Gaza-based writer Hedaya Shamun writes — although her writing rituals have disappeared — about the world she sees around her in the first and second nights of “Operation Protective Edge.” Translation by Ghada Mourad and Tyson Patros:
By Hedaya Shamun
All the writing rituals escaped. I possess nothing except a lead pencil and a piece of white paper, even though I am wary of the word lead. I want a pencil of life because life is now so dear in Gaza, and there were so many who insisted on plucking it like a flower whose infanticide they hastened. Especially those small flowers because they are beautiful; the hands snatch them and do not let them live. Our children became flowers stripped of their leaves, colors, and nectar. I feel anguish.
All the rituals of writing escaped after the soul slipped out of the body. It was so simple. While she was preparing her family’s breakfast she and they were all buried under the rubble of their home, without any warning. In this way the nymphs and their families depart the earth. In Gaza everything happens suddenly. She runs and runs all of the time looking for something lost; you always feel that you are being pursued and that eyes are watching you.
All the rituals of writing escaped. Sometimes they love you to death and other times they hate to death. The only sin you have is that you are a Palestinian man or woman expelled from her land in the villages of occupied Palestine to become a refugee in the Gaza Strip. Gaza is a mixture of life of all refugees; it is the taste and the scent of Palestine. Now they grill their flesh. They cut their hands and sometimes their heads before they shut their eyes. Talking has exhausted me. I do not wish for you to see Gaza as anything but a rose. A rose maintains her head and her leg and her roots and, most importantly, she still has her fragrance. Talk has exhausted me, and I have forgotten the rites of writing.
But she is a rose whose delightful fragrance wafted with the sea of blood that restored your senses and your love and perhaps your hatred.
We used to run all the time and we grew tired of our running…our screams…our wailing…so that we came to turn a blind eye on our daily pain. You all slaughtered Gaza, you all reaped from her heart and you shut your doors and ears in her face. You saw that she is a black spot on your beautiful lives and she has become a burden on your hearts and wellbeing. Before the aggression all of you contributed to her disappointment and you perceived the nourishment of the small children as begging. You said what had not been said about her, but every time she would remind you that she is greater than calling you out on your sins. For who among us is sinless, O gentlemen? But she is a rose whose delightful fragrance wafted with the sea of blood that restored your senses and your love and perhaps your hatred. Some have expressed this hatred and some retreated and some turned a blind eye and some unsheathed their strength to extract her nectar with the hissing of the Israeli warplanes.
I forgot the rituals of the story and how grandmothers tell tales. I forgot the beginning of the aggression because we did not feel at ease for one day. We have always been aware that eyes are watching us, watching our whispers and silences, and even our attempt to gather our wounds. We oftentimes quarrel as the cage has become too narrow and suffocating. The eavesdroppers and watchers were numerous. We were running before the aggression and we still run during the aggression, and we do not know whether or not we will ever stop running.
How will we return to life its splendor after the bodies of the young are stolen? He carries his body in his hands and needs no coffin. His hands have become a coffin for his child shrouded in white cloth. He walks with his head high and his tears flowing. But he is lucky that he is still alive to pay his child the last honors. Entire families were buried in their homes and no one remained to pay them these last honors. It is so simple. In this civilized world of international rights and conventions and the right to life and the right to housing and the right to education and the right of expression, these rights are not for Palestinians but for someone else…
She forgets an elderly person and she forgets her own heart in the corner of the house.
Who really cares about women running in prayer clothes, the ones at hand when they escaped from the black hatred descending upon them from the top of a rocket shattering her dreams and making them a morsel appropriate for suffering and oppression and pain. She carries a child; she carries a bloody heart; she carries pain. She forgets an elderly person and she forgets her own heart in the corner of the house. She is afraid to look back so that she does not see her loved ones imbued with their blood. She runs and keeps running without end because if she stops she will never run again.
There are no spaces for life. No place to return. All of Gaza bids farewell to herself every night and congratulates those who remain alive the morning of another day. They inspect their bodies then run their hands over the living. They close their eyes then open them, and once again call the members of their families one by one…so that the memory of their names does not fail and their spirits do not disappear. Who cries for whom? The unlucky are left alone to survive without a family as it was martyred in its entirety.
I shall not reveal to you what the little fairies tell us every dawn and every night to make us smile before we go in for a nap while we are still running…running towards life.
