You are in the dining room. Your husband is on his way to purchase bread and a treat for the kids if something in the street vendor’s crate of candy bars catches his eye. Two of your children are at school. The third is young still. She sleeps comfortably on her stomach, thumb-in-mouth, on your bed.
The first crash startles you. It sounds different, nearer. The second crash rattles the building. The little one races to you as you do your best to steady tipping objects.
You do the unthinkable. You set her down in the middle of the room and run to the door. Your head pokes out but only for a brief second. Maybe your husband is on his way back and you can see that he’s safe or at least alive. But the third crash forces you to shut your door.
The children are still at school. You can’t help but panic but you know how easily your youngest child breaks down at any sign of fear on mama’s face. You stroke her hair as she sits in your lap. Every couch and seat and cushion in the house is empty. You are sitting on a rug in the middle of your living room, far enough from the windows so that you won’t get cut when they shatter but close enough to characterize of the smoke. Thick means close; thin means far.
For many, these were the opening moments of Israel’s invasion on the Gaza Strip in December 2008. The invasion would last for 22 days, increasing in intensity as it wore on.
This particular sequence of events ended relatively happily. The children returned from school before the barrage picked up. The father made it home safely as well, although lunch was the last of the family’s worries. Their home wasn’t hit directly but their windows eventually shattered.
I stumbled across a photograph of a large group of people taking cautionary measures as the assault went underway. In the middle of a dimly lit room, not unlike the one you held the child in moments ago, almost two dozen members of the same family huddled together under the comforting notion that dying together was better than dying alone.
Everyone wore a jacket. If the windows hadn’t already been shattered, it was only a matter of time before the chilly December breeze blew into the room. The women who wore hijab were fully covered just in case a camera crew dispatched to cover the damage panned across their bodies. Shoes were allowed in the house in case survivors would have to make a break for it. One must always be prepared.
Many of the family members also clutched water bottles in their hands. There was to be no unnecessary moving, even if meant running to the kitchen for a snack. The kitchen had windows, it further from the center, and so it was more exposed. Thirst would be quenched with rations. Bathroom breaks were allowed but only for emergency cases.
One many sat on a black bag. Inside of it was a modest sum of money, none of which belonged to him. Before the invasion, a friend asked him to hold his life savings. The man with the black bag agreed to it, expecting to have the money back into the hands of its rightful owner in no time at all. But with the missiles hitting harder, faster, and closer, the black bagged man promised that he would take the hit before his friend’s savings would.
The family members sat in silence for most of the time. The occasional joke would lighten the mood but another crack in the sky would wipe the smiles away. Together they’d remain for days at a time.
Even in times of inhumanity, the important things in life, like family and dignity, will forever prevail.