Gaza's stories of war

Gaza's stories of war
Feature: On the first anniversary of the latest war on Gaza, al-Araby speaks to young Palestinians affected by the 51-day bombardment, in which at least 2,400 Gazans were killed.
11 min read
08 July, 2015
Gaza's 2014 war continues to haunt the memories of its population [AFP]

'They're alive, they're alive. They're still breathing but Asma's been injured'

Asma al-Turk, 21, student, lives east of Gaza City

"The most important thing I remember about that night [the war started] is that F16 fighter jets bombed farmlands behind the house with missiles, claiming that a resistance rocket launch pad was located there, which created a lot of panic in the house, especially since it was full of children.

Asma al-Turk was injured during the war

"More than 12 members of the same family fell victim to some of those massacres, such as al-Batash family and others.

"That resulted in the loss of my best friend and the partial destruction of my house, due to the repeated mortar fire.

"My family also suffered during the war. My mother has a heart condition and we nearly lost her one night, as her heart nearly stopped due to the immense fear, in addition to the other health effects of the war.

"My sisters are married and one of them lives in Beit Hanoun, where her house was completely destroyed during the aggression, and another sister lives in the Shujayea district in which the Nakba of 1948 was more brutally recreated.

"As for my friends, some of them were injured by the bombardment, while I lost contact with others only to later find them on the lists of martyrs.

"Although this war is also called a 'war', like previous Israeli aggressions on Gaza, it was the longest and the most brutal. The 2008 war started with Israel targeting security installations. The 2012 war started with the assassination of Ahmed Jabari. However, this time, Israel declared war on civilians by commencing its campaign with airstrikes on peaceful civilians.

     Although this war is also called a 'war', like previous Israeli aggressions on Gaza, it was the longest and the most brutal

"Gazans opened their homes to receive refugees who had lost their homes - after schools and UNRWA buildings could not cope with their numbers - in addition to those buildings being targets of Israeli bombing.

"The hardest stage was when an artillery shell fell next to my room, injured me. Since the morning of the 30th day of the war, heavy artillery surrounded the neighbourhood and we were not able to leave. The shelling was even more intense after an Israeli solider was claimed to have gone missing.

"My family had gathered under the staircase of the house because it was relatively the most secure place. However, I went to check on the children and found my four-year-old niece playing in my room under a glass window. Fearing for her safety, I went to pick her up and as I was leaving the room a large explosion rocked the room. I could only see dust, and that I had fallen over my niece to protect her.

"I felt a pain in my shoulder but I did not pay it any attention.

"My father came looking for me after he had heard the explosion, and all I could hear was: 'They're alive, they're alive. They're still breathing but Asma's been injured."

"A 22cm piece of shrapnel was embedded in my right shoulder. I mustered up all my energy to stay conscious and was bleeding for three hours with only basic medical attention, using what we had in the house.

"After three hours, an ambulance that my father had called for through a local radio station arrived and I was taken to al-Shifa hospital - full of martyred and injured people.

"They removed the shrapnel, which left a large scar on my body, and which will always remind me of my hatred for Israel, and that we, the rightful people, will no doubt be victorious one day."

'I did not want to die alone and let them mourn me or vice versa. I did not want that.'

Moatassm Khawaja, 23, IT worker, Rafah

Hazzem abu-Helal was killed in the war

"At the beginning of August, there was fear in the city of Rafah, and there were tensions between Hamas and Egypt.  People were worried that the Egyptian army would carry out an incursion into Gazan territories along with the Israelis.

"As I was close to the border, I would see the movements of military vehicles every day, and I would put my hand on my heart.

"In Rafah, we all experienced the massacres of Shujayea, Khan Younis and other areas. I used to hear the news on the radio and through friends and the internet. Rafah would endure airstrikes and not a ground attack.

"The war continued, with bombing of this house and the bombing of that car. Every day, a friend would be injured or martyred.

"There is no safe place in Gaza, as everyone was targeted and threatened with bombardment and death.

"On August 3, Israel bombed a centre which housed people displaced from the dangerous areas. My friend Hazem was martyred. I received a call from a friend who said "turn on your TV if you have electricity". I had just woken up, and saw my friend Hazem lying of the ground.

"I screamed: 'This is Hazem. Why was he targeted?'

"Israel did not admit responsibility for bombing the refugee centre. Ten others were martyred along with Hazem, and the day continued.    

One time Israel attacked a house close to mine, three houses away, as the houses here in the refugee camp are connected. Two loud devastating rockets came down, fragments of the rocket landed on our roof.

     There is no safe place in Gaza, as everyone was targeted and threatened with bombardment and death

I went into the street and I saw smoke, the neighbors gathered at the two-story house, which housed lots of people fleeing from danger areas who thought the camp was safe. There are at least 40 people in each house.  I saw scattered body parts and over 20 dead bodies.

I started shouting with the other people that had arrived... I was screaming and weeping, the dead were all kids and women.

One of the dead bodies had been blown onto the roof of another building. Twenty-three members of the Zourob family became martyrs in the attack. 

"The last war on Gaza were the most difficult 51 days in our lives. I wish they will never be repeated. Every time remember them I hurt and I cry. We did not lose any member of the family, who are all okay.

"But I lost people close to me. Many of my close friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who studied with me in various times of my life were martyred.

