A letter from Gaza, describing the impossibility of getting back to 'normal' one year after the war. Real change is needed before it is too late.
One year after we went through the third war on the Gaza Strip in six years, I find myself still struggling with the idea of going back to ‘normal life’. I was fortunate enough not to have lost a relative or a friend during the war, and my house is still intact. However, my family and I were under fire and anything could have happened to us (two ‘random’ drone missiles hit my grandparent’s house and they survived by a miracle).
Surviving the 51-day war was not easy; it’s hard to say for sure whether we have entirely survived—every single person that lived through this war was wounded in some way; some more than others. Hearing my family and friends’ accounts of the war, gazing at the panoramic destruction of my hometown, and realising that as a result we are socially and economically going back in time, is not easy. Undergoing an internal struggle between refusing to move on with life, stopping in time to absorb what happened, and somehow looking forward is not easy.
Living the ‘aftermath of the war’—from the first day of the 'ceasefire' to this day—is in many ways much worse than living under the actual war. When the war was on, we, the people of Gaza, were for once in our life certain of what tomorrow was bringing: more military attacks with a maybe 50-50 chance of survival. The tension and fear was endless, but the bare will to survive kept us busy. And the distant hope that finally real change might result out of this disaster. However, now, a year later, having survived the war physically but being eternally wounded in our souls and minds, we are still awaiting a vague future. Reconstruction has not even started and a political solution to the intolerable status quo is not on the horizon.
Throughout the past year, very few people were able to travel in or out of Gaza. The reason is that for the past eight years, Gaza has been under a tight military siege imposed by Israel, which means that Israel has closed its border crossings with Gaza, with few exceptions. Gaza’s only other border, the infamous Rafah Crossing with Egypt, opened for no more than thirty days during the entire past year.
This leaves 1.8 million devastated people landlocked together amid the sorrowful destruction of the Gaza Strip. Today’s children have no idea about the basic right of freedom of movement. Young people like myself completely depend on the goodwill of Israel or Egypt to grant a travel permit. Contact with the outside world, including Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are only a couple of kilometers away, is mostly virtual and made via social media or Skype. Imagine the impact on tomorrow’s generations.
The siege and enclosure of the borders also means that only Israeli-approved goods can enter Gaza. These goods are classified as ‘essential’; food, medicine, clothing, etc. However, basic construction materials, which are essential for the rebuilding of Gaza, have barely been allowed in, leaving the destruction of the Gaza Strip as an ever present, non-escapable reality.
When this war started, we had not even recovered from the past two wars (in 2008 and 2012). The destruction we are seeing today is a result of three different wars, none of which was remedied. Worse, we are witnessing that nothing has changed in Gaza after the 51-day hell of the last war. On the contrary, the state of ‘permanent temporariness’ has only been exacerbated.
Many of those who lost everything have also lost hope. The mothers who lost their children, sons who lost their parents and siblings, the relatives of the sixty families who were completely annihilated in Israeli air attacks, the factory owner who now feeds on donated food, the owners of the 18,000 houses which were destroyed or severely damaged.
Yes, some people praise our “strength” and “spirit” despite the misery. But there is something that the world should remember: we are humans, and we are not able to suffer endlessly. We urgently need to achieve our most basic right: to live without fear, without war, without a blockade…to live without the need to put all our strength together for pure day-to-day survival.
Unfortunately, it seems that this time, the world has completely forgotten Gaza. It has become too familiar with the people of Gaza living in misery, but somehow surviving. It has become too familiar with talking about “terrorists” in Gaza, while collective punishment and terror against Gaza’s civilian population goes unnoticed.
I cannot understand, that after this war, not even a credible investigation of war crimes was possible. The UN Commission of Inquiry, which had recently published its detailed report on the war, was prevented from entering Gaza by the Israeli government. The report shows grave violations against civilians in Gaza and makes allegations of severe war crimes. Yet governments around the world continue to supply Israel with offensive weapon systems even after this horrific war.
Stop thinking that we are happy with whatever the world gives us and that we are be able to adapt to any conditions and circumstances imposed on us. Stop admiring our strength and our ability to ‘teach you life’, and concluding that we are able to adapt to any kind of life, which is probably a life you cannot imagine living! Start thinking about how to end the blockade and isolation of Gaza! Otherwise, with every war that Israel leads on us, we are going to be kept busy for the next few years with the attempt to ‘rebuild’ Gaza, until the next Israeli government decides it is time to destroy it again.
My mother tells us that she used to feel bad for her late grandmother when she would tell her how she witnessed three wars in her lifetime (1948, 1956, 1967, not mentioning the intifadas). Now my mother says that she, like her grandmother, witnessed three wars that were probably much worse than those of the last century. Most children in Gaza have now witnessed three wars and have been living under siege their entire life, leaving them deeply traumatised.
How the world claims to be working towards peace in the region remains a mystery to me, when an entire generation has seen nothing but war and siege. It is time to make a real change, before it is too late.