Guest contribution by Deena Kishawi
As the days of summer pass, I have tried hard to ignore the news. Not because I don’t want to know the goings-on in the world but because I know that if I see or hear something that strikes a nerve, my heart will shatter just as forcefully.
Since Israel’s aggressive operation on the people of the Gaza Strip began on July 8, I’ve shielded my eyes from the images of bleeding children, emotional mothers, and demolished houses. I’m afraid that I might see something I recognize from my visits to Gaza or someone I met — perhaps a relative or a friend. I’m afraid that my memories of Gaza will be tarnished with destruction and not the gleaming sun-lit beauty I remember from my time there exactly one year ago.
Today, I look back at my journeys to Gaza and desperately wish that I had stayed so that I could be there to help or provide some kind of support to the victims of the invasion — all 1.8 million of them. But not everyone gets to stay.
It is hard to stomach the news, but it is hard to stay away from it as well. When I finally gave in and searched for news on the latest in Gaza, I came across a photograph taken by journalist Ayman Mohyeldin that shows a the raw emotion and heartbreak of a mother after learning that her son had been killed with his cousins on the beach. The Israeli Navy fired two shells one after the other at the boys who had earlier been chasing each other on the wet sand. Four died.
The mother’s strained eyes are a window to her heart. But even then, I couldn’t even fathom the pain she must have felt. Her son, one of the four young cousins of the Bakr family, aged 9-11, killed.
I scrolled past the image, not sure if I could take it any longer. The next photograph was similarly jarring, showing the aftermath of an Israeli air strike in the Sheikh Ridwan neighborhood of Gaza City. The place stands out vividly to me. It is always mentioned when I recount my many stories from Gaza. It is always imaged when I trace back my steps through the territory’s smoggy roads. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood, one in which I would have liked to live, maybe. To see the scattered clothes amid the rubble and the metal rods of a home that once used to stand upright shook me inside.
Imagine what they were doing moments before their entire house was demolished. What if they were going about daily household chores and had just seconds to leave their lives behind to protect themselves?
Last year while I was in Gaza, my family members told me that in moments like these, where attacks are imminent, they attend to their daily household activities fully dressed. Those who wear the hijab keep it on. Shoes are worn inside the house. In the winter, jackets are zippered up. If they are in danger and have to flee, they would be prepared to leave right away. The flight of the Palestinian. My heart is heavy just thinking about how they live in constant fear of what might happen next. They stopped caring about what to eat for iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast, and turned their attention to the doors, the windows, and the walls. Doors make for good escape routes. Stay clear of shattering windows. Walls can collapse at any moment.
These images and the many more headlines and photographs that followed them constantly replay in my head. I live in a major city, and when the occasional firework cracks the still night air, I jump almost like the way I jumped in Gaza during an air strike. I live on a main street near a hospital and the wailing sirens remind me of the chaotic rush to Al-Shifa Hospital after Israel is content with the number of missiles it fired at Gaza overnight. These noises make us feel uncomfortable; they can distract us from our daily lives and sometimes serve as an annoyance. But to others, these noises define their day to day life, except that it’s infinitely more visceral than a mere pop in the sky or a flash of red and blue. For the people of Gaza, resilience is the most effective coping mechanism. They have made living life in these strangulating circumstances seem like an easy feat when it is anything but.
Deena Kishawi is an undergraduate student at DePaul University who aspires to practice medicine in the Gaza Strip.