An Islamic Relief aid worker* in Gaza reflects on the losses seared onto the hearts of Palestinians after nearly 3 months of unbearable suffering.
As I write, it’s day 74 of the war. We are approaching a whole 3 months of unbearable conditions.
Our lives are forever changed. People have lost their loved ones – parents, children, friends and other relatives. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their belongings.
No-one I know has escaped loss.
My wife lost her cousin, and my in-laws lost part of their house. My sister lost all the windows in her home, while my brother lost the whole building. My friend Rami lost his brother, and my colleague lost many members of his family. I lost my family home.
Counting our losses extends beyond a simple statement. Everyone’s story is deeply extended in time, in history, in culture, and social relations.
How do you explain the loss of a father?
It is not just that someone lost his father. That is the father who provided for the family, so the family is now without an income. That father is the one who held the family together. That father is the one who used to take his children to the beach. He favoured the youngest, but the other kids found this funny. He is the one who used to drink sweetened coffee in the morning – no-one else in the family liked sweet coffee, so they jokingly called him weird. His hair was greying and he started to complain of joint pain, but his children jumped on his back and played football with him.
You see, our losses are not only numbers, facts or statistics. Our losses are a deep cut into our flesh. They hurt every single cell of our existence. Our losses have meaning.
I look at my people, the Palestinians, and I wonder at what we are made of: Our relation to life and death is something un-replicable. Talking to my colleague after he lost many of his family members, he said, “Alhamdulillah”.
I am part of these people, so this is not strange to me. But others probably think this is a strange way for humans to be.
I accept that I may be killed as I sleep
I read Shahada every night before I go to sleep and just accept – totally accept – the fact that I might not wake up the next morning. I accept the fact that I might be buried under rubble. It is destiny, serendipity, or whatever you want to call it.
I accept the fact that I will return to the remains of a city. A place that seems like an earthquake has struck. I know we will struggle for dozens of years to rebuild, but I want the process to start.
I trust the people around me. Everyone will help everyone else. Everyone will think themselves fortunate to have emerged like a phoenix from the ashes, and we must all fly together.
I accept that we might be expelled from our land and forced to take another journey into the unknown. We worked hard to create the best lives we could for ourselves and our families, but we might need to start again, from nothing. We might need to look again for work, for a house, for clothes, for a TV, for a coffee machine and all the other ordinary things that make up our lives.
We Palestinians love life, if we can find it
Palestinians are unbreakable. They are untouchable. They are heavenly creatures. They are contrast: both fiction and real. To paraphrase the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, on the other side of the solid mountain there is a green valley, full of yellow flowers. And, that is also us. We are humans, we love life, if we can find it.
We Palestinians are generous. Anyone who has visited us knows that every person they meet will invite them to dinner – or coffee, a car trip and an ice-cream, if they’re on a diet. We are just like all people everywhere else in the world.
We have our own dreams and aspirations. Maybe get married and have children, maybe finish postgraduate studies, maybe get a new iPhone, or maybe just secure dinner for our families.
Strong and vulnerable, we stand alone
We are vulnerable and soft. Strong men cry seeing their newborn babies for the first time. At funerals we are sad and sympathetic to others. We love to live, to laugh, to be happy, to celebrate. We hold huge weddings, where all the family gather. Women sing and dance and men perform dabke, a joyful dance. We make big dinners; what is a wedding without Palestinian qedra, a dish with yellow rice, meat, garlic, onion, and chickpeas?
We love and cherish olive trees. They are part of our families. They are the first residents of the land. They can talk to us in the land’s original language. We collect olives, press them and make golden olive oil. We build our home upon our share of the olive oil. A house without olive oil is not a Palestinian house.
We make mosakkhan, maqlouba, and kunnafeh. We make spicy foods – our shawarma and falafel are incomparable. We are like no other. We are the ones that stand alone. We are humans and we are alone.
We are strong and resilient, but our power is limited. We can suffer, like any human being. We have a beautiful, unique cultural life, but we are now deprived of access to it. We are deprived of the resources to live in dignity and to create beautiful things.
The last 70 days have passed like 70 years. A quarter of the year taken from us, with no chance to celebrate Christmas, the New Year, independence anniversary, annual meetings at work, or the winter school-break.
We want our lives, just like the rest of the world. We do not care about politics and the fighting parties. We want a ceasefire. A ceasefire now.
Please help Islamic Relief support people in desperate need in Gaza: Donate to our Palestine Emergency Appeal now.
*This blog is anonymised to protect the safety and security of our colleague and others mentioned. Read the other blogs in this series here.
Editor’s note: This blog was submitted amid a fast-changing and deepening crisis. The information was correct as of 22 December 2023.