During the 2008-09 bombardment of Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, Israeli bombing and shelling destroyed farmland and compromised the food supply. A section of our family orchard was hit with white phosphorus shells and its charred soil could no longer grow crops. Six years later, during the devastating war in 2014, my grandfather’s studio on the beach in Gaza was also bombed.
None of my grandfather’s seven children were able to visit him in Gaza. For most of their adult lives, every one of them was living in a different country, reflecting the intractable reality of Palestinian displacement.
My grandfather died in 2019. A part of me is relieved that he is not alive to witness what many in Gaza today describe as the worst assault yet.
He had poured all his savings into buying an apartment in Burj Al-Jalaa tower, one of Gaza’s tallest buildings. When all you’ve ever known is dispossession, occupation and exile, there are no retirement funds or government checks. He had survived on the rent from his apartment.
Unlike Al-Jalaa tower, which was evacuated before the bombs were dropped, many other homes in Gaza that were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes crushed their inhabitants to death.
There is almost a sense of shame in grieving over the loss of property when entire families have been killed in Gaza. But this too is a critical function of the occupation, which compounds Palestinian dispossession by not only the loss of one home after another but also the right to mourn them.
That apartment was the home my grandfather built after a lifetime of exile, everything he had worked toward until the last years of his life. The feeling of longing that pulled him back to Gaza and every moment of joy, pain and loss in his life were built into the walls of that apartment. It was a place he hoped his grandchildren might one day be able to visit.
But I realize now that it wasn’t that simple. When I consider all of the homes that he lost, I know my grandfather could not have expected any physical structure to be his lasting legacy. Instead he left us with something that cannot be taken away. His struggle to return home embodied the hope, resilience and audacity that all dispossessed Palestinians pass on from one generation to the next. We build, they destroy, and we build again.
Laila Al-Arian is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist and the executive producer of “Fault Lines,” a documentary program on Al Jazeera English. She is a co-author of “Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.”
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