The following piece of writing is based on the true story of Hadil Ghalia and many other Palestinians living under occupation.
Friday, my beloved Friday. It was our day of rest, a day where we united under one roof and declared our love for God. It was always a day of joy for us, families and friends would go out to the city to have some fun. The city would always be an interesting place, full of cars, full of people, full of mayhem, marking the start of the weekend. Gaza was no exception. I was born there, so I can speak from experience. Living in Gaza was never easy but I still enjoyed it, as there was something new to do every single day.
Gaza was my home, it was the Playground of my childhood memories where I made and lost friends. My home wasn’t too far from school it was a fifteen minute walk, in fact. I would walk through a meadow full of the brightest coloured oranges that you could ever imagine. As I walked casually by these beautiful trees, I would feel their presence as if they had some sort of power; they would stand there so proudly shining like the sun. The aroma that they would give off would last the whole day. It was always far too tempting to pass them and not pick one out, so I would pick the biggest, brightest and juiciest orange, every morning and place it carefully in my bag for my lunch.
However, my mornings were not always this cheerful and carefree. Unexpected searches at check points were the worst. They would take my eldest brother, Samir, first, to their black chamber, and then me, but I was still young, so they didn’t make a big deal over me. Whereas, my brother would be kept there for at least an hour, I never knew what they did to him but I knew it wasn’t something he enjoyed. Samir never spoke about it because he knew it would scare me. It was always so painful to watch him suffer as he would always look at me in a regretful way as if he was trying to apologise to me for what was happening. I could only wish I could see those sorrow filled eyes again, his pale white face and his honey coloured eyes, once more, just for one more moment. He was seventeen when I lost him. I remember that weekend as if it was yesterday because whatever I do, wherever I go I am constantly tormented by it.
I wouldn’t say it was a weekend I wanted to remember, I, sometimes, wish it was a weekend I could forget. I wish I could destroy these memories and cut them into tiny eligible pieces so no one else could witness what I have gone through. We had been planning this trip for a while now, as we had to ask permission from the soldiers to leave our own home. Matters that concerned enjoying ourselves had to be checked with the authorities, they said. It’s quite ironic how we were the ones that had to ask permission to leave our home, our personal space, our land that our ancestors built for us. I was never able to understand why there was such a big fuss over one little picnic trip to the beach. It should have been like any other day, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t in their bones to allow some enjoyment in our lives. Everything we did had some sort of restriction, no matter how small or big it was, there was always something that aimed to make our lives difficult. Anyone could realise what they were trying to do, but it wasn’t working. We still walked on those familiar streets, sat on that mahogany bench and played happily on that beach. They didn’t put me down and they will never break me because I am my father’s son and he would always remind me that the only way of keeping our land was education and faith. Whether it was my faith in Allah or faith in humanity, this was the only thing that kept me going.
The weekend; our picnic and our chance to go out as a family and enjoy Gaza beach in all its glory. It was about thirty degrees Celsius; the sun was shining vibrantly as we left the house. I had to squint my eyes, practically shut them just to see my way to the mini-van. My father was the one that drove; he respected my mother too much to let her go through the hassle of the checkpoint humiliation. It was routine, we would all be asked to leave the car for two hours, or more, for the soldiers to place their bloodied, remorseless hands on. Whilst they searched the mini-van we stood in the scorching heat sweating, panting like thirsty dogs, the soldiers would stare at us like vultures ready to attack their prey. If they intended to look intimidating, they managed to do the opposite. They would hide themselves behind their heavy artillery whereas we, as a nation, stood behind our principles and held in ours hands, so tightly; the little rocks from the rubble of our bombarded homes. My father would plea for a bottle of water for my little sister but they couldn’t care less if we died there, standing. All they cared about was the contents of our picnic basket, which obviously was some sort of falafel and humus bomb ready to detonate any second. So much for their saying ‘Join the military as it is the place to represent your country’, I would not be proud to acknowledge myself with people that took more pride in humiliating others, than themselves. Their so called military is merely a tool of destruction, destruction of what we have and believe in. Their whole system is created and built on the skulls and ruins of my people, how could I possibly respect and listen to them.
It was a grueling two hour wait in the scorching sunlight, but it was worth it. Everywhere you looked you could see the silhouettes of the striking orange trees; the image that never failed to impress me. I waited for the wind to brush against my face as it brought the sweet comforting scent of the fruits of Gaza to me. But, I could feel their pain as we drove past them, they stood their behind barbed wire away from anything that ever cared for them.
My father opened the window for us all to hear the call for Friday prayer. It was a comforting sound, it would ease the pain we were all feeling, and it was a reassuring sound that gave us strength to continue with our difficult lives. It wasn’t just the sound that helped us; it was also the airy breeze that welcomed itself into the van with the perfumed smell of those luscious oranges. I couldn’t manage to leave their intensifying power.
We drew closer to the beach and I could smell the fresh salty air, I could hear the waves crashing along the shore. We were there. I have been waiting for this trip for such a long time, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was so dreamlike that I just wanted to take a mental picture and remember it for the rest of my life. I took off my shoes and dived straight into the water, I didn’t care about my clothes, I didn’t care how hot it was , the water invited me in.
My whole family were setting up the picnic, it was calming just staring at them from a distance whilst I was in the water, and it was like I was looking into their own little world through a picture frame. You could say it was a Kodak moment; it was more than perfect, it was my family, my treasures, my life. I didn’t realise how much I loved them till that moment, my father was my hero , my mother was my protector, Samir was my best friend and my little beautiful angel of a sister, was my jewel.
But they’re all past tense now. I knew it was too perfect to be true. I heard it coming towards my family; I could see the disrupting smoke that tore through the white, fluffy clouds. How could have I been so happy, I should have told my parents not to go ahead with it. It was my fault; my father wanted to show me the beach he grew up on and show me where he met my mother. I saw it come down, it came down with the sharpest, and loudest sound ever known to man. It had a tail of fire, something you would imagine a devil would have. With no warning, with no sign, the bomb had devastated the beach. I was paralysed in the water; I couldn’t move to see what was happening. I prayed to God it didn’t hit our picnic site and eventually when I was able to move I ran straight out of the water. The sand was so hot it felt like it was frying my feet, I was thirsty and I felt faint. But I still sprinted like a maniac to our site, but the bomb was there, in front of me.
Just a moment a go, I was staring at my family enjoying their happy moments, and then, suddenly, my treasures had been annihilated. What had they done to deserve this brutal death? Being happy was not a crime, not in my books at least. Samir was the first one I saw. He was so motionless laying there next to my four year old sister. He was holding her hand. How could they do this to my sister? She was far too young to understand what was happening. The blood poured out her head like an open tap and my brother’s legs were scattered away from his body. I couldn’t bear to look at him; it was too painful to watch. I held back the tears, to give me hope that my mother and father were still alive, but they were nowhere to be seen. I ran frantically across the blistering sand and there they were on the ground; dead. My hero and my protector had gone I had no one to turn to. The tears started to pour down my cheek and I started to scream for them to wake up but they didn’t, they couldn’t.
From that moment the wind became my enemy, it didn’t bring me the beautiful aroma of the oranges, it brought me the stench of my family’s blood. It was meant to be our day of rest, it was meant to be my beloved Friday.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.