Mohammed M. El Haj-Ahmed
The Electronic Intifada / June 23, 2021
A month has passed since Israel’s 11-day attack on Gaza came to an end.
While we are glad that the attack is over, adjusting to everyday reality has not been easy.
It has not helped that Israel has already carried out new airstrikes against Gaza. Those airstrikes came within 48 hours of Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s prime minister last week.
Putting trauma behind us is a struggle. Most members of my family had trouble sleeping at night both during and after the May attack. Fortunately, we are able to rest a little better now.
Each of us is trying to cope in their own way.
Humor is essential to my own coping strategy. I try to find something funny in every experience.
Yet there was no laughter when Israel bombed Gaza in May. We were terrified.
Two noises were constant: the buzzing of drones and the loud whoop of the F-16 warplanes supplied to Israel by the US.
Still, I did my best to unwind. I even “celebrated” the holiday of Eid al-Fitr by refusing to follow the news.
I did not know then that our area – al-Jenina neighborhood in the city of Rafah – was about to be bombed.
Within the blink of an eye, Israel bombed a residential building beside where we lived on 13 May. There was no warning.
Four of our neighbors – all from the extended al-Rantisi family – were killed.
They included a grandmother and her baby grandson.
The al-Rantisis were popular in our neighborhood. I had seen one of them, Raed, a few days before he was killed.
Raed was riding his motorbike. When he saw me, Raed slowed down and greeted me with a big smile.
I had a premonition barely five minutes ahead of the bombing.
It felt like something bad was about to happen. With a heavy heart, I prayed to God that nobody in our family would be harmed.
Then I heard an explosion.
All I could see was that the doors had been blown off their hinges and the windows broken. There was glass and bricks everywhere.
My bedroom is upstairs. The rest of my family were below me when we were bombed.
As it seemed that the explosion mainly affected the lower part of our home, I started to panic.
I immediately ran downstairs, barefoot.
I ran through broken glass. Yet I did not notice that my feet were bleeding.
The only person I could see was my father. His back was covered with blood.
I could not see anyone else. The house was full of thick black-and-white smoke.
I went outside and started searching for my mother and my sister. It took me a few moments to find them.
They were struggling through the haze caused by the explosion.
The following day, I went back to see our house.
Everything was a huge mess. There were no doors or windows. One room had been badly burned.
I found shrapnel on my bed; the floor in my room was covered with debris.
It was a horrible scene yet I felt a sense of relief. If I had been in bed when the explosion occurred, I would probably not be alive today.
I am 24 years old. In July, I will turn 25.
Most of my life has been spent in Gaza.
Not all though. When I was a child, my family spent a few years in the English city of Manchester. My father was accepted in a doctoral program at the University of Salford.
I was in Manchester during Operation Cast Lead, another major Israeli attack on Gaza.
On 28 December 2008 – the second day of that attack – it had been arranged that I would go to the cinema with some other Palestinians living in Manchester. As my father watched the horrific images from Gaza on Al Jazeera, however, he decided that I couldn’t go to the cinema.
Instead, we prepared for a trip to London, so that we could join the protests against Israel’s crimes.
Many people from Gaza living abroad have decided to remain living abroad. That is understandable.
Gaza is accurately described as an open-air prison. If you are in a prison, it is only natural that you wish to escape.
My dad could have made more money if he pursued a career as an academic in the UK. But he very much wanted to serve his people by teaching in Gaza.
So in 2010, we came back. My dad resumed his work at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he teaches how to translate between English and Arabic.
Since our return, we have lived through three major bombardments: one in November 2012, the next in the summer of 2014 and this most recent one last month.
We remain shocked by the violence we witnessed in May but we refuse to abandon hope.
Palestinians must be allowed to exercise our basic rights. We are not allowed to because Israel runs an apartheid system – with help from powerful governments such as the US.
That can change. We believe it will change if enough people around the world take action to end Israel’s crimes.
Mohammed M. El Haj-Ahmed is a translator and teacher in Gaza