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First day of the new year in Gaza

January 2009

It’s interesting how, at the most terrifying and horrific of times, we still manage to make light of the events, and even enjoy a dark sense of humor. Here are two recent personal examples from Gaza.

My 10-year-old cousin was eating a sandwich, when one of my younger brothers, 12, looked at him and, quoted a line from one of his favorite video games.  In his dead-on imitation of the character’s voice, he said to his younger cousin, “Enjoy it, it could be your last!” I looked at him for a second and began laughing almost hysterically at his imitation and the absurdity of the situation.

On another occasion, we looked around for my 12-year-old and 14-year-old brothers during an intense bout of air strikes and realized that they had snuck back to the living room-the room directly in front of the area being bombed-and were watching a sports channel. “But we had to see the scores,” they retorted after being severely reproached. They’re becoming desensitized, I thought, just as I had been when I went through a similar kind of violence while living in Ramallah in 2002.

During the last few days, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the situation in Gaza. And I wonder how the rest of the world envisions the people who occupy one of the most despondent and unruly military zones in the world.

My younger brothers spend their free time out with their friends, or playing basketball and soccer at youth clubs. Like a lot of kids their ages, they are passionate about sports, their Play Station and music. They play the guitar and are exceptional students. I have a brother in college who is obsessed with computers and gadgets. An engineering student, he comes up with the most ingenious projects for his classes. He listens to music and plays the guitar and prays regularly. He’s an honor student who has big goals and big dreams.

So please understand why I am infuriated when I see how we are portrayed on television as hordes of bearded, teeth-gnashing, stone-throwing, blood thirsty savages in rags and tatters. And please don’t blame me for feeling rage against the state of Israel, which has been targeting the unwary, guiltless, promising children and youth of the Gaza Strip in its vicious attacks over the past 5 days. Already, between 40 and 50 children are dead while hundreds lie in hospitals, seriously injured or disabled for life.

The people of Gaza have been suffering for decades under systematic oppression by Israel. The latest of its measures has been the siege and closures imposed on the strip that have completely devastated the livelihoods of Gaza residents and caused the economy to fall into an unprecedented and crippling depression. And yet the amount of resourcefulness and zeal the people of Gaza demonstrate is a testimony to the potential of progress and advancement that lies within us.

To the rest of the world, Israel represents the democratic, civilized, patriotic, western state whose representatives are well groomed, clad in smart suits and silk ties, and talking all sorts of political correctness, stringed with terms such as self defense, civilian population, Palestinian terrorists and middle east peace.

Perhaps that why much of the world believes the Israeli attacks against Gaza are “justified” because Israel launched its military offensive in retaliation against Hamas’ firing rockets into Israel following the cessation of the period of calm. Never mind that Israel failed to at least ease the siege that has been slowly killing us over the past year (to be more precise over the last 3 years.) Never mind that Israel continued its incursions into the strip and its murder of innocent civilians throughout the truce. Never mind that compared to Israeli gunships, war planes, tanks and other weaponry, Hamas’ rockets seem like toys. Never mind that our children are robbed of anything that resembles a normal life and future.

And yet we are continuously accused of being on equal terms with one of the strongest military forces in the world.

So while being cooped up in the house, watching local news stations when we have electricity, still in a state of disbelief, I wonder if the rest of the world would be so harsh in its judgments if they had the opportunity to understand.

If they had seen my college-going brother’s reaction, I wonder if people would have as easily accept the unsubstantiated claims that the engineering faculty building of the Islamic university (now flattened by Israeli bombs) was a workshop that produced Qassams. When he came back from a walk to the university building the next day, his face was white as a sheet and he had tears in his eyes. “It’s all gone,” he said, “even the project (an electric car) we’ve been working on all semester.”

A few hours ago, the home of one of Hamas’ senior leaders, Nizar Rayan, was struck by 4 missiles. Not only was the entire building flattened, killing all who were in it, but several other buildings surrounding it looked like they were about ready to collapse. It is said that there were over 19 deaths, most of them women and children, and scores of injuries. The entire street is littered with debris and rubble. We saw images on TV of children being lifted from beneath the rubble, headless corpses loaded into plastic body bags. We sent a taxi to pick up my aunt, whose home lies 100 meters away from the Rayan building and had caved in due to the attack. She and her children arrived, shaken, but all in one piece.

Today the temporary halt of rocket fire coincided with the restoration of power to our home, at least for a few hours, at about 5pm. My brothers went to their rooms and played their videogames. I sat on the couch and read, and my sister went to take a nap. We tried to busy ourselves with regular daily activities in a situation that is anything but commonplace.

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