A Palestinian man talks to a boy carrying containers amid the rubble of al-Qassam mosque, hit by an Israeli airstrike on 9 August 2014, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Israel destroyed 63 mosques during their 51 day assault on Gaza. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
An exclusive report by Dina Altahrawi, a 16-year old student from the Nuseirat Science and Culture Centre, Gaza. Kia Ora Gaza has funded education projects at the centre at the Nuseirat refugee camp.
We are homeless in our own home
I remember those 51 difficult days [of Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014]. The war began as I was talking to my friend Yasmin. She told me not to go to Al-Qassam mosque like I normally would, so I stayed in my home. I anxiously awaited what would happen in the hours following the occupation army’s burning of Mohammad Khdeer, a 14-year-old child who lived in the West Bank. As soon as I heard the news, I knew that many bad things would follow. But, when the situation remained quiet for a long time, I decided it might be safe to go to the mosque. I changed my clothes for the mosque, and as I did, the Israeli warplanes flew in the sky. I heard the sounds of explosions everywhere. I realized then that the war had started.
At night, we were sitting in the living room when we heard a strange noise, like the sound of a falling rocket. Afterwards, we heard babies crying and women screaming. My older brother looked out of our window and saw some of our neighbors fleeing their homes. He told us we needed to evacuate our house too. It was a horrible experience. I remember how many of our relatives came to shelter at our house. They were afraid; they had seen the bombing of their neighbors’ house. Even though we were in our own house, we felt homeless. Our relatives had come to our home to escape from the rockets, but our neighborhood was in danger too. The only sound I could hear was screaming, the sound of fear. One night, I was playing with my cousin, trying to create some happy times during the despair. We laughed a lot that night, but our happiness was ruined when the warplanes bombed our neighbors’ house. It became an awful night when we saw the flames and the debris spreading everywhere. Our grandmother didn’t stop praying for us. Everyone screamed as if it was the last night of their lives, but I just sat in the corner reciting the Holy Qur’an and repeating prayers for everyone in my family. Even though I was scared the whole time, I didn’t cry. I surprised everyone, including myself, with my bravery.
I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for over 15 people when my young sister came from downstairs, her eyes full of tears. In fear, I asked her what had happened. She said that my cousin Alaa was martyred. When I heard that, I went to my room, closed the door and started thinking about a lot of things, terrible things. That day, I cried a lot. I couldn’t believe that Alaa had really passed away. But that was the truth, and no one could ignore it. What hurt the most was hearing my aunt, Alaa’s mother, talk about her son and how loving and caring he was to her. It was a touching moment.
Al-Qassam Mosque bombing
During all the days of the war, I couldn’t sleep well. On a day that I finally did sleep deeply, I dreamed about Al-Qassam mosque. As I was standing in front of it, it was bombed. The flames spread; I was in shock. Suddenly, I woke up to the sound of rockets. They really were bombing the mosque. My beautiful memories of it flashed so quickly in front of my eyes. Those days were really hard. Each one was like a bad dream we wished we could wake up from. Many people had to be responsible for the safety of their families, their friends and their neighbors, as well as themselves. Even young children felt the weight of feeling responsible for the safety of others.
This isn’t just my story
Thousands of people died; women, men, old and young. Some we didn’t know, and many who were very close to us. The innocence of childhood was stolen by the war. Lots of buildings were bombed, including homes, schools and mosques. But even during these 51 dark days, they couldn’t take away our happiness. In fact, we became stronger, and it brought us closer to God. I believe that this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of one-and-a-half million Palestinians who suffered for no reason, other than for just wanting to protect our homes. Palestine, tomorrow, will be free.
Dina Altahrawi is a 16-year old student from Nuseirat Science and Culture Centre, Gaza. Kia Ora Gaza has funded education projects at the Nuseirat centre.