Warning: Contains references to suicide.
I must have been around 14, Hamza’s age, when the words Palestine, Gaza and war became etched in my memory. It is 2014 and dad is glued to the TV, providing a running commentary. My social media feeds are full of the red, green, white and black colours. There is comfort in seeing these colours albeit the vibe in these designs is different, sombre and unfamiliar.
‘Gaza is being bombarded, again,’ says dad, exasperated.
An enclave the size of a small city that houses two million Palestinians, besieged, and now hounded from the air, sea and land. The most sophisticated airplanes, laser guidance, satellites, drones and electronics are being deployed to attack one of the most densely populated lands on earth. An impoverished community with little prospect of breaking out of their misery and predicament. Hamza, who lives in Gaza with his mother, father and two brothers, is only about six years old. He loves football and dreams of wearing the Palestinian national team jersey one day. However, every aspect of his life and future is controlled and nothing he does can change that. People are born free to love and learn. Hamza, and the other two million Palestinians in Gaza, are born to survive.
I join a protest against the war on Gaza, in Adelaide. I stand on the street, facing Parliament House. Free Palestine; stop the war, stop the killing; we chant and shout, as if the Israeli pilots could hear us. People are lining up across the steps to address the crowd. I hold a sign. Others are holding images of dead Palestinians lying among rubble. There are thousands of us here and I start to wonder if those pilots with their sophisticated cameras can see the children on the ground when they fire their deadly missiles. Are they too far away to make out their tiny bodies, or do they see them and decide to fire anyway? I wonder if they saw Hamza’s younger brother Watan playing outside when they fired the missile that took his life.
Hamza does not remember his brother being killed but he sees his brother’s picture on the wall every day, placed there by his mother. His brother is smiling, dressed in his Eid clothes with a big grin, happy with himself. Three years later, his mother adds another photo to the wall, of his older brother. Hamza is a bit older now and remembers every detail of his older brother’s death. The funeral, the agony of his mother and father. Hamza is the only child left now; no one left to play with, no one to walk to school with, and life is very quiet and sombre at home.
Hamza becomes close with his dad. With his two other brothers gone, Hamza becomes the centre of his parents’ attention. He is spoiled and protected from harm. But then one day, while working the fields, Hamza’s dad is killed, by an Israeli air strike. Hamza can’t understand what is happening in his life. He can’t understand why one family member after another dies every couple of years. Is this normal in other places around the world? Or only in Palestine? His mother adds a photo of his father to the wall in the living room. It was almost cruel to call it that, the living room. His whole family is dead. Only he and his mother remain. Hamza is ‘the man of the house’ at only 7 years old.
The bombardment of Gaza made me realise that the world is a cruel place. Human lives are not equal. Some are more dispensable than others. My shouting thousands of miles away might not have helped. But I became determined to ensure that these atrocities never happened again. It made me decide to become a lawyer, to become an activist. I decided to make it my mission in life to uplift voices of those ignored by the rest of the world, like Hamza’s.
Years pass. I am a teenager and I squabble with my parents over my independence. When I go out with my friends, I ask my mum to drop me off around the corner, and we argue over how late I am allowed to stay out. Hamza becomes very attached to his mother, too scared to leave home and cannot wait to return from school to be with her. He feels that by being close to her, he can protect her. He enjoys the attention and pity that relatives, neighbours and teachers give him, but he remains an introvert, without many friends and spends most of his time with his mother and at home.
Eight years have now passed, and I am 22 now. Last week, the words Gaza, Al-Aqsa, Sheikh Jarrah, and war popped up in my news feed. A perverse nostalgia washes over me; they remind me of when I was 14; of the last time Gaza was being bombed. But this time, I don’t need my dad to give a running commentary of what they report on the news. Because like watching a Twitch live stream, I can see pilots in sophisticated war machines press buttons, playing some sort of game with the lives of two million Palestinians caged in Gaza, in front of the whole world. The daily death toll is announced every night on the news as if they are reporting the score in the cricket. The only difference is this game doesn’t have a time limit. I am at law school now and I learn that civilians, schools and hospitals are prohibited targets of attack during war. But last night, the newsreader says in Gaza there are now 200 civilians dead—59 children, with 32 buildings, two schools, and a medical clinic destroyed. I feel helpless again. I go to a protest again. I shout ‘Free Palestine’ again. And this time, I line up to speak.
I come home from the protest, determined to make a difference to save people like Hamza from yet another atrocity. I hear the news about Hamza. A missile hit his home and killed his mother. She was the last remaining member of his family. No one is left in this world for him. All killed by no fault of their own. All massacred in cold blood, for simply being Palestinian. I sit at home and cry for Hamza.
Nothing is left for Hamza to live for, to try and survive for. His mother is gone. He couldn’t protect her. He can’t take it anymore. This world has betrayed him. It has deprived him of any hope for a peaceful existence. Hamza climbs to the roof and brings his 14 years of suffering and agony to an end. Finally, for the first time in his short life, Hamza has peace. I will never forget him and I will continue to shout ‘Free Free Palestine’, ‘Stop the War’, ‘Stop the Killing’ so no one else has to live the life that Hamza lived.
Beljana Dally is an Australian-Palestinian law student and activist.