Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PHOTO STORY: Dr Attallah's Farm

Up until November of 2001 Dr Attallah's farm in Northern Gaza supported his meager monthly salary of a few hundred dollars as a surgeon at Gaza's biggest government hospital. He inherited the land from his father and was adding a green house almost every year for a number of year, planting mainly flowers which were then exported all over the world.

On a Friday in November 2001 Dr Atallah received a phone call from one of his assistants that his land, the farm and all six greenhouses were being bulldozed by the Israeli army. He watched the destruction of a land so dear to him from a distance. The day we went to visit the land we had to park the car along this hill, as all roads leading up to the farm had been completely bulldozed in recent months.

Now on foot we walked along what used to be a road past one farm after another that had been leveled by the Israeli army. Everyday people like Dr Attalah are punished on behalf of the security of everyday people living on the other side of the border in Israel. The tall house in the far left corner was where the boundary with an Israeli settlement was. After the withdrawal from the settlements in September 2005 those settlement lands became a 'security zone' which are unaccessible to Palestinians and serve as a security buffer between Israelis and Palestinians. As the dire conditions in Gaza continue to attract Palestinians to turn to violence against their neighboring occupier, Israel will attempt to increase this "security zone" to further imprison and exile the Palestinians as far away from areas of Israeli habitation. This is an expensive and short-sighted approach addressing the facade of conflict, rather than addressing the deep roots of conflict.

A sheep herder walks his flocks past where Dr Attallah's farm once stood. This is the only use still available for this land that was once considered a part of Gaza's fruit basket.

Dr Attalah talks to his old neighbors about farming and export conditions.

Wherever he goes Dr Attalah can't stop being a doctor. Here he is removing the stitches of one of his neighbor's sons. He hopes that one day he will have the resources and the political conditions will allow for him to rebuild his farm to support both himself and his family and provide a few jobs to unemployed Palestinians around him.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The Secret War of Words

On Friday the 29th of December Noam Shalit published a letter to his son in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.

"We in the family, your mother, your father, Hadas and Yoel, hope you feel well and are managing despite the tough conditions, the winter and the difficult situation you have been in for over six months. My Gilad, we miss you very, very much and want to see you with us and hug you tight, and so does the whole family and all your friends from school. We hope it will be very soon."

The letter is addressed to his son Gilad, a soldier in the Israeli army who was captured by gun-wielding Palestinians on June 26th. Two fellow soldiers were killed during the attack on the military base at the borders of Gaza, which serves to seal the borders of Gaza from the outside world.

Thousands of Palestinians, men, women and children are imprisoned in Israeli prisons and the Shalit family’s concerns are paralleled by thousands of unknown Palestinian mothers, fathers and brothers and sisters. The difference is that these Palestinians do not have a voice. This voice that Noam has to speak out on behalf of his son, a voice that is heard, is a luxury unknown to the common woman and man on the streets of Palestine.

"The fact that we don't know how you are, how you feel, how you are making it through the winter, and how the Palestinian organizations holding you are treating you, is very hard for us. They declare that you are a prisoner of war, but unfortunately, they are preventing you from receiving the rights to which you are entitled as a prisoner of war according to international law."

On December 31st the Israeli National News (Arutz Sheva) reported the following,
“Bracing for improved Qassam rockets with a firing range of 20 km the IDF is expanding the danger zone surrounding Gaza by a further 13 km, nearly three times wider than currently. The plan includes the fortification of schools and strategic sites in cities including Ashkelon, Netivot and Ofakim that lie within the new boundaries at the cost of NIS 1.4 billion (US $331.8 million).”

To the world’s eye, no mention is made of the Israeli artillery used freely at the borders of Gaza. The same fathers, mothers and children that do not have the stage on which to raise their voice to place the spotlight on their imprisoned loved ones, do not have the right to set up a security zone to protect them from the adversary firing at them and their homes with U.S.-made tanks and F-16s. In the latest Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun in Northern Gaza, not one journalist was allowed into the area to witness the truth of the carnage taking place there. Within days humanitarian agencies began the process of making livable again this city of rubble. Two weeks later the remaining ruins and the minaret of a 15th Century mosque were removed and the massacre of 17 members of one family was swept under the carpet of history by way of a proclaimed technical error.

What is taking place is a secret war of words.

Monday, January 1, 2007

War in Mind

The few dim lights from the surrounding houses revealed Abu Ghassan’s conversation partner from behind the shadows. A friend had dropped me off at the A-Sideeq mosque in Jabalya and I had been directed to walk 150 meters up hill where Abu Ghassan would be waiting for me.

From behind the veil of darkness I heard him call out my name; I waited as he exchanged some words with a neighbor. I gathered from the conversation that during the last Israeli incursion both of their land had been bulldozed by the Israeli army. I was much like an observer, standing at the door, after being asked to enter, now watching, with little involvement in the things I saw and heard. Abu Ghassan asked about the trees at the entrance to his land when driving up to the property, the man informed him, these were still standing, most others were not. What mattered most though was the fact that the well, funded by USAID, that provided water for the surrounding region had been filled in, likely by a bulldozer. The generator running it was destroyed. The cost of repairing it would be over $1000; cash was not a prevalent commodity in Gaza these days.

As Abu Ghassan and I walked off into the darkness he explained to me that he had returned from medical treatment in Jordan about ten days prior and was still feeling frail. Past the gate of his house was a balcony, dimly lit and encircled by a small garden enclave. The electricity had cut in the area and Abu Ghassan had a battery run lamp set up to provide some lighting. In the middle of the balcony was a table, lying open on it was a worn book from Beirut that he had borrowed from a friend after trying to locate it in Gaza. The book’s pages were faded to a brownish color. Naguib Mahfouz’s Awlad Haritna is a rare, Arab, public exploration which questions the foundations of Arab and Islamic society. Abu Ghassan and his wife Om Ghassan, who had grown up as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon loved to read, it was a virtue that Gaza lacked but this household valued highly. Abu Ghassan spoke of the need to re-evaluate Islam, he mentioned the reformers in Egypt and renowned writers like Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz who addressed this very issue. Hamas, in his mind, was a poor representation of the religion he was born into.

Abu Ghassan was a retired army officer. For the last many years of his military career he had worked in the Irtibat, the liaison office between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli army. Furthermore, he was a long-time member of the communist PFLP, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Few people in Gaza were as frustrated with the ongoing internal friction between the various Palestinian parties. The violence that was ongoing around the streets of his home, tearing apart the social tapestry of his community weighed heavy on Abu Ghassan. I could tell by his composure and the questions he asked that he was a broken man. He had an undying will but the odds were against him. Inside Gaza there were too many that fought for the few seats of power; there were so little opportunities for control over dimensions of daily life in Gaza making political authority a rare commodity. From the outside governments warred for their policies to be implemented in this little region called the Holy Land. Gaza and its people were never a priority.

These are the things that make for war in Abu Ghassan’s mind.