Days after his father, stepmother and their five children were killed in an Israeli airstrike on 21 July, Ramsis Kilani still cannot grieve their deaths.
As it has for nearly two decades of his life, occupation and distance continue to cut Kilani off from his family, even in death.
Israel’s ongoing onslaught in Gaza, which has killed more than 1,200 Palestinians since 7 July, means the 23-year-old cannot travel from Germany to his family’s native Gaza to preside over the funerary processions as the eldest son.
Unable to pay them the proper rites, Ramsis decided to honor his family the only way he knew how, by speaking up.
Like Ramsis himself, all seven of his slain family members were German citizens. But the Berlin government has yet to issue a condemnation or send its condolences.
Instead, it has merely asked Israel to clarify the circumstances surrounding the killing.
For Ramsis, Germany’s silence meant delaying the mourning and taking it upon himself to bring the world’s attention to the murder of his father and five step-siblings.
“I realized I had a responsibility for all Palestinians to inform the German public of the facts. I did not want my father’s name to be dragged through the dirt,” Ramsis told me.
According to Ramsis, his family was preparing to break the day’s fast at their Gaza City residence when an Israeli airstrike leveled their apartment building.
There was no warning before they were buried under the Salam building.
Ramsis said his family’s deaths further highlight the isolation felt by Gaza residents, who have been under a land and sea blockade since 2007.
Despite their German passports, the Kilanis had few hopes of escaping the bombings.
Yasser Arafat International Airport has not been operational since an Israeli attack in 2001 and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport had been rendered inaccessible due to years of closure.
In fact, Reem, his twelve-year-old step-sister, had already seen three massive Israeli bombing campaigns before this latest one cut her own life short.
The family was left with little option other than to move three times from the suburbs to the city in hopes of fleeing the air raids.
Though his father, Ibrahim, an architect who graduated from university in Cologne, managed to live a relatively comfortable life after returning to Gaza fourteen years ago, a lack of building materials and economic uncertainty in the Gaza Strip greatly reduced the elder Kilani’s work prospects.
Targeted for no reason
“My father and his family were not targeted for any reason … He was not political at all,” Ramsis told me.
Ramsis had hoped that his family’s German citizenship could have helped bring global attention to the more than 600 people killed at the time of their deaths (the number has doubled to more than 1,200 fatalities).
“It could have been a cause for justified criticism of the Israeli army’s actions,” he said.
However, Ramsis said he, his mother and his 22-year-old sister Laila have all yet to hear from the German government. “Not even condolences,” he added.
Instead, Ramsis said the silence by officials inside the country shows a continuation of the status quo.
“The German government under [Angela] Merkel always underlines its unquestioned support to Israel,” he said.
Because announcing German citizens as victims would lead to criticism of the current situation in Gaza, Ramsis has little hope for further action from Berlin.
“We are very disappointed to see this differentiation of German citizens in a democracy.”
“Boycott Israeli goods”
With so many of the details of Israel’s current offensive in Gaza being documented online, it was through Internet video of bodies trapped underneath the rubble discovered by his sister Laila that Ramsis learned of his family’s killings.
“There was no need for me to be dependent on the German media, which has been rather biased,” he said.
Ramsis said the days since the killings have once again reminded him of the realities of the situation in Palestine.
Having seen his family’s life increasingly deteriorate has helped him put his earliest childhood memories of life in Gaza into their proper context. Ramsis lived in Palestine until he was four. He grew up in Germany, where his father spent about twenty years before moving back to Gaza in 2001, where Ramsis’ five step-siblings were born.
“I remember a warm family life, laughter and … hospitality,” Ramsis said. “It was only through distance that I came to realize the realities of the political conflict and the hatred.”
Ramsis said he believes in resistance, but cautioned that only a “peaceful intifada” can “make the world and Israel understand the desperate situation of the Palestinians.”
“Now I see it more clearly than ever. Violent attempts to achieve freedom will never be successful for Palestinians,” he said.
Instead, Ramsis called on those horrified by Israel’s actions to not look away.
“There are endless nonviolent means by which to demonstrate, call for a boycott of Israeli goods, demand an end to the arms trade.”
Ali M. Latifi is a journalist based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: @aliboymaye.