Cape Town - “I am not important.”

It’s a mantra Tamer Almassri repeats often as he details the aftermath of the bombings that tore apart the Gaza strip last week.

The Palestinian diplomat lost eight relatives, including his brother and three nephews, when Israeli forces began bombing and shelling cities along the narrow stretch of land.

He is cagey when he talks about them. Sitting at the Inn on the Square in Cape Town, he sighs, picking his words carefully.

“Gaza is a small place, it is an overcrowded population,” he says, leaning forward. “You get to know everyone.”

He says Palestinians were expecting peace when they woke up on Friday. A tentative truce had been signed, he adds. “So they are seeing each other, they were at the markets… Then the bombing started.”

In places such as Beit Hanoun, where buildings were mostly still standing by Friday afternoon, only the hospital in the northern Gaza town was left in what reports in the area described as a “sea of rubble, its walls pockmarked with gunfire”.

Almassri says his family were killed in Rafah city. But he has not come here - to the hotel - to talk about them. He has come here to condemn, to say that his people will not “beg for mercy” or “raise the white flag”.

Still, he smiles sadly when he speaks about his brother. A worker driven to a life of subsistence farming by the conflict, he was “making do with what he had” before he and his family were killed in a blast on Friday.

Is he grieving? He doesn’t say, but repeats his mantra: “I am not important. My experience is not different to any other Palestinian… Some have lost 40 family members since the occupation began. What is important is that these people did not die for nothing.”

The UN reported that by Tuesday, 1 814 Palestinians had been killed since the ground invasion began 30 days ago. At least 72 percent were civilians. Almassri says the real number is closer to 90 percent. “(Israeli forces) are playing in our blood.”

In many ways, the conflict is all he has known. He was born into the conflict, living in cities throughout Gaza, and now, 33 years later, it continues. Asked how a life like this has shaped him, just days after losing eight members of his family, he leans back in his chair and sighs.

“It means that we will not let 66 years of bloodshed come to nothing. It means we will not give up until we have our historical land again. It means we are strong and we know what we have to do.”

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Cape Argus