The indelible images of suffering and stories of loss are everywhere in #Gaza. The family of 19 in three small rooms whose only drinking water comes from plastic jugs filled at the mosque. The woman who lost 38 members of her family during Israeli strikes in 2014. The man who lived with 49 others in a relative's house after his neighborhood of Shujaiya was flattened. But there is something else that abides in the day-to-day life in Gaza that for me resonates just as deeply: a kind of stubborn resilience in the face of catastrophe.
The other night I was walking along a spit of sand and rock that forms part of the Gaza harbor with Raed, my colleague and translator. The place was rippling with everyday life: fishermen pulling up their nets, laughing and giving each other grief; kids posing for selfies; families gathered under beach umbrellas at small plastic tables, sharing a modest picnic.
A young couple with their three kids invited us to join them. The children nibbled from bags of chips, eyeing me shyly. Rana Dilly poured mango soda into small plastic cups while her husband, Ahmad, pushed an unopened package of chocolate wafers toward me. I politely declined, which of course was a mistake. He laughed and pushed the package closer, telling me, "You are with Palestinians!" In other words, your resistance to our hospitality is futile!
Ahmad told me that despite the hardships and frequent dangers, he tries to come to this little finger of land nearly every day, just to clear his head and have some kind of normal feeling. He brings the family once or twice a week. “I want to share life,” he told me. “To share some things with my family and my kids. To show them something is possible.”
His sentiments reminded me of a time, 25 years ago, when I was in Sarajevo during the Balkan wars. My BBC colleague and I were walking briskly through an area potentially vulnerable to sniper fire, when we heard a large scraping sound approaching us from behind. We turned to see a half dozen girls on roller skates, laughing and screaming. We asked them to talk to us; to explain what in the world they were doing there. It was spring, they explained. They had been cooped up inside all winter as Serbian shells rained down on the town. Families had picked the hills clean, burning every scrap of firewood to stay warm; eventually they turned their furniture into kindling, and finally turned to the books. (The choice of which book to burn and which to save was often excruciating. Local black humor of the day: Would you like to come over for coffee on Shakespeare or tea on Byron?) The girls told us, somewhat ferociously: "If they shoot us, they shoot us. We have to go out and play!" Just then we could hear distant gunfire, and the girls laughed, screamed, and skated away.
Now, at the Gaza harbor, an explosion echoes from across the water. Raed and the young parents exchange looks. A pause; then Raed says, "A wedding!" On a Wednesday? I wondered. He assured me it was so. "People celebrate weddings every day!" They fish, they have picnics, they swim, they get married. Gazans, despite all the suffering they’re facing, are not on their knees.
"We have been through all three wars now since 2008 we expect the next one could be this year or next year or after three years or next week," said Mohammed Halaby, who works to try to procure essential items for Gaza in the face of Israel’s economic blockade. "So I would say everybody in Gaza wouldn't like be subject to pressure. They’re being resilient to the situation in general. We don't give up easily."
At the harbor, Rana Dilly told us she just wants a safe life for her kids. In the meantime, the family steals little bits of normalcy at dusk beside the water. “I come here to forget our problems,” Ahmad tells us.
Hours later, I left Gaza for Jerusalem. A wave of sadness passed over me as I bid farewell to Raed and pushed my luggage through a series of clicking metal turnstiles and long concrete hallways, then emptied the contents of my equipment pack into a plastic bin for inspection by Israeli security. I didn’t know when I’d be back.
Photographs by Abdel Kareem Hana