Letter from Gaza: ‘War was never over’

Palestinian doctor and journalist Belal Aldabbour reflects on the implications of increased tensions in Gaza.

Palestinian boys look at participants during a local marathon organized by Culture and Free Thought association, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip
'All the suffering in Gaza can be lifted with a stroke of an Israeli commander's pen,' Aldabbour says [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Gaza – The piercing voice of Umm Kulthum reverberated over the noise of the engine. I asked the taxi driver, a bespectacled man in his late 20s, to change to a news station, as Israel had been  pounding  Gaza over the past few days.

“Why bother?” he snapped. “Enjoy the music. When the war breaks out, booms will tell.”

It is much calmer on the ground in the Gaza Strip than on social media platforms. Over the last few days, personal reflections on the prospects of an imminent war, analyses of what may or may not happen, and prayers against the inevitable war have permeated Facebook and Twitter.

One thing is certain: Palestinians in Gaza live in a constant state of uncertainty, fear and helplessness, brought about by Israel’s impunity in the previous three wars and international silence towards a decade-long siege and occupation that seems it will never end.

 'Remove [Israeli] occupation from the scene, and the root cause of our misery is abolished forever,' Aldabbour says   [Getty Images]
‘Remove [Israeli] occupation from the scene, and the root cause of our misery is abolished forever,’ Aldabbour says  [Getty Images]

To the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, the question is no longer if, but rather when the next Israeli onslaught will materialise. Israeli threats against Gaza have been unabated and, almost two years after the 2014 assault, Palestinians still die and are occupied, besieged and divided .

Over the last year, Israel killed almost 30 Palestinians in Gaza, wounded over 800 and arrested dozens. Its tanks rolled into Gaza about 50 times. Meanwhile, the siege is still intact and even worse than before: Medical patients die waiting for an Israeli permit, Rafah rarely opens, and the Gaza rebuilding process is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Have Palestinians become immune, or, worse, indifferent to death? No one knows for sure … [But] people have learned to adapt, and to make the most of their miserable lives.

Isn’t it laughably sad that a Mediterranean city like Gaza imports fish, mainly from Israel? Limiting the fishing range to within a stone’s throw, Israel has reduced the great Mediterranean Sea into a small pond with very few fish.

And it is in that Mediterranean that dozens of Palestinians have drowned, attempting to escape suffocation and death in Gaza.

Sealed border crossings have prevented emigration from becoming a trend, but for thousands of travellers waiting for the crossings to open, each day serves as a reminder that Gaza has been rendered inhospitable, uninhabitable and dream-crushing.

Palestinian farmers have received one of the most devastating blows, as an arbitrary third of Gaza’s agricultural land has been swallowed by the Israeli-imposed buffer zone. Farmers are exposed to constant machine fire from automatic towers that – within changeable, undisclosed ranges – target any moving object. Yet, scores of metres beyond the armistice line, Israeli farmers are allowed to plough, plant and prosper.

Recently, Israel has been attempting a de facto no-grow zone. Those Palestinian farmers wallow in doubt because they do not know when Israeli planes will spray their farms with toxins, set their crops ablaze or invade and bulldoze.

In a bid to enforce the new reality, the Israelis have over the past few days invaded the Gaza Strip on five occasions, but they were met by defiant Palestinians who refused to let them pass.

What was picked up later in the news was not the 15 Israeli air strikes or the 57-year-old Palestinian woman killed by artillery shelling. As if parroting memos from the Israeli army’s information desk, many mainstream news agencies highlighted the few mortars fired by Palestinians at these invading tanks.

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Victims are being blamed for their own deaths – for being there, for bleeding, for breathing.

But what should Palestinians do, then, in a sea of crises: power outages, fuel shortages, rationed cooking gas, limitations on movement, delayed salaries, skyrocketing unemployment and constant persecution by Israeli drones? Should they just keep silent, count their blessings (if any), and thank the occupier for allowing them to breathe?

“We have few things to lose, and everything to gain,” said Refaat Alareer, a TEDx Shujaiya speaker and English teacher whose house was demolished and brother killed in 2014. Two years later, Alareer still waits for his turn to rebuild his house.

Israel is the last colonial enterprise, one that shows the “horrifying symptoms that took place in Nazi Germany”, according to Yair Golan , one of Israel’s generals. It is an occupation that openly calls for adopting genocidal, racist practices against non-Jews, supported by a society that has repeatedly accepted the extrajudicial executions of Palestinians.

This is the kind of oppression that Palestinians are struggling against – now for survival, and in the long run, for freedom, justice and human rights.

Israel has faced repeated calls to end its siege on Gaza, but the blockade has endured for a decade [EPA]
Israel has faced repeated calls to end its siege on Gaza, but the blockade has endured for a decade [EPA]

Although we have paid a heavy price already and are fed up with the divisions among Palestinian factions, we can reclaim some dignity by not standing idly by amid these constant Israeli aggressions.

Still, Palestinians are not looking for another confrontation in Gaza. “We are not ready for another war,” said Alaa Rustom, a fellow doctor who volunteers at Al Shifa hospital. “I am still recovering from the previous one. The hospital and this whole city are still recovering.”


No matter what the coming days may bring, Palestinians will receive it with spirits that never falter. Despite my not-so-easy clinical laboratory science exams, a student of mine, who only two months earlier lost her younger brother to an Israeli sniper, earned the second-best score.

It is a difficult thing to diagnose. Have Palestinians become immune or, worse, indifferent to death? No one knows for sure. “We have to adapt, and to make the most of our miserable lives,” opined the wise taxi driver.

Indeed, people have learned to adapt, and to make the most of their miserable lives.

Palestinians have come to accept that as long as the Israeli occupation remains, nothing will ever be truly “normal”. In my opinion, the worst part of the Gaza story will always remain man-made: All the suffering can be lifted with a stroke of an Israeli commander’s pen.

George Orwell said in one of his brilliant novels: “Remove man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.”

Remove the occupation from the scene, and the root cause of our misery is abolished forever.

Source: Al Jazeera