“If I Should Die Before I Wake”

“If I Should Die Before I Wake” February 18, 2024

How is it possible to sleep when you are the target of a massacre? How can you allow yourself to doze off when you know you might not wake up? Only total exhaustion can break through the self-preservation instinct.

Total exhaustion, or utter resignation. Or the lull of a surveillance drone, hovering, sensing your presence behind the covered windows.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Once you’ve grown accustomed to a drone watching your every move, maybe you begin to feel a wry gratefulness that it’s “only” a surveillance drone. It can’t hurt you. It’s a white noise machine that helps you sleep.

…if you’re totally exhausted or utterly resigned to the possibility of not waking up.

“If I should die before I wake…”

You say your prayers, perhaps skeptically, because what kind of God would allow this kind of suffering? Or half-heartedly, because maybe death would be better than the torture of waiting. You’re frankly tired of the suspense – will it be a sniper, an airstrike, a tank shell? Will it be quick or drawn-out? Or will it be an undignified death from diarrhea, or a slow death from starvation? Or perhaps you pray with every fiber of your being because what is left now, except faith?

Another thought: what if you wake up alive and covered in dust, but your loved ones are buried under rubble? Will they call you for help  – or will they be blissfully silent, liberated – leaving you to go on “living,” crushed like them, but invisibly?

A photo from Musa showing the building next door that had been bombed.
A photo from Musa showing the building next door that had been bombed.

Musa texted me yesterday to say his mother had just gone next door for a moment, when the house – full of people, mind you – was bombed and destroyed. She had barely escaped.

“People were lying in the streets and charred corpses.” No one else survived.

“What I can say is that sometimes you are separated from death by only a few moments.”

Musa added, “We survived this time.”

This time?

One near-death experience is enough to last a lifetime, but Musa and his family have experienced many.

The other day, he sent this message:

“I will tell you a joke. People are leaving Rafah and coming to Nuseirat.”

It’s a cruel joke: Rafah is in the crosshairs, packed with displaced, homeless people, waiting to be attacked by one of the world’s most powerful armies. Some of them are escaping from Rafah and coming to Nuseirat, where Musa and his family live – but Nuseirat is also an evacuation zone.

“We are living a farce,” he tells me.

The other day, he woke up in the morning to the news that 100 people in Rafah had been killed in a matter of minutes overnight. Why? As a diversion, so that 2 Israeli prisoners could be rescued. Netanyahu called it “one of the most successful rescue raids in the history of Israel… A perfect operation that was perfectly executed.”

“Perfectly executed.” Yes, 100 people were successfully executed in their sleep. It is a farce.

Musa, a pharmacist, told me he used to have big dreams of changing the health system so that more people could have access to appropriate treatment, and lives could be saved. He described himself as “the young dreamer who aspires to travel and wants to move and learn about other cultures and to change the face of the world for the better.”

Now, everything has changed.

Israeli warplanes bombed the bakery in the Nuseirat refugee camp.
Israeli warplanes bombed the bakery in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

“Now, I live in a spiral of despair and frustration. Everything changed so quickly.”

Instead of making the world a better place, now he dreams of one hour of peaceful sleep, of a glass of clean water, of a quiet house, free from buzzing drones.

Falling asleep without wondering whether you will wake up. Is that too much to ask?

“I no longer listen to Adele with her wonderful voice. Rather, I am forced to hear shells, gunfire, and the sound of missiles. This sky is full of warplanes to send our souls to the sky. I also listen to the radio daily, perhaps we will find a small paragraph that talks about a ceasefire.”

Musa knows that the United States is opposed to a ceasefire. I can’t explain to him why anyone would think war is better than ceasefire. But he doesn’t need to be told that he is is hated for being Palestinian.

He writes, “What is happening, dear world in general, and American friends in particular, is genocide. We must agree first that what is happening is genocide, genocide. With killing, hunger, deprivation, and thirst. I remember very well how we were 40 people eating one can of beans, and I remember that in moments we were sleeping from hunger and dying from the cold and our nerves were dying from fear.”

Ah yes – hunger is perhaps another way to sleep. Starvation can be a sedative, I suppose.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake…”

What is happening is genocide, genocide. Someone will die tonight. The rest will wake up and say, “we survived…this time.”

But, for what? Survived for what? To spend another day running, hiding, freezing, terrified?

To spend another day knowing your life is worth nothing, your death does not matter, the chase is nothing but a game, a farce.

People wonder why Palestinians would do something so radical as break out of their prison on October 7th. Where did all that anger come from?

From this. What has happened in the last four months is exactly what has been happening for seventy-five years. Only now it’s happening a bit faster.

Musa asks you, my readers: “Have you ever heard that roses and chocolate liberated a country?”

The Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote, just two days after October 7th (emphasis added):

Behind all this lies Israeli arrogance; the idea that we [Israelis] can do whatever we like, that we’ll never pay the price and be punished for it. We’ll carry on undisturbed.

We’ll arrest, kill, harass, dispossess…We’ll fire at innocent people, take out people’s eyes and smash their faces, expel, confiscate, rob, grab people from their beds, carry out ethnic cleansing and of course continue with the unbelievable siege of the Gaza Strip, and everything will be all right.

Once again it was proved that this isn’t how it is. A few hundred armed Palestinians breached the barrier and invaded Israel in a way no Israeli imagined was possible. A few hundred people proved that it’s impossible to imprison two million people forever without paying a cruel price.

The Gaza Palestinians have decided they’re willing to pay any price for a moment of freedom. 

If Musa sleeps tonight, if he is exhausted, resigned, or hungry enough, if the surveillance drones drown out the bombs dropping down the street – he will sleep the sleep of the righteous. “I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

The rest of us are complicit in genocide, genocide.

“This is me, Musa. I died, so remember my message” – this how a young man in Gaza writes his will.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter. I write about the Palestine-Israel issue regularly, and other issues relevant to progressives or those considering becoming progressive. If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment. I welcome your thoughts.

Contact the people in Washington DC who (allegedly) work for you and tell them,


Reach your Representative here, and your Senator here. Email President Biden here.

Further reading on the Palestine-Israel issue:

FEATURED IMAGE: by Jp Valery via Unsplash

About Kathryn Shihadah
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and was perfectly content to stay that way – until the day my stable, predictable world was rocked. A curtain was pulled back on conservative Christianity, and instead of ignoring the ugliness I saw, I confronted it. I began to ask questions I never thought I’d ask, and found answers I’d never expected. Old things began to fall away, and – behold! – the new me has come. What a gift to be a new, still-evolving creation. I found out that it’s better to look at the world through Progressive Lenses, with Grace-Colored Glasses.  You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives