Gaza-based author Hedaya Shamun writes in the wake of the more than one hundred deaths in al-Shijaiyah. Translation by Laura Khoury:
By Hedaya Shamun
Sixty dead, seventy, but finally one hundred in one night is what gives me courage to spell it out in numbers. My eyes are blurry from the names of babies: Iman and Tala, Dima, Rahaf, Samia, Ghada, and Marah, and mothers and young girls: Hala, Israa, Suad, Samar, Shireen, Aysha, Fatema, and Fida. Fathers, too: Ahmad and Khalil and Khaled and A’ed and Ahed and Abdul Rahman and and and…
How dare I neglect to mention one name, and how dare I spell out their names? But I have to tell you what they did in the last hour of their lives. I won’t tell you about their childhood dreams, but about their fears and the many questions that flitted through their minds without receiving any answer before the arrival of the explosions.
They left their homes, then returned, then left, then returned, but they could not find a place outside their homes, because all Gaza is threatened — every inch is unsafe, and they were lost in the streets, lost inside this difficult life.
They returned to find refuge in their homes and closed the doors on themselves. They tried to eat before they hid under the stairway, stacked next to each other as heaven held back many of the shells to protect them. But this pain was bigger than what the heavens could stop, and they took their last few breaths of life….
The youngest slept on her mother’s leg, while the mother’s head was laid against the wall. Her husband was beside her. Behind him lay their daughter, his mother, and more kids surrounded them. They tried to put some cotton in their ears so that maybe they could sleep, since their tired eyes were up all night and day.
The child: Mama, I can’t sleep, the noise from the tanks is too close!
The mother puts cotton in the child’s small ear. Maybe, this way, she can sleep.
The grandmother: Since the Nakba, they have been following us and killing us.
The father/the son: God is our only refuge. In an hour, things will calm down. Don’t worry, we’re safe under the stairs. It’s the safest place.
The child: What if they hit us and the house falls on our heads while we’re sleeping?
Another child: We’ll all go to heaven, but don’t worry, we won’t sleep. We’ll stay up till morning.
But the shell exploded and the whole family was swimming in a stream of blood. They all stopped talking. The fears and silences of life ended, and they left us only the remains of stories, which we tell because of our pain, our oppression, our debility. We pass these stories to our children in al-Shijaiyah, which is still on fire!
The shell exploded in their midst without any introductions. Suddenly, the house was lit by a fierce red light that turned the dark into a terrible day. Shell fragments — and the delicate nails that nest inside the shells — landed on the family, pinning them to their places: the daughter remained on her mother’s lap and the mother laid back against the wall. The differences were minor: all her clothes were soaked in blood and her head was bowed, but she remained seated. After all, death while seated is better than the alternative!
The husband was hit in the face with a shell such that he became another. The girl behind him remained seated like her mother, but her head fell against her knees. The braid in her hair witnessed the fact that she was awake and had many dreams, the first of which was to buy new clothes for the coming Eid. The grandmother remained stretched out, her blood pooling and mixing with that of the other family members, young and old.
An eighty-year-old is laid out on the cement floor. His dark clothes are coated with white dust and red blood, and he is crying without tears, as he’s aged from the magnitude of his story. Another old man tries to help him stand, but without any energy, as they’re both wounded by their losses. The whole family was torn to pieces, and no one knows who stayed alive and who left…
The sorrow and the horror struck the old man, such that he’s become a few bones and little flesh after his heart was rended from the pain. He is unable to speak.
I have no desire to hear the noise of the tanks, the shriek of airplanes, the sound of babies exploding into tiny pieces. I have no desire to hear the noise of Gaza in my head. I’m all right, but my soul is sick. They’re all right, but they were butchered. The rest are all right; they’re not threatened because they were killed yesterday, and time won’t turn backwards, and they, who were killed many times, won’t return to life at all.
There was a house and birds. There were tiny green sprouts that were hardly born.
Here are a girl and a boy playing.
During this war, I have lost my estimates of days and dates, and I am also unsure of the hours. What I am sure about is the noise: a series of explosions that shake the entirety of the soul, and the roar of warplanes in the skies.
The minutes and hours pass as we open our eyes that won’t close. In this war, we have lost the desire to live. I am not speaking of the search for freedom — I no longer understand the meaning of our lives as Palestinians under siege, killed and slaughtered since we were born, the same throughout our childhood, such that by twenty we are older than our years. Every day of this war equals a year and more: a year we’ve lived every minute, every second, so that days have dissolved in the essence of our spirit and the beat of our hearts, and the clock arms accelerate our age so that we are not as we were twenty days before!
All Gaza has become older and more painful as it witnesses its own slow slaughter in front of the whole world’s TV screens. Some shed tears, but nothing has changed: blood continues to bleed and the pain grows, but we do not kneel, but instead are fed by her slow death. Gaza cried too much for its children and women and the elderly who have become a mountain of blood and flesh and dolls and houses, stones that spoke at a time when all human beings were silent.
In the war, I lost my ability to feel joy or smile. I lost my ability to live.
Gaza is the house, the stones, and the faces of women, the streets and alleys, and small refugee camps that the Occupation bombed day and night with its hateful planes, soldiers, tanks. Gaza is asbestos panels and building bones, towers no longer in their places, heads not belonging to their owners. Gaza is a mother who lost her children and kept calling them all night; they are kids who do not belong to their mother after being turned into fragments of flesh and dust. Gaza is the spirit that convulsed for the beloved. The earth and the sky. Oh Gaza, you will remain, against all their wishes!
Hedaya Shamun is writer and journalist living in Gaza. You can find her writing in Arabic at http://hedaya.blogspot.com. Laura Khoury is a professor of sociology and the Director of the Institute of Women’s Studies Birzeit University.