“A child barefoot. Looking at me. He gazed in my eyes. I cried. I felt him seeing through me. I think he knows. The world lost its humanity.” These words, conveyed on Twitter, come from Nalan Al Sarraj, who has lived in Gaza City since she immigrated in 1994 from Tunisia as a 2 year old. Al Sarraj is 23 and lives with her mother and sister (her father passed away in 2008). When she was 16, she got a scholarship to go to Texas for a year. Then she came back to Gaza and studied Digital Media and broadcasting at Al Aqsa University. She was an early adopter of Twitter—she joined in 2010—and her feed, which now has 14,000 followers and is written in a mix of Arabic and good English, is one small view of life in the Strip.
“I saw 2 holding hands. I felt the love. Then i wondered how short life is and how love is the only thing we have left to hold on to #gaza,” she tweeted on Saturday. Her tweets are sometimes political but never hateful, providing instead a window into the war-torn city.
On Friday, I reached Al Sarraj by telephone.
“It’s the worst horror movie you would ever watch,” Al Sarraj told me, of living through the Israeli airstrikes. “You could lose anyone you know and love at any moment. Anyone can be a target. The loss of life is brutal.”
In the past week, three buildings on Al Sarraj’s street have been bombed, including the one right behind hers. Still, refugees are flooding into Gaza City from areas even more harshly blighted by Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion.
But Al Sarraj says life before the current invasion was impossible, too. For six years, residents of Gaza have lived under an Israeli-imposed military blockade. Even before the current crisis, they only got electricity for eight hours a day (now it’s down to five). Fishermen are only allowed to fish within three kilometers—about two miles—of the beach, not enough to feed their families. There are only two openings between this densely populated area of 1.8 million citizens and the outside world, neither of which Gaza controls. “We don’t want to go back to the life we used to live,” she said. “We’re sick of living like animals.”
People are angry, she said. “Because we are feeling Israel does whatever they want. Destroying lives and homes and nobody is stopping them. I think that’s why everybody over here—civilians, friends—they support the resistance.” She explained that although she was not a supporter of Hamas before the current crisis, “When it comes to war, you put all your issues to one side, and look if they can help or not. Hamas is here, they are trying to help people, to provide whatever they can. Why shouldn’t we support them when they are in the front lines dying so we can live? Of course we appreciate it.”
The lifting of the siege is foremost on Al Sarraj’s mind when she contemplates the things she would like to change about her life in Gaza City. But she would also like Gaza to have an airport, and for the fishermen to be able to go farther out into the sea. She wants control over the electricity she can use and control over her life more generally.
And mostly she wants to not be afraid that Israel will start airstrikes “whenever they feel they need to do whatever they want. That feeling of being under their control and not having a choice is so painful, it makes me angry. Why? Why would I live this kind of life? I want to be able to have lunch at my grandmother’s house in the West Bank. I haven’t seen her for six years, and then only for one hour when I was leaving for Jordan. It was heartbreaking, you know?”
Still, Al Sarraj insists that though she and the people of Gaza City support Hamas, “We don’t support killing people, because we know how it feels and we know it’s painful and we don’t want it to happen to anyone else. But only the resistance stands by us.” Her problem with Israelis is that they support a government that kills Palestinians, she said. About the rockets being shot into Israel, Al Sarraj said, “Come on, here. Israel has been killing and attacking and putting our people in prison for no reason. It’s been a horrible situation for years! It’s not something new.”
Just as many Israelis view their military’s offensive as self-defense, Al Sarraj views Hamas’ efforts as defensive, attempts to “secure freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.” “Rmmbr those kids who used 2 throw stones,they grow up.when it didn’t stop Israel they choose sth louder #resistances,” she tweeted Friday.
Still, she insisted, “I don’t wish harm to anyone, Israeli or anyone. But I wish they would tell their government to stop killing our children, stop the occupation, stop the blockade, try to find the peaceful solution. I send them an invitation to come to Gaza right now in these kind of days and we would have a long conversation and I don’t think they would end up saying Israel is a state of peace and Israel is doing right.”