Being from Gaza these days is a burden. Everyone who knows me is asking about my family. And all I can answer is how they were four days ago when I could reach them last. They have no electricity now, and I can only hope they are alright.
I can tell you how they were when I last checked on them.
My cousin Rabah's house was hit directly by an Israeli strike. This is tragic irony. Rabah opposes Hamas deeply. But missiles do not care about such things.
His brother Yehia, also a critic of Hamas, is a local journalist. His office was hit.
My sister Niveen and my uncles Ahmad, Ala'a and Kamal have all relocated to my parents' house. My uncle Ala'a is especially worried. He is wheelchair-bound, and walking up and down the rubble is simply not an option for him.
Mazin was in a bad mood, an unusual state for my eldest brother. As he sat in the street watching Israeli bombs shower the area, he pondered how they really have no safe place to go. Mazin smoked his hookah like it would be his last.
Until seven days ago, Beit Lahia, our town, had been relatively safer. My family's five-story home suffered substantial damage. In addition, my family's neighborhood mosque was one of the 70 hit by Israel. Seventeen worshipers lost their lives as they were praying. Abu Mazin, my father, is probably not surprised by the worsening situation. He often said, "The past is the good part. At least we know how painful it was. The future is scary because it always gets worse for us Palestinians." He also told me that our town has been hit by what he can only describe as a time machine that took them 50 years backward.
My mother asked me two things. The first is to pray for them, and the second is to forgive them if they have done me wrong, a routine gesture for Muslims facing death. She told me that going to sleep without knowing if she is going to wake up or not is not something she wishes upon anyone, even the pilot of the plane who may launch the fatal missile. She uttered an Arabic proverb that basically says, "Dying along with the people you love eases the suffering." It was not comforting to say the least.
Three days ago, I read my cousin's name on the internet, Amal (Arabic for Hope). She was 22 years old. Standing at the kitchen sink, she was fatally wounded. A sniper shot her in the head and she fell to the ground on Omar, my nephew who told me the story, was mortified. Amal passed away when her heart gave up.
Not everyone was gloomy. Mahmoud, my younger brother and the prankster in the family, teased his newlywed friend. "Their honeymoon will be short-lived," he told me, "interrupted by Barak, Livni and Olmert."
Last time I visited Gaza was in 2005. Things were bad then, and they are only worse now. I cannot recall a scarier time than this for my home. I read recently that Israel killed over 46 Palestinians seeking refuge at a school in my town. My father is a teacher there. Until I find out who was among the casualties, I will hold on to what I heard 4 days ago.
It is only proper that while Americans are celebrating the powerful message behind the concepts of "Change" and "Hope" with the election of Barack Obama, my family in Palestine is mourning the death of "Hope."
In the meantime, my sister-in-law just had a baby girl whose miraculous timing proves to me and to that rest of the world that out of the ashes of death and destruction, new life and new hopes are reborn and restored to a land and its people. I was also told that the new baby has yet to be given a name. I would propose calling her Palestine, out of the purest of hopes and deepest of convictions that after such a birth, a birth which took place in the midst of hardship and tribulation, Palestine will eventually get up, rise to her feet and proudly stand as the beautiful woman that she is and has yet to become.