When bombs are dropping all around you, do you embrace your wretched life, or pray for death? From Gaza, Horea shared her heart.
by Kathryn Shihadah, reposted from Patheos, Grace Colored Glasses, October 9, 2023
Americans, we can not hide our heads in the sand any longer. Today we learn from an expert what it’s like to sit through Israeli airstrikes.
Below is part of a conversation I had with my dear niece Horea, and a message she wanted me to pass on to you. Horea lives in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. She is 26 and lives with her parents and eight younger siblings.
She and I have been communicating for years via WhatsApp (shoutout to Google Translate). Every few weeks, my husband and I FaceTime with her family. We celebrate birthdays, Islamic holidays, and graduations together.
As soon as the escalation between Hamas and Israel began on Saturday, I contacted her (as always when the conflict heats up) to make sure everyone was okay (important background here).
For the first few hours after the incursion, Israel was so taken aback it didn’t know what to do – but we knew the quiet would not last. Mid-afternoon her time, the messages began to turn grim (lightly edited for clarity):
In fact, the situation now is very tense. The number of martyrs in Gaza now stands at about 198, including two journalists. A short while ago, the Palestine Tower was bombed with a reconnaissance missile.
The sound of planes flying in the Gaza Strip was loud.
Several times, she described the bombing of sites near her family’s home:
The sound of the bombing was very violent, and the house shook from it…
As I write now, I hear a very strong bombing sound that shook the house…
The Younes family home was targeted without warning in the Nuseirat camp [the refugee camp where Horea and her family live, population about 85,000 in 0.2 square miles].
Their house is approximately 200 meters away from us, and is attached to other houses, and near the agency’s schools. We felt a very strong shaking, and there are reports of martyrs and injuries.
She described the family’s attempt to help the children cope with their fear:
We are now gathered in one room, listening to the news on the radio and also through social media.
My brother Mahmoud always feels fear in every war, and we try to calm him down. He asks: “How does death feel? He cries. “I am afraid of dying.”
Mahmoud (age nine) does not want to eat anything and is very afraid. I tried to make him watch a movie until he forgets, but he still thinks about death, and asks: “What is death like, and what do we feel when we die?” His face is pale.
As for Samir and Heba (ages eleven and thirteen), they have passed this stage. They sit and watch the movie.
We try to alleviate their fear, support them, and tell them not to be afraid, the war will end soon.
I feel a strange and different feeling, a feeling of fear mixed with resignation, and sometimes I feel depressed and hopeless. Sometimes I wish I would die rather than live through all these wars.
A little later:
My phone is now 1%. I am waiting for the electricity to come on [they usually have 4 hours of power per day] to charge it, and I will be in touch with you.
I love you with all my heart.
The next time I heard from her was many hours later:
The bombing is still continuing today, and occupation aircraft are still flying intensely in the skies of the Gaza Strip.
We also now smell smoke. I think it is [white] phosphorus gas they threw into the sky today. I feel suffocated by it. My friend died from inhaling white phosphorus in the 2008 war.
Message from the Electricity Distribution Company: “The percentage of electrical deficit is approximately 80%, which calls us to issue an urgent appeal to the international community and human rights institutions to intervene quickly and urgently to stop the imminent collapse of vital sectors and exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”
A little later, this message:
An hour ago, they [the occupier] called a house approximately 40 meters away from us and warned that it would be bombed [the family evacuated].
We are still nervous now, since our house is made of asbestos and cannot withstand any bombing near it. We do not know what will happen to us? We are very afraid.
I hope the news is fake and nothing happens.
When I asked whether they could flee their home, she said:
We don’t know where to go!
We are sitting in a faraway room, and it will be less harmful than sitting in other rooms.
I asked how she was feeling emotionally. She said:
I have lived through many wars. I do not like war. I love peace, tranquility and life. I love that hope inside me that was pushing me to achieve the dreams I wished for.
We are dying slowly. In every war you die a little within. We try to restore things over time, but we cannot restore all of them. I am very afraid for my family, I am afraid that something will harm them.
I say as [Palestinian poet] Mahmoud Darwish said: “We love life if we can find a way to it.”
Then, as night approached in Gaza:
Praise be to God, we are still fine, but the sound of the bombing is very scary, darkness descends everywhere, and the electricity is cut off.
An hour ago, they bombed a house in our camp, resulting in martyrs and injuries.
