Still as death, dark is life
“There is a complete black out in Gaza now. The streets are still as death.”
I am speaking to my father, Moussa El-Haddad, a retired physician who lives in Gaza City, on Skype, from Durham, North Carolina in the United States, where I have been since mid 2006- the month Gaza’s borders were hermetically sealed by Israel, and the blockade of the occupied territory further enforced.
He is out on his balcony. It is 2am.
“I can only see gray plumes of smoke slowly rising all over the city, everywhere I look” he says, as though they were some beautiful, comforting by-product of some hideous, malicious event.
He takes a deep restorative sigh before continuing. “Ehud Barak has gone crazy. He’s gone crazy. He is bombing everywhere and everything…no one is safe”.
Explosions are audible in the background. They sound distant and dull over my laptop’s speakers, but linger like an echo in death’s valley. They evoke terrifying memories of my nights in Gaza only 2 years ago. Nights that till this day haunt my 4 year old son-who refuses to sleep on his own.
“Can you hear them? Our house is shaking. We are shaking from the inside out.”
“Laila-your mother, she is terrified” he adds.
She comes to the phone. “Hello, hello dear,” she mutters, her voice trembling. “I had to go to the bathroom. But I’m afraid to go alone. I wanted to perform wudu’ before prayer but I was scared. Remember days when we would go to the bathroom together because you were too afraid to go alone?” she laughs at the thought-it seems amusing to her now, that I was scared to find my death in a place of relief; that she is now terrified of the same seemingly ridiculous scenario.
It was really the fear of being alone. When you “hear” the news before it becomes news, you panic for clarity- you want someone to make sense of the situation, package it neatly into comprehensible terms and locations. Just to be sure-its not you this time.
“It’s strange, my whole body is shaking. Why is that? Why is that?” she rambles on, continuous explosions audible in the background. “There they go again. One boom after another. 15. Before that, one or two, maybe 20 total so far.”
Counting makes it’s easier. Systemizing the assaults makes them easier to deal with. More remote.
We speak to each other throughout the day. She calls sometimes to let me know if there are gunships overhead, or explosions around them. As though there was something I could do about it; as though my voice would somehow make them disappear.
They cracked the windows opened, to prevent an implosion.
“By the way we are sleeping in your room now, it’s safer” she tells me, of my empty, abandoned space.
My mother’s close friend, Yosra, was asked to evacuate building. They live in a flat near many of the ministry complexes being targeted. They were advised not to go to the mosque for services, lest they be bombed.
Another family friend, an elderly Armenian-Palestinian Christian and retired pharmacist, is paralyzed with fear. Like many residents, she is confined to her home. She lives alone, in front of the Saraya security complex on Omar al-Mukhtar Street. The complex has already been bombed twice. Last night, her windows shattered around her. She went outside to seek help-no one was around. She cried all night. Shards of glass now cover the floors of her home, one that has been in the family for generations.
Monday morning, five sisters from one family were killed when Israeli war planes attacked a mosque next to their home. 4-year-old Jawahir Anwar. 8-year-old Dina Anwar. 12-year-old Sahar Anwar. 14-year-old Ikram Anwar. 17-year-old Tahrir Anwar
The small shop down the street from my parents’ home, next to the Kinz mosque where many of the Remal neighbourhood’s affluent residents attend, opens for a little while after prayer. My father goes and gets whatever he can-while he can.
They have one package of bread left, but insist they are ok.
“Those with children are the ones who are truly suffering. Um Ramadan’s grand children will only sleep in her arms now. They are wetting their pants again”.
Yousuf chimes into the conversation unceremoniously, popping his head into my laptop screen.
“Sido? I like the fatoosh you used to make! I miss you. When will the maabar open? Sido…are you ok? ”
“Habibi, when we see other again-if we see each again- I’ll make it for you” he promises. The very possibility seems to comfort him, no matter how illusory.
It is Noor’s one year old birthday January 1. She will turn one. I cannot help but think- who was born in bloodied Gaza today?
Note: this is a shortened version of an article that ran in the Guardian Unlimited today.