Making sense of the senseless: Gaza's horrors throw up a mix of emotions

Gaza, though not yet a cadaver itself, has rendered the world corpse-like in its wake.

No words can describe the intensity and scale of suffering in Gaza. Still, we bear witness, exhausted by despair and equally fatigued by hope.
Lina Jaradat
No words can describe the intensity and scale of suffering in Gaza. Still, we bear witness, exhausted by despair and equally fatigued by hope.

Making sense of the senseless: Gaza's horrors throw up a mix of emotions

"Ah, what a splendid morning," I whisper to myself as dawn unfolds. The sun, even in winter, makes the world look new, easy on the eyes but lighting up the soul.

There are glimpses of joy as one meanders beneath benevolent rays through lanes steeped in history, past trees and fences which bear the imprints of doors long since gone.

A sense of place can produce a deep bond — one far removed from the superficial glance of a tourist. It is formed through the soles of the feet, the drift of the gaze and the scent of the air.

In my wanderings, I seek to unravel the narrative of this place as one might trace the tales of growth held within the knot marks and rugged bark of an ancient tree, revealing a deeper truth from the stories about what has become ingrained.

Here, I can see the epochs and eras. One sight provides testimony from another century, another speaks of a relic of the 1960s, and a third echoes the 1980s.

In one place, only a few stone steps remain as clues from another age, crowned more recently with the regrowth of wild plants. These are the chronicles of other lifetimes, told during the relentless march of days, picked out by the sun's journey through the sky over generations.

Another sight etched into the fabric of the place is frequent: A heart alongside initials or the tender words "I love you" in the vernacular and on the walls and barriers.

Occasionally, there is a date alongside these simple, intimate words as if to anchor the sentiment within the vastness of time or perhaps as a nod to the fleeting nature of our existence.

Maybe they are intended to capture a profound moment – or put down a marker as the inexorable river of time flows all around – stepping stones in the currents.

An indelible mark

As I meander through ancient allies, my thoughts drift to Italo Calvino's ethereal, conjured cities, a testament to the unseen and the unspoken. Simultaneously, Gaza emerges in my mind, not as a vivid portrait but as a persistent presence, an indelible mark upon the fabric of existence.

Lina Jaradat

It's an intuitive weight, like a stone, that we carry in the minutiae of our daily lives as a ceaseless reminder of a reality marred by the grotesque and the incomplete. There is agony and deeply rooted scars. Time, in its relentless march, refuses to heal them.

There is an undeniable truth: genocide leaves an indelible shadow. The wounds its atrocities inflict only deepen with the passage of years.

Time – in its dual guise as both healer and incubator of ill feeling – pushes Gaza into the forefront of my thoughts, highlighting my inability to forget.

Gaza stirs a complex brew of emotions, thoughts, fears, and aspirations; it is a place unjustly sentenced to obliteration, where the earth and its inhabitants endure relentless efforts to make its venerable streets unrecognisable.

Grandeur and potential

Then comes a paradox within the devastation.

The ruins and the rubble are grounds for an “Imagined Gaza” – a place of sanctuary suspended between what once was and what yet may be. It straddles the line between the grandeur of its past and the potential of its post-apocalyptic future.

The essence of this place and its people is endurance. The way they combine two eras – the Gaza that was and the Gaza that remains throughout its trials – becomes a beacon in itself.

It seems plausible that without the cataclysm of World War II, Calvino might never have penned his opus nor envisioned those ethereal cities.

In the bloom of his youth, he witnessed the crumbling of ancient European cities—places rich with the layers of time, distinct in features and boundaries, shaped by generations—into ruins.

These cities, in time, rose from their ashes. Their post-war story is one of modernity embraced, expansion beyond historical confines, and continued civilisation. They became habitable and then flourishing locales.

These cities underwent a form of death and rebirth, with the original fabric fading into oblivion. Cities are but repositories of memory, and their reconstruction cannot revive the lost memories.

This is where literature holds its power.

Gaza stirs a complex brew of emotions, thoughts, fears, and aspirations; it is a place unjustly sentenced to obliteration.

Calvino, through his literary craft, sought perhaps to achieve just that. By bestowing upon his cities names tinged with enchantment, often linked to women, he seemed to infuse them anew with the mystique of creation.

Gaza, in 2023 and into 2024, transcended its geographical confines to become more. It embodied the collective aspiration for a liberated Palestine. Across the globe, voices of solidarity rose in unison, proclaiming "Free Palestine."

