Q&A: Life under bombs

As Israel continues its offensive, Gaza resident Ahmed Hashem explains what it is like to live under deadly air strikes.

    Ahmed Hashem lives with his parents, siblings and grandmother in Gaza City. [Ahmed Hashem/Al Jazeera]
    Ahmed Hashem lives with his parents, siblings and grandmother in Gaza City. [Ahmed Hashem/Al Jazeera]

    Israel has hit more than a thousand targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip since it began its military campaign on July 7. While the Israeli military says its attacks are targeting Hamas military infrastructure, family homes and medical facilities have also been hit. The United Nations says at least 80 percent of the casualties have been civilians.

    Ahmed Hashem is a 27-year-old civil engineer who works at Gaza Municipality. He lives with his two sisters, two brothers, parents and 85 year old grandmother in Gaza City. He spoke with Al Jazeera about his experience living in constant fear of being bombed.

    Al Jazeera: How close has the bombing been to your home, and how frequent is it?

    Ahmed Hashem: Gaza city is really densely populated, so whenever there’s bombing it feels like it’s near every house in the city. So we hear almost all of the bombings in the city. Sometimes they bomb near our home in the Al-Maqousi neighbourhood, only 300 metres away. During the day, we hear the bombs go off every 20 minutes. But at night, the bombings get more intense and it’s impossible to sleep. It’s almost every ten minutes. They also feel louder because the streets are quieter and everyone is hiding in their homes.

    Ahmad Hashem and his family live in Gaza City. [Ahmed Hashem/Al Jazeera]

    AJ: Describe for us what it’s like when an air strike lands near your home.

    AH: With the larger bombs, we hear the sound of the missile as it approaches its target, for around two seconds. The terrifying noise makes your heart jump, and for a second you fear it’s going to land on your home, as they have on other homes. You close your eyes, crouch down - you do this without thinking, it’s instinctive. When you hear the explosion, you feel relieved that you are safe, although of course it means there has been a tragedy somewhere else. Depending on the size of the bombing, our house will shake for several seconds, like an earthquake. It’s terrifying. Many times there are two bombs at the same time, and it scares the hell out of you. Last night we had three bombings in the space of ten seconds, near to us. After the bombing we hear the shrapnel falling like deadly rain, whether it’s part of the bomb, or glass, concrete, pieces of metal. It flies in all directions for around 400 metres.

    When you hear the explosion, you feel relieved that you are safe, although of course it means there has been a tragedy somewhere else.

    Ahmed Hashem, Gaza resident

    AJ: What is it like for your family, holed up in their home?

    AH: Each time it gets worse. This war is worse than in 2012; it’s very harsh and the bombs are heavy. The effect on the younger ones is dramatic. My 12 year old sister, Batool, is the most terrified. She’s traumatised by the shock of the bombs falling and the noises. She’ll run to my mother and the tears will run for a while, especially when [the bombing is] close. The boys are a bit older and different - they try to distract themselves by tweeting about what’s happening.

    Khaled, [my brother] is 22. He’s just finished a degree in journalism, and goes to Shifa Hospital to take pictures of the injured and the dead, to share with the world. It makes me so angry to see those lifeless people, especially when I see the bodies of children and women. Sometimes it makes me think directly about my own family, and I pray this ends before something happens to them.

    Ahmed’s younger brothers, Khaled and Osama, distract themselves from the danger by tweeting updates. [Ahmed Hashem/Al Jazeera]

    AJ: Has anyone you know been hit?

    AH: Two of my colleagues at work. One of them, Mustafa Mohammed Enaya, worked at the inspection department in the municipality. He was on his way home from a market when he was killed in a bombing.

    The other, Nasser Rabah Smama, works at the financial department. He’d just finished praying at the mosque, and was standing outside, and was killed after a bomb landed nearby in the Shiek Redwan neighbourhood.

    Working at the municipality, which supplies services to the citizens such as water, waste management, and so on, is risky. We [are afraid] it will be targeted, and bombs have already landed near our building causing damage. Some of the facilities, like a sewage pumping station, have been directly hit.

    So my parents keep me at home. I only leave to travel to the grocery store, even then my mother calls me every five minutes to check if I’m OK.

    I’m an engineer, a technical person, and sitting doing nothing but watching the bombs fall and praying makes me feel useless. It really upsets me. I want to do something, but it’s hard to go outside [and help], but the emergency teams are doing their job very well, with the limited resources they have.

    Ahmed’s workplace has been damaged by airstrikes nearby. [Municipality of Gaza/Al Jazeera]

    AJ: Do you fear for your relatives in other parts of Gaza?

    AH: Yes of course. Sometimes on facebook we post statutes to show we are okay. We often call our uncles and aunts, and older relatives. When we hear there has been bombing near them we call them immediately, and they do the same with us.

    AJ: What does your 85-year-old grandmother think of all this?

    AH: She’s upset. It reminds her of the Nakba and the first wars. She went through them all, from 1948, 1967, the intifada, and the recent ones. She say these new attacks are different, they’re more risky and dangerous than the past. They’re more horrific, more intense and the weapons they use are designed to inflict more pain.

    Ahmed’s 85 year old grandmother, lived through the Nakba, and feels things are getting worse.  [Ahmed Hashem/Al Jazeera]

    AJ: Has the situation over the last few years made some Palestinians consider leaving Gaza?

    AH: It did affect some people, but even for those who do want to leave, can’t. In a cage like Gaza, there is no place to flee or run. People don't have another home or place to go, or the ability to travel. They just want to live their life normally and peacefully like the rest of the world.

    But for most people it’s hard for Israel to change their mentality, Gaza is and will always be home.

    Honestly, I wanted to have international experience in my profession, but I believe that my country needs me now. I want to put my efforts, and what I have learnt outside, towards the development of Palestine.

    Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit Gaza City on July 07, 2014.  [AFP]

    AJ: What about you, are you losing hope? Would you raise a family in these circumstances?

    AH: I’ve lived through the the attacks of 2008-2009 and 2012. We lost many things, many homes, many buildings, a lot of our infrastructure. But the worst is that we lost many innocent souls. We can’t bring them back. But we can rebuild the houses, the streets, the infrastructure which gives services to the people. This is my job and our collective responsibility as Palestinians.

    Of course I’m concerned about raising a family, as I see the things that have happened to other families.

    But this is our fate.

    The symbol of Gaza City is the phoenix, rising from the ashes. It is a city bombed so many times, and yet we rebuild, each time with hope that this will not happen again in the future. But the more often this happens, the less optimistic we are about a long lasting peace.

    Follow Hassan Ghani on Twitter: @hassan_ghani

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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