Gaza through a Mother’s Lens

By Zahiye Kundos

This essay has been previously published on May 8, 2024 by “The Brink”, a blog of the Political Theology Network and is republished here with the kind permission of the author and the Brink.

“Mami, when will the war on Gaza end?”… I know I should lie to my eight-year-old son like I used to.

“What do the children in Gaza do without schools for so long? Do they manage to find or make balls to play football? Why don’t their parents take them and run outside of the city?”

I swallow my tongue. 

I wonder who is a condition to whom, motherhood to the tongue or the tongue to motherhood? And I wonder if I ever will return to be a good mother.

Poster “In Solidarity with Palestine” (painting by Borhan Karkoutly, ca 1978), photo taken by Georges Khalil, 2024.

Since Gaza was set on fire, once again, I am asking myself: When will I manage to bring myself to language, to carry the duty of recording the apocalyptic scenes of death, and to imagine a way for rebirth thereof? The least of interventions from my safe place in the diaspora: bringing self to letters. Imagine.    

But I haven’t been able to, and I am troubled to understand why not. Why is the distance between myself and the act of translating feelings into letters so big this time?

Nothing in my life seems to have changed. I am experiencing the events away from family and Jaffa, my city of birth–just like in May 2021. And I don’t have the excuse that now I perceive what is happening from a mother’s lens. I have been a mother since 2008, and so far it has not prevented me from bringing my hands to document what the rest of my body sees.  Experiencing motherhood, in fact, brought me much closer to writing. Other things do too.   

I go back to Radwa Ashour, the great writer and literary scholar, to remember why I write:     

I am an Arab woman and a Third World citizen, and my heritage in both cases is stifled. I know this truth right down to the marrow of my bones, and I fear it to the extent that I write in self-defense and in defense of countless others with whom I identify or who are like me. I want to write because reality fills me with a sense of alienation. Silence only increases my alienation while confession opens me up so that I may head out toward the others or they may come to me themselves.

The View from Within (1994)

I was born to Ashour’s worlds, to womanhood in what we came to call “the global south,” in which Arabs are included. In my case, I have two other components that bring me close to letters, one very particular, Palestinianhood, and the other worldwide, Muslimhood. I fear the loss of my multiple heritages; if Gazans disappear, they all vanish with it. 

We Palestinians are Asḥab ḥaq: we demand justice for what happened and continues to happen to us by generations of Western and Israeli ideologies and institutions of power. Because we demand justice, we abide by the rules of justice. Taking Israeli children, mothers, and elderly people by force to Gaza, fearing the fate of the families they left behind, are not actions that suit our self-image, our history, and our social characteristics. Regardless of what Israel has done and is doing against us. Regardless. We are not like that.  

I am not preaching. I know I am privileged. I realize that only by chance was I not born with the iron circle around the neck of my family in Gaza. We have one soul; hurting innocent people darkens our soul. And we are a people who strive to live.

I acknowledge from observation and experience that the people in power in Israel will never admit Palestinians’ genuine belongingness to the land. They say it has never been ours–always theirs, only theirs. A great portion of Israeli society agrees. Few are willing to accept a Palestinian narrative out of realpolitik, not based on history, and only as long as Palestinians stay a minority and under control.

Nevertheless, there are Jews around the world and in Israel who do see us and acknowledge the value of shared and equal belonging to the land. It is very important to realize that they exist. They bring hope.

Once time allows (if time allows and some Gazans survive), a Palestinian official committee must be established to investigate what exactly had been done, and by whom, on October 7th against Israeli citizens. We don’t owe accountability to universal human rights, which have proved to be not so universal. We owe it to ourselves and the people around the world who stand with us in solidarity.

“Mami, when will the war on Gaza end?”

”Do you still love me?’’

“You are sad because of what is happening, but you are happy otherwise, aren’t you?”

I know I should lie to my eight-year-old son like I used to. Lying is my profession. I am a master at this. We mothers invented lying to make the human species survive.

