Just two weeks ago, I gave birth to my first child in East Jerusalem. My son is healthy, and my husband and I are so in love with him. But alongside the undimmed bliss of motherhood, there is grief and there is guilt.
Grief for the mothers in Gaza who are writing their children’s names on their hands, so that if they’re killed, they can be identified before being buried in a mass grave. Grief for the mothers who are giving birth amid rubble rather than a hospital room – or having C-sections without anaesthetic. Grief for the mothers whose children are among the one thousand who are said to be unaccounted for, trapped under the rubble. Guilt for every happy moment I feel with my newborn knowing that mothers in Gaza endure constant fear for their child’s life or the unimaginable soul-crushing pain of their child’s death. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 3,300 children in Gaza have been killed in the last three weeks.
As a Palestinian, I’m no stranger to living through conflict, having spent my entire life under Israeli-military occupation. The world generally describes the bouts of violence in the West Bank and Gaza as ‘clashes’, ‘skirmishes’, or ‘escalations’. I remember them as friends killed. Or my sibling detained. Or soldiers storming my home. Or a family home demolished. Or having to give birth alone without my family because of closures and checkpoints.
But this is different. The sheer scale and ferocity of the hostilities in Gaza terrifies me. And the rhetoric and politicization of these tragedies fill me with dread.
At times it feels as though the world thinks that Palestinian lives do not matter, as if the life of a child from Gaza is less important than those of other children in this world. There have been warnings from a UN Committee around hate speech after Palestinians were described as “animals”. This language dehumanises us and suggests the death and suffering of our children is somehow palatable. And while these words cannot diminish our dignity, make no mistake, these are dangerous words.
I’ve been glued to my phone, as increasingly heartbreaking messages from friends and family in Gaza have been arriving. Waiting for the same message every morning “I am alive”. Until Friday night, when phone lines and internet access were cut. When communication lines are cut, people in Gaza are cut off from the world, cut off from each other – as well as being cut off from access to food, clean water, and medical care.
It is no exaggeration to say that if aid isn’t allowed to enter Gaza at the scale required, many children will simply not survive. If the bombs don’t kill them, dehydration or disease will. If enough time passes without a ceasefire, without unimpeded humanitarian access, the aid waiting on those trucks will need to be replaced with coffins. But with just a dozen-odd trucks coming through one single crossing every day, I can’t help but wonder: how many trucks will be needed to carry 3,300 child-sized coffins? How many more will we need?