No graduation ceremony. No gifts. No balloons. No photos. No cakes. No guarantee that all graduates can attend.
I can’t stop staring at her photo in my phone gallery. Wearing a bright smile, my classmate Zainab al-Qolaq proudly carries her painting of birds flying high in the sky. “The sky is our limit,” she wrote as a caption. But what if the sky of our city is lit up by rockets and explosions roar in our ears that there’s a limit: a scythe that claims our being? And it is very close, closer than ever. I had been avoiding sleeping with my family in the living room until my sister told me that not wanting to die doesn’t mean you won’t die. At least, when I sleep with my family members in the same room, I am not going to lose the privilege of dying together, the privilege that my classmate lost. Her mom, two of her brothers, and sister were killed in a direct airstrike at their residential building. The rest of the family, including Zainab, are still alive. When I knew she was in the operating room, frantically, I checked our WhatsApp chatting group and read every message she sent during war again.
“I am afraid that I won’t be able to witness another morning.”
“My building is insanely shaking.”
Then I realized that my hope of being a war survivor for the fourth time was pretty naïve. It was only an opiate that made me forget the fact that I am also living in the jaws of death. In fact, everyone dies alone, but no one dies alone in Gaza: not only because Israel is wiping out entire families, but also in the sense that death became part of each one of us. I am crying for Zainab’s family. I am crying for my neighbor, and also for myself. I feel that I am ending and dying a little with everyone being killed here.
I am expecting to graduate from university this semester; I have spent four years studying English language and literature. My friend told me sarcastically that if we stayed alive, we would also graduate from the university of wars, as we are currently living the fourth war in Gaza. But what can a person learn from war? I am not sure if that is a lesson, but now I know very well that my Palestinian blood is cheap and my fate doesn’t interest anyone. The US State Department spokesperson refused to condemn the killing of Palestinian children by Israel and asserted that Israel has the right to defend itself. How can children threaten Israel? The Biden administration approved a $735 million weapons sale to Israel. Why does Israel accept paying these financial costs of the war for a relatively small threat and without preparing a bank of targets? In fact, Israel doesn’t really care, as this war is paid for by US taxes.
My seven-year-old brother practices reading by reading the breaking news on the TV screen. I tried to distract his attention by telling him a story. But he told me that it’s not the appropriate time for my stories. It’s excruciating seeing him pronouncing war and military vocabulary; it broke my heart when he asked me about the difference between rockets, missiles, and mortars. Today, he asked me to film a video of him reading the news and send it to his teacher. He said she will be proud of him because he can read “hard” words. I thought maybe he isn’t aware of the fact of war yet until he asked me later not to sleep until I am sure he is asleep because he is afraid.
After an Israeli air raid flattened Al-Jalaa building, I hadn’t had access to the internet for two days. Many friends sent me messages to ask about what’s going on.
“Malak, I want to check on you; are you and your family okay?”
When I am not active on social media, my friends know that I am probably not in the mood. So they ask about how I feel, but in the times of war, it’s stupid to do so. Everyone is in a tense psychological state. Everyone has lost one of their relatives, friends, or acquaintances. My sister works, as a doctor at Al-Shifaa Hospital. She was obligated to go to her work on foot as Israeli warplanes destroyed the main roads leading the hospital. When my dad called her to make sure she arrived to her workplace safely, she told him desperately that Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of internal medicine and COVID response in Gaza, was killed with his family in missile strikes on his neighborhood.
Israeli warplanes targeted my favorite coffee shop, Maldives, on the beach of Gaza City. The roads leading to my university were obliterated. One of Gaza’s best bookshops, Samir Mansour, has been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombs. It was the first place I would go when I finished finals to buy some books to read during summer holidays. Nothing is left, even memories. When this is over, nothing will return as it was, even when rebuild the city again. The crux of the matter is our attitude toward life. The core of life has fallen apart.
I don’t need a crystal ball to know this will keep happening again and again. And I am sure that Israeli settlers will keep chanting “Death to Arabs,” and they won’t stop expanding illegal settlements. They will keep murdering us, and then calling us murderers. Many other Israeli flare-ups in violence will erupt in the future. In fact, I believe that nothing will change if Israel is still the United States’s spoiled baby and has its long-standing impunity for war crimes. There’s so much pain, always here, whirring constantly beneath the membrane of our life. But the Gazans are not “adept”at coping whatsoever. And between grief and anger, they will take anger.