By Mohammed Rafik Mhawesh, contributer to A Land With A People
Life has become rose-colored since I nestled my newborn son in my arms, tightened him to my heart, and listened to his soft, cuckoo-bird voice cry. For Israel’s rule, however, he’s just another unfortunate: stone-thrower, terrorist. Rafik and I are living different, but similar versions of the same life under constant fear. His childhood is likely to closely follow my own, and those of every one of my family, and every child born and raised in Palestine. Everyone has their own ledgers of violence. Their own memories of horrible, childhood-wrecking moments.
Over two decades now of hardship and oppression in Gaza, through the rumbling of warplanes and surveillance drones, the routine of sleepless nights, the thumping restless heartbeats, continuing attempts of displacement and erasure, we are challenged to stand solid. Four months and one-war-old already, Rafik started to count his own, too.
Tragedy is my lifelong companion, as is it for thousands like me here in the strip. Somehow, it all feels like a direct, relentless attack on all our childhoods. What should have been early normal school days, I recall with memories of rockets falling. The images of death are mostly blurry — but the fear I felt when I fled school in hope to escape the violent assaults on my city, my legs running, directionless, all remain vivid.
If I had known what life would be like in Gaza under siege, I would have swooped back into my mother’s womb. So would Rafik. Gaza children have lost school friends, neighbors, relatives. Loved ones and families. Entire families. And not all directly to bombs and bullets: destined to be Gazan meant they were not permitted to exit this land even to access much-needed medications and treatment. Or to travel. Or to live, even for a little bit.
My grandparents were among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were driven into exile by the Haganah and Irgun militias, the predecessors of today’s Israeli military, in a pre-meditated and calculated campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjugation. Since then, our reality has become a labyrinthine web of diverse, yet interlocking violence designed to degrade and reduce our presence to the status of inferior people. Many more Palestinians lived and died in what has become for millions a permanent exile, despite the guarantees in international law of their right to return to home.
We, the subsequent generations of Palestine, take great pride in saying we’re Palestinian citizens, sons, and fathers — but not out of jingoistic patriotism, or national arrogance, but because it has become an imperative assertion amid the systemic violence designed to erase our identity and presence in toto. Right now, over a half of the overall Palestinian population is in exile and diaspora. My son and I are among those remaining Palestinians who can still bear witness to Palestine and feel it in person, even if only a limited part of it.
My expectation for my son to be able to travel freely between the other fragmented parts of our homeland is countered by the oppressive violence of Israel’s military systems. I say systems because the Israeli military goes beyond soldiers in combat…
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