Rahf Hallaq receives her award at the Gaza AFSC office.
Rahf Hallaq is a 19-year-old sophomore student at the Islamic university of Gaza studying English Literature. She aspires to complete her higher education in Literature and become a professor. Reading is her favourite hobby that started with her love for bedtime stories as a child, and with time developed into an appreciation of literature. Rahf lived and went to school in the U.S. for three years (2005 to 2008) where she began reading and writing in English at a very early stage in her life. Rahf says, “Books changed the way I think immensely; I could feel writers speaking to me through every book I read, trying to form my ideas, make me a better well-informed person. That made me love writing because it made me believe in the power of words. I write because I want to share what I know with the world. I want them to see how people here suffer, feel and think. I want them to see that we are not merely an occupied nation that wants its basic rights but that we have amazing, educated, creative and brilliant people here in Gaza that can achieve great things and make this world a better place if given the opportunity.”
“There’s going to be a party tonight!”
It’s 12 a.m. The entire house had gone to sleep and I’m sitting lazily on my desk studying, trying my best to ignore the infuriating buzz of the drones roaming above my head. I read the message my friend sent me, smile and reply with a “yeah!” I have to finish as much as possible before the electricity goes out. So, although I feel extremely tired, I keep working.
There were four killings on the border today and our side threw some rockets at the Israeli soldier camps near the borders as a response. So, as usual, I was expecting a night full of action. But, you see, Israelis never respond to the results of what they started early. They always wait until it’s past midnight so that their mission’s results can be more successfully terrifying.
It is said that waiting for a bad experience to happen is harder than living the experience itself. I can’t say that I’m sitting on pins and needles or that I’m actually scared, however. Situations such as these happen every now and then in Gaza.
I haven’t reached the level of complete indifference as some people here have, but neither do I feel any great fear as some others still do. We always fear the airstrikes might cause casualties near the targeted places. And there’s always the fear of things escalating and possibly developing into a serious war. But, there have been enough similar nights or – as people here in Gaza have come to ironically call them – “parties” to convince us that the possibility is weak. Usually, everything ends with the rising sun of the following day. It’s a strategy they use to scare us and remind us: “we are here.”
So, I sit and wait.
I wait just like everyone here waits for everything. Our life in Gaza, as some of you might already know, is a constant state of fearing and waiting. We are always waiting for electricity so that we can resume our lives like normal people, study, work, do our chores, watch TV, charge our phones and laptops, etc. New graduates are always waiting to find a job, and if, after a long search by some miracle, they do find a good suitable job, they will have the exceptional experience of waiting to be paid half their salary once every three months.
We are constantly waiting for the Rafah border to open, waiting for medical supplies, waiting for a war that we dread yet know is coming, waiting for an airstrike, waiting for the siege to end, waiting for freedom, or waiting for things to simply improve; we feel privileged when we get a full eight hours of electricity!
Some people have started to look upon these things as a distant Godot who never comes. A Godot that keeps you waiting and hoping until he renders you desperate. People like me, though, are still clinging to the hope that things will get better soon. Every nation that has been occupied in the past has had to sacrifice for its freedom. We’ve been resisting dispossession, slaughter, imprisonment, and torture for 70 years. Are we to give up now?
The first missile strikes, and as my heart starts thumping hard in my chest, I automatically jump out of my chair to open the windows. A shiver runs through my body as gusts of cold wind slap my face. But what other choice do we have? We’ll have to bear the cold for a couple of hours. I cover my younger siblings well and go back to studying.
However prepared or indifferent you may be, you never escape feeling that bitter sensation of being punched in the stomach whenever you hear the missiles breaking through the layers of air, whistling all the way down, then smashing unmercifully into the ground. For the next hour, I was neither able to sleep nor concentrate on my homework. Most of it passes in thinking and absentmindedly watching the curtain above my desk dance forward and backward instead. There were nearly five other airstrikes during that hour; and with each one of them, my heart leapt into my throat, causing my guts and lungs to clench themselves until I could hardly breathe for a few moments. Then everything went back to normal.
A murmur reaches me from my parents’ room. The bombing must have wakened them. I slowly walk to their room to see if everything’s alright. Everything is fine. As I tip-toe back to my room, my dad catches me and calls: “Go to sleep, baba; there’s nothing serious. Hopefully, the IDF will get bored soon and move to another spot.”
Since my attempts to continue studying were hopeless, I take his advice, close my books, and tuck myself into bed. The news says there are no deaths or injuries until now. Thank God!
Almost everyone will wake up tomorrow, get dressed, drink their coffee or tea then set off to school, university or work. They will talk about tonight, of course; they always do. And if you were a Gazan, you would know that there would be an interesting variety of opinions to hear. Some will say it was a terribly terrifying night. Some will say that it was “pretty scary.” Some will say it was just like all the other nights similar to it: a sleepless night full of noises. Others will say they only felt angry because the airstrikes had disturbed their sleep. Some will even go as far as to crack jokes at what happened. They will discuss the matter for a while, then they will resume their daily duties as though nothing unusual happened the night before. And who can blame them?! When you’ve survived three wars and twelve years of blockade, your definition of real danger gradually changes.
Another half hour passes. Nothing happens. The party is over.
“Good! Now I can close the windows.”