How roses grow from blood

Iris Keltz & Alia Kassab

Mondoweiss  /  May 27, 2023

Alia, an aspiring young writer who happens to have been born in Gaza, wonders if anything would be left in her if all her pain were to disappear. But she still believes there’s beauty behind it. Her voice must be heard above the bombs.

May 2: 

“They are bombing us now. My rage stops me from feeling scared. What would I be without my rage? If my pain was erased, what would be left? I keep thinking about the world. Do people know how desperate we are to survive?

Alia Kassab

Alia is 22 years old and has lived under Israeli military occupation her entire life. She studies English Literature at the Islamic University in Gaza. Before its establishment in 1978, Palestinian high school graduates had to study abroad, mainly in Egypt and Jordan. Since 1967, the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has restricted student movement, inspiring elders and local leaders to establish institutions of higher learning in the Occupied Territories. Alia dreams of being a writer, and is already a damn good one — in English, her second language. We were introduced virtually in February 2023 by WANN (We Are Not Numbers). With Alia’s permission, I share excerpts from our WhatsApp exchanges between Gaza and Florida.

Making and breaking ceasefires is the stuff of headlines. But behind the headlines are people. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz claims it was a relatively quiet night in Gaza. But I know better. Headlines also say Israel assassinated three Islamic Jihad commanders in overnight airstrikes. But how could fighter pilots be sure they were not killing someone’s father sleeping with his family? The Israeli Defense Minister threatens: “we are prepared for any scenario, including a prolonged campaign.” Netanyahu brags: “we will choose the time and place to hit our enemies.” Alia wants to know: will it be before or after her university lecture? Schools in Israeli border communities were canceled. Schools in Gaza were closed too, but that was not in the paper.

May 3: 

“The bombing has stopped for now. I’m home with my family. I’m ok. Not scared. Just tired. Depression and wisdom overlap. I do not know if Palestine will ever be free. Perhaps bloodshed is inevitable even if it is unjustifiable. But why must there always be a sacrifice? Why does someone always have to be left behind? Wars part us from our instinct to procreate. We can stop generational trauma by simply quitting. I don’t know why humans dare to create when you know how painful life can be. But what is more hopeful than bringing a new human to earth? They say life is a gift, but just saying those words is not enough.”

“Sometimes I cannot accept how Allah made this world. In my prayers, I ask— ‘Are you giving us free choice?’ I know Allah shaped us differently. But we have the same feelings, and dream the same dreams. The more I search for answers, the more questions I have. What if everything was erased? By ending our species, we could stop this generational trauma. It would be a mercy killing.”

“I compare Eren’s rage to mine. (Eren Jaeger is the hero and villain of a fictional series created by Hajime Isayama.) Unable to accept how humans are flawed, he decides to destroy the world with his anger. But I am not Eren. I do not want to be a hero or a villain. I want to be a human.  I do not want to devastate anything. I’m already shattered.” 

I write to her before I go to sleep. “Have the bombs stopped? Are you and your family safe?” I write to her when I wake up and always ask the same question. So far, the same answer.

May 4:

“My family is safe! No bombardment today.”

May 9th: 

“It’s happening again. One perk of living in an occupied country is the amount of time you spend reflecting. They say self-awareness is the key to understanding life within you. But it’s also a curse.” 

“I woke up at 8 am. I worried that I missed my lecture. My sister told me not to worry.  Israel is bombing us again. No school. No work. I felt like throwing up. I was going to finish reading “The Waste Land,” wash the dishes, call my friend Basma, and read to my siblings. I didn’t do anything. I started writing. I have not studied enough psychology to understand why humans are so cruel. Each day tells me something about the dark side of humanity. I don’t know why we keep breeding.

“I remember my first war. It was 2008. I was seven years old and staying in Jordan with my grandma. The only thing I knew about Gaza was that it was where I was born. I watched the news on TV with grandma. I kept asking, ‘Why are they hitting this woman? Why did they bring a dog to bite her?’ My grandma told me to go outside and play. ‘You won’t understand. You’re just a child.’ But I couldn’t stop crying. I’m 22 now and still don’t get it Teta.

“My family returned to Gaza the following year. In 2012, I witnessed my first war. My father counted martyrs on the TV, but I detached myself from what was happening. I  felt numb. Trauma affects us differently.

“In 2014 there was another war. The whole family slept in the dining room. I was 13 and held tight to one of my toys. I wasn’t afraid of dying. I thought, if we die, we die together. No one will have to mourn. At the end of the war people posted about trauma. Psychologists say we all have PTSD. So what? Don’t talk war to me. I’m tired. Years later, I realized my trauma made me selfish enough to feel happy because no harm had come to my family. I don’t recall when I changed. Now I do care how many people are killed. I start crying when they count the Martyrs.

May 10th:

It’s painful how humans keep repeating the same pain to each other. I am a spiritual person but the war has made me question Allah’s existence. The bombing hasn’t stopped. Please don’t worry about me. You know I am strong. Someday I will travel to see you. I sometimes wish you are my grandmother. Hugs.

May 12th: 

I did not hear from Alia yesterday or today. I prayed for her safety while writing to her.  “I wish I were your fairy grandmother who had the power to magically end the suffering of this terrifying inhumane occupation.”

May 13: 

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas announced on Saturday, came just in time for Mother’s Day in the US. I wonder how long it will last?

May 15: 

Israel has celebrated its independence for 75 years. But this is the first time the ongoing Palestinian Nakba has been commemorated at the United Nations, in the US Congress, as well as around the world. The truth of history is finally being acknowledged: the creation of Israel in 1948 created a Catastrophe for over 700,000 Palestinians forced to leave their homes and villages by Zionist militias. In a breach of international law, the refugees were never allowed to return.

Millions of their descendants now live in Gaza and hold the key to stolen properties. The bombs raining down on the two million Palestinians locked in the Gaza Strip were made by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. We are responsible. Although US laws prohibit aid from being used to violate human rights, Israel continues to receive four billion dollars annually with little or no oversight. 

Alia, an aspiring young writer who happens to have been born in Gaza, is not the enemy. Her diary reminds me of Anne Frank, a German-born Jewish girl who also kept a diary while living under a Holocaust of unimaginable horror. Having been raised Jewish, Anne’s diary affected me greatly. Somehow both of these amazing young women managed to cling to hope.

Anne Frank wrote, “I wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Alia Kassab wrote, “Can I be courageous and pessimistic at the same time? I have decided to dedicate my life to understanding the wisdom of living. I want to understand the beauty behind pain and how roses grow from blood. I want to believe the need for revenge will disappear. Bringing a child into this world is a selfish act. But daring to bring a new life to earth is the most hopeful thing we can do. I want to have children as an affirmation of life, not an act of resistance.”

Iris Keltz is the author of Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: My Journey in Palestine and Israe; Nighthawk Press, Taos, New Mexico, 2017

Alia Kassab is a twenty-two year old writer who was born in Gaza