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.