For the first time in twenty-two days the Earth woke up without a start. Even though the sky was spotted with a few randomly dispersed clouds, it was bereft of the disturbing tones of the overhead drones which had now disappeared. The earth had woken peacefully, peacefully enough not to bear with the frighteningly gigantic burden of a new bomb to be dropped onto her surface bestowing on her some savagely massive shake. Peacefully enough not to endure the deafeningly immense sound of another bomb tearing down through its stratums. The earth had woken peacefully enough not to feign warm-heartedness as she embraces a new lifeless body laid into her deepness, and peacefully enough not to feel the insufferable pain of watching herself fight a losing battle against a huge bulldozer mercilessly extirpating a new sapling that had just issued from her sand. The earth had not woken with a start to mournfully open her arms for a new falling bird that had failed to estimate the looming dangers of flying amidst a sky that covered an unbending race of humans: the bird flew so as to bring his brood a few seeds to feed upon and yet had to pay the inexorable bill of love and care. The earth had woken peacefully, and peace obviously had known its way through the countless bullets, rockets, mortars and bombs which had been horrifyingly raining on this part of the earth, and, it seemed, it had finally been able to guide itself through the jet-black darkness of the multiple graves. Peace, as far as one could tell, had flown out from the bottomless earth up to the very heights of the sky where the soaring birds could finally replace the awful scene of mighty jets and warplanes.
It, however, seemed to have been only yesterday. Life hasn’t yet acquired any sense of itself being a life to be joyously lived, cherished, appreciated… It is rather a life to be passed through disinterestedly, the winner of which is that who is plagued with the least amount of harm, stress, anger and humiliation. The presence of a war in my life has always been a needed source of underlying power and a paradoxically eye-opening experience to persist with my life and persevere its sardonically ruthless occurrences. Recalling its particularities has always made me think how playful and emotionlessly indifferent to mortifying injustice I was. Indeed, I was domesticated to accept it without even being conscious of the demeaning world I lived in, or even noticing the mere fact that I was subjected to a terribly base injustice. That was how I used to be before, and even during, the war that took place.
Two years later, when I look back on it now, I cannot but severely chide myself for the selfishly devised system by which I lived through the war. Though it spared my life and, and by sticking to its oppressive minutes, I was stopped from going mad, I was undoubtedly egoistical and awfully inconsiderate to the suffering of others. Not that I was not a direct victim of war, plagued with all sorts of traumatic suffering on top of my relentless psychological struggle. From 5:00 pm, the moment I was to be abandoned by everybody else (socializing in war was by far the best procedure everybody took up to survive together, and in case death was in prospect, die together), I left alone despairingly fighting back all vicious thoughts and images that assailed my already wearied mind. The would last until dawn when, consumed by fear and grief, I would fall asleep. This, however, never prevented my admonitory remarks on my being self-absorbed and wrapped up in that system of mine designed to help me make it through, in that I could have achieved more than just surviving. Retrospectively, shame and guilt are the ultimate outcome I am left with now. Nothing yet is so dear a blessing and more precious a gift than living through a war and surviving it. War and blood are inseparable; for, as humans, war has blood running in its veins: if you stop blood shedding, you kill war.
One of the most vivid memories of the war, like most of my other war memories, took place on the first day. Every moment was replete with thoughts, images, anecdotes, statistics which were to be an underlying motif of the ensuing days. In an upstairs room faintly lit with a candle, I along with two other friends, seated around a small table, listened apprehensively to the news on the radio (though I am not certain of it, but it seems to me it was Al-Shabab radio station). We unwisely started to speculate the right number of the dead victims of the first day. I was very infuriated and raged at the pessimistically “exaggerated” number of one of my fellows and the anxious state he precipitated in me with his “bad” speculations. I can still recall it with dispiriting clarity as though it was said just before an instant. He said it won’t be less than 85. I was soon to find out that the actual number was vastly greater…
It was also on this day that I came to foresee the inexorable need to develop a stilted habit of “stay still” and “don’t duck”. It was very tough on me since I simply needed to challenge the common rules of normal functioning. But, in our society, bold and virile, we looked at it quite differently since we were brought up to think that a man (a real man) should be not only courageous but completely fearless. You should either wholly “purge” yourself of any feelings of fear and cowardice, or else suppress them deep down and lock them up. He who discloses the least sign of fear—or as is the case with me—any fearful reaction is not a man. Once caught, he would soon be sneered and laughed at. And so I impotently trained myself not to produce any reaction whatsoever when the neighborhood was being blatantly bombarded. Each time we were in anticipation of a bomb, I had to play the scenario and hear the bomb tens of times in my mind before it took place in truth. For sure, that wasn’t less distressing than the bomb itself. There were times, however; when to my relief, I could detach myself from the group and “enjoy” the bomb as I could finally give way to my suppressed fear.
Though despicable and unimportant, such a prosaic and politically eventful life is all we have to give today for those who had given it already. It was rather maliciously stolen from them in an unguarded moment, but they are gone. And what we’re left with, besides the poignantly lifeless present is their memories: a mother sniffing the scarf of her eldest son; a father hopelessly clinging to the images of his little playful daughter down the corridor to the home, a sister gulping back her tears as she leafs through her siblings’ album, a young man walking down the same street by himself without his friend, a schoolboy averting his eye’s from the vacant seat on his side…
Today we honor these memories and cherish them. Today we recall them in each chaotic sound a machinery produces, in each teacher’s whip of a loitering student, in each honk of a peddler’s cart, in each driver’s curse of the very doctor who delivered him to life, in each of my father’s moments, a state employee, as he counts the days separating him from 5th of the next month, and in each prayer an old woman utters after midnight.
Today we remain true to their memories as we swear to hang on to our sacred message of the olive branch. To grow it anew each time a mindless man comes along to extirpate it. To boldly refuse injustice and oppression. To say “No!” at the top of our lungs when our voices are stifled. To never despair and keep on trying to break free of the tyrannical manacles placed around our hands and legs. To cuddle the sand and tightly embrace the oranges when we’re separated. Today, we whisper to them in our prayers an oath of allegiance: allegiance to none but the land: we either live on this land or die on it.
In memory of all the victims of the Gaza War 2008/2009
Mohammed Rabah Suliman