Walid Abuzaid offers a look into the everyday reality of living in Gaza during the current violence. As the fighting worsens, he asks why Palestinians should settle when they haven’t got the rights they deserve.
By Walid Abuzaid
Thursday, July 17
It’s 10 p.m. when the power finally returns. The electricity has been down since 11 p.m. last night. The power company said the electricity lines were down during the bombardments and that there’ll only be six hours of electricity every day.
I turn on the water heater so I can finally shower in the morning, since Eimar is asleep at last and I don’t want to make any noise. As I brush my teeth, I’m reminded of the salty water I have to shower in. When I asked the tower guard, Abu-Zeyad, about it when I returned home at the beginning of July, he said the water pipes for the whole neighborhood were damaged a while ago and no one has repaired them. I remember Mohammed, my friend from Beit Lahia, complaining about it since moving here after the war began. The water they use back in their home is really sweet water coming from the wells.
We gather around in the living room, the TV is on the news channel; we don’t follow any Ramadan series this year. Although Lamar forces us every once in a while to switch to MBC so she can watch the prank series with the sharks. We still check the news channels during every commercial. Nirmeen, my step-mom, tells us about her friend from university that has a Swedish passport. She and her family left in the morning and they’re now safe in Jordan. Lamar hears this and angrily asks my father, “When are you going to get us passports so we can travel whenever we want?” I’m speechless, so is my father. I wonder how many desperate fathers and mothers don’t have an answer to that question.
Friday, July 18
My father can describe the situation with no other words but these: “Sabra and Shatila.” Names are all I can think of – Akram, Ahmed, Khaldoun, Karam, Karma, Mohammed, Abu-Zeyad. Am I going to hear their names on the radio? Images of everyone I know in Shujaiya are rushing through my mind.
I talk to Khaldoun, my best friend from high school and also my neighbor ever since I’ve lived here. He’s also Karam and Karma’s older brother; their family house is in Shujaiya and they were staying there with the rest of the family when the attacks occurred. He says, “Once you’re in that situation, you aren’t able to think about anyone else – not your brother or sister, not your parents, just yourself. All you can think about is the possibility of your imminent death. You can’t run, you can’t hide, and you can’t not be scared.”
Ambulances can’t get to Shujaiya while it is being heavily bombarded. There are images of people dead in the streets. With no discrimination, everyone was a target. I can’t help but feel angry, helpless, and afraid. I don’t want to lose anyone. I don’t want anyone losing anybody anymore.
Saturday, July 19
Jet maneuvers make the girls go crazy. Nirmeen is being smothered by Eimar’s fear. Lamar is beside her on the ground, crying and covering her ears. It sounds like a rocket is falling but it goes on forever. No explosions, just the fear. This goes on for over an hour. My dad thinks the Israelis are widening their ground incursion. Wasim and I have no words to share, we both know that we are as frightened as Eimar and Lamar.
We listen to the radio all through the night; the electricity is down tonight, too. Shujaiya is being obliterated. Nirmeen’s uncle, Emad, and his family left their house just minutes before it was targeted. They didn’t know it would be hit, but neither did the people now under the rubble. Tanks don’t send out warning shots.
I talk to my friend Basel, who is also a photographer from ActiveStills; he was in Shujaiya during the ceasefire. “Walid, we have to meet so I can explain the situation,” he said. “I can’t express it over the phone. It’s just terrible. I’ve been covering many places during this war, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Abu-Zeyad manages to get out safely along with his family. They are now living in the guard’s room here – three families in a single room. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved and happy to see someone. Abu-Zeyad is the neighborhood’s godfather. He was the first person I hugged the day I came back to Gaza.
Sunday, July 20
While Nirmeen is doing the laundry on the balcony, we are startled by a huge explosion. As soon as I get to my bedroom window to check where it is, another blast, less than a minute apart. Wasim and I duck for cover, while Nirmeen holds the girls in the hallway. She’s probably more scared than they are. The Abu-Ras family house is hit. They’ve been living in this neighborhood for more than 20 years. I can see clothes and window frames among the rubble from the balcony. I can’t see the house itself though, as the view is blocked by a building between our tower and the family house.
Today our dinner is spaghetti with meatballs; we’re low on food. We might go out tomorrow; I’ve been noticing people are going out more. People around me are getting fed up and desperate. I’ve been thinking about what would happen if they target our house. My brain is nagging me more and more with every night that passes. I can no longer lie to myself every morning, saying it will be over soon.
Monday, July 21
Today it’s the Khalaf family house; they live just around the corner. It was an unmanned plane that targeted it this time. The family has left the house with bags slung over one shoulder, and a child on the other. Some guys stand a safe distance away and charge the house with their cameras, expecting the F16 to strike any minute. But no explosion, the girls and Nirmeen stay in the hallway for over two hours, shivering with every unusual sound. My brain ticks again and the questions are back. What would I take with me? Should I just grab the girls and run down eight floors? How can someone pack memories into a backpack?
