Sunday, April 22, 2007

PHOTO STORY: Dr Attallah's Farm: Something Beautiful

In December 2006 I visited what was once Dr Attalah’s farm for the first time. It had been destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers during an incursion in November of 2001. Just months after my visit Dr Attalah decided to take out loans and replant the land, and there, out of the destruction, to create something beautiful.

The land had lain barren for six years, bulldozed so severely that the two asphalt roads that once ran alongside the land had disappeared beneath the piles of sand. For three days two bulldozers leveled the land. It was almost impossible to determine the old boundaries of the land.

Dr Attalah is now in debt to the company that leveled the land, to the shop he purchased the used motor from and to the contractor that laid the foundation for the engine room. Until that last debt is paid the contractor will not build the actual building that ought to be there to protect the motor and provide a shelter for the workers.

Dr Attalah sits with nearby farmers to determine an agreement for the renting of his land. The farmer pays for renting the land and covers the costs of planting the crops and does all the farming. He will then pocket all the income of the crops.

This is Abu Rushdie, the man who will rent and farm Dr Attalah's land.

Dr Attalah and Abu Rushdie discuss plans for the barren land.

It was
only by chance, or providence that Dr Attalah's old well was found at all.

Abu Mahmoud, the mechanic and Dr Attalah are childhood friends. Abu Mahmoud came out to the land to make some repairs on the engine that is pumping water from the well.

The fields have turned a beautiful green.

Abu Rushdie's kids do a lot of the work here.

Yesterday homemade projectiles were launched into Israel and the Israeli army responded by firing missiles
at a car in Northern Gaza, killing one. It was reportedly carrying the perpetrators. Disturbing the peace of others of both Israelis and Palestinians needs to be punished. Extrajudiciary assassinations are illegal under international law and must be condemned.

Such actions disturb the peace of the area that Dr Attalah and Abu Rushdie are farming their land.

In spite of death and the economic depression in Gaza, this green land is something beautiful.

If you feel like helping Dr Attalah pay back his debts,

email me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I saw

Walking through the long passage that takes you into Gaza, I saw a man on a walker. Next to him walked another, completely helpless as his companion moved forward at a snails pace.

Driving into Gaza I saw garbage piled up by the sides of the streets, often spilling over into it. The municipality’s garbage collectors have been on strike for nearly a week now. I don’t know for how long they have not been paid again. One large pile Jamal and I drove by was lit on fire and clouds of choking smoke filled the air there. We closed the windows and opened them again once we had passed.

We drove to the Al-Ahli hospital, downtown Gaza City, where the administration was tense and scared about the situation in Gaza. A few days ago a bookstore across the street and two internet cafes elsewhere were bombed. The blast blew out all the windows in one of the hospital buildings. I crossed the street to see the bombed shop, which the staff was repairing yet once again. The bookshop experienced a similar blast less than a year ago. I saw a friend of mine, a painter, with a smile, painting the metal door, inside a burnt smell filled the air and sadness filled the eyes of those within.

Back on the street I saw a boy searching through garbage on the side of the street. Jamal got a flat tire and we stopped by a mechanic. The only person inside was a boy, I thought he was 8, Jamal thought 13. He put a jack under the car and took some time to fix the punctured tire. As we drove off Jamal pointed out the obvious, “it is wrong for a boy at this age to be working like that.”

By chance, over lunch, I met the brother of the man who was leaving Gaza with the walker. He had been caught in inter-factional fighting and shot seven times all along one leg.

How one endures this, I don’t know.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Like 1948

The girl pointed to her throat and made a mark where the water had reached answering a question that was never posed. Two weeks after a flood of sewage wiped away parts of the Bedouin village in Northern Gaza the three little girls I encountered, along with 250 other displaced families are living in tents, like 1948.

I was there to distribute parcels to 20 families containing just a few of the vital needs, clothes, shoes and baby’s milk. One woman exclaimed, “the world has forgotten us,” she lost everything in the flood, her home, her kitchen, the children’s clothes. They were left with the clothes on their back. She was, like her ancestors, living on the floor, in a tent, with “UN” stamped in blue letters, with a small gas stove and a few mattresses, her kids roaming the desert hills all around, like 1948.

Wasfi Al-Abraq’s home was one of the first to go. He was tending his field when the floods came. He wasn’t able to reach his children and wife. They managed to escape through the back of the house, but not much was left of it. The walls have crumbled, electricity sockets and light switches remain at knee level because of the swamp of sewage and sand that entered and remained in Wasfi’s home. The small tent provided by the UN didn’t provide enough shelter for Wasfi, his wife and eight children. So they built a shack adjacent to the tent, like 1948.

Dozens of homes collapsed, cars were crushed, fields gone, cupboards, kitchens, bedrooms, furniture, all beyond use. Graffiti on the walls of a shell of a house said “in the past we had a home,” another wall read, “here drowned the child, Jamal.”

The existence of elderly women living on the hot dessert ground, children brushing their teeth at public faucets, roaming spaces of donkeys and goats doubling as a neighborhood playground and shacks and tents void of food, clothes and really much of anything, all posed the question, what lead to this?

The place felt like a camp created for famine victims escaping a drought and yet this calamity was man-made. What are the 5000 inhabitants of the Bedouin village actually doing next to massive pools of sewage that like this last one could break because they are overused? These families who once roamed the Negev dessert to practice their trade raising livestock were one day herded into the tiny space of Um Nasser, the Bedouin village. Their rights robbed on behalf of the rights of others, in 1948.
The tents on those hills and the displaced people within them are a hollow echo of those fateful days of 1948.

They are a stark reminder to the world of a past that is easier forgotten.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hamas vs. Fatah

Game 4 ended with a score of 25-17 for the Jam’eya Al-Islamiya. This was the final game of the season between the Hamas affiliated team and its archrival Nadi Khadamat Jabalya, a team that is considered a Fatah club. The game was held at the Yousef A-Najjar Stadium in Khan Younis. For a long time the Jabalya team was the unrivaled victor, but lately the team had been plagued with problems between its players and the club’s owners and managers. The aged captain who was also their trainer should have been retired by now, but was not willing to hand over the helm of the team.

The first game was an easy win for the Fatah team and passed without incident. The stadium was guarded by eight or nine policemen in riot gear who seemed to be enjoying their easier than usual posting. The Jabalya club had a loud and rowdy bunch of fans who spurred the team on early in the game. The second game was much more intense and ended in a 29-27 surprise victory for

Yaser, one of the Jabalya fans started talking to me. He told me his uncle was the head of the Presidential Guard, a Fatah security apparatus. Yaser is 19 and doesn’t want to go to university, he is already a soldier. “Your party will provide everything you need,” Yaser explained to me. What could a university education give him?
In exchange for his services a political party will promise him security, an income and support in times of emergency.

The game went on.

Suddenly the score was 2-1 with Jama’eya Al-Islamiya in the lead. In the fourth and final game the Jabalya captain was knocked in the knee. He claimed he had been purposefully targeted. An argument broke out between him and the referees. The police got into their riot gear and called reinforcements, the fans tried to storm the field and were held back by the suddenly alert officers. The Fatah captain and his assistant coaches were yelling and arguing, a fight between two players almost broke out and the fans were ready for a battle. Somehow, the game went on in the background; focus had been lost.

No one seemed to notice the players anymore.

With the game barely the focus of the day’s event, Hamas walked away with the victory. The Jabalya team was shattered and still bitter over their injured captain; the players managed to greet one another without further incident. The Hamas team, the referees and some of the others gathered on the court for evening prayers.

Another victory for Hamas.