Terror throughout the night

Israel’s attack on Gaza came at a time when large numbers of high school pupils were preparing for exams.

Atia Darwish APA images

As a child, Duaa al-Buhaisi assumed that there were places like Gaza all over the world.

It took time before she learned that most people around the globe are able to grow up free of military occupation and that they do not live in constant fear of a major attack.

She had turned nine shortly before Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s offensive against Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. She has a vivid memory of how she cried all the way home from school when that offensive started.

Israel was bombing dozens of targets as she and so many others tried to make it home safely.

Since then, al-Buhaisi has lived through three other large-scale attacks and many other smaller ones. She is haunted by some of the things she has seen.

On 27 December 2008 – the day when Cast Lead began – she witnessed Israel’s bombing of a police station in Gaza City and saw an officer dying before her.

“It was the first time I saw someone killed in front of me,” she said. “I saw a man drawing his last breath and I am still mentally scarred by that scene.”

“Close to death”

The latest of Israel’s major attacks occurred in May this year.

In al-Buhaisi’s view, it was the cruelest assault that Israel has carried out so far, particularly because Israel kept Gaza’s people awake by carrying out intensive bombing raids during the hours of darkness.

“We would hear dozens of explosions at the same time,” she said. “Terror throughout the night. Our homes shook more than during the previous wars. Everyone felt close to death.”

That does not mean that Israel avoided daytime airstrikes. Far from it.

Many residential and commercial buildings – including some close to al-Buhaisi’s home – were destroyed in broad daylight. Al-Buhaisi was looking out her window on 12 May when she saw the al-Susi building in Gaza City being attacked.

“I don’t know when the wars on the Gaza Strip will end,” said al-Buhaisi. “My cousin who lives in Germany cannot believe that I live under a siege, have experienced three Israeli wars [since Operation Cast Lead] and that I am still alive.”

“Hope never dies within our hearts,” she added. “It is the only thing we have in Gaza. But our anxiety is constant and it gets worse as we get older.”

Al-Buhaisi is a nursing student. To try and get some distance from her traumatic upbringing, she is thinking about emigrating from Gaza after graduation.

The May attack could scarcely have come at a worse time for Gaza’s high school pupils. Tens of thousands were preparing for the final high school examinations – known as the tawjihi.

Muhammad Nour had been hoping to score more than 90 percent in the exams. After sitting them in July, Nour was disappointed with his result of 77 percent.

Nour became disheartened as the exams approached.

Part of his family home in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City was destroyed in May. Nour was at home when Israel attacked his area; he remained in the building where he lives until after it was safe to go outside.

“No future”

It was not the first time that Israeli violence interrupted his education. Nour was in his final year of primary school during 2014, when a previous Israeli offensive was conducted.

At one point during the 2014 attack, his neighborhood came under bombardment for seven hours.

Two of his friends were killed in the 2014 offensive. Before their deaths, the friends had talked about wanting to fly kites on the seashore.

Nour had been hoping to study genetic engineering. But his exam results were insufficient to secure a university place for that subject.

Rather than going to college in Gaza, he is now thinking about emigrating as soon as possible.

“There is no future in Gaza,” he said.

Nirmin al-Khawaja is a psychologist, who has treated hundreds of children and adolescents in Gaza. Her job has become more difficult with each Israeli attack.

“During the earlier wars, I used to recommend to people that they should not watch TV channels that show tragic scenes of bombings and death,” she said. “Yet that is impossible in Gaza. Children and young people are not able to escape bad news. There is nowhere to go to escape the news. Every young person in Gaza has suffered depression or trauma.”

Samer al-Najjar was born on 27 December 2008 – the first day of Operation Cast Lead.

He has experienced so much violence at the hands of Israel that he has become an expert on that country’s military hardware. When Israel flies its military aircraft – often supplied by the US – he can distinguish between the sounds of F-16 jets and Apache helicopters.

Samer lives in Khuzaa, an area of Gaza that was devastated during the 2014 offensive.

Many of Samer’s relatives were killed in that offensive. Some were killed as Israel shelled a home in which 120 people had gathered, searching desperately for protection.

“Israel was very random in the way it fired shells,” said Samer’s mother Amani al-Najjar. “We stayed in our home for two days; we were terrified. We could hear many of our neighbors but nobody was able to rescue them – until the Red Cross could enter the area and evacuate us. When we came out of our home, I saw the bodies of our neighbors everywhere. I still feel anxious whenever I hear the word ‘massacre’ and recall what happened to us.”

Samer has never recovered from the 2014 attack. “I remember it as if it happened yesterday,” he said. “I am still afraid.”

“Wars on Gaza never end,” he added. “I cannot remember a year in Gaza, when we haven’t had bombings or power cuts. I want to live outside Gaza – in some country where they don’t have explosions.”

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.