Death before liberation

He lived his entire life under occupation. Even in his few moments of freedom — which were more illusion than anything else — he was confined to a depressing reality, a fate suffered by Palestinians for decades.

I know very little detail about his final moments. I keep it vague in my head for a reason, but I don’t know what that reason is. I just choose not to ask for more. I’ll listen if someone wants to fill me in but I won’t ask. The details don’t change much because the context stays the same. He lived his entire life under occupation. He saw death before liberation, just like he used to chant.

The last time I saw him was in 2004 in his mother’s living room laying back on a loveseat sofa, legs up, cigarette in hand, hair combed back, television turned on. He had an affinity for American films, which were almost always dubbed at least three years after their release in American theaters. Sometimes I’d have to pretend I hadn’t seen the movie before. That way, he could explain the plot to me and I could be impressed by his ability to slip in the occasional English word.

He was a bit older than I am now. When my mom walked into the room, he immediately straightened up. The television turned off, his feet returned to the ground, and he addressed her as khalti, “my aunt,” instead of just khalto.

Seven years later I returned to his home but he was away. He was undergoing treatment in an Egyptian hospital — for something minor, fortunately. The day we said our goodbyes and crossed out of Rafah was the day he crossed in. For hours we waited in separate waiting rooms at the same time without even knowing.

He was happy to return home and his family was happy to have him back. He was going to be a father in a few months.

I hadn’t spoken to him since 2004, not because I didn’t want to but because I just couldn’t. International calling is difficult, especially when an occupation gets in the way. But the more I think of this, the weaker my excuse gets.

He lived in Gaza City, just blocks from the hospital morgue that took him in. He had survived Israel’s vicious bombing campaign the week before. But his time came anyway and here we are today.

If it’s any consolation, he didn’t get to watch Mahmoud Abbas sell his dream of a free Palestine. So maybe this was a great mercy.

Rani lived his entire life under occupation and no matter how much I write to try to make sense of things, this is something that I just don’t want to understand.

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