Gaza Diary: From One War to Another

M.'s family fled the fighting in Syria, only to end up in the Gaza Strip one month before Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense. 'Man can never escape his destiny,' says M.'s wife.

When they fled the overwhelming violence in Syria, the family didn’t know that they were putting themselves straight into another bitter, life-threatening offensive.

M., who preferred to be identified by his initial and refused to be photographed for security reasons, arrived at the Hamas-run enclave of the Gaza  Strip in June 2012, to visit his sister, when the “uprising” in Syria ratcheted up to a higher volume of aggression. By October, he found himself forced to move his wife and two children from Syria to the Gaza Strip.

“In the beginning, my children used to phone from Syria and beg me to come back home, but later they asked me to bring them here,” he noted. M. never dreamed he would be bringing his family to another dangerous zone. He was thinking only of how he could reunite with them.

He noted that the only difference between the two “wars” is that the fighting between Gaza and Israel in November was understandable. “At least here, I know who my enemy is, unlike in Syria. I left my home in Syria and my neighbors told me that it was broken into and robbed. I don’t know who did it but this isn’t a war – it’s chaos.”

The 4-year-old, A., said he was so happy when he first came here. “Gaza is so beautiful, but then it became so much like Syria,” he said while watching TV. A. now goes to a local kindergarten where he’s meeting new friends and interacting with them. “I love my kindergarten so much, it’s so beautiful and has so many toys,” he said, adding “but I couldn’t go there for a while because of the bombings.” He was referring to the Israel Defense Forces’ bombing of Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense.

When A. went with his dad and his uncle to take a look around Gaza after the Israeli offensive was over, he wasn’t surprised by what he saw. Basically, it was the same scenes he used to see in Syria. “I saw a damaged mosque, I saw so many destroyed houses and ruins everywhere,” A. said.

M.'s daughter, S., was more afraid than his son. She said that when she came to Gaza she was expecting to sleep the whole night through, without any bombing outside, but she was very shocked with what she found.

“It’s scarier than Syria. In Syria there were only tanks that weren’t close to my home, but in Gaza the warplanes were circling the skies over my head 24/7,” S. said.

During the offensive, while everyone in Gaza was following the local news of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting, the Syrian mother was waiting for them to go sleep so she could watch a bit of the Syrian news broadcasts. “I’m so worried about my family in Syria,” she said. “I know Gaza is not such a safe place, but I never expected anything like this, at least now.”

Meanwhile, her husband was following the news on both Syria and Gaza, and trying to make a connection between them, especially when the cease-fire was reached on November 22. “I followed the Syrian media to find them blaming the Palestinian resistance for not acknowledging the Syrian role in supporting it,” he elaborated.

While it was really dangerous in Gaza, he said he doesn’t regret coming here. “At least I’m in my country now, and if I die, I’ll die for something. But in Syria, I’m a guest and I don’t want to die there,” he said.

M. expressed his satisfaction with the way the war ended; he believed that the Palestinian resistance managed to surprise Israel. “Netanyahu wanted to promote himself before [Israel's January] elections, but  he ended up destroying himself by himself,” said M., suggesting that the offensive had failed to stop Palestinian rocket fire.

The violence in Syria began in March 2011 with demonstrations against President Bashar Assad’s regime, but it soon turned into a fierce civil war between the regime and its opponents. In Gaza, the IDF operation started on November 14 when Israel assassinated senior Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari after an escalation in rocket fire emerging from the Strip, and an attack on an Israeli military jeep on the Israel-Gaza border.

While M.'s wife has felt relatively safe since the cease-fire was reached, she wishes she could go back to her homeland in Syria. “Now I know that man can never escape his destiny.”