Days of Palestine

Monday, February 6

Reborn from the womb of my destroyed house

Days of Palestine -

By: Dr Hassan el-Nabih

Days of Palestine, Gaza Strip –Dr Hassan el-Nabih holds PhD in curriculum and instruction from the USA and is teaching in the IUG. He was wounded when the Israeli occupation targeted his house with an F16 attack during the 51-day war on the Gaza Strip. He gives a first person account for his story, which he chose to give it this title: ‘Reborn from the womb of my destroyed house.’

My mother gave birth to me fifty-three years ago (on July 3, 1961). However, I consider August 23, 2014 as my second date of birth. On that day, I horribly experienced death when an Israeli military aircraft destroyed my house. Fortunately, a miracle happened and I was born again from the rubble of my house.

Israel launched its latest offensive war on the Gaza Strip on July 7, 2014. The war lasted for 51 days and left many Palestinian casualties. More than two thousand were killed and more than eleven thousand were injured. Almost all of these casualties were civilians as Israeli military aircrafts, tanks, and warships severely attacked thousands of civic Palestinian buildings. On Day 48 of the war, I myself had a traumatic experience; my own house was attacked while I was inside.

Dr Hassan el-Nabih. PhD from the USA and professor in the IUG.
Dr Hassan el-Nabih. PhD from the USA and professor in the IUG.

In the morning of this special day of my life, about six houses near my home were targeted and reduced to rubble by Israeli F-16 aircrafts. Some of those who lost their houses spent some time at my house before managing to get to another place. Israel had been hitting in the Gaza Strip very brutally, yet unwittingly; Israel seemed to have no real bank of targets. Although the area where my house is situated was not a war zone, my family and I had experienced similar hard situations during the aggression. However, what happened around ten o’clock of that day was too shocking and devastating.

I was sitting with my family (my mother, wife, and ten children), commenting on the miserable conditions of the neighbours who had lost their houses. We prayed for them and all other Palestinians. Suddenly, my cell phone rang. It was not one of my contacts. I examined the number; it was strange, not international or local mobile (jawwal), and although it had the Gaza city code, the rest of the number was not Gazan. However, it was not a problem for me to answer the call; I talk to whoever calls me. In fact, I give my contact information, including my cell phone number, to my students in the first class (I am an assistant professor of Linguistics and EFL in Gaza).

When I said, “Hello!” someone on the line asked (in Arabic), “Is that Hassan Ahmed El-Nabih?”

I responded, “That’s right! Who’s speaking?”

“This is Captain Saleh from the Israeli Defense Army,” he said. Leave your house immediately because we are going to carry out a bombardment in the area.”

“Are you going to attack my own house?” I worriedly asked.

“No, we are not going to bomb your house, but to the east of your house.” The telephone call ended at this point.

I thought deeply about what I had heard. My house was bordered from the east by an orchard, not a house, The orchard was full of different beautiful fruit trees. I was surprised to know that it would be attacked; to the best of my knowledge, there was nothing illegal in the orchard.

However, I quickly relayed the message of the so-called Captain Saleh to my family and close neighbors, who acted accordingly. My wife took care of my ill old mother (75); I took care of my disabled daughter, Yasmin (20); and my old sons took care of their younger siblings. In less than five minutes, we all were in the street. I managed to get my mother, wife, little kids, and Yasmin into my car, which was parked in front of the house. As she was walking into the car, my mother bitterly said, “We were forced to leave our house barefooted 66 years ago. Alas, this is happening again now!” I calmed her down and asked my son, Mohammed, to drive off to a relative’s house. My other three old sons (Ahmed, Mahmoud, and Talal) and I ran off the place and started to watch from a distance of about 400 yards.

My mother’s heartbreaking words reflect the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people for about seven decades. She was recalling what happened to her family in 1948 (she was just nine years old). As she told us before, she was living at Kofakha Village, a few miles away from Gaza. Israeli troops attacked the village, destroyed her family’s house, along with other houses, and burned their barn. They only just escaped with their lives and fled barefooted to Gaza.

El-Nabih celebrating 75th birthday of his mother before the Israeli war.
El-Nabih celebrating 75th birthday of his mother before the Israeli war.

I was standing away and watching what would happen next. About 10 minutes after the call, I saw an F-16 rocket heading very fast towards the orchard that bordered my house. There was a very loud explosion accompanied by a cloud of smoke and debris. The airstrike damaged nearby houses, including mine. The outside entrance to the building of my house and the wall separating it from the orchard totally collapsed. Some windows and doors were also broken.

I waited for 15 minutes before starting to approach my house. At least six reasons justified my decision to return.

  1. I trusted the so-called Captain Saleh. He promised that he would just bomb to the east of my house. Thus, after the orchard was bombarded, I thought he had already completed the ‘task’.
  2. I was sure that I was NOT WANTED. I have had a ‘clean’ record; I am not and have never been affiliated to any militant or even political group. I have devoted myself to academia; I have been a teacher for thirty years (school and university levels). I also have been to different countries, including Britain, the USA, and Canada. I won a British Council Summer School fellowship in Durham (1992), a Fulbright scholarship to get an MA in Linguistics from California State University-Fresno (1995-97), and a PFDP (Palestinian Faculty Development Program) scholarship to get a Ph.D. in Language Development from Boston College (2007-10). In 2009, my dissertation project was awarded a Sheikh Nahyan Dissertation Fellowship administered by TIRF (The International Research Foundation for English Language Education).
  3. My neighbors on the same street had already returned to their houses.
  4. Our valuables (e.g., money, laptops, and documents) were still at home as we could not take them when we left the house.
  5. As the entrance of my house and the wall separating it from the orchard totally collapsed as a result of the explosion, it was necessary to lock the inside doors of my house.
  6. I was dressed too casually; I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, a style I had never had outside my house. Therefore, I thought of getting more formal clothing.