The conditions are frightening and disturbing. I feel that the nerves in my brain have been damaged, and I feel chills in my body. I hope that the wars will end. I do not want to hear the sound of bombs, I want to hear the sound of birds singing.
The events that happened today are very terrifying and frightening. Many massacres occurred, and the most horrific massacre occurred in the Jabalia market while people were going to bring food and drink and secure their needs [so they can shelter in place]… and the bombing of adjacent houses, not distinguishing between one citizen or another.
I hope that the situation in Gaza will improve. The people of Gaza only want to live freely and in peace without wars, to be able to travel around their country, not to be prevented or searched, and not to feel humiliated everywhere. They treat the people of Gaza like monsters. Why?
The poet in Horea peeked out:
This life is like dying a thousand times every day.
We want the freedom to travel to any country.
To express our opinion.
To find a job opportunity.
To live free from siege.
To live a decent life.
We are in the 21st century and our electricity is still cut off!
All the psychological effects that the people experienced… and the crises led to the migration of young people…and also led many young people to commit suicide…
The occupation has not only shed our blood, but they also shed our souls.
The children of Gaza need psychological support in order to get rid of their spiritual pain. Many children have the problem of bedwetting and trauma that they will never forget.
It will remain engraved in memory, at a time when other children of the world engrave in their memories the most beautiful and happy days of their childhood.
Our children in Gaza grow up feeling their lives lack some essential thing.
People are dying of hunger every day.
People die after they’re denied the opportunity to travel for medical treatment abroad.
Pain all over Gaza.
There are prisoners dying behind prison bars, longing to hold their children… deprivation and hardship.
Violation of Al-Aqsa Mosque…preventing Palestinians from practicing their religious rituals, torture, killing, imprisonment of the innocent.
And the occupier is above international law.
Our Christian brothers are not spared from it – they are being harmed by this occupier whose humanity has disappeared.
In Gaza, they use internationally banned weapons. They throw white phosphorus into the atmosphere.
Painful memories and painful reality.
As a Palestinian citizen, I am for humanity and against the shedding of a single drop of blood.
I am for humanity and against racism.
The electricity in the Gaza Strip has been cut off, electricity will not come again, there is a scarcity of water, and there are people who have been displaced to UNRWA schools, and even the schools have not been spared from the occupation’s bombing.
We knew our time together was about to end, and we didn’t know when we would speak again. I asked her, before we lost communication, if she has a message – anything that was on her heart – to share with Americans. This is what she said:
My name is Horea and I am 26 years old. I have many dreams that I hope will come true.
I was just starting to write my master’s thesis, and I was very excited because I was starting to realize my dreams, but now I feel like death is getting closer.
I want you to read and feel my words.
I am a girl who loves life very much and seeks to achieve her dreams and to change the life of her family. The life I have lived is unlike any other life. I had lived through many wars since I was a child. I was very afraid. I was afraid of losing someone from my family. That feeling still haunts me in every war. I still hear the sound of my crying.
I am writing this letter with tears streaming down my cheeks. I took my blood pressure, it was very low and my heart was beating fast. I felt for a moment that death was approaching.
My little heart cannot bear war and cannot bear its dreams to die before its eyes.
Please stand with Gaza – Gaza under bombardment.
We can’t sleep at night. The sound of bombing is very frightening, and it gets worse at night. The smell of smoke is very bad. I feel like I cannot breathe.
We live the night in complete darkness. The sound of children crying. The sound of fear and pain is heard at night.
Every moment we die. How it frightens me to see massacres committed against defenseless citizens. [The occupier is] using forbidden weapons against us.
Wherever you are in the world, help us, stand with us.
Now the electricity will be cut off and will not return, and our communication with the world will be cut off. There is also a scarcity of water.
The situation in Gaza is worse than all imaginings.
I am writing to you from under bombardment, and I know that we love life, and we love peace.
Please…help us…convey a voice to the world.
I love you all..and I trust that you will not abandon us.
That was Monday. Since then, there has been only silence. They have no power, no fuel, possibly no water. No access to food. No comfort, no sleep, and no hope. Some in Gaza are praying to die – just to get it over with.
I can not imagine what Horea is going through right now. I can not imagine what her parents feel, unable as they are to protect their children.
This war is not Gazans’ first, but it is by far the worst. And why? Because they dared to fight back against their oppressor.
Grace Colored Glasses is Kathryn Shihadah’s blog on Patheos, an online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality. Kathryn is also an editor and staff writer for If Americans Knew, and occasionally blogs at Palestine Home.