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Five years after losing her family in Gaza, Mona has a mobile

Peace seems a distant prospect in Gaza

Chris Doyle

Published: Updated:

Mona has a mobile.

“Hi. This is Mona. Mona Samouni.”

Over five and a half years ago, my wife Rim and I had sent with a friend some small gifts of toys and clothes to this young 10-year-old girl in Gaza who had lost her family in the Israeli war on Gaza in January 2009. We had seen her talk to the BBC about her plight in a most extraordinary touching way. It was just one small token private gesture from us to someone who had lost everything. We sent a supportive letter and at once received a beautiful one in response. But totally out of the blue, with no contact in between, here she was on the line.

“I just got my first mobile, and you are the first people I wanted to call to thank you.” She even remembered our children’s names from the letter and asked after them. She is so, so happy to have this mobile – she does not have a computer, an email account or Facebook. She can now connect at least by phone. It has been a dream to do so. It is a connection to the outside world from inside the hell of Gaza.

Justice is a distant reality given that there has not even been a Goldstone Commission report after this war

Chris Doyle

My first sensation was one of immense relief - she was alive and “safe” (safety is relative in Gaza), followed immediately with an overwhelming sense of genuine amazement and admiration. How had she fared over these years? How was this girl as she matured into a teenager? How had she coped? She had survived four wars in her short life. How had this affected her?

Mona is now 16. All of the poise, eloquence and calm that made such an impression in the international media are intact. She is angry but it seems well managed and expressed although she had every reason to hate the world.

She had been hiding with 100 members of her family in a single home in Gaza when Israeli shells hit it. The only immediate member of her family to survive was her elder brother, Hilmi. Overall, 29 members of her family were killed in Operation Cast Lead, 21 in front of her. This included both her parents. Her father bled for a day but she could not help him and even the Red Cross was denied access for two days. The Israeli forces claimed it was an “operational error,” something contested by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that concluded: “On the basis of its investigation, the Mission expresses significant doubts about the Israeli authorities’ account of the incident.”

Her conversation was peppered with three key words: fear, rights and dreams.

During the latest Israeli attack on Gaza this summer, it was all about fear. Above all, her family and friends were terrified of an Israeli land invasion and the sight of tanks in their area once again. The invasion came and the tanks once again served to flatten Gaza. This time, the tanks were to the east but still close to their home. All the family had to move out and they transferred to another area where they found shelter in a nursery. In this converted house there was a courtyard, which made the noise of the bombing even louder. They could feel the house shaking. The flares were particularly scary as they nearly always preceded the bombs. “We felt it was a déjà vu, but on a larger scale with other families suffering the same.” She comforted the other children in the shelter as best she could and even tried to make them laugh. “But you just cannot change what children feel.” Even now she says her four-year-old nephew cries at the slightest noise and screams “Saroukh…Saroukh” meaning rocket. She did not want any of the children of the world to feel “the bitterness of being an orphan.”

Seeking justice

What she wanted was justice and rights - “Al haq” she kept on repeating. The Israeli authorities had closed the case file and even promoted the man responsible. The promotion of the man and the closure of the case made her so angry. “Israel deprived me and others of our most basic rights. Israel deprived me of my Mum and Dad.” She wants the British government and Parliament to stand with the people of Gaza and not to support war.

But she has her dreams. “I used to dream that the war was going to end. I still want to see Palestinian children like all other children living their life in peace and realizing their dreams.” Her first desire was to be a doctor or a nurse. “I wanted to be able to help people. I would have been able to save my father.” But now she wants to go to university and then be a teacher. Her challenge is that there is so much unemployment. She tells us her brother is now married but his wife has been looking for a job for three years since graduating from university. “Our most important weapon is knowledge.”

However, even acquiring knowledge is often denied in Gaza. Israel has bombed schools and universities, and her school has been closed for three days because the teachers are striking for lack of salaries being paid.

The terrifying thing is that across Gaza there are many Monas. The latest Israeli onslaught, according to the United Nations, left 142 families losing three or more members for a total civilian fatality count of 739. Many Gazans just want to leave but Mona has not given up. “The Israelis killed civilians, the farmers and the ordinary people but did not kill resistance.”

Can Mona realize any of her dreams? Peace seems a distant prospect in Gaza, and if the world has not entirely forgotten what happened in Gaza this summer or during all the other wars, the media is paying is scant attention now. Justice is a distant reality given that there is not even a Goldstone Commission report after this war.

The real fear in Gaza is that rights are just a dream.

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Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.