The UK has for the first time officially invited the Israeli government to the world’s largest arms fair at DSEI, set to take place in London this month. I’m calling on UK citizens to make their voices heard.
For many people who have lived a life free from war and military occupation, the global arms trade may seem like a distant or even irrelevant issue. But for Palestinians like me, it is an inescapable and painful reality.
I am a 19-year-old who has spent my entire childhood in the Gaza strip, a place sometimes described as the world’s “largest open air prison”. This is because of the crippling military blockade enforced on the region by the Israeli state, which denies us access to basic rights and resources every single day.
Not only this, but Gaza has been the target of a number of major bombing assaults by Israeli forces during my lifetime. The attack during “Operation Cast Lead” took place over 22 days in 2008-9 when I was just 10 years old, and changed my life forever.
In the midst of the bombings, on 4 January 2009, Israeli forces stormed my family home, ordered my father out and shot and killed him at our front door. Then they set fire to our home and starting shooting at the rest of us, injuring my four-year-old brother Ahmed and two other children. Next, over 100 extended family members were rounded up, and forced into the house of my uncle Wa’el al-Samouni where we stayed for a day and a half with only the food or water that was in the house.
It was there where my little brother succumbed to his injuries, as none of the injured were allowed to leave, and one of my aunts gave birth during the ordeal. A cousin and two of my uncles were bombed and killed while looking for firewood or standing at the door. The Israeli government denies that it ordered residents to gather in one house.
Finally, Israeli forces bombed the building, killing 23 family members and leaving me trapped under rubble next to their bodies for three days. On 7 January, I was somehow found alive. Over 29 members of my extended family were killed over these days, with many others permanently injured. Shrapnel, which I can still feel, has remained lodged in my brain which as I grew up left me to endure nose bleeds, pain in my eyes and ears and headaches that continue today.
No human being should have to endure this kind of trauma and violence, let alone any child. Yet Operation Cast Lead alone killed 1,400 people, including more than 330 children. My story is just one of thousands of others lived by Palestinians in Gaza – and the deadly attacks against my people continue to this day.
A decade later, me and my family continue to resist Israel’s brutality and the oppression of our community. Since March last year, hundreds of thousands have been protesting at the Gaza fence in a series of protests called the “Great Return March”. We are calling for an end to the siege and for the realisation of our fundamental right, as enshrined in international law, to return to the homes from which the majority of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced.
In response, despite repeated denials that its troops intentionally target civilians, Israel has met our unarmed protests with brutal live fire, killing over 250 and injuring over 27,000. A decade on from Operation Cast Lead, Israeli bullets and bombs are still tearing our community apart.