There was a great heap of bricks and sand blocking the way to the main entrance of my house, so I walked through the house yard into the first floor. As soon as I stepped into the first floor, I heard a deafening explosion. The bombing this time was in my own house, not the orchard. The ground beneath my feet vibrated and the whole house shook very strongly. Automatically without thinking, I cupped my hands over my ears and went down. The explosion, however, threw me into the living room. A lot of stones and burning sand started to fall on me. I felt very hot and was aching very badly, especially, my face, arms, and legs. In few seconds, heavy smoke also filled the place and everything turned black. Moreover, my eyes were stinging as a lot of sand and small pieces of glass went into them, especially the right one. Most important, the place was getting suffocating; there was almost no air to breathe. I coughed hard as I was not able to catch my breath. I thought I would surely die. As I was about to choke to death, I recited my shahadatain (creed).

Nevertheless, I thought I still had to do something about the terrible nightmare. Hoping to get some help, I crawled few yards forward over the debris around me. It was too dark to see anything. Suddenly, I heard a voice, “Dad! Dad!” It was my son Talal. Coughing very hard, I weakly said, “Yes!” but it seemed that Talal was unable to see or hear me. Despite the darkness of the place and the sharp pain in my eyes, I tried to look more carefully. From the corner of my left eye, I unexpectedly could see a dim light. It seemed that Talal was flashing his cell phone in search of me. Incredibly, I stretched my hand out and grabbed the source of the light. It was Talal’s hand, who quickly supported me to move few steps out of the apartment to the yard. He cried very excitedly, “Dad’s still alive! Dad’s still alive!” My other two sons and some neighbors hurried to help; I was carried up the street. On the way, I felt my sons kissing me; they were overjoyed that I was rescued. (Later I learned that the three sons themselves had been injured by flying debris in the explosion; they bravely saved my life while they were bleeding).

Dr El-Nabih when he was admitted to hospital.
Dr El-Nabih when he was admitted to hospital.

One of my neighbors offered me some water and a jallabia. An ambulance had already been called for, and within a few minutes it arrived. On the way to hospital, I was given some first aid. I was treated for my wounds and burns at Shifa Hospital (central hospital in Gaza) and for the injury in my eyes at the Eye Hospital. Too many cases were being admitted to hospital that day; therefore, as my condition was evaluated stable, I was discharged from the hospital. (My sons’ injuries had already been dealt with and they had been discharged). Now we are all living at the house of one of my relatives. It’s so unbelievable that our beautiful house has been destroyed. Fortunately enough, however, we are still alive.

My traumatic experience on August 23, 2014 raises some important questions:

  • Why did the so-called Captain Saleh lie to me? He said they would not target my house, but it was destroyed while I was inside; I miraculously survived.
  • Isn’t it extremely difficult to lose one’s home? I worked very hard for many years with the hope of living with my large family in a house of my own; only in 2005 did this dream come true. My family, including my mother, who has been living with me since my father passed away in 2006, have had many wonderful memories in the house. One memorable event is the party we had last January to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday; we had a lot of fun (see the picture!). In addition, I have spared no effort to have my children well brought up and well educated. Four of my children went to university, majoring in IT, Management, Law, and Journalism. In preparation for their marriage, I added two floors to my house last year. Didn’t the destruction of my house mean the death of many of our cherished dreams?
  • How long and how much will it take me to rebuild my house? Building my house, especially under the Israeli siege on Gaza, has cost me too much; it will take me many years to repay my big loan.
  • Why has Israel administered a relentless cruel siege on the Gaza Strip over the past eight years? Thousands of ill Palestinians died because they were denied the right to cross borders for treatment, and thousands more could not pursue their education abroad for the same reason. In 2007, I myself tried five times to leave Gaza towards the States; I was about to lose my Ph.D. scholarship because I missed the first semester at Boston College.
  • Why has Israel launched three aggressive wars on the Gaza Strip in less than six years? Are Gazans to blame for their defiant mood? The Gaza Strip has been an Israeli-run prison since 2006. Gazans, and Palestinians in general, hope to live in freedom, peace, and dignity.
  • Did the Palestinian-Israeli conflict start with the establishment of Hamas and Jehad in 1987? Or the Democratic Front in 1969? Or the Popular Front in 1967? Or Fatah in 1965? Or much earlier (in 1948)??
  • Isn’t the Israeli occupation of Palestine the only occupation in the world in the 21st century?
  • Can’t the world see Israel’s ongoing brutality against Palestinians?
  • Aren’t American taxpayers aware that Israel has committed its crimes against Palestinians with destructive American weapons sent to Israel for free?
  • Can’t the international community, especially the American government, make reasonable efforts towards putting an end to the Palestinian suffering over the past 66 years? Wouldn’t this help to create stability and peace for all nations in the region?