By Natalie Abou Shakra – Gaza City
"Can we take more massacres? Answer me! Can we?" demanded Fadi, an 18 year old student at Palestine University in Gaza. The hall was packed with students in a two-hour seminar entitled "Still Alive" organized by student committees. Many pupils consecutively took the stage and narrated the events in their own subjective way, speaking about their realities from day one, aligning their confrontations with the human slaughtering, displacement, apprehension, shelling, destruction and incomprehensible chaos.
Mazen, one of the speakers, expressed his disgust at the Israeli Occupation Forces’ doings at the Azbet Abed Rabbu area, where the soldiers would imprison families of a single neighbourhood in one house. They would then ask one of the fathers to choose a boy amongst his sons for them to shoot, and if he doesn’t, they would slaughter the whole family keeping only the boy alive. “How can we express this hurt, this pain, the deaths and wounds that we have lived?”
Slides from a projector repeated statements of “Happy New Year? No! Happy New Fear!” amongst photographs and amateur brief documentaries that the students prepared from what they collected during the attacks of photos, videos, audios, and statements. Despite the lack of resources, despite the psychological aftermath of the perpetual traumas, anger, shocks, frustrations and despair, they managed to build sturdy, influential and moving presentations to the rest of the audience.
Maha, a graduate, who was happy to have found employment before December 27th, 2009, after losing it now, exclaimed: “I am angry – that’s my new job!” She grew uneasy as she mentioned the killing of her colleague on the way to undertake an examination session on the first day of the strikes. Some revealed photos of what their homes looked like after they visited them during the supposed ‘ceasefire’ periods. “We have many windows now!” joked a young lady as she unveiled images of her bombed bedroom, kitchen and living room, leaving them pierced with holes from Apache rockets.
“I am angry when the media uses the term ‘war.’ This was genocide! At least you would have a military balance during ‘war’, but there was none!” a young man cried. A student who had accompanied the ambulances said he had seen people burnt as they prayed, with the carpet remains still on their foreheads. “At times, I couldn’t tell if the person’s body was a man or a woman’s… they were thoroughly burnt.” The slides showing images of the white phosphorous turning the sleepless nights of Gaza into fearsome days were entitled “Happy New 2009: Internationally Prohibited Celebrations.” Despite the grief and frustration, there was a sense of humour and sarcasm that dealt with the tragic reality, resilience in the face of all disappointments and cruelties.
How could one be a student under such circumstances? Can you read a book, or undertake examinations when your house has just been leveled down, your family slaughtered, your existence utterly shaken and disturbed? Universities and schools in Gaza resumed classes a few days after the extensive bombing and shelling declined on January 18th, 2009. The students in the strip, whether at school or university, were completing final term tests when the shelling began. Some were on their way to the exams, and little ones were heading back from schools after their tests were taken.
Before the 22 day attack, there was a three year siege; a collective imprisonment and punishment imposed on the population. On mere candlelight, students were spending their nights and some scheduled their study sessions according to periods where electricity was on in their areas. With the petrol crisis in the strip, many could not make it to school and university.
“I couldn’t give my students exams. How could I face their grief with an examination? I cannot even write an examination paper with my own grief…” a professor admits. Students who want to pursue graduate degrees abroad erase this wish off their dream list. Another right offended in the era of human rights production and perpetual violation. Every right produced in the culture of human rights is infringed upon in front of our eyes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, and other similar conventions, treaties, lists, and statements sound “pretty”, but seem to be implemented elsewhere, but not in Gaza, not in Palestine. Palestinians are stripped off the right to have rights.
– Natalie Abu Shakra is from Lebanon and is affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement. She defied Israeli orders for Lebanese citizens not to go to Gaza and was able to get in with the Free Gaza movement. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.