Life in Gaza
Last Tuesday night was a pleasant night in the big Midwest city I call home. It was just about a perfect summer night, with pleasant temperatures and a light breeze. You dream of nights like that. On the other side of the world, it was more of a nightmare than anything else. If you dreamed of anything, it was finding peace and perhaps a home somewhere, anywhere else in the world.
“Did you hear that?” he asked me in a quiet tone of voice.
“Yes, I hear it,” I told him. It was the sounds of rockets landing nearby. Gaza City was under siege by rocket attack. It had been going on all night. In the early hours before dawn in the Middle East, we talked by Skype.
I met my Palestinian friend a couple of years ago on a language learning site called Livemocha. He was a student interested in languages and I was there continuing my feeble attempt to learn some French. The site had a social media type component where language students could ask other language students to help with their lessons. Through that method you could earn virtual currency you could then use to have teachers correct your lessons, rather than students. Several asked for my help with English. I would correct their lessons or listen to their voice lessons and comment back on their pronunciation and use of language. It was all well structured then. A couple of the students have kept in touch, one is a teenager in Brazil, the other is a young man in Gaza.
On Monday, when things were starting to fall apart in Gaza, I left a text message, “Write, tell me you are safe. The news makes me sad, I want you to be somewhere safe.” Later that morning he responded, “Hello! Thanks. I’m kinda okay. The situation is not good at all but I’m still alive.” By Monday night the tone of his message was a bit more somber: “Today was really terrible here. They rocketed us with more than 200 rockets. I could not sleep all night long.”
On Tuesday night, I left another message at night. I mentioned that we saw rockets landing on both sides. “I wish you could get out of there right away,” I typed. Then a file came across. He sent me an English language article from a Turkish newspaper. It said the three Israeli teenagers whose deaths may have led to this fighting were killed in an accident, and Israelis hid their bodies. Later they claimed Hamas had killed the boys. I told him this is not the story the rest of the world has and I sent him an article from my MSN home page. I did admit Hamas did not take credit for the killing.
“Hamas said that they didn’t kill anyone. And they (Israel) want to start the war as usual. If Hamas rocketed 200, they rocketed more than 500 only for an hour.” I told him I would be upset everyday until he could get away from there. Then he called.
We spoke for 11 minutes and 04 seconds. He explained the dangerous situation his family and friends find themselves in. A few explosions were heard during the course of the call. At the time we were finishing the call it was the early morning hour he might be getting up for prayers. It is the holy month of Ramadan and the day begins early and the fasting lasts all day and well into the night. I suspect there is little prayer and contemplation as homes are being destroyed and women and children killed.
Of course, I know there are rockets landing on the other side, but you will see that the other side has a comparative lack of casualties. That’s because they have warning sirens, bomb shelters, missile defense systems. In comparison, the average person in Gaza is defenseless against the constant bombardment that the other side brings against anything it might think could be Hamas, whether it is home or work, school or mosque, café or restaurant. The proof that war is hell is everywhere in the poverty-stricken patch of the world called Gaza.
Wednesday began with some text messages as before. He sent a video across and asked me to watch. It was an explosion near his house. Another video showed small children, injured and bloody being carried from a site of play by the looks of the background. After a few exchanges about the videos, he called. We talked about the situation in Gaza. Odd to me is that people are not mad at Hamas. He tries his best to explain that to me. We talk of the sad history of Palestine. He shows me a Wikipedia article to help get some time frames correct. He also sends over a book whose merits I have yet to judge. We also talk of other things. In the midst of war, we can still dream of better times ahead for everyone. He wishes to return to his studies and be a student of languages. Now he is a prisoner, so to speak, in an overcrowded piece of land where most people are refugees from their own homes on land nearby.
I did not find him Thursday night online so I left a message. I checked Friday morning before work and found him online. We sent messages back and forth for a few minutes. He told me it was much worse there. I told him I would pray all day for peace, and I had to go so as not to be late for work. “Okay. Have a good day,” he wrote. In the midst of war he wishes me a good day.
That was the last message I had. As I write this for you on Saturday night, I have nothing more. He did like my status on facebook at some point on Friday. I wrote, “Pray for peace.”