Rasha N Abushaban, Gaza, July, 2014: Day six of the war has already ended. I will never forget this day in all of my life. My family and I were having our Sohor meal before the sunset in preparation of the next day’s fast. I was sitting opposite to the window, when I first saw bright lights, which soon turned the darkness of the night into the brightness of the day. I did not have much time to say anything, when a few seconds later we heard a series of the most horrifying and scary bombardments. We all ran to the room in the middle of our house. My body kept shaking for so long. I felt my heart stop for seconds, and I couldn’t breathe. I held myself from crying in front of the small children; I could see so much fear in their eyes. I tried to calm down and sit with my laptop to check the news.
I thought it was over and then another huge bombardment pierced through the air. We gathered again to the centre of the house away from the windows. We sat together for a while to make sure that there was no further air strikes hitting our surrounding area. Those were air raids directed at some governmental centres in our neighbour. I live in a building where there are 20 persons staying a the moment, including my sister’s family who were forced to leave their house that was damaged in the war earlier this week. She came to our house seeking some safety. But is there any safety in Gaza? We kept talking, chatting and even laughing. My nephew told us about how in the last blast he was standing up praying then when the bomb hit he lay down on the floor, so he asked us if that prayer was counted or should be repeat it again?We found that both ironic andwe went to bed in search of some rest after this tough night.
The morning came and the explosions in my area were less intense during the day time. Though, bombings are always more intense during the night. My Father and Brother went to the market for the first time since the beginning of this offensive to purchase vegetables. For the last few days we managed to get our food from a nearby shop. In Gaza there is usually a small shop located in each neighbourhood, who would open for a few hours in the day time only. In the first three or four days of the war there were hardly anyone out on the streets, as the Israeli air strikes were hysterical over the Gaza Strip. For the first time since the war started I went to the balcony, and I saw a few people from the surrounding neighbourhood walking to the street to purchase goods from the shop nearby my home.
Many people who live in critical areas within Gaza have left their houses since the beginning of the war, and have sought safety in the homes of their friends and/or family. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with a landmass of 365 m3 and a population of 1.7million. Most of the houses are multi-storey buildings, which contain many apartments, where in each one lives one family or more. I know people evacuated their homes to stay with relatives. In those circumstances some homes contained 20 people seeking refuge in a single flat with a space of 150m3.
In Gaza we don’t drink water from the tap, we buy water for drinking. The big water tank on the roof is near to being empty, and my Father is concerned what we will do for water if this war is to last for more days ahead. Usually we have a supplier who comes regularly to fill the tank. If we don’t manage to get him, we will have to buy mineral water bottles. I was thinking of the other people of Gaza, and how they will manage with this same situation. Many, if not most of them cannot afford to buy mineral water.
The water problem is very critical in Gaza, as a landmass it is characterised by severe water shortage, of which is highly controlled by the Israeli occupation. The water resources of Palestine are fully controlled by Israel. The Coastal Aquifer is the only source of water in the Gaza Strip. It runs deep beneath the coast of Israel, with Gaza sitting downstream at the end of the basin, and the water flowing underground mainly in an East-West direction. Israel on the contrary, has installed a cordon of numerous deep set wells along the Gaza border, and in this way extracts much of the ground water before it can reach Gaza. Israel sells a limited part of the water to the Palestinians in Gaza. While Israel transports water from this North of it’s territory to the South, us Palestinians are not allowed to move water from the West Bank to Gaza. This is why the aquifer is heavily overused and results in seawater intrusion. Only 5-10% of water the aquifer yields is of drinking water quality. By 2000, the water from the Coastal Aquifer in the Gaza region was no longer considered fit for human consumption due to the high salinity from the sea water intrusion, and the high nitrate pollution from agricultural activity.
My Father returned with the groceries, and I started to help my Mother prepare the food for our meal in the sunset to break our fast. During the daytime, the bombardments could be heard in the distance. While making the salad I started to sing, but was soon interrupted with the sound of bombs in the distance. I stopped for for a moment, then carried on singing my song hoping inside me that this bomb did not cause the loss of any lives. Well I don’t know how many of you have had, or will have, such an opportunity to have the sound of hovering planes over as a tune for your sining, but I have.
The children in the house were watching some cartoons on my laptop as a means to distracts them from thinking about situation. During these tough days of the assault, I intend to gather my nephews and nieces together to let them talk. I want them to express how they feel and what they have experienced. They get excited and act when telling stories of how they went out of the house and managed to run away minutes before the next air strike. Some of them were sharing how suddenly they would jump off their bed after a bomb went off, only to find themselves in the corner of the room; the other children would laugh. I want them to be able to release their stress and to know that their cousins also feel the same. I want them to know it is normal to feel afraid. One of my nephews told me about how lucky he is because he is living inside a real action movie, like one he is used to seeing play on the TV. I am always concerned about how these shocks will impact our long term psychology, especially for the children.
Today I couldn’t stick to my laptop following the news minute by minute, like I had the previous days before. I kept checking every couple of hours. One of the most horrible news f the war was the Batish family massacre. They were murdered last night, and 18 people including women and children were killed by the Israeli airstrike, which hit the family’s home. There were pictures of the dead, including the body parts that were taken to the hospital, and screaming relatives. These images left me speechless. What is happening to the people of Gaza cannot be described in words. These images left me heartbroken.
Today Israeli forces dropped leaflets asking the families located in the Northern area of the Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes. As stated in the leaflets, the Israeli forces were to target the different Northern locations where rockets have been launched from into Israel. Around 8,000 Palestinians from the North(Alatatra ana Alsalaten neighborhoods) evacuated their homes to UNRWA schools in the Jabalya Refugee Camp. There is a mass displacement taking place for the families who live near the border area, who must flee to the central area of Gaza. They fled to the UN schools looking for safe shelters. I remember in 2009, the UNRWA school was bombed, under similar conditions to what is happening now. Simply no place is safe in Gaza.
I have not left the house since the beginning of this assault, but my nephews did to go visit their paternal grandparents during this afternoon. They described the centre of Gaza, which is usually busy, now like a ghost city. They told me that there were hardly any people walking in the streets, except for who were buying bread from one bakery that was open. They passed by the governmental compound near my house that was hit last night, and it was razed to the ground. I am friends who are journalists who are covering the events from the ground. I often think of how brave they are.
People are all following the news about the possible ceasefire. People want this to end sooner rather than later. But at the same time, they want this ceasefire to happen with the fulfilment of conditions made by the Palestinian side. We have been suffering a lot, and we want to take any step possible in order to alleviate our suffering. We want the siege that has been imposed on Gaza since 2006 to be lifted. We want a solution for the electricity problem, as we have been suffering from ongoing power shortages and black outs for years now. We want the opening of the crossing, and improvements for trade and exportation movement, which have been blockaded for years. We want concrete to be allowed to enter Gaza so we can rebuild the damaged houses and facilities.
So we are now done for this bloody day of war. ‘Day Six’ is over. I hope this night to be calmer and to bring some peace. Although I doubt this, because at night time Gaza is really scary these days. I want our normal life to be restored. Well, if that was even called normal. I wish for this to come an end so people can treat their wounds and start to recover from their ordeals.
*Rasha N. AbuShaaban writes from Gaza in the Occupied Palestinian Territories . She holds a Masters Degree from the University of Aberdeen, UK. She has been working for many years with the civil society sector and in the management of humanitarian and developmental projects in Palestine. Currently she is working at an International NGO. She believes that empowerment and ensuring rights for the Palestinian children , youth and women are key for building a civilized and peaceful Palestinian society.