War planes help usher in the New Year

With the smell of death, and the scene of destruction, Gazans bid farewell to 2008. Some 434 people have died and more than 2,200 have been injured since Israel's aerial bombardment began on December 27. These numbers are anticipated to rise, as Israeli leaders have stated that this is only the beginning of "Operation Cast Lead." MENASSAT’s Olfat Haddad gives us a glimpse of what Gazans are wishing for in 2009.
new year gaza
A Gaza woman with a New Year's Eve disguise - where to where it is the question? All restaurants were closed in Gaza this New Years costing thousands in lost revenue. R.R.

GAZA, January, 3, 2009 (MENASSAT)  — As the clocks in Gaza sounded midnight on the first day of January 2009, explosions rocked the Gaza Strip. These explosions were not celebratory fireworks; they were munitions fired from Israeli F-16's at targets across the Strip—huge missiles that have caused some 430 Palestinian deaths since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead eight days ago.

And as the death toll rises, the Israeli army has made sure that the new year will be bloodier for Gazans than in all of 2008.

Hope that Israel would lift the two-year-old siege of Gaza this New Year were dashed by Israel's military planners. What joy might have been was stolen and with it much of the hope for peace that existed before December 27.

Was there anything to wish for in the New Year? It was a question MENASSAT posed to several Gazans yesterday.

25-year-old Latifa al-Kilani flashed a wry smile when I asked her if she had any New Year's wishes.

"What New Year are you talking about? How can we talk about New Year and new hope when we are in the middle of a war?" she asked. "Let's see the outcome of this war first, and see what will happen to us. Then we can talk about the New Year and my hopes..."


Before al-Kilani could finish answering the question, we heard a loud explosion from an Israeli air raid. She laughed and finished, "This is Israel's gift for us for the New Year, what more can we ask for?"

Bisan Ramlawi, 22, said, "Despite the death and destruction we are facing every day, I hope—if I survive this war—I really hope that the New Year brings goodness and relief on all levels."

Ramlawi, who is 5 months pregnant, told MENASSAT, "I wouldn't like my baby to come to this world filled with death and destruction. I want her to enjoy life, and have beautiful days, and I hope she never sees such times like this."

How dare we hope?

Journalist Lana Shahine said, "My wishes for the New Year? Every year we wish the next year brings more hope than the one before, but we receive the opposite. And this time around, as you can see, there is more death and destruction everywhere. How dare we hope while Israeli bombs are destroying our lives?"

She added, "Before the military attack on Gaza, my husband and I were planning to celebrate the New Year in a restaurant in Gaza City, as we do every year. But today, I don't even dare to think of it. Never mind leaving my house after 8 pm; they are targeting anything that moves. In truth, with all the indiscriminate bombing, my husband and I actually forgot 2008 was winding down."

Shahine said that her work as a reporter covering the Israeli military offensive has given her one overriding hope: that Israel will be pressured into ending the operation. She dreams to hear the sound of the blender chopping up food, rather than the sound of warplanes bombing Gaza.

Abu Ahmad, who declined to give his last name, has just one wish for the New Year.

"To see the Palestinian resistance victorious, like in South Lebanon in 2006 with the Lebanese resistance. A successful defense of the Gaza Strip from Israeli attacks is now the wish of all Gazans, and a success for everybody if we do it."

Walking around Gaza on New Year's Day, restaurants were closed, and people told me that New Year's eve celebrations were canceled because of the bombing campaign. Restaurant owners all said that the holiday season was meant to compensate for their losses during the two-year Israeli siege.

Samah Youssif, a Gaza City restaurant owner, told MENASSAT, "We made many arrangements for New Year's Eve. We even booked bands and artists for the night, and prepared all the food; the place was fully booked. But we cannot celebrate while our people are being killed."

She added, "I hope we enter the New Year with an end to war. I mean, people cannot take this tragic situation any more."

Of course, two minutes after midnight, many Gazans received text messages on their cell phones from the Israeli military's psychological operations division. One of them read:

 "Look outside F_16 SMILLING  for you…MISSILES dancing for you …Zannana's (unmanned drones) singing for you because I requested them All to wish You *HAPPY NEW YEAR *"
So, the New Year has come and Gazans are preparing for the worst. As certain as there will be an Israeli ground invasion, there will be more bloodshed. Or as some elderly Gazans are suggesting, will the sacrifices of Palestinians here be enough for there to be a mutual, respected peace in 2009?