GAZA STORIES - Haneen
by Haneen Abed Elnaby, We Are Not Numbers
My dad is an engineer and he saved to buy a big house where our family of eight could find happiness: two stories designed by an Algerian, white walls with a red roof, a garden with trees and flowers, and my own bedroom. It was a dream come true.
On 27 December 2008, we were almost ready to move in. My mom and cousin were cleaning the house in preparation for the big day. I was 12 years old and at school. But what should have been one of the best days of my life turned into the second-worst? The worst had been just 11 months before.
More than 80 Israeli F-16 planes attacked on that December day, targeting different areas of Gaza. In my classroom, the loud booms that shook our desks and made our bones vibrate were deafening. I started to cry; I remember vividly the faces of the kids around me—it was as if they saw an army of invading zombies. It was that horrifying.
We all started running around randomly because we didn’t know how to escape. I ran to the bus so I could get home as fast as I could. Then we had to leave our new house behind because we live less than one kilometre (a bit more than half a mile) from the border with Israel.
Memories of the day just months before flooded my brain. Even today, I can picture it like it was yesterday.
In February 2008, the Israeli military attacked the region in northern Gaza where we live, directly targeting the buildings on our street, including our apartments—one for me, my parents and six siblings; three for each of my uncle’s families; and one for my grandmother. It wasn’t part of one of the “great wars”; it was three days of shelling on our region only. But for me and my family, and our neighbours, it was catastrophic.
Imagine this scene through the eyes of an 11-year-old: First, our building was hit by tank shells and the eight of us in my family crowded, in a panic, first into our living room and then, when it became foggy with smoke, into our tiny bathroom—thinking that was safer somehow. When the tank fire seemed to grow more distant, we ventured down to the first floor with my grandmother and the rest of our relatives.
Later, after we had crept back our own place, they returned. Israeli forces blasted our front door open, and a bunch of soldiers holding lots of guns forced their way in, shouting at us with bad words. (They told us kids not to be afraid!)
They took my dad and uncle (the other two uncles were thankfully not home at the time) away from us, along with most of the other adult men in the neighbourhood. They were held in one of the other homes; my father was released the next morning, but my uncle didn’t return for 21 days.
But even he was “fortunate.” Many others, maybe a hundred, were killed.
Those memories that still haunt us to this day are why we left our apartment in 2008 as soon as we were threatened. We were afraid to relive the same experience. Instead, we joined my mom’s father’s family. Twenty-one days later, when the Israeli assault finally came to an end, one of our neighbours called my dad to deliver the news: Our house, our dream come true, was gone.
Dad didn’t believe the news, though, until the war ended. He ran toward where it should have been but found nothing. When he and his friends returned to our apartment, his face was pale, a sight I will never forget. He had lost all of his money invested in that house. My mom left then to see it for herself.
“It was like there had been an earthquake right where our house and all of the houses beside it had once been,” she remembers. The Israeli military had destroyed them.
At 12, I couldn’t understand how a human earthquake could more destructive than a real one. The land looked like there had never been any houses there.
A lot of people lost their houses; we were not the only ones. Actually, the worst isn’t losing your house; it’s losing your everyday, ordinary life.
The Israeli military targeted innocent people, destroying my house and my neighbours’ houses, claiming were only harming buildings belonging to Hamas. My dad is an engineer who works for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation. We don’t belong to any political factions.
Today, nine years have gone by and I am 21 years old. I still have not forgotten my dream house and my lovely private bedroom. It is preserved forever in my heart.
Haneen is studying English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. One of her main loves is to read books, and her favourite is the novel, "A Beautiful Lie" by Irfan Master. Music and languages also are passions. She attributes the latter to her father, who lived in Germany for 13 years. Haneen speaks a bit of German as well as Turkish and English.