At just 3 months old, my son Omar cries, swaddled in his crib. It’s dark. The electricity and water are out. My wife frantically tries to comfort him, shield him and assure him as tears stream down her face. This night Omar’s lullaby is Israel’s rendition of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, with F-16s forming the ground-pounding percussion, Hellfire missiles leading the winds and drones representing the string section. All around us crashing bombs from Israeli gunships and ground-based mortars complete the symphony, their sound as distinct as the infamous Wagner tubas.
But unlike a performance, this opera of death lasts days. Audience applause is replaced with the terrified cries of babies and children shrouded in smoke. Shrapnel zings off buildings and cars as another missile finds its mark, landing on another home. Six more are now dead. A doctor’s house next door was hit by three Israeli F-16 missiles. It’s hard to know what was the target. The doctor was killed, joining his mom and dad, killed in the previous war in 2008–09. The airstrikes are buzzing in my ears and Lina’s. Omar’s crying is continuing. Now the death toll is at 186, with 1,390 injured, the majority of them are civilians, as reported by the UN.
There is no end in sight. Beyond the border we see tanks amassing, preparing for a ground assault. Above, the ever-present thwup-thwup of hovering Apache helicopters rock Omar’s cradle through vibration. Warning sirens pierce the night—another incoming missile from an Israeli warship. The border is not far. But we cannot leave. The Gaza Strip has been under siege since 2007. Unlike Israel, we do not have bomb shelters to hide in. The 1.8 million citizens of Gaza, over half of them children under the age of 18, are packed into an area the size of Manhattan, unable to leave. We must stay and pray, pray that we don’t get hit.
I’ve been through this before. I grew up in Gaza. But this is my first time under fire as a parent and husband. It is a wholly different experience. I wish I could airlift my wife and son out of here. But this is my beloved ancestral home; what else can I do? The airstrikes are too loud and unending, it seems. In a moment of nervous quiet, Lina breastfeeds Omar and quietly prays.
Crash! Boom! Another airstrike smashes into the ground outside our home. Lina darts out of the room, shielding Omar in her arms as she seeks safety on the other side. Omar screams, and screams and screams. It’s piercing, enveloping me in a horror only a parent can understand. I find it impossible to comfort him, holding his tiny hand as he lies in my wife’s arms. Lina is clasping Omar tight. We nervously jump from room to room scanning the skies for incoming missiles. Israel always claims they are precision. Precision? Then why are so many children, women and elderly injured, maimed or killed by them each time? Why is the hospital bombed? Why schools, bridges, water treatment facilities, greenhouses and other civilian targets? The statistics always tell a different story.
Boom! A flash of white and another crash. The stress is debilitating, fostered by the constant of buzz of drones. It haunts us as we search for anywhere safe, but there is nowhere safe. We watch, waiting. Another volley of Hellfire missiles shakes the building. No rest. No sleep, but we are lucky we are still alive.
I open and close the refrigerator door. The electricity is out, but it makes me feel normal. Lina tries to sleep, catches a few minutes and wakes up trembling. This is what it is like to be under attack in Gaza, and we don’t know for how long or when it will end.