Yet, the toll for Gaza was steep, measured in the most terrible currency of flesh and blood. Some speak of miracles amid the strife, invoking tales of valour and sacrifice within the ancient dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed.

This constrained fervour found its voice amid apathy and disgust. It raised a resonant question, which still echoes: Is it not time for Palestine to reclaim its identity and for the cycle of violence to end?

Politics seems to have exhausted its lexicon, with the clarity of our collective longing as vivid as the brightness of the sun. Palestine, in this era, is a stark reality, far removed from mere slogans or chants.

Gaza's palpable suffering has shifted the narrative away from rhetoric. But the cost is so staggeringly immense that it defies articulation.

Adored and abhorred

For decades, Palestine has been both adored and abhorred. It became a symbol of broader struggles. Yet, the bloodshed in Gaza leaves no room for detachment this time.

Whether this can be considered a positive development seems irrelevant given the sheer volume of blood that has been spilt.

Palestine is a living testament to resilience and suffering, not just a symbol. Love or loathe your homelands, weave your myths and legends, but don't let them come at the expense of further bloodshed.

Lina Jaradat

I had never thought of a soul's face. Ghosts were fables to me, and tales of jinn left me untouched.

In the deepest of night, in a city swallowed by darkness, no ghost would dare manifest before me. Darkness would simply unfold into a lesser shade of itself, never deepening.

But now I find myself seeing spirits. They visit me in dreams and in waking moments, hovering in the limbo between sky and earth, aloft over smoke and debris.

I see the faces of children, adults and the elderly adrift in a silent congregation. Animal spirits, too, appear – dogs, cats, mules, donkeys – each with their ethereal presence.

Even the spirits of inanimate objects – garments, satchels, crates – reveal themselves. The essences of places, of kitchens and bedrooms, windows and doors, they all throng this realm, suspended in mid-air.

Alternative Gaza

It seems inevitable, then, that a new city has taken shape in this interstice. How could it not, with the amalgamation of these visions?

It defies belief to think that all would vanish without a trace. Must there not be a vestige left behind? Could they not inhabit another existence elsewhere?

This city does not reside within the physical confines of Gaza; it is an alternate Gaza, existing not in a specific location but ubiquitously, for it dwells within the mind.

Could this be a phantom of powerlessness, a manifestation of profound despair? My certainty falters here, just as it does on all matters over post-war Gaza.

The once-melodious world now echoes with cries, groans, screams, and lamentations. The carnage persists unceasingly. People have grown weary of the news, their screens a testament to ennui. They are exhausted by despair, equally fatigued by hope.

A collective resolve to persevere has emerged, carving out a steadfast, unyielding space for the anticipation of news that might herald the cessation of this nightmarish reality.

Whether this constitutes denial, I cannot say. Yet, if it were denial, it might just be the most monumental in human history.

No words can describe the intensity and scale of suffering in Gaza. Still, we bear witness, exhausted by despair and equally fatigued by hope.

In the cacophony of stances and slogans, accusations and rebuttals, analyses and retrospectives, the inevitable truth emerges: bodies. Gaza, though not yet a cadaver itself, has rendered the world corpse-like in its wake. But what follows the image of a corpse?

When seeing a corpse, the mind immediately races to all the horrific ways this person, be it an adult or child, finally died.

Here, the power of imagination falters, stalls; for imagination cannot extricate itself from consciousness. When it collides with an insurmountable barrier, it signals not just a halt in creative thought but also a sensory confrontation with that barrier.

The death of imagination itself

I can almost hear the echo of millions worldwide, their collective psyche crashing against this barrier – a sound not merely of helplessness, but of the death of imagination itself.

This impasse raises myriad questions about justice, truth, retribution, and morality – questions that persist, glaring and unresolved, even as the perpetrator is identified and the blood of the victim shines with an unnerving vibrancy.

The perennial question in the aftermath of mass atrocities remains deceptively simple: why them?

As life's mundane rhythms ­­­– making coffee, enjoying music, conversing on the phone, dining, loving – march on, they are underscored by a macabre counterpoint: the accumulation of bodies.

I wonder whether the departed sense anything in their final moments. Perhaps a voice, a whisper, a word imparting a fleeting peace before their souls were untethered. I cling to the imagination of such moments.

Without them, death's cruelty would be absolute, a stark departure into oblivion. If our end is to dissolve into darkness, then our existence flickers out in a mere instant. We simply cease.

