‘If our time comes, at least we will go together’

Meet Fouad, to the left, and Rami. These are Malak’s older brothers. Fouad is a bundle of energy who sprints more than he walks. Rami takes a more passive approach to life, spending much of his time watching over his younger siblings or sitting quietly with his leukemic father, absorbing his resilience and nurturing him as best as his little hands will allow him to.

This is the third invasion of the Gaza Strip the two brothers have had to live through. There is no consistency in their lives. From frequent air strikes right next door to cancelled school days that turn to weeks, the closest things to normalcy they have ever had are their trips to the beach where the brief sting of the salty water in their eyes gets them to forget about their grey surroundings and shed the weight of living under siege. It’s a moment of weakness that is otherwise never allowed, for at such an early age they have come to realize that strength is what it takes to make it to the next day.

They are not boys. Despite their young age, they are men — men who have seen more blood than most, who have seen more explosions in their young lives than we can ever imagine, who have had to say bye to family and friends so frequently that they just aren’t interested in saying hello. They can tell you the exact weapon that killed their neighbor based on the sound of the pop. It’s something they learned in 2008-09, were tested on in 2012, and are now teaching other children in 2014.

I haven’t been able to get in touch with the boys since my visit last year. In the past, it was because they were outside chasing after each other with seatless bicycles. Now, it’s because they have been forced to leave their home.

During Israel’s ruthless shelling of the Shuja’iyya neighborhood this past weekend in which shells fell within seconds of each other for nearly two days, one of our older cousins rushed to the scene to help evacuate any families that had not yet escaped. He was among the many who volunteered their services and, later, their lives to clear the roads for ambulances, to shield children from flying debris with their bodies, and to weave through the neighborhood’s thin corridors in search of the bleeding. He was killed in a blast.

We are very lucky — it was our family’s only casualty in many years. But to see and hear our parents and uncles and aunts shed so many tears over the loss of this beautiful life is an experience I wish upon no one.

For Fouad and Rami, it’s a wish that will likely go unfulfilled.

When a missile struck the building next to theirs, Fouad and Rami followed the rest of their family into hiding in the building across the alleyway. The move doesn’t do them much good; they’ve only distanced themselves about ten extra meters from the blast site. Nowhere is safe, I am told. There is no place else to go. At least in this building, they could keep company with another set of cousins. If their time comes, at least they can go together. What has become of the world when children are forced to think this way?

It’s been almost a week and I still haven’t been able to contact any family in Gaza. Texts and online chats go unanswered. It could be because there is no electricity for them to charge their phones, or maybe because their phones were left behind. But when the last text that comes through nearly seven days ago is “There is death everywhere,” it becomes a mental challenge to remain positive. Anxiety has its way with me.

Still, I’m sure Fouad and Rami are finding ways to keep Malak entertained. Chances are they haven’t been outside in days. During the 2008-09 invasion, many of my family members stayed indoors and away from the windows for the entire 22-day period of bombing. But the air is probably fresher inside than out.

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