Ibrahim–may your memory be a blessing forever.

2009: Wafaa Awajah hangs a “martyr poster” of her child, 9-year-old Ibrahim
 

Ibrahim. I never met you. Yet you have become part of my life forever.

On January 4, 2009, you were a 9-year-old little boy. Living in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya. You, your parents (Kamal and Wafaa), your sisters and brothers (Omsiyat, Sobhi, Hala, Diyaa, and Zikriyat) had just fled your house as Israeli military bulldozers began to topple it on your heads. Israeli soldiers shot at your family as you fled.

A bullet hit you in the side. Your father scooped you up in his arms and continued running. Then a bullet struck and injured your father. The rest of your family was able to make it behind the mud wall of a nearby garden, witnessing what happened next.

I can’t imagine what was going through the Israeli soldier’s head when he approached you, lying injured in the road, in your father’s arms.

I can’t imagine what you felt when the soldier lifted his gun, pointed it at your face, and pulled the trigger.

To be honest: I never fully tried to imagine that before, Ibrahim. I met your family just months after your murder. In the ten years since then, my heart has broken time and again from their pain, their ongoing trauma, their suffering. But today, I am thinking about you. About what you experienced the night you were killed. About the young man you never had the chance to become.

This short film that I made about your family, Ibrahim. It’s meant to capture the tragedy of what they lived through, but also your family’s profound resilience, their deep humanity.

One Family in Gaza, the short film I made about 9-year old Ibrahim’s family a few months after the little boy was killed during “Operation Cast Lead.”
 

Another confession: I almost didn’t finish the film. I had so many projects I was working on, that the 3 mini-DV tapes of footage from the three days I spent with your family almost stayed on my bookshelf without ever being edited.

But there was one image that was seared into my brain. The image of your 7-year old sister Hala playing with your 3-year old brother Diyaa on the rubble of your destroyed home. Laughing as they rolled shrapnel and bullet shells down the collapsed roof. Their only playground.  I would wake up some mornings with that image in front of my retinas before even opening my eyes.

It took me over a year, but I finished the film, calling it One Family in Gaza. People all over the world met your beautiful family through the film; some of them offered support, which continues  to this day.

I’ve tried to use whatever small platforms I have to ensure that you are remembered, Ibrahim. That your family’s pain impacts people of conscience. I made this short follow-up film about what your family went through in the years after your murder, including their newly rebuilt home being destroyed once again in the 2014 assault:

Short follow-up film about the Awajah family, 5 years after One Family in Gaza
 

I wrote about your family in this piece, No Exit in Gaza, shortly after the 2014 war, and in this piece, Gaza’s Mental Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War a year after the war. (I start the article describing the visit when your 3-year old brother, who was born after you were killed and is named after you, told me over breakfast that the Jews had shot him. “No, no, you’re the second Ibrahim. It was your brother who was shot, not you,” your dad reassured your little brother.) And I wrote this piece, about Celebrating Eid with your family in the rubble of their twice-destroyed home.

Your mother messaged me early this morning. “We still cry,” she wrote. Your big brother Sobhi, now a 20-year old university student, is grieving particularly deeply. I hope they are finding some comfort in your tree.

Do you remember your tree, Ibrahim? Your olive tree? It was planted for you when you were born. You and your family took shelter under it ten years ago, just before you were killed. It remained a symbol for your family of their connection to you.

When your home was destroyed again in 2014, your parents were heartsick to realize that your tree was destroyed as well. Buried under the rubble. But 6 months later, Sobhi cleared some of the rubble away and found a small olive tree shrub, cut down in size but still very much alive.

Your tree.

Your family’s house is rebuilt again, Ibrahim. Your tree continues to grow.

May your tree contain your spirit, Ibrahim. And may that spirit somehow protect your family. May your parents experience the joy and peace that is possible only with the knowledge that they can keep their children safe. May Omsiyat, Sobhi, Hala, Diyaa, Zikriyat and the siblings you never met, Lulu and little Ibrahim, have the opportunity you never had–not just to live, but to thrive and pursue their dreams.

May no more children–in Gaza or Yemen or Syria or Israel or Kurdistan or anywhere–endure what you endured. May no more families suffer the way yours has suffered.

Ibrahim. May your memory be a blessing for ever.

Wafaa Awajah tending her son Ibrahim’s tree in 2015.
The Awajah family in 2015
Donkeysaddle Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Donkeysaddle Projects must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
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