There isn't much difference; perhaps there's none at all. The news, the sounds of bombings and explosions, the cries of children, the ruined streets, the tremors in our homes, the terrified and panicked calls – they're all the same. The only difference is that my hands are unable to touch my mother's, father's, and siblings' faces, even though my feet haven't stopped walking towards them for a single moment since the onslaught began. This is what always happens to me during every assault on Gaza from the moment I left, and it continues to be so up to the very moment I'm writing this. It's as if the war seizes me by the hand, crosses borders, checkpoints, crossings, airports, ships, countries, and the occupation, then thrusts me into the living room of our home in Gaza, without any say or control on my part.
This is what happens to me during every assault on Gaza since I left, and is happening to me now. It's as if the war seizes me by the hand, crossing borders, checkpoints, countries and the occupation, then thrusts me into the living room of our home in Gaza
Life at a standstill
Over 1,165 kilometers separate Gaza from Istanbul, yet this distance has not been enough to shield me from the dust of war, or its grim reality. From the very moment the Israeli planes started shelling Gaza, my life has come to a complete halt. It's as if I'm still there, sitting with my family in the living room, while the thunderous sounds and echoes of the bombing shake the house from right to left. My hands remain glued to the phone, my eyes wage a relentless battle against sleep, emerging as the victor – because how can I sleep? – but the TV screen defeats them, keeping me riveted there until the early hours of the morning. In my head, days have turned into numbers, and I keep counting. I've reached the number "5" so far, and I cannot stop. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't.
I go to work in the morning like an automated robot that moves only through pre-set programming. It knows the route well but not how. Friends speak to me, inquiring about my family and friends there, and one sentence keeps repeating itself ceaselessly, almost unconsciously, "Thank God, they're okay". Even though I know they're not okay. But what else can I say? How can I describe to someone – anyone – that my family is not okay even though they are?
I call my family dozens of times a day. And I stand, motionless in the street, by my room's window, wishing I were there, sitting with my mother at a table missing many things, telling her about the possibilities of the war ending, but none of that happens
If I were there
I call my family dozens of times a day. My mother tells me each time, "We're fine, don't worry about us, things are calm where we are." She repeats that sentence once, twice, and ten times every day, over and over, without tiring. She urges me to go to work, to continue with the 'canvas painting' of my life, even though I don't have any colors. My mother knows I have no colors, but she tries to overcome that. And I stand, motionless in the street, by my room's window, in front of my desk, wishing I were there, sitting with my mother at a table missing many things. I'd sit there and tell her about the possibilities of the war ending, but that doesn't happen.
If I were there, things would not have been much different. The same feeling of helplessness, the same desperate desire to do nothing, the same numbers constantly rising on the TV screen, and the same voices steadily rising inside my head
If I were there, things would not have been much different. The same feeling of helplessness, the same desperate desire to do nothing, the same numbers constantly rising on the TV screen, and the same voices steadily rising inside my head. The planes bomb the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza, Jalal Street, and Al-Mahatta Street in Khan Yunis, Al-Shabora neighborhood in Rafah, and I can't stop myself from being there. I look back to see the places as they bid me a final farewell, and with them, I bid farewell to the long nights spent with friends there, where we'd drink coffee, curse the politicians, and recite verses from Mahmoud Darwish's poem "In Praise of the High Shadow".
How alone you were
I have never been as alone as I am now – as alone as I have been since the 7th of October, as if all the places, friends, and memories have disappeared, exited through the door, never to return. It's as if things have lost their value, where their presence doesn't differ from their absence. I try to avoid that feeling every single day. My phone never rests, as I send messages to friends and acquaintances back home. I write the same usual words that were once directed at me, like, "Keep me updated. Are you safe?", "How are your loved ones?", "Are the strikes close to your area?" and many other sentences. I end all of them with the phrase, "Take care of yourself," though I can't fathom how someone sitting underneath a warplane – one that perceives the people below it as a "bank of targets" – can take care of themselves or genuinely ensure their own safety.
Planes bomb neighborhoods, and I look back at the places as they bid me a final farewell, and with them, I bid farewell to the long nights spent with friends there, cursing politicians and reciting verses from Mahmoud Darwish's poem "In Praise of the High Shadow"
I know war quite well; I've lived through it numerous times, to the point where I can distinguish between the types of bombs and shelling, and how far away they are. I'm completely aware of the dreams that war changes, and the warplanes that carry them far away. I'm fully aware of the conversations that war brings to family gatherings and phone calls with friends living far away. I've always been the one who directly experiences these changes, which is why I never noticed them before. But now, I observe them and understand them fully. I see them in the fear of family and friends, in the shift in the tones of their voices, in their conversations, and in the new dreams they had never thought about until after the war came.
Dreams from the time before the war can never be reclaimed during the war or after it. They transform into entirely different dreams with distinct details that seem strange and haunting, and require an entirely different understanding. Dreams also change multiple times during the war. I observe this every day in the conversations with friends in Gaza, with each tremor and wave of fear and with every new house they seek shelter in. They try to avoid it by jumping over their dreams, attempting to ask about my own dreams without realizing that my dreams, too, like theirs, have changed. They changed once and for all.
I can't find any suitable words when someone tells me they're scared. I don't know how to console those who have lost a sibling, a parent, a home. I've written 4 books, but now can't utter a single word. What good are words when missiles are falling from above?
The burden of inquiry
I never realized before that saying, "Hello, how are you?" could become a burden on the speaker. I always thought that the burden falls on the receiver, not the sender. But this war has shifted my perspectives and shaken everything I knew. I no longer know what this shame is that creeps over me when I ask people sitting underneath the rockets and next to them: "How are you?" I do not know how and when this shame seeped into me, as if being away from the homeland became a burden that I cannot bear, and a shame I can't manage. It's as if the salvation I once sought and believed I had achieved isn't really salvation, but something else that can only be described by the phrase: "A salvation that isn't salvation."
Gaza with me
Things haven't changed much, perhaps not at all. Even after two years of leaving the Gaza Strip, I still hear the sound of rockets falling next to me, feel the house shake with each strike, and sit in the room unable to do anything but follow the news. I caution my siblings not to leave the house and not to sit on the balcony. I put my phone on the charger, taking advantage of the temporary presence of electricity. Things haven't changed at all. I left Gaza, but it hasn't left me.. and it never will.
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