A day after Israel ended its assault in Gaza Strip, my family (like countless other civilians) finally returned to the ruined remnants of their former lives and homes. The homes they left behind are now nothing more than bits and pieces of rubble. The houses and apartment buildings were abandoned and left to the mercy of Israeli bombing and the military invasion that followed. After days of not being able to communicate with members of my family thanks to the continuous shortages of electricity, I finally managed to get through. Here is what members of my family returned to:
Uncle Shakir still can't manage to live in his home since debris from missiles and bombs occupy the entirety of his living room. He especially mourns the complete destruction of his personal library where he says he lost thousands of dollars in rare and out of print books (his feeling is not shared with his students.)
My older sister, Samah, found her newly built home in bad shape: shells and ammunition now decorate the façade, and her wedding bedroom set was turned to ashes.
My 14 year old niece, Wala'a, recently had a nightmare in which her mom was killed by an Israeli airstrike. For days, she and the other twelve family members who shared a small room together were sleep deprived and found no relief in the constant shelling.
Three out of four homes in our immediate neighborhood have lost a loved one; the fourth now stands without a roof. My mother's girlfriends confess to her (in the most confidential terms) that although they are grown women, they have wet their pants out of a fear of death on numerous occasions these past three weeks.
The rise of amputees throughout Gaza has sky-rocketed at such an alarming rate that my mother has altered her daily prayers and supplications to include simple things like: "Thank you for my arms and legs, and for my children who still have their arms and legs."
Grandpa says that people are so disoriented that they no longer recognize each other. "Three weeks of straight carnage, destruction, and horrors can only rob people of their innocence and sense of consciousness." Dad had worries of his own: his 33 grandchildren gathered around him hoping he would to keep them safe, something he promised them he would do. But I think he said it best when he told me: "If I can't even keep myself safe, how can I give them what I don't have??"
In Gaza now, the loss of a dear family member because of the recent invasion does not automatically call for a funeral. "You only have one of those if your entire family is gone," said uncle Ahmad, who lost his 22 year old daughter to an Israeli sniper as she stood in her kitchen. Now people "funeral pool," where every area has one large consolidated funeral to serve an entire block.
Friends, supporters, and sympathizers of the Palestinian people and their struggle to survive want them to be a race of men and women with super-human abilities that can bear it all; the irony is that our opponents think we are nothing more than a race of sub-humans.
A day before the ceasefire took effect; my father was an eyewitness to how easily American-made weapons could rattle his town like an earthquake. I just had one question for my old man: Do the people hate the Americans now that they've given their unconditional support to Israel? His response: "We do not hate anyone right now, we are disappointed! After all, we haven't forgotten that written on the flour we eat are the following words: 'A Gift from the American people'." Despite the fact that American-made weapons are razing towns like mine and thus paving the way for the aid trucks to come, American generosity makes Gazans look the other way. I guess that's exactly what needs to happen in order for America to actually help people in this world.
With a "sustainable" ceasefire now in place and a new administration in the White House the worst is now behind us; we've hit rock bottom and the only direction left to build is up towards a better future. You would have to be crazy to deny that the Gaza Strip has seen more than its fair share of death, destruction and suffering. Now is the time to show my Gaza family that America is more than just a warehouse of Apache Helicopters and F-16 bombers. Now is the time to show them that America's power and might is not in its weapons, but in its heart and soul, its ideals, and the selflessness of its people. Things can change. Things must change. After all, if this great country can elect Barack Obama president, then it can also transform hearts and minds in Gaza with its overwhelming compassion and goodwill.