I have no more words, for all the rituals of writing have collapsed. In Gaza alone the story lives despite the occupation and Palestine remains vibrant in the heart of those who departed and those who remain alive.
One Night Is Enough
Two in the morning
My heart between Rafah and Deir al-Balah
I rushed to my mobile phone to call her. The phone rang. I paced the house back and forth. O Lord, O Lord. The phone rang and my heart leapt out of fear for her, for her infant baby daughter, and for her small daughters and sons. The phone rang and I cried out. Answer, my sister! The fear is killing me.
She answered on the other end. Her breathing reached me and scorched me. I sat and my heart sank. Thank God, thank God you are okay. You are all alive. I praise you, O Lord.
Her breathing and her voice came to me; many feet raced around her.
I went on repeating amid her gasping breath: Are you okay? Are you all okay?
She said with an interrupted voice, “Yes, we left as we were, all of us in our pajamas within seconds no sooner did we leave our home than within seconds they bombed the house located next to one of the charity groups…they destroyed it…they snatched our voice and our nerves. The neighbors went out as though it was the Day of Judgment in the streets. They all exalted God, saying O Lord, God is mightier than the occupation. The neighbors thronged to give shelter to those who lost their homes.”
She said, “stones shattered on top of our house. We barely got out and I felt that I was going to collapse to the ground and that the baby would fall from my hand. I did not know whom to hold — the little five-year-old Abboud, or his sisters, or my daughter and her baby. It was bad luck that she came here hoping for protection better than that of her husband’s home, and thus that she was destined to live these harsh moments with us.”
She sighed and I sensed her confusion. She called her children by their names. Where is Nesreen, where is Tasneem, and where is Mohammed? Thank God we are fine!
I bid her farewell, beseeched God to protect her , and said thank God for your safety.
Thank God for your safety, Sister!
Five in the Morning
The sound of the Israeli warplanes kept on hovering and explosions followed in succession along the borderline. We received calls from friends and neighbors–there were threats to blow up houses adjacent to theirs. We opened our home. Seven children entered, their ages ranging between six and twelve years, along with their mothers and a man in his seventies. The man had lived through the Nakba and had his poems and sayings but time depleted his hearing and strength. They sat in silence in the living room; the little ones appeared terrified. Like an unwelcome guest, apprehension fell on us all. We were all waiting.
Another call. My uncle and his family survived the heavy shelling of the Ghannam family home that is adjacent to theirs, a massacre committed by the Israeli occupation–a premeditated preplanned, and willful murder. They crushed the house on its occupants’ heads as they slept. Like this, with no warnings, no screams, no call for help, and no mercy…they were all buried under the ground. The catastrophe ate my lips and swallowed my tongue. I fell silent for a long time. We were all looking at each other in silence and sorrow. We did not disclose what had happened for the sake of the frightened children in our home. But my heart ached. I saw the seven-year-old Ghalia Ghannam making her mother’s bed and then hiding in her lap from the sounds of the bombing, and the twenty-year-old Kifah Ghannam putting the prayer clothes aside in the hope of getting a few hours sleep after a violent night of bombardment and destruction, and I saw Wissam of twenty years as she wiped with her fingers below her eyes after exhaustion had drained her, and her face became pale from sleeplessness and anxiety. I felt other souls hovering in the place but they were still taking their bodies out of the earth for it had embraced them with violence.
A bloody night in Rafah. The shelling has not stopped nor did it go silent. I write a word and I am delirious with words. Where do we live? And why this abominable silence towards our death? Is our death that cheap? Do our lives mean anything to anyone? Is it enough that you cry, shed tears, and that a choking in the heart come upon you? You are the hope to scream loudly against Israeli murder and terrorism. You are the hope to translate the sufferings of these people and their lives that disappeared in a push of a button by a pilot playing frivolously in his warplane like a spoiled child does with an expensive toy. He kills, destroys, and takes revenge on the children of Palestine.
A bloody night. This is my account of just one night. Would you bear another night?
Translator Ghada Mourad is a PhD student in Comparative Literature and a Schaeffer fellow in literary translation at UC Irvine, working on modernity, politics, and gender aesthetics in Arabic and francophone literature of the Middle East and North Africa. Tyson Patros, a PhD student in sociology at UC Irvine. His research deals with contemporary politics and political economy in the Arab world.