Sama, Watan, Gaza: Palestinians pick baby names reflecting hope and optimism amid Israel's genocidal war

9 min read

Gazans have been giving their newborn babies born during Israel's current assault distinctive and unusual names which convey a sense of optimism – with the birth of a child bestowing a ray of hope amid the rubble and wreckage surrounding them.  

Families across the besieged and embattled Gaza Strip are trying their hardest to provide the most essentials of life, first and foremost, enough food, as well as safety for their families, especially infants, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Providing for the needs of newborn babies during Israel's relentless bombardment and repeated displacement is immensely challenging, as Gazans face a severe lack of everything they need.

However, the people of Gaza refuse to give up hope and are continuing their lives despite the unimaginable suffering they are enduring with death pursuing them on all sides. For them, the birth of a child represents a glimmer of hope, and an incentive to continue the struggle.

"The birth of a child represents a glimmer of hope, and an incentive to continue the struggle"

Sama ('sky'): A name that gives hope

In keeping with this hopeful perspective, many have given their babies born during the current onslaught names invoking concepts of struggle and liberation; as well as names which belonged to martyred siblings, parents, and other cherished relatives.

Baby Sama ('sky') was born on the evening of Monday, January 15, in a tent close to the Egyptian border. Her mother Manal Diab, 29, says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition that the birth was arduous, and she was unable to obtain the usual injection to speed up the labour process.

However, even though the first screams of her baby girl merged with the sound of the Israeli bombs targeting Rafah city, as soon as she heard them for the first time she was overwhelmed by feelings of "mercy under difficult circumstances."

Due to the abysmal living conditions, lack of necessities, and living her first months in a tent, baby Sama has become ill several times. However, her name gives a feeling of hope to her family. Manal says Sama's presence has lightened the bitter experience of the repeated displacements the family have been forced to endure.

A baby being looked after in Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza, where over 15 babies have died as a result of dehydration and malnutrition because of Israel's total siege [Khalil Alkahlut/Anadolu via Getty]

This started when they fled their home in Beit Lahia, after which they moved several times within Gaza City, before going to Khan Younis, and finally to Rafah. The family narrowly escaped death multiple times, she says.

"My husband and I had agreed on many names over the last months. However, the name came by chance when her father looked up at the sky around two weeks before she was born, and decided that her name should be Sama ('sky') — as the sky and the sea here are the only two things which give the people of Gaza hope."

Samer, Sama's father confirms that "despite all the tragedies we face, looking at the sky makes us hold on tight to our dream of freedom."

He continues: "I wanted to name her Aisha ('life'), then I wanted to name her Aya ('miracle, or 'sign', among other meanings). Then during the assault, while we were fleeing to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, everything around us was destroyed, and we felt constantly in danger, you could not see one thing that gave any hope.

"I suddenly looked up at the sky, and it was a clear blue, and I felt as though I wanted to give her the name Sama ('sky'), as the sky was the only clear and pure thing I could see in the middle of all the devastation, killing and blood."

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"At the moment, Gazans are open to giving new and different names to their children who are born during the aggression, for instance, my sister gave the name Jamila ('beautiful') to her baby girl who is now three months old," says his wife Manal.

"I also got to know many women in the area of the camps, whose children have names which are new here, like, one little boy in the next door tent is called Halim ('one who perseveres'), and another boy in a tent nearby is called Ihsan ('kindness'), and the goal of these names is to bring hope to their families."

Naming girls "Gaza" to honour the city 

While the name "Gaza" has become an increasingly widespread name for girls in the Strip in recent years, its popularity has shot up noticeably since Israel's current assault began, as an expression of Palestinians' attachment to the land and their categoric rejection of attempts to displace them from the Gaza Strip.

On New Year's Eve, 37-year-old Hisham Abu Rakaba was blessed with the birth of a daughter, born in the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis. Before the birth, he had agreed with his wife that she would be called Mariam after the Virgin Mary. However, when the girl was born, he told his wife that he wanted to name her Gaza.

