Amal is now two wars old.
No one ever gets used to being bombarded every year or so. The kids in particular live in constant fear. But it does become part of life.
As the Israeli missiles rained down on Gaza City on Friday, my daughter Amal, 6, asked her mom, memories of last year’s horror still fresh: “Will there be another war?”
During the assault, my children, especially Linah, 9, and Amal, have been mostly quiet. Amal has tried to sleep and Linah lay down in the living room. At night, like most kids in Gaza, they shriek in fear each time they hear an explosion. A report published by EuroMed found that about 91 percent of Palestinian children live in constant trauma and terror due to recurrent Israeli attacks.
Nothing can prepare you for this. Israel has been bombarding Gaza ever since the second intifada. We never get used to the bombs. And we never know how to deal with the sheer terror and absolute Israeli savagery. No lies or hugs or sweets can calm the kids down. When the bombs fall, the kids will always shriek in utter fear. The lies that things will be alright and that these are fireworks no longer work.
Well over 250 Palestinians have been injured and several homes and buildings have been destroyed or damaged.As I was writing this on Saturday morning, Israel had just struck a wedding in the northern Gaza Strip, reportedly killing the groom’s mother.
Flimsy and murderous
Israel’s pretext this time is as flimsy as can be. After detaining a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank, Israel said it was engaged in a “preemptive operation” to stop alleged missile attacks before they start.
This is like Israel’s war on Gaza in May 2021 and its massive 2014 attack and the many escalations between them. And it brings back memories of Israel’s bombing campaigns in 2012, 2008-09, 2006 and many others, several of which coincided with Israeli elections.
Palestinian resistance fighters, as expected, reacted eventually by firing volleys of homemade missiles at Israeli military targets. By doing so, they are affirming the Palestinian right to self-defense and liberation.
Many Palestinians have seen countless of their loved ones murdered in their sleep, or when they were resting and generally minding their own business. If Israel will kill us regardless of who we are or what we are doing, then, many Palestinians believe, why not die fighting and defending our very existence?
There is no one more determined or dangerous than a person who has nothing to lose.
During the May 2021 aggression, according to Airwars, in more than 70 percent of Israeli attacks that killed Palestinian civilians, there were no reports of any casualties from the resistance. In other words, civilians were the only victims.
According to B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, nearly two-thirds of the more than 2,200 Palestinians Israel killed in Gaza in 2014 were civilians.
Notice that such statistics usually count Palestinian civilian police or resistance fighters killed in their homes as they slept as militants.
Given these realities, I am certain that civilians, mainly children, women, and the elderly, are not collateral damage – rather they are Israel’s main targets.
Sweets and guilt
But despite all that, I want to make things seem okay to my children. I can’t prevent their eyes from seeing what they see, or their ears from hearing the bombs. I cannot protect their hearts from the Israeli mayhem.
So, I go out to buy sweets. But to venture out is to put yourself in grave peril. One might get killed simply being in the street, not that remaining at home is much safer.
I don’t take the elevator if the power is on. Not that the stairs are safer.
I make sure not to walk near buildings or under trees lest I should appear suspicious to Israeli drones. Not that walking in the middle of the street is any safer.
And then there is the guilt. The guilt of being able to go out while hundreds of thousands can’t. The guilt of being able to buy bread and other essentials while hundreds of thousands cannot afford such necessities.
Taking my time to double check I am not buying Israeli products, I get several things: cookies, chips, chocolate pudding and sweets. When I come back home, Amal does not rush to greet me as she usually does. She does not rush to ransack the bags to snatch and devour her favorite sweets. She remains motionless, almost lifeless.
Several officials, including from the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, waited for hours for the Palestinian resistance to react to issue tame condemnations calling on “all sides to avoid further escalation.”
The UN’s Tor Wennesland announced he was “[d]eeply concerned by the ongoing escalation between #Palestine|ian militants & #Israel” … of course only after the Palestinian resistance struck back with what little they have.These vicious lies of Israel defending itself attempt to create a false moral equivalence that both sides are to blame. This obscures rather than reveals.
It is really not hard to understand why this keeps happening, why my youngest daughter is two wars old already. Israeli immunity from criticism and consequences along with the political and financial support it unconditionally receives from the West (and even from Arab countries) are the reasons it feels safe to continue to murder Palestinians.
Lives and votes
Indeed, we understand that when Israel escalates against us, its political leaders not only receive more votes in elections, they receive more support from western countries.
With Israeli polls projecting Benjamin Netanyahu to win a majority of 60+ seats in upcoming elections, the current interim coalition government, considered to be “moderate” by many liberals in the West, must have thought a quick war on Gaza might appeal to Israel’s electorate.
Palestinians have become accustomed to Israel’s carnage when elections approach. Israeli leaders know the best way to win votes is to flex their muscles. Our problem, in other words, is not with Netanyahu or the Likud but with the Israeli occupation itself.
Yet it is wrong to assume Israel kills Palestinians only when there are elections on the horizon. Israeli and Zionist militias have been massacring Palestinians for approximately 100 years now. Israel is not satisfied with anything but total victory for its colonial rule.
Palestinians are not Ukrainians for the world to care about. It’s not Russia bombing us for the world to send us sophisticated weapons to defend ourselves. We are not mostly blond with blue eyes. We are not Jews. And for being the wrong sort of people, it seems, we have to starve, to live in fear and terror, and die without anyone lifting a finger.
Lies and questions
The sweets and the kids’ favorite pudding remain untouched. Linah and Amal cower against the walls of the living room. They refuse to eat or be entertained. Nusayba, my wife, tells them yet another set of little lies: the bombings are far away, the missiles are “ours,” and this too shall pass.
There will be more Israeli wars and more Israeli massacres. Will Israeli war criminals ever pay for their crimes? Will Arab countries rushing to normalize ties with Israel see it for what it is: an entity built on the violent dispossession and dislocation of Palestinians? Can grassroots organizations and free people wherever they may be put more pressure on their governments to boycott and hold Israel accountable?
If not, the lies, little and big, will continue. Israel will continue to shed Palestinian blood, for fun or for political gain, or to consolidate its occupation.
Or simply because it can.
Refaat Alareer is the editor of Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine. He teaches world literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza. Twitter: @itranslate123
Editor’s note: This piece was amended on 18 August to make clear it was not Red Crescent officials who held off comment, but officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross.