Current Affairs

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An Open Letter to Joseph Biden, From a Woman in Gaza

Israeli bombs may not be falling at the moment, but there is still no peace in the occupied Palestinian Territory.

Dear President Joseph Biden,

My name is Haneen. I am a 23-year-old Gazan woman, and I write to you from my wheelchair on the second floor of a residential building in the Gaza Strip. I do not know if my letter will reach you, or if I will be killed by an Israeli missile before it does. In any case, I hope that you and your family are safe and well—though no one here in Gaza is.

Mr. President, you certainly know what is happening right now in Palestine, and Gaza in particular. Perhaps, like many world leaders, you are applauding the recently-announced ceasefire. Perhaps you are preparing a speech that hails this as an important step toward peace. Perhaps you think the ceasefire will cease anything. But we in Gaza have heard this all before, and we know that Israel has promised to “resume the military campaign” at any time it chooses. What do we in Gaza have to celebrate today? If you have seen the videos of dead children in the Gazan rubble, then you know human rights were publicly violated with impunity, more than they usually are. Israel’s missiles fell everywhere. All of Gaza is soaked in chaos and blood. For eleven days, rockets fell on families while they slept at night. Civilians are still under the rubble, some alive and some dead, some infants and some pregnant women. Children, who have paid the price of their lives in the blink of an eye, have been torn to shreds without mercy. There is nowhere to hide—for the last eleven days a drone has hovered constantly above my home. Memories have been assassinated. No one can think about anything except the terror that still lurks in the sky. The only thought in Gaza every morning is, “Are we really still alive?” The only thought in Gaza every evening is, “If they want to kill us, why don’t they do it now so that we don’t have to live through this nightmare anymore?”

Mr. President, Israel—the “only democratic state in the Middle East”—is practicing not only racial discrimination, apartheid, and mass violations of human rights against we Palestinians: they are practicing genocide. They are killing us collectively. To live and breathe in Gaza is to live within a publicly unfolding war crime of the most heinous, deadly degree. The ceasefire will not change this, even if Israel keeps its word this time. 

In case you are confused about the reality in Gaza, Mr. President, let me tell you how children experienced this latest “clash.” My 8-year-old sister, Nada, screamed loudly and cried whenever she heard the sound of bombs. When 100 bombs fell in ten minutes, she screamed 100 times. She kept asking me, “Why are they bombing us? Why do they drop rockets on us? Did we do anything to them?” Tears came to my eyes, but I pulled myself together and answered her, between explosions, “I myself do not know why they are doing this, but what I am sure of is that you did nothing to them, Nada.” I turned my face away so that our eyes did not meet. I was not strong enough to look into them and see her fear—a fear I can do nothing to clear away even now.

When I see Nada, I think of all the innocent children who are being killed mercilessly. Their little bodies are torn to pieces under the rubble. Days ago, hours ago, they were just kids whose biggest concern should have been getting good grades on tests, or winning a game of soccer in the streets—not whether a rocket would fall on their homes. Kids as young as 1-year-old, who have not even pronounced the word “Papa” or “Mama” yet—do these kids pose a threat to Israel? Are they the “militants”? Are their deaths “unavoidable collateral damage”? Was this the “smoking gun” Israel showed the White House when they bombed the Al Jazeera and AP media building?

I began writing this letter to the sound of explosions, before the ceasefire began. To the sound of Nada crying, screaming, “This is enough! Don’t we have a safe place to go?” To respond to her I had to shout over the explosions. I tried to shout at her with all of the strength I have, “Stop! Why are you crying? We cannot take a step out of here, we cannot leave our home! No place is safe in Gaza!” Yet the words remained stuck in my throat. They are still there. The sound of an Israeli missile is louder than my voice; the laughter of the soldiers who fire rockets in cold blood is louder than my words. 

I put headphones in Nada’s ears and played music for her, but she knew that the bombing did not disappear with music. She knew that once the music ended, she would return to our bitter reality. She screamed; I covered her ears with my hands so at least she did not have to hear the sounds as loudly as I did.

You know what, Mr. Biden? I am dead tired. For eleven days, I wanted to sleep for just one hour without hearing the sound of rockets, without being afraid of losing a family member. My family and I are still struggling with the trauma of losing my brother in the Great March of Return in 2018. He too did nothing to Israel, yet Israel killed him when he demanded his right as a Palestinian to return to his ancestral lands, which is legally stipulated in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 194, paragraph 11. This decision was issued in 1948, the same year of Palestine’s Nakba; yet, the law has remained a page full of dead letters, and has never been implemented. Is Israel a state above the law? Does Israel not have to fulfill international resolutions? 

I am afraid of losing someone from my family, that my mother will taste the bitterness of loss again. My mother, like all Palestinian mothers, could lose her children to the Israeli bombs at any moment. The question with kids is not, “What will they be when they grow up?” but, “Will they grow up?” Mr. Biden, do you think it is fair to be killed because of demanding internationally guaranteed rights? You are a father too. You have lost children. You know the pain. But have you imagined losing one of your children to a sniper? To a rocket, when they were just a child, just as you were telling them that everything would be alright? Not to worry? What if you pulled their dead body from the rubble? What would you do then?

When Israel bombs us, it targets every Palestinian thing. No matter the gender, age, disability, or political beliefs. No matter if it is a human or an inanimate object. Anyone and anything is a target to Israel as long as it is Palestinian. Children and their teddy bears, pregnant women and their fetuses, the elderly, the streets, buildings, hospitals, schools, media offices, the journalists, the birds, the pets. All of these Palestinian things disturb the peace of Israel, so Israel targets them. Israel destroys them.

You, Mr. Biden, who must have seen and heard some of this, have given Israel the green light to continue its aggressions against Gaza, allowing a $735 million arms deal to Israel to go through, and continue its massacres and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. As the President of the United States of America—which you call “the leading force for good in the world”—are you not supposed to stand against injustice and support the oppressed? Are you not supposed to end Palestinians’ suffering, which has been going on for more than 70 years? Are you not supposed to condemn the crimes against unarmed Palestinian civilians who only want to live in peace, just like the U.S. taxpayers whose tax dollars fund the rockets falling on us right now? Are you going to continue denying the reality before your eyes? This is not a conflict. This is not a war. This is a genocide in which an occupier is massacring the occupied. 

An investigation by Al-Jazeera revealed that GBU-31 and GBU-39 high-explosive bombs have been used by Israel in its aggression against Gaza. These bombs were designed to penetrate heavily fortified military sites. They are internationally banned against civilian targets. What did the unarmed people of Gaza do to be killed by such vicious weapons? What did Nada do to incur the risk of not living to see tomorrow? What is Nada’s tomorrow, Mr. President?

Mr. Biden, why are you waiting to condemn Israel’s massacres? Why are you continuing to pretend that ceasefires and “restraint on both sides” will put an end to this systematic destruction of Palestine? 66 Gazan children have been killed. 39 women. 17 elderly. What more will it take? Is just being born Palestinian a crime we have to pay for with our lives? Your decision to send even more of the military equipment Israel is using right now may well kill me and my sister. What are our lives worth to you? You have the duty to answer this question. Perhaps you already have.

Sincerely,

Haneen Shat

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