Gaza is more than 5,800 miles from my home outside Washington D.C. But I live the horror every day through phone calls to my family back home. I hear the bombs in the background as my Mom tells me the latest news of my extended family, assuring me that everyone is okay. For now.
My heart breaks a little when my niece gets on the phone. "I want come to be in Amreeka with you." Fatmah is three and a half years old. This is the second time she's been caught in the middle of a war zone in Gaza. My Mom tells me little Fatmah wakes up in the middle of the night and pleads to turn off the ceiling fan because it sounds like war planes flying overhead. Her grandson Omar doesn't understand why he can't go outside to play anymore.
My mother is keeping watch on everyone in my family of 10 as best she can. I talk to her as often as I can during the day. She cries and tells me of her fears for the safety of all her children and for herself. She tells me she is not afraid of death for herself because she sees it as an act of nature. For me, the images from Gaza are not an act of nature.
Already more than 500 Palestinians have lost their lives, many of them innocent children. For me, these are 500 unfinished stories, lives cut short too soon. Entire families perished. They didn't deserve this ending. I think these were men, women and children who had favorite songs, TV shows they followed and families they loved. Their homes and lives were built with hard work, sweat and love. Now that's all gone, all destroyed in an instant.
My father risks his life every day going to his grocery store to make sure people have the supplies they need to break their fast. But he tells me the supplies are running low everywhere in Gaza.
It's hard for me to hear their fear and suffering when I am so far away. I realize I cannot take my life here for granted anymore. I don't have to choose whether to sleep in the bathroom or kitchen to avoid windows facing the street where bombs may rain down. I do not fear for my life when I hear a plane or helicopter overhead -- a sound all in Gaza associate now with death and destruction.
I also look at this tragedy with new eyes now that I will soon be a father too. Our first child is due next month. I pray I will not have to tell baby Zayna one more sad story about her relatives.
This latest bombardment is the third in six years and comes seven years into a blockade of Gaza that had virtually shut down the economy. Already families there were suffering from shortages of vital medicines, fuel to keep the power on more than four hours a day and materials to build homes, schools and clinics. Now the situation is unimaginably worse.
It's hard for me to relax when I know my family and others are living a nightmare back home. Yet, I find some peace in the work I do here for an American relief organization that delivers aid and development for Palestinian families. At least I can share with my family the outpouring of support for Gaza we are receiving from around the globe. I want them to know they are not forgotten. They are not alone.
_________________________ ANERA is a US non-profit humanitarian organization that has been providing relief aid and development assistance to Palestinian communities across the Middle East for more than 45 years. It has been operating in Gaza with a staff of local professionals since 1985.