepare our luggage because we would have a long and arduous journey the next day.  I asked my father, “How many hours until we get to Jenin by car?” Jenin is about 80 miles away.

“Traveling from Gaza to Jenin takes almost four hours,” he said, adding that the Israeli occupation crossings that separate Palestinian cities greatly impede movement. My eyebrows shot up, and I wondered what would be waiting for me at the crossing!

Nonetheless, we were extremely glad the next morning to start off.

My family and I put our suitcases on the roof and got into the car.

On our way to the crossing, my father told me nervously that we should stay next to each other and be careful, because the occupation offered no security to us. It might send us back, imprison us, or steal what is inside our bags.

After one hour, we arrived at the Israeli-Erez crossing. As we glimpsed the armed occupation soldiers stationed in front of the crossing, I began trembling with fear that we would be hurt. Then we entered an inspection room, where they searched our bags and stole some of our belongings under the pretext that they were prohibited items.

They asked us a lot of questions until we felt nervous. Why do you want to cross? What are you going to do there? Where does your grandfather live? There were some new conditions stipulating, for instance, that young people over the age of 18 are not allowed to enter. They searched and interrogated us for about two hours as if we were carrying contraband.

I had never seen such extensive procedures like this before.

My father lost his patience, and he got into a dispute with them because of the delay and the unusual restrictions imposed by the occupation for crossing.

After a long argument, they allowed us to enter, and I felt that I had come out of a dark cave. I felt liberated again. But then my father said, “We have many more checkpoints in front of us. And each checkpoint takes time and a lot of inspection.”

The trip took almost four hours. I felt as if I had gone around the world and come back again, because of the checkpoints.

As I entered the streets of Jenin, I saw armed Israeli occupation forces in every lane, every corner, and in the streets like gangs. The panic gripped me until the hairs on my arms stood up.

Finally we arrived at my grandfather’s house in Jenin, where he greeted us with warm embraces and we were overcome with joy.

Afterward I thought to myself, “It’s a really dangerous, stressful trip. Even so, I wish I could spend every day in my grandfather’s house and visit him again.”

My second journey to Jenin

It’s now 8 a.m., on June 23, 2023, and I have recovered from the flashback triggered by the motorcycle sounds. It is a lovely and tranquil morning. We had received the second invitation to my grandfather’s house, so my family and I are cheerful as we prepare to visit him, and a friend of mine in Jenin, that day.

As I pack my bags, I remember my  last visit to grandfather’s with happiness flooding my face. But things turn around abruptly when I receive a call from my friend in Jenin.

“Assalam Alaikum,” I greet him. “You don’t normally call this early, so how’s it going?”

In a panicky and trembling voice, my friend replies, “I’m not okay. My house is demolished! My house is destroyed! We are on the street!”

My heart starts pumping fast from shock. “Are you kidding? Where are you? How did this happen?”

“I swear, Hamza, they are all over the camp in large numbers. They kill and destroy. We are under attack; we don’t know where to go.”

“I don’t get it!” I reply. “Who are they? Why did they do this? Calm down, my friend; everything will be okay. Tell me from the start.”

I know the terrible answer he would give before he opened his mouth.

Israeli attack on Jenin refugee camp.
With bulldozers and armored vehicles, the Israeli army invades and destroys much infrastructure in Jenin camp. Photo circulating on social media.

He tells me that the Israeli occupation forces had inflicted a horrifying massacre. They unexpectedly broke into the camp at dawn with their devastating military vehicles, equipment, armored bulldozers, and various Israeli special forces and Apache aircraft. The invasion was the first of its kind. There were many martyrs and injured individuals as a result of the soldiers breaking into their homes and destroying the streets. He added, “Nakba Day has come!”

I could not stand what I hear; it was as if all the pain of the world had gathered in me. I say, with tears falling, “Be strong, pull yourself together. Now, go to my grandfather’s house; it is close to your house. I’ll give them a call and let them know you’re coming.”

Between sobs he replies, “I’m so sorry, Hamza. Your grandfather’s house was also destroyed by Israeli armored bulldozers. So, they were injured and….”

The call is disconnected.

My happiness vanishes, and I can no longer stand on my feet. My grandfather’s house, the only place that gives us peace, has been destroyed.

When I inform my father what had happened, I can barely get the words out. My father’s face clenches in shock. We rush to call my grandfather but get no answer.

A day passes without any news about my grandfather. The day, like a fire, devours my heart. I sit, wondering if my grandfather has been martyred!

The next day, my father receives a call from a strange number. It is my grandfather calling from his neighbor’s house. My heart fills with happiness when I hear his voice.

He tells us he is not okay, and his house was close to the invasion. His words crush my heart. My grandfather says, “My house has become uninhabitable.”

My grandfather’s house, which used to be the one that gave us peace, love, and happiness, is now just one of the hundreds of houses being destroyed in the West Bank by the Israeli occupation forces.

The end of peace as we knew it

After all that, every hour that passes brings me fear. We have no idea where we will be in a minute. We could be under the rubble, injured, or dead. We may lose our loved ones or our house.

I am writing this down so that I can share it with the rest of the world. I am not doing it for myself, since I’ll always remember it. Perhaps my words will assist in awakening the world, which is currently sleeping while millions cry.

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