“Where are you, my mother?” by Mazen Kerbaj. View more of his work.

A man steps inside his house. It’s a nice house, overlooking the beach. The man, however, doesn’t even look towards the window. He rushes to the kitchen, hugs his wife, takes his daughter into his arms, and makes funny faces to his toddler, trying to make him smile. The man looks tired, he hasn’t shaved in a while, and he certainly needs a shower.

He takes a shower, eats lunch with his family, hands his wife a sum of money and goes to bed.

The wife calls the children to go with her to the supermarket: they’ll shop for food and toys from the husband’s wage. The kids are excited and noisy; “shush”, she says, putting her finger on her lips while they’re leaving the house. “Your dad needs to rest. He has to go back to work tomorrow. He works hard, you know”.

The dad is an Israeli soldier. He works hard, Marwa knows that.


Marwa (10) was in the small pick-up with 22 other people, her family and relatives, on July 15th 2006. They were trying to make it out of their village, Marwaheen. They believed the Israeli ultimatum that told them to evacuate the village within two hours. They know that when it comes to bombing, what Israel says, Israel does. So, while her parents were trying to figure out where they should go after the nearby UN base refused to hide them, Marwa and her sisters were playing “beit byout”.

Marwa was pretending she was answering a very important phone call on a fictive phone, and her sister Mirna (12) was pretending she was holding a tray with drinks on it, offering them to fictive guests speaking with an Egyptian accent.

Then suddenly, there was a huge BOOM. “The wind carried me far away, I woke up on the nearby rocks. Next to me, mama and Mirna were sleeping. I went to them to wake them up but the plane saw me and came towards me so I ran away. My brother Wissam was hit in his leg and he could not reach me, he was hiding behind a rock and when the ambulance came he was waving to them to stop. Mirna was sleeping the whole time “.

That is what Marwa recalls. But Wissam (15) tells a different story: “After the first explosion, Mirna was standing alone, crying. I crawled towards her because my leg was bleeding but a shell fell between us before I could reach her, and Mirna was no more”.

Marwa, from her hospital bed in Beirut, calls Mirna everyday but she always gets Wissam instead. For her, Mirna is still sleeping. During her first five days in the hospital where they treating her wounds and burns, Marwa would wake up in the middle of the night, yelling and crying for her mother. Marwa is safe now in a house in Beirut with a sister who was not in the south when that little incident happen.

Marwa is waiting for her mother Zahra (51), Mirna and her brother Hadi to wake up and join her in her refuge.

She keeps two pictures of Hadi: one of him when he was eight months old, and another when he was five, days before he was killed.

Marwa wears a pink sweater her mom had bought her and refuses to change it. She says that she prays every night before she sleeps. “I read the Fatiha and pray that my mom will come soon, that the war ends”, then she adds shyly, “I also ask God not to forgive Israel. I know this is mean, but I promise that when the war will be over I will stop asking that”.

Marwa won’t keep her promise. Sometime soon, even before the war is over, she will find out her mother, sister and brother are not sleeping anymore.

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Hanady Salman is an editor at As-Safir newspaper