Tent camp in Gaza during the 2008-2009 war. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna
Tent camp in Gaza during the 2008-2009 war. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna

In Gaza, we still cherish life


"I want to let the voices of those who suffered in Gaza Strip, especially women and children, to be heard", writes Hidaya Sham'on – a Palestinian feminist, journalist and activist working at Women's Affairs Center in Rafah.

A mother, a writer, a feminist activist working at the Women's Affairs Center and a blogger; that’s me. I was torn during this war between my humanity and my job responsibility to cover the news of what is happening in Gaza Strip from the Israeli attack on people, houses and facilities! I couldn’t leave my house for many reasons, but the most important reason is that I am a mother and I’m scared to leave my children (Samer and Saher) who are not 7 years old yet. I trembled in fear every time I see the images of the children’s body parts!

My husband, Mohammad, was not with me for most of the time as he was following up the events of the shelling and attack in Rafah. He is a field researcher and works at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. He was monitoring and documenting every attack through recording the time, the place and the damage. He often went to the destroyed places by the shelling. This used to freak me out as I was also afraid to stay alone with my kids at home. I was emotionally tired because I felt unable to protect my children. I used to think of how I would act if shelling happens, especially that the bombing was at the tunnels’ area in Rafah, which greatly been shaken by the intensity of the shelling of Israeli warplanes day and night!

On the last day of the war, 64 Israeli missiles were fired at Rafah, mostly on the tunnels’ area which is 2 kilometers away from our house. Everyone called that night the shaking night due to the vulnerability of the houses. The kinds of rockets were different but they all used to shake the ground to a degree that you feel that your house will just fall over you. Besides, the scary sound of explosions. We used to jump from our places due to the intensity of the shelling and its proximity!

Although it was very cold, we had to leave the windows open because we were afraid of the shelling. We were afraid that the windows fall over our heads as it happened in the war of 2008 - 2009 in the Gaza Strip.

Between two wars

In the last war (2008), I did not even try to look at the war images as I wanted to stay alive. But, in this war, I couldn’t keep away from not seeing. Every time I looked, I saw them speaking/screaming/still hanging onto life... This war is horrible... Very horrible because we’ve lived it before and we know exactly what war is? We know the meaning of shelling, destruction and pain!

We try to live in this war. I continue to say that’s it’s a war and only a war because an attack happens every day and this attack hasn’t stopped for a long time. It’s a horrible war that harvests our souls like the farmer’s sickle in the field though there is no similarity… It’s a war, a crime and a massacre that continues to happen until this moment.

Who should I write about; the Dalu family who made us remember the Samouni family in the past war?! Or about Razan or Omar or Hanin or ..?! Their spirits talk to me and I can see them running and playing; some of them still have their new beds and others died burned and cut into pieces!! Should I talk about the sorrow of parents? Or the grief of brothers and the pain of relatives...! Or houses that was destroyed and became the graves of its owners?!  What would we say when we greet them? And how will the people of living conscience meet them? At a time when people don’t have consciences...

In that war, we used to rush, scream, and beg sometimes to be rescued but in this war, we also felt dignity and freedom, despite death. We felt that our death is our way to freedom and the dream of Palestine and Gaza was only the way to reach to Jerusalem... We lived under the light in this war, although we didn’t leave our homes…these homes where we might get killed at any moment, just like what happened with many families in the Gaza Strip. But, we had faith in God and the people who will help us keep our dream alive...

In this war and that war, the Palestinians and the Palestinian children were targeted... Their school bags, their hands and their eyes were targeted so as to cover the truth though they did not realize that they raised our children of what we have forgot in the years of compromises and negotiations that used much of our energy and efforts… This war and that war united us together because war means death and death is the end but the people of Gaza gave life out of their deaths and created a way to honor, pride and dignity.

First thing she said

One woman said while being pulled from the rubble and after strenuous attempts to get her out: Where are my children? This was the first thing she said when she was brought back to life. The people around who tried to help called Allahu Akbar, the medical crew cried, the journalists trembled and the news reporters bowed as respect to her life/death... She’s the Palestinian mother whom all media strategies respect and do not help but to turn her into a legend. She’s also a human being who loves and hates, lives and dies, raises children and works, rejoices and grieves... She always gives infinitely. She asks about the life of her children while she’s among the ruins of death and, God willing, made her live again. She suffers and she’s in pain and may die while others bargain her right in her homeland! She deserves all honors as she’s a woman who experienced death and extracted herself from it to remain the guardian of our flame and light...

In this war and in that war, we shivered and we were hurt but we also grow old and planted roses between the walls. We rejoiced with our friends at their happy occasions and we shared their sorrows. This is life between the alleys of death that made every Palestinian able to formulate his life as he pleases as long as death will kidnap him whenever he wants!! The Palestinian did not make any appeals to Arabs or was looking forward to summits and meetings… may they stop these as what happens in the field  is a different kind of life while they live in luxury that does not live up to the meaning of life/death .. It’s the horrible war that breaks us without a warning, but it also teaches us and our children to get ourselves out of the rubble...

My father used to tell us often about the migration stories in the 48 and how aircrafts used to throw explosive barrels... Now I tell my father what these aircrafts do while he’s witnessing all this death. My sons also tell me about two wars while they are not even seven years old yet:
– Do we really know.. We understand that the Jews want to kill all the young boys?! All of them... we know mum!

