“You will become an uncle soon,” my sister Zeinab told me cheerfully. She didn’t know then what fate had in store for her, for us.
In April 2007, as I was getting ready to sit my high school final exams known as tawjihi, one of the most important exams in Palestine, I learned that my pregnant sister had fallen sick. She was taken to hospital where she received medical attention for two days.
Doctors decided that she should have an abortion. Otherwise, her life would be at risk. Tearfully, she agreed. I stopped thinking of the idea of me becoming an uncle.
A “simple” operation
A month later, she was taken to the hospital. She had a problem with her gallbladder. She had to undergo surgery. The operation was described as “simple” by doctors, yet some of the equipment needed for it was not available in Gaza hospitals. She applied to get a permit to travel to Jerusalem to have it there, but she was denied entry under the pretext of her being a security threat to Israel. My 26-year-old sister was a security threat to Israel. A security threat.
It took her almost a week to learn that she was denied entry. Poison started to spread in her body through the veins. Her skin turned yellow, literally. I was shocked as I saw yellow invading her body when I went to visit her at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah.
A security threat?
The Rafah crossing — which separates Gaza from Egypt — was closed most of the time by then as Fatah and Hamas loyalists were fighting in Gaza. The European Union team which had been monitoring the crossing suspended its mission as the entire coastal enclave went into chaos.
The crossing was finally opened one last time before Hamas took over the administration of Gaza. My sister, along with my dad and aunt, managed to cross into Egypt in an ambulance.
I talked to her a day before I sat my information technology exam. Her voice sounded like that of someone talking from a deep hole.
It was too late. My eldest sister passed away days later in Cairo.
“Let’s go to your house,” Mohammad, one of my cousins, suggested as I was waiting in front of the main gate of Khaled Bin al-Waleed School after sitting the first English exam. “You wait, dude. We are not in a hurry. Why should we go to our house?” I replied. “Nothing, but I thought it would be a good idea to do so,” he said.
As we walked along with Bilal, another cousin of mine, they started talking about the importance of patience and the reward awaiting patient people. I was asked questions about my sister; they had difficulty talking about her death.
I showed resilience when my eldest brother was killed on 7 March 2004 at the age of 18. I know what loss is. In vain, I tried to hide the drops of tears falling from my eyes. My cheeks were washed with the tears of loss.
My family waited three days until my dad, aunt and my sister’s dead body got a permit to get back to Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Karim Abu Salem crossing.
During that time, my dad had to return my sister’s body to al-Arish hospital (50 kilometers south of the Rafah crossing) twice, for it was hard to get a permit to get back into Gaza.
Some Israeli soldiers waited for the dead body at the crossing. Those very Israeli soldiers served a state that prevented her from travelling to Jerusalem for a vital operation.
(Zeinab had a dreadful experience in Jerusalem previously. When she fell ill at the age of 12, my dad brought her to a hospital in Jerusalem, where an Israeli doctor removed her spleen. The doctor later acknowledged that the operation was not necessary. We believe that this procedure led to many of Zeinab’s subsequent health problems.)
“Why do you cry, all of us will die?” a rude Israeli soldier — attempting to be wise — asked my dad. He got no answer. Dad was not in the mood to answer him.
They finally left the crossing and made it to Gaza. My 26-year-old sister was buried next to many other loved ones in al-Nuseirat Cemetery as the voice of the stupid Israeli soldier echoed in the sky.
“Why do you cry, all of us will die?”
All of us will die, wise.