By Dr. Mona El Farra – Gaza
As soon as I arrived home, I felt a great relief, if that is the right word. I had been unable to return home to Gaza since before the 23 days of bombing of Gaza earlier this year, because of the ongoing siege. I am not sure that the word relief summarizes my intense and conflicting emotions. Mixed feelings of relief, happiness, but also disorientation, continued to overwhelm me. Gaza my beautiful home, yes, my beautiful home, my beautiful people, who are trying so hard to live. To continue from one day to another. Despite the odds, the hardships, the deaf ears of the world.
The same day of my arrival home, July 9th 2009, I could see from my balcony the rubble of what had been at one time Arafat’s headquarters, The whole building was completely demolished, leveled to the ground, blowing out the windows on one side of my apartment building. It is the same place where one of my cousins was killed in the first day of the attack assault against Gaza last December -January.
I now see a different Gaza, and it is not the Gaza I have known; it is like a city after an earthquake.
Many of the historically important buildings were leveled to the ground. I decided to postpone my field visits to the different areas where the assaults were the most savage and brutal. I thought it might be a good idea to wait for the arrival of the delegation of US citizens who were due to cross the border.
In the meantime, I met some dear friends and workmates who came to say hello. All of them were loaded with war stories and the panic they faced during the attacks against Gaza. One friend who was a political prisoner, who spent 15 years in the Israeli jails, said to me, "I never felt afraid of anything there like the fear I felt this time." I find it strange to even write this sentence, but while we Palestinians are determined to continue our struggle, the reality is that this assault against Gaza was severe and fierce and cannot be forgotten- we will feel its effects as a people for a long time.
Our friends from the US were only granted visas to visit Gaza for 24 hours. As I waited, I pondered ‘How can we condense or begin to understand what children, women and men went through during 23 days of the assault in a 24 hours visit?’
Upon the arrival of the VIVA PALESTINA USA delegation, I sat at the borders to receive the delegation with some colleagues from PNGO ( Palestinian Non Governmental Organizations’ Network). It was a touching and affectionate moment for me, to see American, British and French activists of different ages and ethnicities united under one goal, voicing to the world "Gaza, you are not alone; you are not forgotten; despite the shameful stand of the governments of the world, we stand with you, the people of Gaza!"
We had to get immediately to work and were fortunate to have a solid team of colleagues. I was accompanied by Barbara Lubin, Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) Director, Reem Salhi, an activist lawyer and human rights advocate, Danny Muller, a friend of MECA, Ehab Musalam, a MECA trainer and volunteer in Gaza, Travis Wilkerson, a filmmaker and professor, Jaiel Kayed, a computer expert and Palestinian American, Talal Abu Shaweesh, Director of New Horizons, and Mohammed Magdalawi, a Gazan student and MECA volunteer.
In Nussierat refugee camp, we were invited by New Horizons to see the activities of their project, loosely translated as ‘Let them Play and Heal,’ a program treating childhood trauma and sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance. We had the chance to see hundreds of children’s happy little faces, singing along with the debka performance, which was one of many activities working to help the children recover after the war trauma. There were around 500 kids, 6-12 years old, boys and girls with their mothers, as the project targets mothers and their children,
We then visited Albureeg School, where MECA has implemented water purification and desalinization systems to provide clean drinking water for schoolchildren. This is one of three water treatment projects MECA has recently implemented in the refugee camps, and we aim to build many more with the help of our friends and allies. We then moved to the north and while the van was going on, we could clearly see many demolished homes everywhere, and tent cities around the homes where families now lived.
We could not miss the Zaytoun area, where one of the many tragic events of the war occurred at the home of the Samouni family. The van went through neighborhood after neighborhood, through areas of vast destruction. How can I convey to you what I have seen in the little faces, eyes of sadness mixed with hope and excitement? On top of that, some of the kids who had broken or missing arms and legs, post operative scars, who are living in the rubble of their former homes, with their little voices, they tried to tell us their stories.
I listened to their stories. I stopped writing about the rest of our activities, the rest of our day, the rest of my return home. At that moment I felt, and still feel, ‘I don’t want to hear or listen, I just want to cuddle these children and help them to forget.’
But I want the world to remember what was done here in Gaza, and that those of who are picking up the pieces, as hard as we try, we cannot forget.
– Dr. Mona El-Farra is a Palestinian physician and human rights and women’s rights activist. She was born in Khan Younis, Gaza and has dedicated her live to improving the situation for women, children and families in Gaza. As MECA’s Director of Gaza Projects, Dr. El-Farra oversees the distribution of food and medical aid and support for educational and recreational programs for children. She is also on the board of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip and a member of the Union of Health Work Committees. Dr. El-Farra has a son and two daughters. This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.