But I don’t. I cannot. I tell him that I love him but that I don’t know when the war will end. I add that nobody knows, and that it’s hard to disconnect the private from the collective.

‘“I am sure you can understand,” I say. “You are an intelligent boy and you are also a Palestinian.”

“Adding guilt to the situation will not help him feel more Palestinian,” said my elder son. I nodded but didn’t bother to fix my answer. If making my children realize that they are  Palestinians includes a pinch of guilt, so be it.

Malik cries at the realization of the deadlock. I hug him briefly. I thank him in my heart for not asking me about God, or the connection between God and what is happening in Gaza.

He adds more questions, forcing me to look at him in the eyes, unconsciously pushing me to the limits of either breakdown or awakening; both are better than having a mother in a state of coma.

As Mahmood Darwish argued, one is not afraid of death itself, but of what death would do to others. He particularly meant his mother. I add children too. I care for my life so my children will not suffer my absence. That is why silence in such days of collective calamity feels like suicide. My dry tongue has been poisoning me from inside. 

I feel a big boom is coming. I don’t know what will come after nor who will survive to tell the story.     

In the last months, once in a while, I force myself to meet with some friends and nod with affirmation that this time something profound has changed in us and the way we relate to the world. We are not the same people. We agree that Western modernity, with all its facets, was shattered to pieces with each scuttered Gazan body, with the children left without mothers and mothers without children, with our boys, girls, newborns, and grandparents that are left alone without love and protection. 

We remember that the announcement of the collapse of modernity is old news. We witnessed it falling one million times in different places with different people. But we also know that somehow its shadow is bloody heavy. What else should happen so Arabs move on to another chapter in history? Break away from the loop of being enslaved to Western Christianity’s imaginaries of how to be?

Luckily, not all people reacted like me. Our best writers have been giving us the full context since the early stages in October, wrapping up the structure of events – from beginning to middle, middle to beginning. They move in loops, but they move. Some even offer possibilities for the end. They are still capable of writing because some elements still fit with what is known already, repeated patterns, institutions, ideologies, intentions, means. They know things based on generations of experiences, ours as well as those of many others. But we also feel that the current events are not more of the same.

Thinking Nakba 2 with Nakba 1 in mind could be misleading. It is not the mere repetition that makes me tremble and dries my tongue. New elements are summoned to old equations and we must uncover what these are and how they function. Instead of reading history in the present and the present in history we better learn from past experiences and move on to read the current events in their own course.  

“We inspired Moses’ mother, saying, ‘Suckle him, and then, when you fear for his safety, put him in the river: do not be afraid, and do not grieve, for We shall return him to you and make him a messenger” (Qurʾān, 28:7). 

So Yocheved did. But soon after she repented. A void spread in her heart. Her breasts were too swollen. She almost jumped to Pharaoh’s household confessing everything to his wife. A woman to woman talk. That the newborn is hers and she wants him back. To calm her down and stop her from carrying out her crazy plan (less crazy, in my opinion, than putting a newborn in the river), God knew it wasn’t sufficient to send her an angel; He needed to do it Himself. He grasped her heart. I can imagine the skin-to-skin feeling, her milk overflowing. But I wonder how much longer it took her to return to life having witnessed so much grief, so much fear, and so many beloved ones that did not return. Time feels different in mother’s clock.

About the Author

Zahiye Kundos is a scholar of modern Arabic literature, Arab Intellectual History and Islamic Reform Movements. She was a EUME Fellow 2020/21 at the Forum Transregionale Studien and continues to be affiliated with EUME through the academic years 2021-2024. She is currently working on a book entitled In the Name of God We Will Be Modern (Once Again): Jamāl al-Dīn Al Afghānī,Muḥammad ʿAbduh, and the Critique of Modernity.

Citation: Zahiye Kundos, Gaza through a Mother’s Lens, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 16.05.2024,

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2024, 16. Mai). Gaza through a Mother’s Lens. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 20. Juni 2024, von

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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