In the field

On the first day after the war ended; on Thursday, November 22, 2012, I went out straight to my workplace in Gaza. As expected, I only found two colleagues at work. We decided to go out and see what happened in the region so we went to the house of Al Dalu family. This family lost everything but one person. The children and the mother were killed but only one remained alive. When we arrived, the Palestinian bulldozer was trying to lift the rubble as the house became down deep in earth as if it was a piece of cookie smashed by a missile that targeted the family’s home!

We couldn’t get closer as I felt that I'll stop breathing when they announced finding another body of one of the girls that was missing from the family. I left the place with so much pain. The country was sad and pale as the destruction was enormous. Hundreds of people came out of their houses after they awaited death for a week. The foreign press was in the place, and a foreign journalist asked me for an interview after he saw me filming with my iPad. I do not remember which channel it was. He asked me what I was doing in this place. I told him with grief: I want to let the voices of those who suffered in Gaza Strip, especially women and children, to be heard. They only want to live in peace! I want to document their stories and write about them so their marginalized and oppressed voices will be heard. All I have is my pen and camera. I also said: I came from Rafah where we lived difficult days and all of Gaza Strip was targeted and every house was targeted. We cannot remain silent and if we die, we will not die silently!

I returned to Rafah with so much to write about. I found that there is more to be told than death and destruction; there is also life!! Yes; Palestinians honor life as much as their steadfastness. Therefore, they insist to leave their pain from the first day and they try to go back to life ignoring all the death that they have suffered which is very difficult, but their life is full of difficulties.

Al Nasarah Family

On the next day, I went to Al-Nasasrah family in Rafah and stood over a deep hole of several meters in the ground. I felt a sense of real fear when I saw the remnants of a wardrobe, children covers, burnt books, torn clothes and buried stones all over the place!! I discovered that the house that was here for this family has become buried in a hole. I trembled when I knew that there were 13 people in this house most of them are children? How did they face their fate? Can they talk to me!! I walked back with a headache. I tried to take a deep breath... This was painful. I imagined what if this was house... my kids? How can children be killed as simple as that and what was the pilot thinking when he fired a rocket over a house of asbestos and worn wood!

Few meters away, there was the grandmother’s house. It’s there where I found the survivors. I met Rana (21) years old. She barely said few words after I did a big effort... “Just like a dream. I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t hear any crash; I just felt that I’m flying, and when I reached the ground, the wall of the house fell over me. I felt severe pain and things were flying around me. I realized that I wasn’t dreaming and this is a fact. I kept screaming at my father!

The father said: I was watching TV and laying my back towards the wardrobe and my wife was on the bed and beside her (my daughter Lama who is 3 and half years) and (Sama who is a year and 7 months old). Suddenly, I felt that I was flying and the wardrobe broke into pieces. I got a painful thing in my feet and iron surfaces flew around me. I survived by one of the surfaces that covered me from the fire that broke out. I heard the screams of my daughter Rana, and I reached my hand while my little child was screaming next to me. She was alive but her feet got burned by the rocket that targeted our house!! As for my wife, her face was burned and she lost her sight forever!

As for Zainab (15) years old, she was still in panic and sitting alone away from the family.  I tried my best to talk to her until she agreed and said: My face was filled with dirt and dust. I found myself lying on the ground. I was sleeping and I tried to understand what happened but I did not have time. My sister Fatima’s screaming was terrible and it was what brought me to her. I pulled her but it was very dark and I did not see her. None of the neighbors came to rescue. I hold her and started running towards my grandmother’s house.  When I arrived, I wanted to put her down to stand so that I can take a breath but I was shocked to see her left leg broken. She fell down and starting screaming strongly... When I saw her like that, I couldn’t believe that I hold her and she fell. I was so afraid that I ran away. My aunt held her and started calling the neighbors to rescue us!

Al-Nasasrah family were all sleeping except  the parents as it was still 10 pm, and when they woke up, their house was completely destroyed. Their brothers Ahmed (17 years) and Mohamed (19 years) were martyred. As for the third brother, Sakher (12 years), he is in hospital at a very bad condition. The father is a farmer and most of the girls do not go to school due to poverty. What did Al-Nasasrah family do to have their life transformed by the push of one button to a life full sadness, despair, fear, anxiety and pain!! November 19, 2012 is a date that will never be forgotten by this family and many Palestinian families who lived very critical moments and hours and days!

I was coming back every day packed with stories of war, and I found that women deserve to have access to psychological support to be relieved from every fear and pain so that they can get out of this circle of endless death...

I organized at the Center for Women's Affairs a session with all the techniques that I learned through training by Kvinna till Kvinna in Amman in May 2012 which has helped me personally to understand, respect and appreciate myself. So, I decided, despite of my busy work to give this skill to researchers who were trained at the center. Many girls were interested and were hoping for another one because they felt that they need to find themselves again, after experiencing anxiety, pain and confusion after the war ended. Maybe I'll write soon about my experience with these researchers and what they have shared after the training because it’s something that deserves to be a learning experience especially for those who live in insecure circumstances...

Hidaya Sham'on