“My home! They destroyed my home, everything I worked for in my life is gone. I feel like I’m in an endless dark tunnel.”
This is my friend, Younis, who rang me up in the middle of the night, with his voice choking up, to tell me the bad news.
I’ve known Younis to be a proud man, a dedicated father, and a hardworking teacher. To see him fall apart is difficult to comprehend.
What is even harder is the feeling of utter helplessness, his and mine.
His loss of any place to go to hide from the relentless Israeli bombing, like the rest of the 2.2 million Gazans, and my unbearable sense of shame for not being able to provide any assistance save for a few hollow comforting words.
I despise these words. I lament how many times we have been forced to utter them to friends and family in Gaza. We have mastered them and they have become reflexive. They are so repetitive that they no longer mean anything.
“What matters is that your children are OK,” I said to Younis, repeating the same hollow words.
“I’m forever grateful they are; God has saved us from a much larger disaster,” he said.
“I know this nightmare will come to an end, but I’m talking to you so I don’t feel alone in this, forgive me for being a nuisance,” he added.
“I don’t want to bother anyone with my problems,” he repeated.
Still a proud gentleman even when at the bottom of the barrel.
But Younis is only a single stroke in the unprecedentedly devastating portrait of Gaza right now. It would not be preposterous to say he is one of the lucky ones, so far.
Sorry, Younis, but this is the grave reality we are living through.
My former colleague, Halima Shhab, for instance, lost 44 members of her extended family in a single airstrike on the same building. Two days later, as I talked to her, she seemed in a trance, somewhere on the verge of once an incomprehensible reality.
For us Palestinians living abroad, it feels like a demonic dream. You close your eyes to shut reality out, but you get haunted and hunted by horrifying images of what is yet to come.
It is a loop where consciousness and unconsciousness overlap to form a never-ending nightmare embedded within an already tragic reality.
All of us have families in Gaza, and almost all of us have lost family members or friends to Israeli bombings. The very few who are yet to experience the full scale of the tragedy are, most likely, going to be next.
This is an open, indiscriminate war against a civilian population with absolutely no means of self-protection, trapped in the world’s largest open-air prison. “Shooting fish in a barrel” is perhaps the metaphor closest to Gaza’s reality.
The most horrifying scenario of all is not merely the potential of a ground invasion of the densely crowded Strip, not even the expected high civilian death toll, but the possibility of repeating the 1948 Nakba and pushing millions of Gazans, most of whom are the descendants of those expelled from their homes in 1948, into the Egyptian Sinai desert.
This is to turn the refugees into another type of refugees, a new chapter of displacement, prompting yet another episode in their long history of victimisation.
You will be deluded into thinking that Israel’s war crimes are just a result of Hamas’ attack and the killing of Israeli civilians.
You will hear Israeli officials given a platform to make the case for genocide, the Israeli defense minister calling Palestinians “human animals”, and army generals calling on their soldiers to erase entire families while Western leaders giving them a blank cheque to do so under the guise of ‘self-defense’.
You have witnessed live on TV how entire neighbourhoods have been flattened with thousands of innocent people buried underneath them, all under the pretext of being ‘Hamas targets.’
But the Gaza carpet bombing is more sinister than sheer revenge. Since 1948, Israel has been planning to empty Gaza and make Palestinian Gazans Egypt’s problem.
The first attempt was in 1956 during the Suez Crisis against Egypt. Israel occupied the Gaza Strip for months only to be faced with a new demographic reality and international pressure that stopped pushing Palestinians into Sinai.
In 1967, all Palestinians who were outside Gaza when Israel invaded were made naziheen, displaced persons with no right to return, including my maternal grandfather.
During the first Intifada, former PM Yitzhak Rabin declaredly dreamt of waking up to find Gaza swallowed by the sea. He translated that into excessively abusive policies to force people to leave. Since 2007, Israel has enforced a strangling air, sea and land blockade on the Strip.
Egypt’s former president Mubarak noted that a few months before he was removed from power he was approached by PM Netanyahu, who suggested that the population of Gaza be resettled in Sinai.
But what is different this time is that Israel’s plans are carried out with Western complicity, anchored in an extreme form of dehumanisation of us, and, in many cases, with appalling fabrications about us.
It is a deliberately strategy of misinformation and propaganda to prime the world’s public opinion for a full-scale genocide in one of the most densely populated places on earth.
But that crowded place, this remote news hot spot, is where my loved ones are, where I lived half my life, where I formed my first memories, where I attended my first school, where I made my first friendships, and where I first fell in love.
Gaza is my home.
Today, as Israel is raining fire upon people and scaring them into leaving, priorities have narrowed down to only the well-being of our loved ones and the pending doom of their expulsion from their land again.
I sit here clenching my teeth, stewing with every negative emotion imaginable, all of us are. I am wondering whether the next time I see my family it might be at a cemetery, on top of a pile of rubble that used to be our home, or as refugees displaced from our homeland.
Oh, dear Lord, my heart is aching.
Maybe I should deceive myself into believing that I do not have any loved ones in Gaza and that I was never there.
Perhaps this will bring some peace.
But, never mind us, we are just “human animals”.
Our suffering does not qualify.
Dr Emad Moussa is a Palestinian-British researcher and writer specialising in the political psychology of intergroup and conflict dynamics, focusing on MENA with a special interest in Israel/Palestine. He has a background in human rights and journalism, and is currently a frequent contributor to multiple academic and media outlets, in addition to being a consultant for a US-based think tank.
Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.