"Her father looked up at the sky around two weeks before she was born, and decided that her name should be Sama ('sky') — as the sky and the sea here are the only two things which give the people of Gaza hope"

"When she was born, I could hear the prayers of dozens of displaced people sheltering inside the Nasser Medical Complex, most of these prayers were for an end to the aggression and for the people of Gaza to survive the killing and destruction.

"When they placed her in my arms, I gazed at her, and she was crying, so I said the takbir ('God is greater') in her ears, and she went to sleep. At that moment I decided that her name would be Gaza."

Abu Rakaba has another child called Mohammed. He explains that since the time his great-grandfather was alive, the family has had a tradition of naming the first male child Mohammed, which is an extremely common name in Gaza.

He says when he registered the name of his daughter, Gaza, he realized that many parents had chosen the same name, especially those from Gaza City, who wanted their children to bear the name of their city which had been subjected to some of the most horrific massacres during the current assault. However, he added that some of those choosing this name were refugees to Gaza from Palestinian villages and towns within Israel's 1948 borders.

Abu Rakaba continues: "The entire world is watching Gaza resisting alone against an occupier with one of the most powerful armies on the planet, which is attacking us with every kind of weapon, including internationally banned weapons.

"The name 'Gaza' has become a symbol of the steadfastness of the people on their land, far away from all the negotiations and the threats. My daughter will grow up and learn that she bears a great name which holds the meanings of defiance and persistence despite everything our city is living through, we don’t know if we will even survive to return to it, or if we will die displaced."

The General Administration of Hospitals in Gaza is the body responsible for issuing birth certificates to parents after the information and names of newborn babies have been registered. However, due to some hospitals having been rendered non-functioning, and others being forced to use manual records, there is limited official information available regarding baby names with connotations linking them to the current assault.  

A source from the Ministry of the Interior indicates that during the current aggression, Gazans have given names that differ from those commonly used in the past and that over 250 varied names are held by more than 20,000 newborns who have been registered since the beginning of the aggression.

Love for the homeland

Bilal Inshasi, 39, is originally from Gaza City but is currently living in one of the schools-turned-shelters in Rafah. On  November 29, he was blessed with the birth of a son after a wait of 10 years.

"My child is weak, and struggling to survive in the light of the lack of food, milk and medicines, and his condition resembles the condition of our besieged homeland which is being bombed, starved and destroyed"

Initially, he had wanted to name him Rizq ('blessing' or 'provision') to express his gratitude, however, he explained: "The assault and the displacement made us appreciate the value of the homeland.

"Therefore, I decided to give my son the name Watan ('homeland'). I found that I wasn’t the only one to give their sons this name — I believe that behind this is that people consider this name fitting in light of the aggression we are facing as well as our determination to hold on tight to the homeland. Besides that, the name is distinctive, and works for boys and girls."

He adds: "All of us dream of safeguarding the homeland, and we were created in this world loving Palestine, and this is an innate love even though we live in difficult circumstances, and we are treated in a racist manner by all the world powers, therefore I couldn't think of a more precious name to call my child.

"However, my child is weak, and struggling to survive in the light of the lack of food, milk and medicines, and his condition resembles the condition of our besieged homeland which is being bombed, starved and destroyed."

Honouring the dead

Gazans are also giving their children the names of relatives and friends who have been martyred during Israel's war, as a way of honouring the martyrs – so that their names remain present in their memory and the memory of future generations.

Osama Alyan originally intended to name his firstborn child Samih, because his father loved this name.

"My father was our role model in life, and I, like my five siblings, would take his opinion when choosing names for our children. However, after my father was martyred, I decided to name my son after him, and when he was born on February 2, he was named Atiya ('gifts' or 'blessings') so he would carry the memory of my dad who loved goodness and giving, and who I considered a father and friend.

"When he learned of my wife's pregnancy he told me that he liked the name Samih most, but he was martyred about 40 days before my son was born, and I could not find a better name than his for my son to have."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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