A family struggles to keep hope alive in Gaza
GAZA CITY - “I am so scared that this bombing is going to hit me’, says 11-year-old Deena Zurik who can no longer bear to stay on her own bed, and runs over to her mom and dad.
It is 4am, here, on the sixth day of Israel’s war and Deena Zurik is supposed to be asleep. But Israeli F16s have just bombed the police headquarters with seven missiles, which were followed by four missiles on Ansar security compound, and the noise has shaken the 11-story building where she lives with her parents and five brothers and sisters.
She hasn’t gone to bed before sunrise for the last few days as the bombing is always worse at night.
“I am always afraid to sleep alone, the missile shakes the room,” says Deena, as she tugs at her pink and orange dress.
Even when she does sleep, Deena says, “I dream of them bombing and I am back from school, with nowhere to hide.”
It’s not only the shaking and rattling that reminds her of the bombs. Looking outside at what was once her neighborhood brings traumatic memories. More than once in recent days, Deena has seen a house on her street bombed and people with severe injuries being pulled from the rubble.
Deena and her brothers and sisters cannot go outside to play anymore and even the television does not provide reprieve from the conflict. While not long ago, she watched Touor al-Jannah, a popular children’s channel in Middle East, the television now only shows the news where she sees images of children like her, being brought to hospitals bleeding, injured or worse.
Her parents, just like countless others across Gaza, cannot bear to switch off the news as they desperately try and find out what is going on around them.
“All my friends in the building and school only talk about the bombing and what they see on TV,” says Deena.
Nor is there any indication that Deena will sleep any better tonight. Gaza is about to enter the seventh day of airstrikes, which have already killed more than 167 people in Gaza and left some 1,200 injured. According to the United Nations, the majority of these have been civilians with women and children also getting caught in the fire.
When an air strike hits nearby, Deena immediately runs into her mom and dad’s arms. She and her younger sister, Ala, who both like pink and wear the same dresses, cling to their mother, hugging her legs tight. But while their mother Lina puts on a brave face, she, too, is terrified of the bombs.
“I am afraid myself, but I have to pretend I am not and try to comfort them,” says Lina. “It’s more shocking when I wake up to missiles shaking the building.”
Since Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005, Lina has seen her fair share of Israeli military operations against the Strip. She’s lived through Summer Rains, Autumn Clouds, Hot Winter, Cast Lead, Returning Echo, Pillar of Defence and now Protective Edge, and while she says that the sense of community these campaigns of collective punishment create has helped her deal with the stress, she can never fully desensitize.
As a school teacher, she is also accustomed to dealing with children’s trauma on a daily basis, but when it's her own children, she admits to feeling helpless, especially when she sees her children climb under beds for protection or hide under blankets.
Lina and her husband, Loai, know that none of these methods will save them from the Israeli missiles if they strike, but say they feel they need to keep the illusion of security alive for their children. Loai says that he finds the whole situation extremely hard, and says that it is only getting harder as his children grow up and start asking more and more questions about why the bombs are falling and when they will stop.
The younger children may forget this conflict, like Deena largely has the 2008 Cast Lead operation, but the older ones are bound to remember. Deena says she keeps having flashbacks of seeing a neighbouring house collapse and seeing one of her neighbours killed.
Palestinian psychiatrist Yasser Abu Jamie explains that this is a common problem among Palestinian children and adults.
“After all, there is only so much that human beings can take," Abu Jamie said. "Constant bombing is damaging to human being."
Gaza is home to 1.8 million people who are exposed to traumatising situations, whether direct or indirect, on a regular basis. Even for those children in relatively peaceful neighbourhoods, they tend to eventually see gruesome images on TV anyway.
“In Gaza there is no pre-trauma or post-trauma: it is continuous trauma,” says Abu Jamie.
The cycle of trauma also becomes self-perpetuating. The trauma of the children intensifies the trauma felt by the parents who feel helpless at their inability to sooth and protect their children.
With drones hovering over Gaza at all hours, it can be hard to escape from this almost paralysing fear, says Loai.
“Drones make me afraid," Deena said. "I always dream of the noises they make."
Family gatherings and religions occasions, like Ramadan, often serve as a welcome distraction from the otherwise harsh security and economic conditions experienced in Gaza. But this year, even the Holy Month that Deena has been looking forward to, has been destroyed.
During Ramadan, Palestinian families often exchange family visits with all their relatives. It’s seen as part of their Islamic duty, although Deena has always seen it as a fun occasion to see all her cousins.
“I like to be with my cousins who are the same age as me, but now because of bombing we can’t do it,” she says.
Her father used to bring all of the family in the car and drive to see relatives in Gaza three or four times a week. Even this small luxury is out of reach for many in Gaza, but for a Lina and Loai, two middle class teachers, it was a welcome routine.
The recent confinement and inability to get out and move around has left the Zurik family feeling trapped and claustrophobic. Mother and daughters alike are itching to go outside, but know the tales of so many who have been killed in the last few days that they dread stepping out of the front door.
"This wouldn’t be so bad if we knew we were safe inside," explains Lina, "but the worst part is that we all really know that we are not."
Deena compensates for her elective confinement by staring at the city from her large window.
The view gives little comfort: the scars of war are everywhere to be seen. Even as the bombs stop falling, their hiss is replaced by the whaling of ambulance sirens, which eventually give way to the sounds of bombs and drones once again which prevent her from sleeping and thinking of happier times.