Letters from Gaza (14) ...Scene at a Checkpoint

19 October 2008

It has been a long time since I wrote my last piece. Having another child is not an easy job. Parenthood is a full time job, it illuminates your life but keeps you busy at all times.

During the last two months, I have not been feeling myself. Without the outlet of writing, an important part of me vanished, leaving too many ideas and feelings locked up inside, waiting to find their way out, to see the sun. Hopefully I have time to release them all before my boy wakes up.

Gaza is a place of extremes and contradictions. In this living hell we encounter devils and angels; the warmth of intimate family moments against the backdrop of a siege; the cruelty of violence collides with the tenderness of parenthood.

The reason for my musings is the memory of the shocking scene I witnessed as I left Erez checkpoint. A scene I will never forget.

I had finished my security check, on my return from Jerusalem, and was racing with eager steps on the long walk towards the Palestinian side of the checkpoint. All I could think of was seeing my children, my husband, and the excitement on their faces when they received the lovely presents that I bought for them.

This might be why I could not figure out what the other woman; who was walking in silence; was holding tightly next to her heart.

“Why was she not in a rush,” I said to myself; “surely she too missed her children.”

“But where are her bags” I wondered, “where are the toys that she bought to surprise her children with?”

The shocking answer to my questions came when I reached the woman’s side, to discover that what she held so close to her chest was the dead body of her two year old baby, rapped in a piece of cloth.

At that moment I felt suddenly embarrassed, as I held the toys, at all the excitement I had felt at finally seeing my children after a week away from them.

I could not say a word of sympathy to this poor mother, as if I had lost the capacity for speech. I wished to say something though I knew that she would not hear whatever words I said to comfort her. I wished to carry the body instead of her, but I knew that it was too dear to her to let it be carried by others.

I understood why she was holding it so tight for the last time. It was not easy for her to forget the nine months of pregnancy, full of wishes and expectations for her baby. Nor to forget the pain, and screams of the delivery and allow the hopes and dreams that she had had for this new life vanish.

She walked with heavy steps holding her baby in her arms, and her pain in her heart. Crying in silence she refused even to cry out loud to ease her pain. She was forced to carry the body of her dead baby because the Israeli authorities had refused to let an ambulance drive her through the crossing.

The bitterness was tangible and not easily forgotten. The scene was shocking and cruel; accentuating, for me, the pitiless inhumanity of the siege. I saw this mother’s personal tragedy framed by our collective tragedy and I wondered if love and mercy could ever prevail.

Najwa Sheikh
Gaza,  October 2008
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.


Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
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