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My painful memories, one year on

July 9, 2015 at 9:10 am

A damaged ambulance which was bombed during Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014 [Boris Niehaus/Wikipedia]

When I was a schoolgirl, I studied and memorised dates upon dates marking significant events and incidents in the course of the Palestinian struggle. As I grew older, my history book gradually got thicker. The anniversaries were stacking up and I was living Palestine’s history as it was being written.

The Balfour Declaration of 2nd November 1917, Deir Yassin Massacre of 9th April 1948, Palestinian Nakba Day of 15th May 1948, Naksa Day of 5th June 1967, Land Day of 30th March 1976, the First Intifada of 8th December 1987, the Second Intifada of 28th September 2000, the Israeli disengagement of 15th August 2005, Operation Cast Lead of 27th December 2008, and Operation Pillar of Clouds of 14th November 2012 are all but a few dates inscribed in every Palestinian’s memory. 7th July 2014 marks yet another date to be added to our history books; another date that bears witness to Israeli atrocities mounted up against an aggrieved population.

One year on, we commemorate “Operation Protective Edge”, which resulted in the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, including 551 children. In the course of 51 days last summer, Israeli forces managed to kill more Palestinians than any other year since the start of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The first commemoration may be a spicy addition to the agendas of media outlets, but to every Palestinian and everyone close to Gaza, it evokes memories of a child lost, a family erased, a home destroyed, a friend incapacitated, or all of the above.

In the comfort of my war-free, siege-free home in Britain, where I have been living for the past two years, I scroll through a flood of images, videos and memories that have been transcribed into Facebook posts and tweets by my friends and family in Gaza – the place where I was born and where I witnessed two intifadas and survived the 23-day aggression of 2008 which, at the time, felt like it was and would always be the nastiest offensive in Gaza’s history. As Gaza begins to recover from one atrocious war, however, another seems to immediately follow. Within 6 years, the 360 km2 besieged Strip has endured 3 Israeli military campaigns, ruining large areas of an already small strip of land, and leaving behind an accumulation of shattered lives and shackled memories.

As Israel declared the launch of Operation Protective Edge last July, I quickly phoned my family in Gaza. It was the first time that such a large-scale attack broke out without me being with my family. I can never forget the horrors of Cast Lead; all the nights I crawled under the blankets, with my siblings piling up next to me, with nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. Helpless as I may have felt during Cast Lead, it does not begin to compare to how powerless I felt last summer. There I was, glued to the laptop screen watching the news and following Twitter updates anxiously, not knowing what to expect to hear. All I could see in my mind were clouds of dust filling up the air and red flashes lighting up Gaza’s sky as missiles hit. All I could hear was the constant buzzing of drones, the sounds of explosions, and the heart-wrecking wail of ambulances. Every time I tried to contact my family and had no response, I did not know whether it was simply the lack of electricity or if something had happened to them.

My mother is a gynecologist. She works at an UNRWA health centre and runs a private clinic, where she treats patients and delivers babies. As soon as the war broke out, my mother’s clinic sustained partial damage due to the impact and force of nearby Israeli air strikes, and remains as it is to this day. UNRWA staff and medical workers were not obliged to go to work during the offensive; however, most UNRWA staff worked throughout the 51 days of fighting, and so did she. Only a few days into the attack, my mother’s cousin got injured. He sustained some skull fractures, a broken leg, and lost his left eye.

I was the fourth Gaza-Oxford Brookes scholar at the time. On 20th of July, my predecessor, Hassan Alhallaq, lost his 8-month pregnant wife, Samar, his two young kids, Saji and Kenan, his mother, and his sister along with her husband and baby son. Two days later, I witnessed my friend’s missing cousin, Salem Shamaly, being murdered in a viral video. Salem was shot dead by a sniper while looking for his family during truce hours. The video went viral and no one knew who he was, until his cousin identified as I was speaking to him via Twitter.

War is indeed disturbing. When I first saw news of the bombardment that killed 9 members of Alfarra family in Khan Younis, my heart skipped a beat and I instantly thought of my parents and my siblings. No words can describe the wickedness of feeling relieved, more or less, to learn that they, although relatives of yours, were not your immediate family. Twisted feelings like these have the biggest toll on someone, as you begin to evaluate the severity of your own loss. Yes, I have lost friends and relatives, but not siblings or parents. Yes, my mother’s clinic got damaged, but my family’s home was not one of the 12,620 homes that were totally destroyed. My family, although had to evacuate for a couple of weeks, did not have to live at one of 90 UNRWA-operated emergency shelters.

I have not yet been able to go visit my family due to the unreliable Rafah border situation and the severe movement restrictions. The reconstruction of Gaza has barely begun. None of the destroyed houses have been rebuilt; electricity and water infrastructure remains severely damaged; and poverty and unemployment levels are on the rise. One year on, not much has changed in Gaza.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.