Lina Jaradat

Distant in space and time

I meander through the ancient lanes of a city, distant in both space and time. The winter sun warms a feeling of happiness, but it is tinged with sorrow.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Gaza, in the shadow of tragedy, each flicker of joy – no matter how fleeting or profound – is shadowed by an undercurrent of guilt: How can I embrace this joy while others have been so utterly deprived of it?

Gaza, in its essence, accompanies me on this walk. The winter sunlight's tempered glow comes through. Life reveals its starkness, continuing unabated even when the very foundations that justify its beauty seem so irrevocably severed.

There is serendipity. I find myself mirrored in Calvino's timeline – his birth trailed the remnants of World War I in 1923 – and his seminal work, Invisible Cities, came to life in 1972, the year of my birth.

He weaves coincidence through his narrative. His imagined cities elude visibility not just because they are fictional but also because they are made up of more than the physical eye can see.

Calvino's cities require the lens of memory to be bought into focus, the articulation of language, and the nuance of poetry. They remain obscured from conquerors and travellers alike, including figures as illustrious as Kublai Khan and as adventurous as Marco Polo.

The warm winter sun brings me happiness, but it is tinged with sorrow. How can I embrace this joy while others have been so utterly deprived of it?

Enchanting aura

These cities, through Calvino's vision, acquire an enchanting aura, elevating beyond simple monuments to lost metropolises and their inhabitants. They harness a mystical force, a conduit to reawaken the essence of locales once alive with footsteps.

My contemplation veers towards today's conquerors, entities far beyond mere executioners or imperialists. Driven by a sinister urge to erase places from existence, they demolish communities with a malevolent fervour that spans both the tangible and intangible domains.

This hostility acknowledges a profound truth: to obliterate a place is not just to destroy its physical structure but to erase the very soul of its people.

Such adversaries understand all too well that places are imbued with the essence of their inhabitants. It is this essence they target with unparalleled brutality.

History seldom records a foe so fixated on the extermination of memory, perhaps because memory itself poses the greatest threat to them.

Thus, this is a campaign to expunge memory from the stones of cities, from the air we breathe, from the minds and souls of those who bear witness. In this war, memory is the first casualty, targeted for extinction before all else.

My mother's broken plate

One day, my mother was enveloped in a profound sadness over the loss of a porcelain plate, shattered beyond repair.

This plate had been a silent witness to the unfolding of our family's history, present from the very inception of her marriage through every joy and sorrow we experienced.

Reflecting on this now, I grasp the depth of meaning this simple object held for her, transcending its mere physical form.

It was more than a dish; it was a repository of memories, a silent observer of the heart and soul, a constant through the fleeting days.

Lina Jaradat

This makes me wonder.

If a place embodies a person, with all its contents and significance, and a person embodies a place in the same manner, and if every individual constructs their own imagined city, existing alongside the tangible city they inhabit, then how vast was the devastation in Gaza today?

With 30,000 lives lost, we mourn not just the individuals, but thirty thousand Gazas, at the very least. Each loss represents a unique world, a personal city of memories, hopes, and dreams, now forever lost in the rubble of conflict.

I traverse these ancient pathways, partaking in what seems an eternal procession, a funeral without end. Behind me trails a phalanx of cities laid to waste, a lineage of loss that extends far beyond Gaza. It is a truth long known, yet never solely Gaza's to bear.

Ramallah, too, fades into the abyss of annihilation, Jerusalem follows suit, and Haifa and Jaffa. Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Tripoli, Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, Sanaa, Aden, Baghdad, Basra—the list lengthens, a grim procession of metropolises turned into spectres, marching in silent vigil.

A canopy of imagined secret cities floats above. Under it, the faces of the dead mingle with the winter sun's tender glow, their sorrow veiling the lightness of the day.

To sleep, I strive to banish all imaginings. Memories cascade, alien and estranged. How has age crept upon me with such stealth? When did my yearning for life's embrace wither, dying in both heart and soul?

I offer prayers for unknown spirits, each supplication a testament to the fragile line between memory and fantasy.

I summon the memory of Calvino's enchanted cities, marvelling at how he came up with all those names. In moments of despair, I retreat to these realms, drawing from them a semblance of certainty, solace, and steadfastness.

I cling to the belief that all cities condemned to oblivion, past and future, shall endure in perpetual memory, for once a writer, a poet, envisioned them, breathed life into their essence, and reclaimed the memories stripped from them.

One of Calvino's cities, eternally etched in my consciousness, will always be called Gaza.

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