On the Limits of Sumud in Genocide: A Message from Gaza
Date: 
November 13 2023
blog Series: 

Editor's Note: The following is translated and transcribed by Nadim Bawalsa, Associate Editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. It is based on audio recordings and text messages exchanged with the author.


It is the thirty-seventh day of Israel’s genocidal rampage on us Palestinians in Gaza, Nov. 12. I write these thoughts not to waste precious energy condemning our occupier or international complicity, nor the futility of human rights laws and bodies. None of it is worth the time. I write these thoughts for myself, for my son, for loved ones in Gaza and afar, to share reflections on existing under genocide. I also share these words with my Palestinian brothers and sisters everywhere, for whom our
sumud (steadfastness) as a people carries and has carried profound meaning and significance for decades. But here, I share with you the limits of sumud under genocide through my own eyes. 


We Palestinians in Gaza are familiar with solitude, with abandonment, with shouting into the void, “Where are the Arabs? Where is the world?” We’ve always felt it, and perhaps we once hoped we would be wrong if it came to this. But it came to this, and we were right.

This solitary existence manifests differently in the global imaginary, and even in our occupier’s imaginary — the latter casting us as the besieged enemy, two million strong, who voted for a “terrorist” government and who must, therefore, suffer the consequences. Perhaps this is how they sleep at night. 

And when I imagine our brothers and sisters in the region, our friends in the world, helping us any way they can and amplifying our voices, I imagine them holding on to a romanticized idea that we Gazans, alone and unlike any humans in the world, don’t fear death; that we have gotten used to living under unending bombardment from the air, land, and sea; and that we can therefore continue to withstand it against all logic and reason.

“There is no one like the Gazans,” they say in awe of our survival after decades of siege and war that led to this, as if we alone can somehow continue to weather the unending unspeakable. But we can’t. None of the more than 5,000 children who have been massacred in this war, and none of the thousands more still buried under the rubble, could either before they were taken. None of them voted for Hamas sixteen years ago. Most of the more than 11,000 slaughtered didn’t. Sixteen years ago, almost all of them were children. Their voices weren’t yet counted, and now they can’t even be heard.

Most of the 11,000 slaughtered and over 30,000 injured in this war lived and survived at least one more in 2021 — to say nothing of the periodic airstrikes between the wars that don’t make it to mainstream news networks. When they were reduced to numbers in this war while seeking shelter in their homes, mosques, churches, and hospitals, they died already suffering from untold traumas, just like their parents and grandparents who survived several more wars, and some even 1967 and 1948, and who died beside them.

Their parents and grandparents may have developed some understanding of the meaning of it all while they lived, some reckoning with fate and what comes after life, a reckoning with martyrdom. Even after surviving decades in refugee camps within the most densely populated place on earth, this tiny strip of land under the longest military siege in modern history, they must have grasped that transcendent knowledge and thanked God for His blessings and for taking them at that moment when that missile came through the roof of their building — at least I hope it did, for their sake and ours.

But what do the children know of God and martyrdom? What do they know of life after all of this?

And for those of us who somehow remain, we still struggle to breathe after thirty-seven days, as anyone would, when we hear the deafening military jets and bombs overhead. We hold our children tightly and tell them not to be scared, that this too shall pass, as any human would. We doubt God, as anyone would, as yet another missile somehow misses our building, sparing us, while tearing through our neighbors’ home next door. Even as we say al-hamdulillah that we are still alive every minute of every day, we struggle to make sense of existence if this is existence.

Even if we are impressed, as the world should be, with the unprecedented might and perseverance of the abandoned Palestinian resistance; even if we are proud that Gaza gave life to it and nurtured it for all these decades; even if we continue to support our fighters in their lonely, incredible struggle — how could the blood of all of our children, of our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and grandparents, of our uncles, aunts, and cousins, of our neighbors, colleagues, and friends, be washed from their hands? They knew there was no turning back when they stunned us all on that Saturday, Oct. 7, but as in every war before all this, they didn’t have the foresight to formulate a contingency plan for Israel’s inevitable retribution, for the world’s inevitable abandonment.


We Palestinians in Gaza are grateful to our brothers and sisters all over this world writing to us and about us, organizing, protesting, crying, and staying up at night with us. We understand why they must tell themselves and tell us that we, Palestinians in Gaza, personify sumud. It’s true that we alone know what it means to live and die through this, after 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, but we never chose to be the experiment of how much genocide and ethnic cleansing Palestinian sumud can endure. Our children certainly didn’t.

Like anyone anywhere, our instinct is toward survival, despite our unmatched sumud. And so perhaps we Palestinians in Gaza alone can tell our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank, in ’48 (heartland), and in the shataat (diaspora) that no land, no cause, and no resistance struggle is worth the erasure of entire families and bloodlines centuries-old. No land, no cause, and no resistance struggle is worth surviving this carnage only to bear witness to it, to the total destruction of every aspect of your life beyond your physical body.

As I wish my son a happy second birthday exactly one month and one day into this war, mere days after our home in al-Rimal was torched, all our memories reduced to ash, I kiss him on the head and say al-hamdulillah that we were of the privileged few who could flee our home in Gaza City in the first days of the war and secure refuge with family south of the valley. I thank God and praise Him for these blessings.

But as I look at what’s become of us — my wife and me, my parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins — and as I envision what more we may endure if we survive this, how could I not want to be anywhere but here? How could I not want to be anywhere that we Palestinians of Gaza can rebuild our homes, restore our family lines and communities, and give our children a chance at life? How could sumud overcome all of this?

The author’s son, Nasser, photographed looking at the destruction wrought on their street the morning after a night of heavy Israeli bombardment of the neighborhood of al-Rimal, Gaza City. October 10, 2023.

 

About The Author: 

Ali Abdel-Wahab is the proud father of Nasser. Specialized in data analysis and evaluation and monitoring (M&E) at several organizations in Gaza, Ali holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, and is interested in issues of political economy, digital transformation, and social networks, with a particular focus on Palestine. He is also a member of the political youth forum in Gaza's Masarat Center and a policy analyst at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. His hope is to be able to give Nasser a beautiful life.

From the same blog series: Genocide In Gaza

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