Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery
Ali al-Halabi just wanted to focus on learning French. He graduated high school this fall, and dreams of one day seeing the Eifel Tower for himself, but on his first day of French lessons the bombing started. Ali, 17, is from Al-Zahraa in the Gaza Strip, and for the past week he hasn’t been able to leave his home, let alone attend French lessons. Leaving the besieged area alive feels more and more unlikely as each bomb is dropped.
For young people in Gaza, whom make up over 50 percent of the population, this latest military assault on the Gaza Strip is the third in their recent memories—but that does not make it any easier.
Operation Protective Edge has already killed over 170 people in seven days, and the Israeli bombings remain relentless across the strip. Mondoweiss spoke to three young Gazans about their new daily reality.
Lara Abu Ramadan, 22, lives in the center of Gaza city. The last few days have been filled with a feeling of complete helplessness and terror, as she hopes an Israeli airstrike will avoid the houses of her family and friends.
“We don’t sleep well, we wake up suddenly because of huge bombings here and around the city, we see the smoke of bombings everywhere,” Lara told Mondoweiss. “We are scared not only because of the sounds but also because we’re afraid to lose our beloved ones from family and friends. Yesterday night Israeli warplanes bombed heavily in our area and it was so close and we were so close to death. We were laying on the ground and the sky was lightened as if we were in the middle of the day.”
Staying inside in the hope of staying safe has become routine for Gazans now. Dalia Zuhair Lababidi, 21, is also from Gaza City. Her room has become her safe place during the latest Israeli military aggression, although she is well aware that civilian houses are also under threat from Israeli air strikes, and that in reality her room isn’t so safe at all.
“I’ve been sitting in my room since the beginning of the aggression,” Dalia said. “People here can hardly go to mosque during this holy month because they’re being targeted too. Everywhere you can expect a bomb so I prefer to stay at home hoping to not get harmed. I miss the smell of the streets.”
Ali also admits he is terrified of what could happen, aware that civilian areas such as houses and mosques have been targeted by Israel since the beginning of the military campaign.
“They are bombing civilian houses, farmlands, and people when they are together, mosques when people are praying in them, any civilian place. I am scared. It’s possible for a bomb to happen any time. I can’t sleep knowing I am might not stay alive for tomorrow.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with other Israeli officials have defended the practice of targeting civilian homes due to Hamas’ alleged practice of launching its homemade rockets from civilian areas. According to the United Nation’s OCHA, 77 percent of all deaths have been civilian.
The belief that anyone could be killed at any point is a real one for Lara, Dalia and Ali, having lived through Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. Their flirtation with death and destruction is well established. All three believe Israel is targeting all Palestinians in Gaza and punishing them, rather than targeting certain individuals.
“They bombed an NGO institute for the disabled and two women were killed, I don’t see how they can be seen [by Israel] as terrorists when they can’t move,” Lara said. “And 36 children were killed by bombing their houses and that doesn’t make sense. They bomb whatever they want, we’re like toys for them.”
Ali also believes Israel’s recent bombardment of Gaza is due to ulterior political manoeuvrings, rather than protecting Israeli citizens. Like many Palestinians, Ali told Mondoweiss that he thinks Gaza is being bombed in order to but a wedge in the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.
“They are hurting us because there was a plan that the West Bank and Gaza would combine again in a unity government.” Ali explained, “I guess Israel didn’t like this so they are bombing Gaza and trying to say that Gaza started this war, to make the world believe that we don’t want peace, but in fact we want it but Israel doesn’t.”
The fervour for war in political and social circles in Israel has not gone unnoticed in Gaza. Especially in the online sphere, where there have been a spate of Facebook pages set up advocating the death of Palestinians, and thousands of pictures and statuses calling for similar on individual pages—including the encouragement of a genocide of Palestinians on a Facebook status of an official in the Jewish Home party, part of the ruling coalition in the Knesset, which received 5000 ‘likes’.
“I saw many posts from Israeli people about wanting Israel to “Kill Arabs” who are living in Gaza,” Lara told Mondoweiss. “I think their government and military have the same principles. They see Gaza as a terrorist land. They don’t differentiate between civilians and militants. I feel sorry for saying this because I’ve never thought about Israeli civilians the way they think about us. I see that we’re all humans. But they seem to hate us.”
With Israel gearing up for a possible ground invasion, having called up 40,000 reservists, Ali fears that in the coming days things will only become more dangerous.
“I think it will get worse. It will be more mass destruction and massacres,” Ali said. “Maybe the soldiers will come in, I’m not sure but that would be so bloody and the war would get worse.”
These young Gazans are all part of the Internet generation. Like most young people their age, they follow what the world is saying about their country, they are aware of the news around the world, and they know whether people care about the images coming out of Gaza. Like any millennial would in their situation, Ali, Dalia and Lara watch from Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as people gather together around the globe to protest against the Israeli assault on Gaza, but as the death toll continues to rise, the frustration with the outside world, continues to build.
“As long as the whole world keeps watching and condemning without acting, nothing will be changed,” Dalia said. “It’s getting worse. Many people from different countries are standing with us and praying for Gaza. But I’m fed up with people and governments who watch and condemn what’s going on here without acting. Shame on everyone who has the power to change something and is still sitting silent, and who condemn what’s going on here without acting. Shame on everyone who has the power to change something and is still sitting silent. So I call on everyone, wherever you are in the world, it is time to mobilize for Gaza. Please do what your governments don’t do, please act, please boycott Israel.”