My phone was buzzing all night on the eve of Eid. But it wasn’t receiving the annual barrage of annoying tag messages of Happy Eid, greeting cards and videos of a crescent moon with a catchy dance tune. My phone was buzzing with updates on where the bombs were falling, which buildings were erased, which relatives were hiding where. I tried to keep up through the night, as if staying awake will keep my loved ones alive. Humans are funny like that, they think they can fend off death and destruction just by staring at a screen and wishing for the horrors to end. They don’t. It doesn’t work that way.
In the morning of Eid, I called them. I didn’t want to. Is this selfish? I didn’t want to hear the fear and the trauma and I didn’t know if I could hide my own fear and trauma, which really doesn’t measure to theirs, but it is mine. I didn’t know what to say. ‘Happy Eid’. That’s all the words I could manage before the tears. Lots of tears.
They, my extended family, were all huddled in the ground floor apartment of the family home, which is four stories high. Let me explain. In Gaza, the world’s most populated open-air prison, families grow upward toward the sky. Like trees. They build upward and upward hoping to reach God. Maybe God will see them. But I don’t think he does. But Israeli drones and planes certainly do. Israel doesn’t like the Palestinians moving up vertically that’s why they keep flattening high rises. I digress.
I said Happy Eid and the tears began. I understood that all 30-plus members of my extended family have spent the last couple of days with their shoes on and their IDs at hand. Why the IDs? Maybe they thought if they were killed they would need an ID to go to heaven. Please forgive them, that’s the only world they’ve ever known. A world with IDs. But the truth is they thought with shoes on and IDs in hand, if they were bombed they would be recognized by the authority. Many corpses become unrecognizable and they want the dignity of recognition. If they survived the bombing, then their shoes will help them run over the debris, nails and broken concrete. Good plan, I say, as if we were discussing the logistics of a camping trip.
After my call, I check my phone. So many messages from Palestinians in Australia, in Palestine, in the US… it’s like someone has flicked on a switch and we all became connected as one. The younger ones have so much energy and they are taking the world by storm. A social media storm. I have a few—very few—messages from the media looking for interviews and I decline. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go on TV and defend the basic humanity of my family. I think of an interview I saw on the ABC: a Palestinian Australian academic was asked to explain what the settlers’ point of view was. Imagine, in your only three minutes, you are asked to explain the justifications of your oppressor.
I try to escape thinking of this so I sit at my laptop to review my script for my playThem before sending it off to the publisher. The play, about life in a war zone, premiered in 2019 (and is returning this year as part of the VCE drama playlist, opening at the Arts Centre Melbourne in July).
I hear my cousin’s words in my head ‘they are too big now’. Let me explain: in 2014, my cousin hid under a kitchen sink with her children to escape an Israeli air raid. They survived and her story became part of the play; the couple in the play hide their toddler under the sink during an air raid. Lobna’s kids are now too big to fit under a kitchen sink but the bombs are still falling on Gaza.
I take a minute. I breathe. I can only tell their stories. I decide to break my self imposed media silence. I write this oped and I don’t know who will publish it. Whoever you are. Thank you.
Dr Samah Sabawi is an award winning Palestinian Australian playwright and poet.