Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh
The Nation / August 8, 2022
After a weekend of terror in Gaza, the cease-fire is welcome, but it won’t be nearly enough as long as Israel can keep bombing and killing Palestinians.
Al-Remal, the Gaza Strip – My wife, Asmaa, and I had just finished Friday lunch when we decided to go out shopping with our newborn son, Rafik. We had been planning for a while to tweak our daily routine with extra sport, so we went on foot. It was a typical Friday afternoon in Gaza in the middle of a very crowded area known as “downtown.” Then, suddenly, the ground shook. We heard four or five loud blasts and the sky went black.
I hurried to calm Asmaa and cuddled my baby. He is 9 months old, yet he is already living through the second eruption of Israeli aggression of his little life. I am certain Rafik would have slipped back into his mom’s womb if he had known what life in Gaza under Israeli war and blockade would be like.
We stood desperate before the scenes of people fleeing from homes near the targeted tower. We witnessed firsthand the shattered bodies, the blood stained gray by debris; we heard the shaking voices.
All around us, people were screaming—hundreds of them, old and young alike. Ambulances and civil rescue teams raced past, all headed in the same direction. I tried to understand what was happening, but all I could see were people, so many people, with pale faces, their clothes stained with blood, pointing at the building that had been hit. It wasn’t easy to take a cab back home, so we ran and wished we had not gone out.
More air raids followed. “We are under another Israeli attack,” the news anchor announced over the car radio.
By the time we got back home, we were in tears, terrified. We found my father, mother, and young sister crowded into one corner of the dining room, afraid that the windows could explode inward from the debris of the Israeli bombs.
I knew we were heading into a dark time when the banners scrolling across the bottom of the TV turned red, announcing the number of dead bodies being pulled out of the rubble. The screen was full of images of people gathering at Gaza’s main hospital morgue to identify loved ones.
“Should we evacuate? Is it the whole city under attack?” my father questioned with a suppressed tear. I tried to insert a positive note, “Of course we are not, Dad.” I wished I could have believed it myself. But I had to be the hopeful one in the scared household.
My family has endured the long dispossession of our land and people. For my grandparents, it was the Nakba in 1948 and the war in 1967. My parents both lived through the 1967 attack but not the Nakba. My sister Fatima, 20, lived through the most recent five assaults: 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021, and this year’s. So did my partner and baby. Everyone in my family has their own memories, their own dates, their own ledgers of death and war.
We all still live through the same horrifying, scary moments.
This latest attack on Gaza was motivated above all by Israeli political calculations. It was, many believe, the coming elections that spurred Israeli leaders to push for a military operation that killed dozens of Palestinians.
The initial Israeli airstrike targeted a multistory building, killing over 10 and injuring tens more. Among those killed were a 5-year-old girl, an elderly woman who had just celebrated her son’s wedding in the northern town of Beit Hanoun, a talented 22-year-old artist who had a bright future before her, and six children under the age of 15.
Now, three days on, 43 Palestinians have been killed—15 of them children and four women—and over 350 injured. Many people remain missing. It seems that innocent civilians and militant groups are interchangeable targets for the Israeli military.
It all feels like a direct attack on a population that is majority women and children.
For me, having never been able to leave Gaza, the two days of bombardment were a lived recollection of terror, death, and loss. As for my baby son, he’s now living a different yet similar version of my life of occupation and constant fear, just like every child born and raised in Palestine.
With every round of attacks, Israel takes its siege of Gaza—which is to say, its deprivation policy—to a new level. A few days before the attack, Israel had closed the two main crossings into Gaza, and by noon on Saturday, Gaza’s only power plant was forced to shut down. The spokesman for the electricity company announced, “The shutdown will affect all vital facilities and households in the strip, exacerbating the humanitarian situation.”
Among those vital facilities that were affected: the hospitals treating the long-term sick and newly wounded.
The truth is, Israel endeavors to kill the people of Gaza through any means possible, not only with warplanes but sometimes by depriving the residents of the necessities important for human survival, like clean drinking water and electricity.
By Sunday night, over 2.3 million residents in Gaza were clutching one another’s hands in the dark, crowded into whichever room we had determined to be “the safest” in the house, trying to swallow our fear so that our children would remain calm.
People in Gaza have a very old yet frequently renewed tradition by which a family exchanges one or two of their kids with another family during an attack. This way, just in case some of them get bombed, the others will live. With every missile that drops on a civilian house or building, tens of lives, dreams, and hopes are torn apart and buried under layers of cement.
As the night wore on, the Israeli military announced that it was escalating its military operation and was ready to go long-term. I live in an apartment that is above my father’s. I rushed down the stairs to check on my family and told my father, “Dad, we are sleeping in the corridor tonight. Please, Mom, keep all of your personal documents and important stuff packed, in case we have to leave the house at any moment.”
Sleeping at night is the worst part of a war. I doubt anyone could sleep the two nights of the assault. You don’t need to set an alarm to wake up because there are so many different alarms: the hovering sound of Israeli fighter jets, the destructive sound of bombs, which kept getting closer and closer.
As I was wrapping up this story, news broke that a cease-fire agreement has been reached with the help of Egypt. A cease-fire is welcome, but it isn’t enough, because Israel will keep killing Palestinians, on land as well as at sea, in the coming days, weeks, and months, just as it has done after every cease-fire.
We need more than a cease-fire. It’s time to end the 16-year blockade and fully open all of the crossings into Gaza. It’s time to lift the restrictions on imports of goods and food. It’s time for Gaza to have more than six hours of electricity a day.
It’s time for people in Gaza to be able to visit whenever they wish their families whom they haven’t seen in years. It’s time for 2 million Palestinians to enjoy basic human rights—clean drinking water, health care, and freedom of movement.
It’s time for the international community and corporate media to stop isolating Gaza and dehumanizing its people. It’s time for young people in Gaza to have jobs, to travel, and to see the world.
It’s time to lift up the right of return of the Palestinian refugees in Gaza who have been deprived of their right to go home for seven decades.
It’s time to understand the Palestinian experience through the lens of Gaza, because our lived experience and history are essential to understanding how the Nakba continues to disrupt the lives of Palestinians—both those residing at home and in exile.
It’s time for a cease-fire that heals the physical wounds and the psychological devastation we have sustained. And it’s time for a free and independent Palestine.
Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh is a Palestinian journalist, writer, and researcher living in Gaza City, and contributing author to the book A Land With A People