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Gaza: Your Life Is My Life

By Rania Hammad

He is from Gaza.

We did not know each other, but we exchanged messages as though we did; as if we had known each other all our lives, connected and bonded since birth. In fact, we are from the same nation of people, rooted in the same land, sharing the same dreams – and the same nightmares.

A common friend and the need to get the stories out of Gaza and into the world put us in touch. We shared his war diaries up until we understood that journalists were being targeted and murdered deliberately; so, we agreed to merely listen to one another, never to expose him or his loved ones. Immediately, I noticed what a gifted storyteller he was, capable of conveying his feelings and thoughts in ways that shook me, and others, to the core. He came to represent the soul of the people of Gaza.

For both of us, Gaza evokes the collective trauma we share, the memories that have been passed on by our grandparents and parents. Gaza came to symbolize the threat to our survival as a people. It encapsulates the resilience of Palestinians to stay on their land and defy the intent to dispossess, remove, or eliminate us as a people. We both acknowledged our determination not to repeat the Nakba. This was his promise to me when – far away from the homeland – all I could do was hope that he and everyone else would survive and remain.

The first time I heard his voice, it was still strong. But he spoke quickly, and his tone was tense and haunting. I could sense fear in his voice message about what was unfolding. His stories were alarming from the start, and I felt numb long after listening to his words, terrified. We both knew what was coming, and we knew what Israel was capable of because we have lived it many times before.

Courtesy of Defense for Children (@DCIPalestine) on X.

[His] message left me tormented by the weight of responsibility we all have amidst our powerlessness, our inability to control and stop the most appalling crimes from being committed.

As the atrocities became increasingly severe and appalling, and the intent of genocide more chillingly obvious, both he and I began to sound very different, highly distressed. He was drained, subdued, pained, and pessimistic, and I began to feel hopeless and depressed.

He sent me voice messages while bombs exploded in the background, deafeningly loud, children screaming. I was made to jump, break out in a sweat, as I could picture what he described and envision the missiles cutting through the blue sky, the crisp air. I could see the light flashes of the explosions that flattened entire buildings with families inside, bodies strewn on the ground. I could smell the white phosphorus, felt my eyes burn, and choked on the dust that engulfed everything and everyone.

Waking up early every morning after a long night of tossing and turning, far away from Palestine yet petrified and apprehensive, I would reach for my cellphone to see whether I had received a message from him. Longing for a sign of life, I was at the same time afraid to learn what had happened overnight: to him, to us, to our nation of people.

Whenever all communication was cut off, we both felt entirely disconnected from life. These cutoffs were yet another way to crush our spirit. I did not want to think for one single moment that something might have happened to him: I needed him to live to feel alive myself. With genocide unfolding, he came to represent the survival of our people.

His first message on October 13 read, “Marhaba habibti (a good day to you, dear),” before he introduced himself. It reached me just a few days after the day that would change our lives forever. He explained, “The situation in Gaza is dire, especially after the threatening statement made by Avichay Adraee, the spokesperson of the IDF’s Arab media division, as he told Gazans to evacuate to the south of the Strip. This order comes after those Palestinians who used to live close to Gaza’s borders fled to central Gaza City, usually its safest spot, only for Israeli bombing to wipe out the entire Al-Rimal area. A national mass exodus is taking place. Palestinians are stranded on the streets. Some are carrying children, some just an empty water bottle, some their elderly. The numbers that are fleeing to the south are exorbitant – and they are going to an area that is already overpopulated and cannot possibly hold everyone.”

He went on to describe what was happening: “The situation is heartbreaking. Add to that, that Israel has been murdering medical personnel and journalists…We have very limited internet, no power, barely any electricity. They are bombing electricity generators and units that provide internet. So we are unable to reach each other, and journalists are losing connection. The situation is dreadful. Israel is wiping out entire families, all of them civilians. They are bombing housing units without alerting residents. They are committing a genocide in Gaza, ethnic cleansing just like in the 1948 Nakba.” And he asked, “Where is the West, where are human rights, international law, the UN? These are war crimes! They must stop as soon as possible; the situation is very dangerous.”

From the start, he said again and again that the bombing was relentless and nowhere was safe. We Palestinians feel that this is a genocide: it aims to annihilate us, our people.

