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Sunday, July 20

Letter from Gaza: The story of my grief
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Motasem A Dalloul 
Israeli warplanes do not leave the skies of the Gaza Strip even at the time of truce. Almost every day unmanned or jet warplanes fly overhead. From time to time these planes target farmland, factories, workshops and houses.
People in the Gaza Strip have become acquainted with the sounds of these planes and their attacks; it has become normal for them. However, at my house, the situation is different. Whenever my wife and nine children hear the sound of Israeli warplanes they are immediately shocked. They have had a number of bad experiences they associate with these sounds.
Seven times in this current Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, Israeli warplanes have attacked my house, my farmland and my dairy farm. Each time these attacks either completely or partially destroy my house. My wife, my children and my brothers' families, whose apartments are in the same building as me, are shocked and wounded.
The first time the Israeli warplanes attacked my house and my dairy farm was in the 2008/2009 war. Three days into the war, when the Israeli occupation had killed more than 600 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,500, the Israeli occupation army phoned my eldest brother at noon and asked him to evacuate the whole building within five minutes.
Immediately, more than 60 residents, my nine members of family and the families of my seven brothers, left two adjacent buildings, one of which included my dairy farm on the first floor. We could take nothing, not even clothes and important documents, from our houses. Within less than half a minute, we, about 60 members of the extended family, became homeless.
Several months later I rebuilt my house with my dairy farm about 50 metres away from my house. I started to work in my dairy farm. One night in April 2010 my wife and all my children went to their grandmother's house. I slept alone at home. Just one hour after I went to bed, I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion that blasted big holes in the kitchen of my apartment, which was on the third floor, a big hole in the ceiling of my children's room and another big hole in the guest room. I looked from the window to find that an F16 rocket had flattened my new dairy farm to the earth.
The problem was that my children refused to return home after I had repaired my apartment. They told me to build my farm far away. It was difficult but in the end I fulfilled their demand and had it built in Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. In fact, I do not know why the Israeli occupation attacked my house and my farm several times.
Once a Maltese journalist asked me why Israeli warplanes attack my house and dairy farm. I told him he had to ask the attackers who carry out the attacks. He replied: "They say they attack rocket factories." In fact, his answer shocked me because every time mass media cover the attacks and report what they see there is only rubble and cheese and yogurt manufacturing machines.
After the third, fourth and fifth times the Israeli warplanes attacked my dairy farm in Khan Younis, they attacked my farm shop in Deirul-Balah in the middle of the Gaza Strip just a few months later. No human casualties came of the attack, but the buildings and machines were destroyed.
I rebuilt my dairy farm beside my house and left the Gaza Strip in 2011 to study an MA in international journalism in London. I left my eldest brother running the farm. In July 2012 I received a telephone call from my family telling me that the farm had been attacked and most of the family members had suffered severe shock and panic attacks. I went back in October to rebuild my house.

Now the problem has gotten worse and each time my children hear the sound of Israeli warplanes they cry, scream or run towards me or their mother. Whenever they hear the sound of an Israeli warplane they feel they are about to die. Two weeks before the current, massive Israeli war on Gaza, an Israeli F16 attacked a farm near my house.
All the windows and doors of my house were smashed and the glass of the windows of my daughters' room lightly wounded my eldest daughter and my youngest 11 month-old daughter. Wounds were not the problem, but the panic and the psychological effects were. With news of imminent war, my children did not sleep in their rooms. My wife and I were obliged to spend as much time as possible in the house and we slept in the hall of the apartment with our children around us.
As the war started, several F16 attacks assaulted the farms around my house and left the whole three-story building of six apartments without windows or doors. My children did not sleep and symptoms of a nervous breakdown started to appear on their faces and in their actions.
On the third day of the war, the Israeli occupation phoned me during the night and told me that they wanted to destroy my brother's house, which is adjacent to our building. They gave us only five minutes. We hurried and left the houses and they attacked my house. We did not know where to go during the night, but the neighbours hosted us until the next day.
Several days later the Israeli occupation phoned my wife during the night while she was staying at her father's place. They told her they want to destroy my brother's house. They did not give us more than five minutes and attacked with two warning rockets. They have not completely destroyed the second house yet, but it is uninhabitable.
Two day later I was in my office reporting about the war. My brother phoned me to tell me that my eldest son had suddenly fallen unconscious. I drove fast to my brother's house and found him in a bad condition. I took him to hospital and had him treated. The doctors told me he had a nervous breakdown and that he had lost his speech and memory. Now he is almost OK, but we are still separated from one another.
My wife and a number of my children are staying with their grandmother, I am staying with my friend, my eldest son is staying with his uncle and my second son is staying with his aunt.
Every day I face many difficulties sending them food. Yesterday my wife and my children were trapped under artillery shelling as they live with their grandmother near the eastern border of Gaza city. They moved alone to another place and while I am writing this piece my wife is calling me and asking me to find a safer place to stay in, but unfortunately, I haven't found anywhere.
The story is the same for my seven brothers and their families. Now I do not know where they are. I do not know anything about them, about their sons or their wives; communication has become too difficult.
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