By Nadya Siyam
Ceasefire. The bombs have stopped for now, and Palestinians in Gaza, my home, are slowly coming up for air, grateful they made it out alive. Many of us lost loved ones, our homes. I may be young, but I have now survived four of Israel’s wars on Gaza. You might say we have collective PTSD, but here, the trauma is never post; it’s ongoing.
My city looks like a scene from a horror film; rubble all around, families mourning the parents, children, and siblings killed. 91,000 Palestinians in Gaza are now homeless, living in UN schools and mosques. Roads, clinics, and apartment and office buildings were wiped out entirely.
These US-funded bombs ripped apart our entire world. Gaza is literally our entire world, because for fifteen years, Israel has imposed an illegal blockade, sealing us off from the rest of the world and trapping us inside, without access to clean water or enough food, medicine and electricity. Before the latest bombs fell, we were already living in hell.
The devastation is so extreme that we haven’t had time to think about how the pandemic is ravaging Gaza, or about how Israel just bombed our only covid testing lab and killed the doctor leading covid treatment at our largest hospital. This kind of destruction would take years to rebuild even if we had the resources, but we don’t.
Worse than the damage to our surroundings is the damage to our psyche. This time, Israel bombed Gaza more ferociously than ever before. Scenes from last week — and even previous years — keep replaying in my head. No one should have to adapt to this reality, but we have no choice. Every time Israel bombs Gaza, we experience the attacks in phases.
When the bombs first drop, we go into shock. We feel angry at being cut off from our normal lives. During phase two, we adapt to our new reality. We secure our essentials. We buy food we can store and keep our phones charged since Israel targets infrastructure and the electricity may go out. We ration water. Every family gathers essential documents in case we have to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
At stage three, we feel apathy, or maybe it’s a trauma response I don’t have a name for. We’ve witnessed several lifetimes worth of horrors in a few days so we no longer feel shocked. We simply sit and wait to live or die.
I’ll share with you what a day under Israel’s bombs looks like so you can get a glimpse of what Gaza’s two million Palestinians live with. This is our collective story.
May 16th. I wake up around 9 A.M., after three hours of sleep constantly interrupted with the sounds of bombing. Each time I wake, I scroll through the news to check where the bombing took place, realize it’s not near enough for me to worry and go back to sleep again.
I wake up again and log onto social media to see up-to-date photos. Our city has this magical tendency to transform daily. Every day we wake up to find ourselves in a new city, or rather, the remains of a city, thanks to the airstrikes. I zoom in and out of the rubble, trying to recognize the streets. My heart stops. My neighborhood was hit, my brother’s kindergarten now a pile of ash and debris.
I scroll. My friends congratulate each other for staying alive. Each of them swears they never believed they would make it to daylight. I check the account of a girl around my age, Riham Al-Kolak. She wore a confident smile in her profile picture, and in her last post wrote, “Please God have mercy on us. We can’t take it anymore.” She was killed, along with 21 members of her family, from an infant to a 90-year-old.
Last words are something I think of often. I wonder what my last words might look like. In hers, I search for a sign. Familiarity. A prophecy. Did she have a feeling she might be killed? Will I know when I’m Israel’s next target? None of us know, but we’re hyper-vigilant, trying to find some way to feel in control of our lives.
A deafening bomb. All my siblings run to the living room. My 7-year-old brother throws himself into my lap. He hugs me tight and begins to reassure me that “It’s okay. It’s far away, near the sea.” I don’t know if he is saying this to reassure me or himself. His body is shaking, but he repeatedly tells me “It’s okay.” I guess he is trying to comfort me like we used to comfort him. At the beginning, we would tell him that the sounds were far away, or just construction. But now he, like every child in Gaza, can tell the difference between F-16s, F-35s, drones, the iron bomb, artillery and gunboats. He can tell how close the bombs are to our house, but as we once lied to comfort him, he too now lies.
In Gaza, night falls suddenly. Once the sun sets, like domino pieces, the hours fall one by one into the heart of darkness in a blink of an eye.
9 P.M. Blink.
10 P.M. Blink.
12 A.M. Blink.
The curtains open.
My siblings and I rush to my parent's bedroom. Their bed, normally too small to hold three people, now generously holds seven. We hold each other tightly. I shut my eyes tightly as if my life depends on it.
The bombing gets closer. The house is shaking heavily, the bed is shaking and our bodies are shaking. Closer. It’s here. We hear sounds of glass and debris. An all-engulfing terror possesses my body. I freeze. My tears involuntarily fall. I can no longer shut my eyes or blink; they just freeze open with surrender.
Outside, everything is red. Hellfire is coming for us. The sound is a never-ending cycle of horror. My sister reminds us to say our “shahada,” words you utter when you’re about to leave the earth. But we have already done so, silently.
We wait. We die. We don’t. We live. We don’t. We die. We live.
Nadya Siyam is a 21-year-old Palestinian student living in the Gaza Strip studying English and Literature at the International University of Gaza. Nadya also works as a translator and proofreader at the University College of Applied Sciences.