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Diary of a war: A journey home

Nov. 27, 2012 6:57 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 28, 2012 7:55 P.M.)
By: Ahmed Ferwana
This is the first in a series of journal entries documenting life in Gaza during Israel's Operation Pillar of Cloud.

November 14

Smiling from exhaustion as I wished my colleagues and students a good weekend, I left the American International School in Gaza, where I teach language and literature, to my apartment on al-Shuhada Street -- which I consider the most beautiful road in the Gaza Strip.

It was a lovely Wednesday, followed by a three-day vacation, and I made a plan to meet some friends for a barbeque.

Suddenly, I heard noises in the street. I looked out the window, curious about the loud ambulance sirens and firetrucks, to see journalists rushing out of a nearby building. I checked local news websites to investigate what was happening. A few minutes later, the mystery was solved.

At 4 p.m. on Nov. 14, Israeli forces assassinated the leader of the al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas, Ahmed al-Jaabari. Foreseeing the coming instability, I could do nothing but humbly lay my paralyzed body on the bed, and unintentionally I collapsed into my pillow falling in a pessimistic sleep.

Hours later, I woke to a phone call from my terrified mother, her voice weakened by worry and anxiety, begging me to leave my apartment in Gaza City and head to Rafah so I could be with the family through the anticipated hardship.

I told her that first thing in the morning I would get myself together and head down to Rafah, a city bordering Egypt with hundreds and hundreds of tunnels sure to be on the target list of Israel’s warplanes.

I spent the night planning, for I knew that traveling to Rafah from Gaza City would not be a road of roses. In fact, going to Rafah at that time would be an innocent attempt to escape death on a road shadowed with death; a time marked by the initiation of Israel’s military operation against Gaza: "Pillar of Cloud."

I sensed sudden changes within myself; deep thinking, strategic planning, wise judgments, calculating percentages of survival. All of a sudden, I transformed from a regular individual seeking a normal life to an eager survivor trying to stay alive in a war.

I was in a neighborhood that is relatively safer and less-targeted by Israeli airstrikes, yet I was empowered by the desire to be with my family in a house close to the borders with Egypt -- less than half a mile from heavy Israeli airstrikes on the tunnels.

Luckily, I found a bewildered, anxious taxi driver as I walked through the empty streets of Gaza City, a ghost town, and I finally made it to my family’s house around 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15.

November 15

Victorious! Yes, victorious was how I felt seeing the happy faces of my family members circling me and asking about any difficulties I faced on my way home. Victorious was how I felt when I was hugged through a rainbow of thanks directed to the lord of the skies for bringing me home safely.

That blast of joy was horribly interrupted by a nearby explosion that shook the house for a few seconds. My parents, four brothers, two sisters, three nephews and two nieces were all silenced for a moment; then, I chose to act quickly and kill the silence, saying, “Gazan’s got talent! Even the house is belly dancing!”

The whole family started laughing at my silly comment, and my little nephews and nieces started jumping and laughing as I played around with them.

At that moment, I felt helpless, defeated, and above all, less victorious.

How could I be victorious if deep down in my heart I know the destructive power of war is right around the corner? How could I be victorious when I know the most I could do in this war is say a bunch of reassuring words that might make my family less terrified, worried, or depressed? How could I be victorious when I knew that I can’t protect myself in this war let alone protect my family? How could I be victorious when I knew Gaza was going to turn into a pool of blood and I’d be nothing but a blind lifeguard?

Nothing could stand in the way of that trail of questions except an indescribable smile from one of my little nephews who approached me with his arms wide open; as if he was saying, "I understand what you’re going through! Take it easy and hug it out!"

I thought of that as an act of innocent courage from a little kid during a time of unknown destiny; an act that melted my heart and made me challenge my inner feelings. I started thinking, "What should I do, shield them inside and smile unaffected, or let those eyes of mine blink a goodbye to a river by their edges?"

And I forgot myself hugging him until he started pushing himself back -- alerting me that he needed to breathe away from my conflicted thoughts.

Ahmed Ferwana is a language and literature teacher at the American International School in Gaza.
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