We send our condolences to our friends in the Netherlands, after we find out that they’ve lost friends in the plane crash in Ukraine. They do not grieve alone during these times, and we let them know that we are here for them. We know all too well what it means to lose a loved one.
My mom calls after dinner and cries her soul out. She also heard about the Abu Jame’ family – 26 people from the same family killed, including 18 children. She apologizes for only seeing me once since I came back home. She can’t help but feel guilty because she insisted I come to Gaza for the summer. She was the most anxious for my return – well, I was the most anxious, really.
The electricity comes on for only four hours today, from 5-9 p.m. As soon as it’s on, the charging race begins. I have to wait until one phone is fully charged so I can connect my second phone. Meanwhile, Wasim goes back to Abu-Malek’s store downstairs, refills the water gallon, gets a couple of packs of cigarettes, and comes right back up – he doesn’t want to walk up eight floors. The tower generator no longer works for the elevator when the electricity is down, there isn’t enough fuel. The UPS batteries barely charged, so we only get two extra hours of light and Internet tonight.
Tuesday, July 22
We throw out most of the fruit and left over food from the fridge. It has gone bad because of electricity shut downs. I really should have eaten the watermelon right after it was sliced. The electricity situation is getting worse.
As we listen to the radio in the kitchen, people are in calling and saying they’ve been targeted and that ambulances can’t reach their areas. They’re pleading with the Red Cross and humanitarian agencies. I call a friend of mine, Eweida, to check up on him, because the bombardments are getting closer to him in Tal El-Sultan, Rafah. He assures me that it’s closer to the border than he is, and that he is safe. We were supposed to meet in his house for qedra, a delicious type of rice, before the war started. He’s not getting away with it though; as soon as the war’s over, I’m demanding my feast. Most people living near the border are suffering. Tanks are ruthless, or those in them.
Today moves slower than ever. The ground invasion is getting worse, but the resistance is stronger than in the 2008 war. Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance. If it was 2008, the Israelis would have occupied the Strip by now. The people are backing the resistance because they can’t handle a war every two years. They’re taking more children every two years, stealing our future every two years. The resistance’s demands for a 10-year truce are the same demands the Palestinian people beg for. Would any other human settle for less? We don’t want to lose any more of our children. We don’t want our children to suffer like we have.
Wednesday, July 23
The electricity isn’t coming on today. They’re saying they’ve almost run out fuel, and the one remaining generator can’t feed the whole Strip. I probably shouldn’t have let Lamar play on my phone last night.
I try cauliflower for the first time today. I stay away from it when I have the privilege of choosing what to eat, but today I didn’t. It’s actually pretty good. After dinner Wasim and I sit in the dark and compare our years in the U.S. I went to Maine, and he to Indiana. When I ask him what he misses most, he looks at me as if I’ve asked a rhetorical question, and then says, “Living, man.”
We join the rest of the family in the living room. The girls are playing with the mini-swing they have in the corner. My dad and Nirmeen are on the couches closest to the window, smoking. The sky is bright and starry, but after a second we notice something strange. Those little lights that are going on and off are way too many tonight. We count at least 12, and those are only over the sea of Gaza. It really is getting worse, as are our thoughts. We can’t even trust the stars anymore.
Thursday, July 24
The electricity comes on at 4 a.m. We are already up, playing cards in the living room. We begin our charging routine and continue our game of cards. We’re sick of watching the news, so we keep it on the news channel but mute the volume this time. Three and a half hours later, after the girls get up early, as usual, and everyone has taken a shower, the electricity goes out again.
After dinner we notice that the gas container is almost empty. It’s too late to call anyone to figure out where we can refill it. I doubt any stations are open during these times, and if they are, it will probably take days to refill since a lot of people are in the same situation.
Friday, July 25
Wasim calls a friend of his from school, Mohammed, to check up on him. He also offers to refill our gas container in a couple of days, and that we can take one of theirs until ours is full. People are helping each other with whatever they can. Some are donating clothes, food, money and blood; others are opening their houses to their relatives and friends who live in dangerous areas or have already lost their homes. Some are not as fortunate and take refuge in schools. These people were also a target. No one is safe.
I’ve stopped wishing for it to be over. I think that feeling has started to grow on everyone around me. I don’t want it to be over until we get what we deserve, until we live in peace without the fear of being a target. I don’t want it to be over until the children are safe, all the children, until they can no longer be stolen before their time. I don’t want it to be over until I can go to Cyprus by boarding a ship I can see from my living room window. I don’t want it to be over until Wasim is able to “live” in Gaza. I don’t want it to be over until Lamar doesn’t have to ask for another passport. I don’t want it to be over until Eimar can enjoy a bonfire instead of a boat on fire.