Whatever I write will not match in the slightest the horror my family and I felt on May 16, 2021 in Gaza. Yesterday was pretty good compared to the horrifying days we lived earlier. We even felt somehow “safer” and got some sleep.
Two days earlier, on May 14, I was terrified, praying for the safety of my family, who I care about more than myself. We didn’t have many children in the house – just two young girls, a two-year-old and a four-month-old. My niece Sahar is two and a half, and this is her first experience of war. We tried to convince her that all the bombs were just the sound of Eid fireworks. She didn’t buy it, but she insisted on wearing her flowery pink Eid dress, as the Israeli bombs fell all around us and the sky became filled with the unwelcome orange color of air strikes.
It was 3:00 a.m., when normal people living under normal circumstances, with no Israeli occupation, would be serenely sleeping in their warm, lovely beds. My family was sound asleep. It was only my brother and I who were awake. I was trying to write a short story about the situation, with my little niece, Sahar, as the main character, premised on the notion that that “she doesn’t want any of these games.” Ahmad, like any Gazan, was following the latest news. Ten minutes later, the phone rang, and it wasn’t a Palestinian number. Ahmad trembled. “Reem, look, this is an international number. I don’t want to answer.” I insistently replied, “Please, answer. If they want to destroy our house, we could have a chance to get away!”
VIDEO: Nakba Survivors Speak: “The sky was our blanket and the ground was our mattress”
In many videos I’ve watched, the Israeli military calls to warn people, giving them five minutes so that they can run and save their lives. In other cases, they do not make such calls – they just bring down the house on the heads of its residents. Ahmad refused to answer the call, and it rang again. A moment of silence and fear. Again, he refused. I hate to cry in front of others, or to insist that he answers when he clearly does not want to. I suppose it is 3:15 a.m. He texted the number. It was an ambulance.
The ambulance was on its way with my grandmother, my uncle, and his family – his wife, and their four boys and two girls. All the children were under eleven years old. For more than ten minutes, Ahmad tried to describe the road to the driver. It was very dark and dangerous for the ambulance to go out. Actually, it is dangerous in daylight as well.
Out of panic, my uncle’s family could not recognize the road for more than an hour, roaming the dark roads trying to reach our house, which they had visited countless times before.
Out of panic, my uncle’s family could not recognize the road for more than an hour, roaming the dark roads trying to reach our house, which they had visited countless times before. They were with us last week, to celebrate Ramadan. Their faces had been so bright, and the kids’ smiles so wide as they had just bought new clothes for Eid. The kids had run towards us, bragging about their clothes. Their faces looked different now and full of fear. Finally, it was dawn, we hardly even tried to feign sleep.
I knew then that I did not want to become a mother. I am already a mother figure to my 12 nieces and nephews, but being a mother to little children under these circumstances is the most difficult thing. My friend Rozan had a baby boy a week ago. I saw him; his body was so tiny and I really feel sorry for those tiny bodies. How will their small bodies and innocent hearts afford all these bombings and the loud sounds of air strikes? Rozan sighed. “All I need is to return him back to my belly; it is safer there.” Another friend of mine had a baby girl about a month ago, and she said something similar, “The louder the bomb, the tighter I hug my daughter.”
It was May 15. Our house has more than seven children, all of whom are less than eleven years old, and more than nine women. We all had our own goals in life. During the war, life stopped. I stopped my hobbies such as watching the sunset and photographing it. The sky’s beautiful color was gone. It was dark or lit with airstrikes and flames. All we sought was to survive, not to lose any of our relatives and beloved ones.
At noon, Saturday, May 15, the kids wanted to have a shower. Unfortunately, they ran away, escaping death from their houses without taking any of their clothes. What shall they wear? We don’t have children their age, and there were no clothes shops nearby.
At noon, Saturday, May 15, the kids wanted to have a shower. Unfortunately, they ran away, escaping death from their houses without taking any of their clothes. What shall they wear? We don’t have children their age, and there were no clothes shops nearby. So, unfortunately they had to wait until their clothes dry. What is more, being in the bathroom for a long time during the war is not a good habit – you might experience the raw fear of hearing loud bombings while bathing. The kids wore my 29-year-old brother’s shirts instead.
Night was about to fall. I was not sure what time it was. I sat in my room. It’s not my own room anymore, for it is housing another family. I opened my notes and read a piece of poetry I wrote back in 2019, which talks about a child called Ameer during an Israeli escalation in Gaza.
My name is Ameer, a Gazan martyr,
Our stories, laughs, roars no longer heard
Look on my face, and despair
Of taking my soul, my dreams, my Palestine.
It was midnight, May 16. Every night we say, “No, this is the worst – let’s just wait and survive till the next day!” But, I admit, this night was really the worst. We feared sleeping. We all gathered in “my room,” the center of the house. We all sat together, so if we were bombed, we might die together. A few hours earlier, Aseel Wadiya, a friend of mine from Gaza, wrote on her Facebook page, a heart-touching text in Arabic.
I am absorbing our ceiling. I need to befriend it, so it will be cool with me if it falls.
Okay, my lovely home’s ceiling, let’s make a deal!
Please, forgive me for the many times I bothered you with the balloons to surprise my mom.
Forgive me for the many times I kept looking pointlessly at you at night.
Forgive me for distancing you from the floor so much.
Forgive me for choosing your color on your behalf.
What should I do now, so you may forgive me?
There is no time.
You have to get ready for hugging me tenderly, gently.
The entire night, I looked pointlessly at the ceiling, asking myself the same question: what should I do?