Note: I met Firas Ramalawi in May; he handled security for the AFSC staff delegation visit and was a bright, kind guide for us all. He works with AFSC’s Gaza office as their office manager. He and his family live in the Shuja’iyah neighborhood of Gaza which came under intensive attack from Israel last week. During those attacks as many as 200 Palestinians in the neighborhood were killed and much of the neighborhood was destroyed. The Israeli military continues to carry operations in the neighborhood, destroying homes and blocking Palestinian access. The story below is Firas’ account of his flight with his family from Shuja’iyah as it came under attack. This Israeli attack on Gaza must end. The Gaza siege must end. The ongoing occupation must end. - Lucy
The night of July 19th was the most excruciating night of my life. In those moments when we can only hear the sound of shelling on top of our heads, the clocks seem to stop ticking. It is as if the clock is giving permission for the souls of those killed to ascend to their Creator in the wake of the missile attacks from F-16 jet fighters and the shelling. We are waiting for dawn, which arrives too slowly telling us “move to save your lives”.
As I stand on the doorstep of my house, I find I am in the midst of a new displacement. It is a displacement like the one recounted to me by my grandmother - the displacement of the Nakba*. I never understood how people left their homes, why they did not persevere, stay, and resist. However, when I see a flood of people, I understand how the Palestinian people were conquered and forced to leave their lands in 1948.
We leave in haste, unsure where to tread. All roads lead to death. Women and children stumble to the ground. A woman screams, searching for her infant. An elderly man asks others to help him stand up, but no one answers his calls. A child screams in search of his mother. I watch in awe, as if it were doomsday. Each person is searching only for himself and only for what belongs to him.
We walk along hugging the walls to avoid random killing. Pale sleepless faces - stupefaction is everywhere. It is as as if we are asking ourselves whether we have marched 67 years back into the past to witness the Nakba's* progression.
I pass through alleys and see a completely destroyed home. The neighbors tell me that its owners are still under the rubbles. I see a destroyed wall here; there I see openings in the walls of another house. It is as if they are eyes telling me not to cry. They speak to me, saying “I will stand and resist, I will await your return”.
I pass by the cemetery and forget to pray the Quranic verses for the souls of the dead. I wonder whether I should pray these verses for the dead or for the living who are awaiting their death in what may be only a few seconds.
At the crossroads
The Shuja’iyah crossroads is the main artery that binds the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the southern part. Here the land seems to be screaming, weeping, yelling - with no one to answer.
There is no sign of any transportation except for the ambulances that are carrying the injured and the martyrs out of the Shuja’iyah neighborhood. The drivers say this is all they can do.
Miraculously, we arrive at our destination. I have hardly had time to check on my daughters and all of my group members, whom I find uninjured, when I am surprised to hear my cousin say that he has left our 85-year old grandmother behind in their house. He insists that he must go get her, fearing for her life. Others object, saying that although she might end her life as a martyr, he must stay safe.
Fate impels him to return to find her and it is he who becomes a martyr. Our grandmother remains alive, weeping for the loss of her grandson.
I now sit on the ground looking at all of us. Has a new Nakba started? Or is this just another passing phase, just one of the series of tragedies to befall the Palestinian people?
History, take note! Do not forget that tragedies cannot be forgotten.
*Nakba, meaning catastrophe in Arabic, is the term used by Palestinians to describe the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages during the 1948 War.