He had difficulty connecting, telling me that he was not sure whether he would still be alive by the time I received his messages.

At one point, his voice was subdued. It was heartbreaking, and my voice started to shake. He understood that I was crying yet implored me to stay strong. So I pulled myself together. But then I heard several women crying out in the background, as if they had received bad news or something had happened. He could no longer talk, his voice cracked, and he ended our conversation.

Israel has the right to defend itself… at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Desined By Gianluca Foglia Fogliazza.

His next message – which I was immensely thankful to receive – started with “Habibti, I am ok. I am still alive.” Another day he wrote, “I am proud of you, proud of you all and of what you are doing, going to demonstrations, participating in conferences, writing articles, and sharing the truth. You can change the world, make them see what the Palestinians are going through, let them know that massacres are happening!” But far from making me feel proud, this message left me feeling incredibly frustrated, tormented by the weight of responsibility we all have amidst our powerlessness, our inability to control and stop the most appalling crimes from being committed.

During another recording, a powerful explosion cut both his breath and mine, leaving us in silence, stunned, disturbed. When he continued speaking, I felt as if I was listening to the sound of death. The shared moment of terror which we both lived, apart yet connected, disrupted a sense of hope and resilience and threw us both into a state of panic. After this pause, he said, “These are the sounds we hear all day long, and they are even heavier and more frightening at night.” He ended his message by telling me, “God willing, if I stay alive, I really want to meet you.”

After Al-Ahli Hospital was bombed on October 17, we both changed, and we changed forever. “How can world leaders be so blind; how can they not see the massacres?” he asked. “Still, after this deadly attack on a hospital, they believe stories of misfired rockets and other misinformation. Nobody is taking a position. We only have one another, we love one another, but nobody else cares about us. Not world leaders, nobody. We have one another and that is it.” He expressed how I feel too, how every single one of us feels.

“We have little water and have started to ration it; we give what little water we have to our precious little ones. We do not have time to think about our future, we only think about survival. What we talk about now is where we will go if they destroy our whole neighborhood. Who will take the kids? We are becoming hysterical, cannot even imagine life after the war.”

We were devastated when Israel bombed Saint Porphyrius Church. “Why would they bomb a church?” he asked. “Gaza’s oldest, a Greek Orthodox church, has always served as a shelter for displaced people. It has been a sanctuary for Christians and Muslims during Israel’s periodic wars against Gaza. After this, what else? After bombing mosques, schools, hospitals, and a church, what else?!”

That night, October 23, felt surreal to both of us: over 400 Gazans were killed in what Israel announced were 360 airstrikes. Was this a nightmare? Had any civilian population ever been treated this way? He told me, “The weight of the pain is too much, we are tired. Even if this battle were to end now, we are dead already. The destruction is beyond anything imaginable. Nothing shocks us anymore; they have surpassed every limit possible.”

As I was trying to reply to his message, I could not hold back my tears. So I wrote empty words, words of both desperation and hope. He, on the other hand, fortified me. Gaza was teaching us a lesson even in its darkest hour.

His next message helped me breathe again. It was the oxygen I needed to function. “I will make you laugh; we cannot make bread, they bombed all the bakeries, and we are unable to find flour. And you know how desperate Arabs are to eat bread.” Absurdly, this message actually did make me laugh. On a heavier note, he continued, “Many people in Gaza are daily workers, and their incomes depend on day-to-day work. So, without work and without money, I really do not understand how they will survive?!”

Among the most devastating messages was when he said, “The silence [by world leaders] is deafening. Don’t they understand that we, the people, are not represented by anyone, and that life was miserable even before, when we were living under the siege? It was suffocating, we were living dead. If we die now, we might be better off.”

As we entered the month of November, it seemed like months had gone by, as if the barbarity, the absurdity of it all were never ending. In his message, I heard the thundering and rumbling of explosions, and the buzzing of planes, and his cough that seemed to be getting progressively worse. “I have been sick, my chest has been hurting, I believe it is from the fumes. I wish I could cry all the pain that is in my chest.” His words haunted me. He uttered words I would have never wanted to know, “The fear is diffused, people are scaring each other by just looking at each other’s eyes: there is terror in their eyes.”

After that day, he only sent broken heart emojis, day after day. Since November 15, blackout.

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