By Reem S.
These are a fluff of thoughts that I have tried to put together. I am so horrified by what I see and hear each day here that I have reached a point of numbness and disbelief–disbelief that this is real and not just a horrible dream. I am awaiting to wake up from this dream and realize that the world is not as bad and as ugly as it seems now, here. I am awaiting to wake up and not feel guilty that maybe I can’t help change things here, that I can’t rebuild the destroyed homes and bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones in the most cruel ways. While I refuse to feel defeated, I am humbled and speechless at the downfall of mankind. Suffering has no limits, yet there are forces in this world that seek to find those limits and monopolize on them. If ever in the world I am close to experiencing the absolute farthest limits of suffering, where suffering can no longer be increased further, it is here, in Gaza. And maybe that is why the tears have dried up and I find myself on autopilot, listening, talking, writing but not processing. And maybe that is why I have found refuge in my camera. From behind the lens, I am allowed to be one step removed from this world that should not be the world and from this life that should not be life, not for a Palestinian, not for anyone. I hope to write more in the coming days and maybe through my writing, I will find understanding and meaning to this chaos here that I could have never fathomed.
I have not shed one tear since entering Gaza. I cannot explain this lack of emotionalism except for an anesthesia injected through complete shock. It is not so much the shock of the overwhelming devastation, but the shock of Israel’s cruelty and disrespect for humanity. It is the shock that an Israeli soldier could execute three daughters and paralyze the fourth in their father’s presence while two other Israeli soldiers watch and eat chocolates and chips. It is the shock that Israel can bomb UNRWA warehouses full of medicines, infant milk, and school supplies and then deny Palestinians access to thousands of tons of humanitarian aid at their borders at a time when Palestinians in Gaza are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. It is the shock of seeing the nurse at Al Shifa Hospital unwrap the bandages from twelve-year old Omar whose body has third degree burns from an exploded kerosene container used to provide warmth and fire since Omar has no electricity in his household. It is the shock of seeing four men drink tea on chairs riddled with bullet holes on top of the rubble that used to be their home three weeks prior. It is the shock of noticing last minute as a fire ignites from a clump of hidden white phosphorus and nearly burns the pants of my Palestinian tour guide as we unassumingly take pictures in an olive tree garden. It is the shock of realizing that life in Gaza is not a right, but a privilege, which can be and has been so often taken away at the whim of an Israeli bullet, missile, mortar, or shell. It is the shock that life and death have become one and the same in Gaza. For even for those who may have survived Israel’s recent offensive unscathed, their spirits have been decimated by the realization that they are trapped with no where to run and isolated from the rest of the world by Israel’s continued blockade which literally prevents the rebuilding of their shattered lives.
Yet I am not the only one who has been numbed by shock. This sense of shock resonates deeply in Gaza as people talk of loved ones who have been brutally executed as dispassionately as if they were press personnel reporting a story for the evening news.
Since writing that paragraph above, I have cried – once. Listening to Mohammad Kassab Khalil Shurrab, 64, describe how his two sons were killed in broken English, I felt that my heart was being wrenched from my chest. Even though I usually conduct my interviews in Arabic and translate into English for the other delegation members, Mohammad wanted to speak in English. He wanted to be understood by all and he wanted his story to be told in first person. Having been demonized and dehumanized his entire life, Mohammad wanted to give flesh and soul to his now-deceased sons. He wanted us to see them for what they really were – humans, indispensable humans.
As a tribute to Mohammad and his two sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, I will recount his “story.” In my opinion, Mohammad’s story represents the tragedy of the loss of humanity when rhetoric and politics take precedence over co-existence and compassion. Yet tragically, Mohammad’s “story” is merely one of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stories of individuals in Gaza who have lost so much for no reason at all. To this I ask, where is the accountability and justice?
It was January 15, 2009. Mohammad and his two sons, Kassab, 28, and Ibrahim, 18, were awaiting the temporary four-hour ceasefire to be announced by the IDF so that they could leave their farmhouse and go to their home in Khan Younis five kilometers away and spend Friday and Saturday with the rest of their family. The ceasefire was announced over the radio from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mohammad decided to leave after Friday prayer at noon to ensure that all the firing had halted. Driving down the asphalt road in his jeep, Mohammad and his two sons passed by two parked Israeli tanks. Nervously, he waved at them and waited for them to wave at him, granting him permission to continue down the road to his home. The soldiers waved their permission. Only two hundred meters after passing the tanks, Mohammad’s car was hit by heavy gunfire from Israeli soldiers standing in the building fifty meters in front of the car. Mohammad was shot in the arm and he fell to the floor of the car in order to avoid the dozens upon dozens of gunshots that came through the front and the side of the car. He yelled at his sons to duck and tried to maneuver the car. Unfortunately Mohammad rammed the car into a wall and the four soldiers at the gate of the building yelled in Arabic at the passengers to get out of the car. Kassab got out first. He stepped out, hands by his side, and was instantly executed, riddled by five bullets across his chest. Kassab staggered a few feet and fell face down onto the ground. At this point, both Mohammad and Ibrahim were yelling at the soldiers to stop shooting, that they were civilians, that this was still the ceasefire. Ibrahim got out of the car to see his brother. He was instantly shot in the thigh by a bullet. Mohammad, having seen both his sons shot before his eyes jumped out of the car. Already shot in the arm, Mohammad crouched to see Ibrahim who was heavily bleeding. Ibrahim cried in pain but the soldiers told him to shut up. They threatened to shoot both him and his father if he did not quiet.
Mohammad tried to call the ambulance but the soldiers threatened to kill them if he did. Neither Mohammad nor Ibrahim knew whether Kassab was still alive. After a few hours of lying on the ground with their hands to their heads, Mohammad demanded from the soldiers to provide them with medical aid. He was told to shut up or else get shot. The weather was slowly getting colder as the sun began to set. Ibrahim continued to cry in pain and Mohammad, although himself bleeding and cold, did not know what to do. At 5 p.m., Mohammad told the soldiers that he was going to call the ambulance and if they wanted to shoot him, they could go ahead and shoot. The European Hospital was only one kilometer away but the ambulance drivers could not come rescue Mohammad or Ibrahim. They had to receive clearance from the IDF and the IDF had not yet granted them clearance to make the one kilometer drive.
At 8 p.m., Ibrahim was slowly fading. Mohammad realized that he had to keep his son warm or else he would die. He told the soldiers that he was going to take his son into the car and if they wanted to shoot him they could. They had already taken away his most precious things in life – his sons – so what was the point of life after such a tremendous loss. Mohammad held Ibrahim in his good arm and helped him into the car. He took off his own coat and gave it to his son to stay warm despite shaking from the cold. Throughout the night, Mohammad continued to call the ambulance and plead with them to come rescue them. After 20 phone calls, Mohammad stopped calling. He told the ambulance his exact coordinates so that they could pick up their dead bleeding bodies whenever they eventually got the clearance from the IDF.
Before his last breath, Ibrahim asked his father about his arm injury and told him to stay strong. At 12:30 a.m., nearly twelve hours after being shot in the thigh, Ibrahim breathed his last. He had bled to death as his father watched, cried, and prayed. Only twelve hours prior, Mohammad was driving home with his two sons to unite his family. Now he lay cold, injured, and alone, with one son lying face down riddled with bullets a few meters from his car and the other son dead from a simple bullet wound to the thigh. At 11 a.m. the next morning, the IDF gave the ICRC clearance to allow the ambulance the one kilometer drive to pick up the two dead and one injured. After 22 hours, Mohammad was able to continue down the road he had initially started on, not to see his family, but rather to bury them.
In solidarity and peace,