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'My kids think I'm a hero. They have no idea I'm also afraid'

When the bombs fall on Gaza, Abu Ali and his family, like two million other residents of Gaza, have nowhere to run. This is what it’s like to live under Israeli airstrikes.

By Yael Marom

Bombed out buildings in Gaza City, May 5, 2019. (Mohammed Al Hajjar)

Bombed out buildings in Gaza City, May 5, 2019. (Mohammed Al Hajjar)

It’s strange to think that less than a week ago Israel and Hamas were closer to war than they have been since 2014. As airstrikes pummeled Gaza and rockets rained down on southern Israel — which left 27 Palestinians and four Israelis dead — I spoke to Abu Ali, a friend of mine who lives in Gaza City. Abu Ali had been up all night, fearful that one of his children would wake up scared and shaking from the sounds bombs falling.

“We don’t have a bomb shelter, so when there is a bombing we are together, holding our children’s hands trying to calm them,” he said over the phone on Sunday afternoon, just as hostilities were reaching a peak. “Unfortunately, my sons think that I’m a hero. They think their father can prevent the missiles from hitting our home. They believe in their father, so they feel safe when they see me. Even if they hear the bombing, they feel okay because ‘our father the hero is here, and he can stop the missiles from entering our home.’”

It was not an easy conversation to have. I live in the safety of Jaffa, while he lives exposed to Israeli attacks in Gaza. For three days I had been busy either making sure my parents were running to their bomb shelter whenever the sirens went off or worrying about my loved ones living in range of rocket fire in southern Israel. I prayed as we spoke, hoping that sirens wouldn’t go off in Jaffa.

More than anything, I was embarrassed by my helplessness, my fear, and the fact that I have my own personal shelter in my home. What does one say to someone who lives under a blockade imposed by my country on a tiny, dense, poor, and desperate strip of land for the past 12 years, where at any moment his home can turn into rubble? Abu Ali and his family, like the two million residents of Gaza, have nowhere to run.

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Abu Ali, 35, who works for an NGO, lives in the western part of Gaza City with his wife and three children. “I live very close to the port,” he told me on Sunday, “My neighborhood was bombed once today, just before 9 a.m. It was a large explosion and I was with my children in the living room. I immediately turned on the television to the highest possible volume — because I didn’t want to let my children hear the terrible sounds of the explosions. And still, my children leapt from the couch into my arms within seconds, they were looking for some protection. They didn’t know that their father is also afraid. But even though I am a 35-year-old man, I am human being with feelings. I am afraid.”

As he spoke my phone began buzzing with rocket alert notifications. I told Abu Ali that another volley was just launched at the Israeli towns around Gaza. According to Israeli military spokespeople, more than 690 rockets and missiles were fired at Israel.

“For now, it looks as though it’s not enough,” Abu Ali continued. “The Palestinians keep sending their locally-made metal pipes while facing sophisticated Israeli weapons that can destroy entire streets and buildings. The international community treats this as if it’s a struggle between two equal sides — but there is no comparison. I’m not saying that what is fired from Gaza does not cause damage, that it does not cause Israelis — children, families, men and women — to feel fear. I am sure that this is the situation. It is certainly awful for the Israeli side as well, but it cannot be compared to the Palestinian side.”

Why is all of this happening now?

“Palestinian rocket fire came one day after two Palestinians were killed, five days after the killing of another Palestinian, and after a year in which 300 protesters were killed and 30,000 were wounded, among them paramedics, journalists, women and children — all of them were targeted and shot by Israelis. I do not justify this, I am not a man who justify wars or whatever will lead to violence against civilians, but we are in an extremely difficult situation. I do not have the words to express just how much we are living in a miserable situation.”

“I’ll tell you a story. I have been looking for a tire for my car for an entire year. I can’t find one because Israel prevents these tires from entering the strip. Who do you think you are? Who are you to decide for the people of Gaza what they will have? Israel prevents basic needs from entering Gaza. Medicine and food. In the last ceasefire, the fishermen were told that their fishing zone would be expanded to 12 miles. But even within 12 miles there are no fish, and in any case, Israel doesn’t let fishermen go that far and shoots them.”

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“Everywhere you go in Gaza you will see misery. Two months ago, Gazans protested in the streets demanding the right to life. They went out into the streets and said they simply want to live.”

“Three weeks ago, I returned home in the evening. While driving on the road, I passed by a trash container and saw two men beating one another. I immediately stopped and tried to separate them. When I asked what they were fighting about, one of them told me that this was his trash. The other responded ‘No, this is my trash! I was here before!’ Inside the container, they were searching for the remains of an apple or a piece of tomato that was thrown away to take home and bring to their children. They feed their children food from the trash. The people here live in shit and eat shit.”

What does the future portend?

“We have only two options: the first is that Israel give the Palestinian people its rights, that it let us live and make decisions regarding our own lives, just leave us alone and we will build our future. We are good people, we are successful, we are good farmers, we can build our country, we do not need your help, just get out! And Then we can make peace. The second possibility is that we will continue with this circle of violence for many years to come. It will be destructive, it will be difficult for both Palestinians and Israeli society.

“These are the only two options. And smart people will of course choose the first. We need to stand together with people who want peace. If you ask me now, at this moment, what my dream is, I will say that all I want to give my children is a normal future. This is the hope of all the people in Gaza, normal life, food, electricity, work. No one likes war. No normal person. We’re so tired. It’s been so many years without normalcy.”

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where a longer version of this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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