A Gazan Asks: ‘Whose War Is This? Will I Be the Next Mother Cry­ing Over Her Dead Baby?’

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Eman Mo­hammed

As a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, step­ping into war isn’t a dilemma for me. It is my in­stinct to grab my cam­eras and run out to doc­u­ment the man­made mis­ery, the hor­rors of war, each and ev­ery time, hop­ing hu­man­ity will get the les­son.

But noth­ing pre­pared me to un­der­stand how to raise chil­dren in a war zone — not even hav­ing been a child in one my­self.

I grew up in Gaza. When I was in school, I spent my days walk­ing to and from class, avoid­ing the streets that were nor­mally tar­geted by airstrikes. On my sum­mer holiday I stayed in­doors for fear of meet­ing the same fate as the fam­i­lies who dared to visit the beach and were

killed by mis­siles while they en­joyed their bar­be­cue.

De­spite my best ef­forts to give my daugh­ters a dif­fer­ent life, I have found my­self in the ex­act same sit­u­a­tion my mother was in 16 years ago, when airstrikes hit Gaza. I was 10 years old, and the strikes haven’t re­ally stopped since.

Af­ter cov­er­ing two wars in Gaza, I shifted my whole life. I moved with my Amer­i­can hus­band to the United States to try to give my two daugh­ters — Talia, who is 3, and La­teen, who is 1 — the uni­ver­sal dream of peace. But as I drifted into a sub­ur­ban life, I also longed for my sweet mother and my home. I longed to smell the roses while walk­ing on the beach. So I took my daugh­ters back to Gaza to visit their grand­mother, and now I find my­self again at ground zero, trapped be­tween airstrikes and the un­known. Now, see­ing my two daugh­ters star­ing at me in shock, calling my name in fear, ask­ing to come with me when I leave on as­sign­ment to photograph the airstrikes or their af­ter­math, my heart re­fuses to be­lieve I could pos­si­bly have risked the lives of my two an­gels by bring­ing them here. They don’t un­der­stand why their lit­tle ad­ven­ture to see Grandma es­ca­lated into war so quickly and so dra­mat­i­cally, or why they can’t get a hug from Daddy but in­stead get to see only his face through the cold lap­top screen. The ones who write the rules of war are the ones who never ex­pe­ri­ence war. If you haven’t tasted the pain of los­ing a loved one, the urge to run away when there is no way out, or the need to jump out of bed to hold your kid and cover her ears be­cause a war plane just off­loaded its rockets around your house — then you have no idea what life in Gaza is like.

Talia is con­vinced that an an­gry, bad bird is mak­ing the noises. Each time she hears an ex­plo­sion, she yells back, telling the bird to go home. My younger daugh­ter doesn’t un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing. Some­times she cries. Some­times she is quiet and looks around. My mother is a phar­ma­cist, and these days she is on an emer­gency sched­ule, work­ing ev­ery day. When I am out cov­er­ing the fu­ner­als and the bomb­ings, I leave the girls with her. I try to leave very early in the morn­ing so that I can come back early and

My daugh­ter is con­vinced that the ex­plo­sions are an an­gry bird.

spend time with them. Or I leave late so that I can spend time with them be­fore I go out.

In the field, I cap­ture a mother mourn­ing her 3-year-old girl. It fills me with pain — the daugh­ter is the same age as my Talia — but the mother lost her child and I am able to go back home and hold mine.

As a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, I could keep a dis­tance be­tween my sub­ject and me. Now, as a mother, when I turn on the TV and see a mother in another war zone cry­ing her heart out, or an anx­ious mother in Is­rael, I can only won­der: Whose war is this? When things get dark­est, I won­der: Will I be next? Will I be the next mother cry­ing over the dead body of her baby? My trust in hu­man­ity fades away, and I sink into tears of rage and weak­ness.

I don’t fear for my life in the same way as I do for my daugh­ters’ lives. They didn’t choose this. They de­serve decades of hap­pi­ness, life and joy. I was preg­nant with La­teen when I cov­ered the 2012 mil­i­tary con­flict in Gaza, hop­ing it would be the last one.

My daugh­ters have no shel­ters to run to. Is­raelis hide in shel­ters in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Haifa. But Gazans have none; Is­rael has banned ce­ment from en­ter­ing, with mi­nor ex­cep­tions, since the siege was im­posed on the strip seven years ago. Gazans suc­ceeded in smug­gling some through un­der­ground tun­nels from Egypt. But it was barely enough to rebuild their de­stroyed houses.

Mean­while, Talia’s bad birds keep fly­ing. I’m torn be­tween spend­ing time with my chil­dren and doc­u­ment­ing other moth­ers griev­ing their losses, wait­ing like thou­sands of other peace­ful civilians for a glimpse of hope from un­der­neath the rub­ble.

COUR­TESY OF EMAN MO­HAMMED

GETTY IMAGES

Mourn­ing Chil­dren:

A Gazan man car­ries the body of a 4-year-old girl killed in an Is­raeli strike.

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