Comment | ‘Mama, why didn’t we die last time?’ Fear and Dignity in Gaza

In a highly moving piece, acclaimed Palestinian writer and director Ahmed Masoud reflects on the ongoing brutal Western-backed Israeli assault on Gaza. Palestinians are breaking out of their fears, he writes, and would rather live in dignity or not at all.

Arts & Culture, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Monday, November 19, 2012 16:53 - 4 Comments

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Ahmed Masoud’s son, Zino, with his cousins in his first visit to Gaza, October 2012 (photo: Ahmed Masoud/CF)

‘Mama, why didn’t we die last time?’

My sister had been describing to me how her 6-year-old son was feeling, but I didn’t hear anything once she had said this. I remained silent for a while, as she continued to talk on the phone describing the places that had been bombed so far. I could hear loud explosions in the background getting closer and closer. I wished her well and hung up the phone, delving deep into thoughts of the young boy who wished he weren’t alive.

I understand fear, and have lived it myself in the small tiny Gaza Strip of my childhood and my youth. But my fear had always been that I would be killed. My little nephew’s fear is that he would survive

There are numerous statistics that can be rolled out to write about and “explain” the situation in Gaza: on food shortages, medical supplies not allowed in, the lack of water and electricity, the years of endless siege, the death tolls, the injuries, the arrests, the assassinations. All of which are heartbreaking numbers that can put things into context. However, there are not enough surveys on how many people live in crippling fear, how much hope has been lost, how many children wet their beds every night, how much anger all of this creates everyday.

For the first time, I don’t know what to write. Maybe I am becoming like my nephew, wishing I weren’t alive to witness the same oppression happening over and over again, the same scenario, the same elections, the same attacks, the same political propaganda, the same faces of Israeli military spokespeople with their well-trained media briefings and their perfect American accents, the same BBC “journalists” interviewing Israelis sitting in Tel Aviv, sipping coffees and munching on their croissants, followed by the same hurried clips of angry Palestinians whose neighbours’ house had just been flattened, whose children are now dead.

I am still here in London, thousands of miles away from my family in Gaza’s Jabaliya Refugee Camp, not wanting to go to bed at night in case something bad happens to them and I hear about it in the morning news, hiding myself from people, spending hours on news channels, facebook and twitter, trying to keep on top of every single piece of news that comes from there. I find myself a refugee into the pages of the internet, searching and searching endlessly for my identity.

But I pick up the phone again and speak, to dad this time. Surprisingly, his voice is very strong and he is talking very fast. I am not sure why he is so cheerful. What could possibly lift his spirit amongst all the destruction?

“We are still alive my son!”

He spoke of his excitement that the Egyptian Prime Minister, Hesham Qandeel, has visited Gaza. He said that he never wanted the Egyptians, or anybody else, to “fight our fight” (“We have enough men to do it!”); he merely didn’t want them to be against us. As we were talking, breaking news came through that the resistance shot down an F16; he clapped, my mum ululated.

I asked him if this was going to help. He said no; “Israel has a strong army!”. But then he added “We have tried everything and nothing else helped. We stopped the firing of projectiles, we went to the U.N to be recognised as a state, we talked to everyone in the world about our suffering and nothing helped”.

Then he said that ‘the Israelis should now either kill us all, or stop this once and for all and allow us our right to exist. They should stop chasing us in the slums of our refugee camps’.


Ahmed Masoud’s great aunt, deported in 1948 from Deir Sneid village (now merged into the Israeli town of ‘Ashkolon’) (photo: Ahmed Masoud/CF)

It’s hard to hear the word ‘Death’ from two close people, from a 6-year old nephew and your 66-year-old father. But for some reason it didn’t feel very depressing. For some reason I suddenly “got it” this time. People in Gaza are breaking out from this state of nothingness, they can no longer remain trapped in the shadows of Israeli politics, they would rather live in dignity or not at all.

It is sad to get to this stage, of course, but, as my father describes it, “it is sadder still to remain cornered in our small ‘safest’ room in the house, wondering when the next Israeli bomb will fall”.

Like him, I find myself writing differently this time, not about death and numbers but about our right to a dignified life. I will break my silence and say that we have the right to exist and resist.

Everyone says that Israel has the “right” to self defence. Well, we have a right to exist. As long as no one recognises my homeland, as long as I don’t have an identity, dismissed as a “refugee” with no state or borders, with no say over my own future, I will continue to exist as a reminder that I have a land there, somewhere in Palestine, that had been stolen. I have the right to demand it back.

The West has given support to revolutions across the Arab World, yet fails to support a nation that has been under bombardment for more than 64 years. The U.K wants to arm rebels in Syria yet gives the green light for Israel to launch an air assault on Gaza’s defenceless civilians. To the US and to the UK, I have the right to say “your colonial project hasn’t succeeded and never will”.

I have the right of return. My three year old son has the right of return. And no one in the world will deny us that. Like my people in Gaza, we don’t want a ceasefire that will bring us yet more humiliation, we want a peace that will give us back our dignity.

Ahmed Masoud

Ahmed Masoud is a Palestinian academic, writer and director. In 2005, he founded the Al-Zaytouna dance and theatre group. With award-winning British writer/director Justin Butcher he co-wrote/directed the successful play Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (2009) staged in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe and the BBC Radio 4 play 'Escape from Gaza'. He is the co-director of Unto the Breach. He was a recent winner, with his novel 'Gaza Days' at the British Muslim Writers Awards 2011. His website is www.ahmedmasoud.co.uk.

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4 Comments

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ess ahmad
Nov 19, 2012 18:40

heart breaking pice.

Peace
Nov 19, 2012 22:58

Thank you for this moving insight.

Jessica Sager
Nov 20, 2012 6:32

Excellent, thank you for sharing so candidly. My thoughts are with your family tonight.

Rebecca Sowray
Nov 22, 2012 13:43

Thank you friend for this. Keep going.

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