"On a day like today, my friend Abdul-Rahman was also martyred. In the beginning, I would cry, until I grew numb.

"There was no point crying. We waited for death, for a missile to come and kills us all. I would wish for us all to die and for none of us to survive so that I would not mourn for anyone from my family.

"I did not want to die alone and let them mourn me or vice versa. I did not want that.

"It's now been a year since then and we haven't seen improvement, we haven't seen any of the agreements implemented.

"We don't know what's going on with the politicians. Half way through the war we were saying we don't want it to stop, we want a definitive solution, we don't want the blockade we want a port and airport we want freedom and that what we said till it ended.

"But a month later, we began to remember the sorrow, sadness, pain, the people now gone from our lives.  The destroyed homes and totally destroyed areas are very painful as are the stories about the war.  A year has gone by and there's no solution. 

"Hamas says it's close to find a solution and the news says there's a long-term ceasefire with Israel and we're hoping that's true, we don't want another war; I'm not scared to say the truth, I think saying the truth will not hurt me." ​

'No one understood what happened... The house was gone. We couldn't live there anymore.'

Ahmed's house after Israel's strike [Manirawi]

Ahmed Manirawi, 21, student, Rafah

"We were at home. The Israelis called us and told us to leave immediately. Everyone was shouting outside the house for us to run away. We packed our valuables and fled.

"They fired a warning missile at our neighbours' house, telling us that the moment of destruction had come.

"I went in haste to get out of the house, and at this moment I saw a missile come down and I fell to the ground, put my hands on my head and prayed. This was the hardest moment of my life.

"When the rocket landed, everything fell on my head and body - dust, and rubble that cut me.

"I had an incredibly narrow escape.

"As we ran in the street, they bombed our neighbours' house, and our home was severely damaged.

"At first it was a great shock - it was not easy to process.  No one could understand what had happened... The house was gone, we couldn't live there anymore.

"We stayed outside the house for a long time, and a sense of security and peace was gone.

"Everything became frightening. There was a sort of allergy to all new places... I could not look out the window, for fear of a missile falling on my head.

"After the war ended, we rebuilt what was damaged, but the neighbours so far have not been able to rebuild anything, because everything was destroyed, and currently there are no building materials available.

"Since the war, everything in Gaza has changed for the worse. We can't travel and we can't get medical treatment. There is no electricity, no water, and all homes are in ruins."

'When I saw him, he told me: never put all your eggs in one basket'

Ahmed was a newly qualified dentist when the war started

Ahmed Aburayya, 24, Dentist, Alnasser, west of Gaza City

"I still remember almost everything thing about the war, every moment and every sound.

"The war has affected every aspect of my life.

"I graduated from dentistry school last June, and five days after my [workplace] training started, so did the war... I still remember my mum asking me not to go to work.

"The thing that kept me going was that there were two refugee centres near the health centre where I was working, so I had to go and help them.

"My friends and I organised a small campaign called 'let's help Gaza'. At first we collected money from our families and provided basics for people who had been evacuated - we focused on displaced people in garages and public gardens, as no other organisations were helping them.

"Relief organisations didn't work during the days of the war; they waited until there was a cease-fire to help. So we tried to fill in the gaps.

     Every day we were at risk of getting shelled

"Every day we were at risk of getting shelled... one time a car 15 metres behind us got hit. I remember the panic we lived through at that moment, and that wasn't the only time... you get mixed feelings in those moments; scared as hell, but also relieved that you're still alive, and sorry for the other casualties.

"There comes a point when you accept the fact that you may die at any moment, but through the years we learned the hard way that we have to move on.

"I have a cousin who used to live in the al-Zafer building, which was bombed in the last two days of the war.

"The problem was that my cousin, his brother and his mother all lived in the same building in three different apartments. So when it was shelled, they had nowhere to go.

"When I saw my cousin, he told me: 'Never put all your eggs in one basket.'

"In the 2008 war, I was much younger, so I spent most of it at home. I wasn't able to go out a lot and see what was going on with my bare eyes.

"This war was more cruel and destructive. And we didn't know if it would ever end.

"The United Nations response was as shameful as ever. Ban Ki-moon did nothing but 'worry' about the situation.

"The only comforting thing is that the people of Gaza will never lose hope or will."

'One's entire life is vulnerable to loss at any moment'

A list of residents of Rafah killed during the war [Khawaja]

Fadi elShafei, 24, writer, Rafah

"We may consider that Gaza has been under attack continuously, and that 2008 and 2012 were increasingly fiercer rounds - up until the last war, which was the most violent.

"In my opinion, the war continues to this moment, because its effects continue, and people in Gaza are unable to return to their normal lives like any other people in the world.

"Of course, the war did not impact just friends and family, but how everyone thinks; it showed us that we need to be ready the whole time for loss. One's entire life is vulnerable to loss at any moment.

"Of course, this idea left a huge mark and reshaped social relations after the war.

"It led to a struggle to preserve life, produced by a feeling of a lack of safety at the peak of the military assault, but it also lead to cooperation among people, which gave them some psychological comfort that allowed them to cope and carry on.

"In my belief, although a year has passed since the war, everyone is still in shock because of the violence visited upon everyone.

"Nothing changed after the war - except more misery and more people without homes. Poverty increased, and so did the despair it caused among people."

Translations contributed by Karim Traboulsi, Mohammad Ali Musawi
 and Alex Wright