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A Letter to My Friend Najwa in Gaza

Thursday 19 October 2023, by Catherine Pappas

Dear Najwa,

I woke up to the news Monday morning. I was told you were safe, but that you lost your sister and her children in the bombing. Only one of her daughters survived; she’s in the hospital. I hope with all my love that she pulls through. I remember that one of your nieces and I share the same birthday. You were born on April 3, like my sister.

By now, you and your brother must have left the north of Gaza. I tried to recall the route that leads south. A difficult journey through an open-air prison between dead bodies and gutted buildings. And nowhere to hide from bombs and other threats.

Is it too late to prevent the worst from happening? Possibly the worst has already happened. Things will never be the same for your brother, your niece and yourself.

It isn’t the first time; we all know it. In this state of occupation, there is no real dividing line between periods of war and peace. Daily life is shaped by arbitrary policies, humiliation, violence, death, and profound injustice. The sound of ambulances after every military operation and sonic bombs to maintain the feeling of terror.

I found the messages you sent me a long time ago. Among our exchanges of greetings for Eid, birthdays, Christmas and New Year, you wrote:

November 19, 2012. “Dearest Catherine, thanks a lot for your thoughtful feelings. My family and I are OK but not safe because of the continuous airstrike and bombing every minute… Life in Gaza becomes a flashback, a déjà vu, a movie titled ‘Gaza under attack.’ Such a life makes me feel so mad and angry. Sorry for that, but you know that I don’t want to lose anybody else from my family but such situation. I don’t know what’s coming up. Salam, N.

July 30, 2014. “Dear Catherine, I’m still alive for the moment, but never to feel safe under the Israeli attack which is targeting people, hospitals, kindergartens, homes everywhere across the Gaza Strip. Hope the situation will end soon. I’m really so sick of the situation and the so angry with politics. Thanks for your message and hope that the madness will end soon. Salam.”

Remember when I asked you to document success stories to justify the development funds for the Palestinians.

2006. Once upon a time, so goes the story of two centres in Gaza offering services to women in the Jabalia and Nuseirat refugee camps. Faced with the economic disarray of an occupied territory, the women were looking for any way they could to get by. The social economy projects would make them more resilient. Resilience, what an abused and pretentious word!

“Um Saïd is a member of the women’s circle set up by the centre. She’s 28, has five children and a bachelor’s degree in biology. She has been living below the poverty line for years. Her husband is no longer allowed to leave the Gaza Strip to work.”

“Basema, 35, has three children. Since the Israelis closed the access to the labour market, her husband has had no income. She’s been living in poverty for seven years. Her stress causes a lot of anger, and the children feel it.”

I also remember the team’s reflections:

  • Forget about craftsmanship. To whom can we sell embroidery when the market is completely closed?
  • Let’s be practical and innovative. Everyone needs candles to light up days without electricity.
  • But with the embargo dragging on, where will we find wax to make the candles?
  • So let’s make soap! We’ll still have to wash!

Day by day, restrictions were tightened.

You told me that two years later, the centres closed for lack of funds.

Now I’m looking for the words to make reason heard and cross a semantic minefield. To break the wall of silence. We’ve often avoided speaking the truth. Depending on who we’re talking to we say: Gaza, West Bank, occupied territories. It’s never been easy to talk about Palestine.

Today, we no longer have the words to describe the madness unfolding before our eyes. Reasoning is sorely lacking. As UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini writes: “The world has lost its humanity.”

The Gaza I knew was mainly feminine. I remember the names of women, which I systematically refused to give to the Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint. I found them last night in a folder entitled “Najwa’s documents.” Maha, Basma, Abeer, Manal, Faiza, Niveen, Nawraz, Najwa, Khittam, Suhair, Mona, Ola , Tamam, Manal, Aysha, Haneen

Now we can’t keep them quiet any longer.

For a few days, I’ve had a knot in my stomach that paralyzes me.

Waiting for your next message.
October 18, 2023