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Gaza has slain the phoenix and taken its place in local legend

Palestinian children protest against Israel's destrution of the central office of Al-Amal Institute for Orphan in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Palestinian children protest against Israel's destrution of the central office of Al-Amal Institute for Orphan in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

According to Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird which can renew itself over and over again. Legend says that it bursts into flames every thousand years or so and is reborn from the ashes.

Many people likened Gaza to the phoenix when it persevered following Israel's military offensive in 2008/9. With apologies to the phoenix, though, Gaza has taken the legendary bird's place. It rises from the ashes every single day to face everything that the occupation throws at it: bombs, missiles, a blockade; Gaza carries on.

If the phoenix was around today, it would sit at Gaza's feet in humility. The story of Gaza, where fact and fiction overlap, is hard for a normal mind to comprehend. A wild imagination is necessary to understand the reality of the enclave and its people.

Many children were killed by Israeli bombs in the latest offensive against Gaza. News reports said around 70 lost their lives, but we can multiply that figure by many thousands because of the families that may have sprung from every child but which will now never see the light of day.

Many children were killed, but the bombs also stole their childhood with all the joy that it should have brought. Pulled from the rubble of their homes, their Eid clothes were still beautiful because of the expectations that they carried with them.

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Many children were killed, and their toys have been left behind. They were not played with on Eid, the joy of which was stolen by the occupation forces.

How could the occupation authorities even think about destroying so many innocent lives and so much joy? During Ramadan and Eid? Parents were buying Eid clothes and toys for their children not knowing if they would live long enough to wear and enjoy them; not knowing if a cold-blooded murderer from Europe, the US or Ethiopia in an Israeli uniform would entertain themselves by depriving the children of Eid, of their clothes and of their gifts. Indeed, of life itself.

Gaza and the Palestinians love Eid. Its children who lived another day know that death awaits. Those who were killed went to their grave smiling at the stupidity of the killers who are fighting a nation which does not know the meaning of surrender.

Images of the war still linger in our hearts. The smell of death still brings sadness and steadfastness. The martyrs remind us that they are not dead, but are in a far, far better place and eternal life.

The surviving children take on roles for which they are far too young. The girl of eight or nine wears her Eid clothes, which are covered in dust and blood, like her face and hair. Her left hand holds her younger sister, and with her right hand she wipes her head as she sleeps on a hospital bed. A third sister sits at their feet. The oldest is really not old enough to console her little sister, and she shouldn't have to be wiping blood and dust from her hair. Like many Palestinians in Gaza before her, though, she is growing old before her time.

Resistance takes many forms. The factions use their weapons. Others resist on a popular level through marches and demonstrations. Some use the media. Doctors use their skills and knowledge, with their white gowns and aging equipment which has not been upgraded due to the siege.

Most of all, though, the people of Gaza resist the occupation simply by living. In 2011, well-known Palestinian director Ashraf Al-Masharawi produced a documentary called Gaza Lives On which summed up the philosophy of life in the enclave.

That's why we see mothers bathing their children in a bathtub that somehow survived the Israeli bombs. The fact that she has water is a miracle in itself. A boy returning to his bombed-out home to look for his toys. Tea being made and served in what is left of a kitchen, which is now open to the elements. Such images enrage the Israeli killers. That is how just living itself is a powerful act of resistance.

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The sea provides other stories for Gaza. It provides food and pleasure. The horizon overlooks the forbidden distance, and beckons all who gaze at it. The sea in Gaza represents a lazy Thursday spent at the beach from the afternoon until dawn on Friday; it is the fishy smell and the smell of life. It was where the Palestinians in Gaza went on the first weekend after the bombing. The sword of life wielded by ordinary people joined the Sword of Jerusalem in the face of death that came out of the sky.

As much as the Eid takbeers and recitations symbolise submission to the greatness of God upon whom we humans rely, they also symbolise joy at being alive. The worshippers walk to the Eid prayer after a month of fasting that is both tiring and beautiful; the sounds of the Eid takbeers draw them in. The joy is complete when the voices of those reciting the takbeers as they walk to prayer overlap with the voices of those already sitting and waiting for the prayer to begin. This is when Eid begins and, to a large extent, it is also where it ends.

The Palestinians in Gaza were unable to celebrate Eid under the bombing, but they went out as soon as the ceasefire was in effect at 2am. The Eid takbeers that they chanted were not only an expression of their sense of victory, but also compensation for the joy they lost during the days of Eid. The people of this land love joy; they resist their enemy with joy; and they deserve to rejoice. Gaza deserves to hear its people's voices as it rises again from the ashes.

 

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 7 June 2021 and has been edited for MEMO.

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

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