Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Words from a Friend.

The next morning, having stayed in a semi-abandoned house with a stream of Palestinians coming in and out, we grabbed a cup of tea in town and then made over to Rafah, catching a ride at the back of a pick up truck with a bunch of boys from Gaza. The winter wind in our hair we wobbled out of sleep and into conversation. When I asked them what they came to buy in Al Arish, they answered, almost unanimously, that they had come "to enjoy". Again, it didn't add up. On the morning news we had just heard of four Palestinians being killed in Israeli air strikes. Gazans had been living with no electricity for days due to Israeli-imposed blockade. Their shops and refrigerators had long gone empty; cigarettes and soda were a luxury no longer available. Their babies were struggling to survive in hospital. So what of death, despair, and darkness?

As I spoke to a left-leaning starry-eyed youth who told me of his love for football, his disdain for Hamas, and his respect for Che Guevara, it started to make sense. For a day, (now five), the Palestinians had left the occupation behind and claimed what ought to be ordinary, everyday, life: to trade with their Arab neighbours across the border, to step in to Al Arish, for a night out with family and friends.

Lines of Palestinians going back with their goods dominated the scene in Rafah. They stood holding their boxes, their bags and even their bulls (by the horns); they sat on donkey carts and in their cars. The overpowering smell of fuel, carried across in cans, leaking and leaving a trail that could have so easily go up into flames, stood in as an indicator of the tenuousness of the situation at hand. People were trudging their suitcases, herding their cows, as the huge Egyptian military vans stood by.

We made our way through the maze to one of the smaller openings in the border through which Gazans were coming and going. The passage was not as free flowing as we had heard it had been the day before. Riot police were switching modes, at times letting people pass, and at others barricading the border and pushing Palestinians back. We watched a herdsman on a mission trying to control his bulls and get them across the chaos. The bulls were all on heat and jumping on each other and having sex amidst the madness. People were hitting them to calm them down as they charged about.

After watching the mayhem at the first opening, we found our way to the main Philadelphia gate. As we neared the border crossing, an Egyptian guard drunk on power, parading the field, electric baton in hand, insisted that as foreigners we couldn't all go in. At this point, I left my professor and university friends behind and tried again. Armed with my press card and shielded by my shades, I stepped forth. Wesam would use his Palestinian ID card to get into Gaza, and his Egyptian student residence permit to get out. We had covered our basis. Or so we hoped. We approached one of the military police and inquired permission for safe passage. "Israeli or Egyptian press", he seemed to ask. "Indian," we answered. Baffled maybe, he let us through.

We entered the human chain formed by the black uniformed Egyptian riot police, amidst boys and bulls, cement and cigarettes, all making their way to Gaza. We came into the clearing and I felt a sense of disbelief. There I was in Palestine. We jumped up to join a bunch of press reporters and photographers on top of a huge lorry and watch the scene below.

And from that height I stared at the terrific gaping holes in the massive Israeli manufactured obstruction. One part of the wall was just missing; another was split in half; a third swerved to the ground and boys sat along it watching the people pass by. While the wall was testimony to the violence of our time, its collapse stood in as a sculpture of the tenacity of Palestinian lives.

And then the standoff between the riot police and the stone-throwing mob began. As the huge stones came falling down the guards began to exert their authority and the crowd moved back, created a opening between the Palestinians and the police where two minutes earlier there was none. The Associated Press reporter was on her phone, making news while it happened—dramatising the fact that perhaps the Egyptian riot police had encroached, having taken two or five steps forward, onto Gaza territory.

About an hour later, we decided to head back, before which we walked around and took pictures of the bullet ridden apartment blocks. As we tried to make our way from a section at the side, the guards wouldn't let us through. And then we heard bullets being fired into the sky. I tensed up as we walked along the barbed wired wall and found a spot to jump across. We were in no man's land with Egyptian tanks on either side and at the mercy of their arbitrariness of Egyptian orders. Fortunately, this time around, they let us through.

Coming back from Rafah to al-Arish we sat at the back of a mini van, exhausted by the intensity of our adventure. Wesam noticed some Palestinian graffiti: "Al Kassam militants passed through here", written in a barely visible fluorescent orange felt tip on the back of the grey seat. When I asked the boy next to me why he was going to Al Arish now when there was talk of the border being closed, he didn't seem phased at all, and answered, "If Egypt closes the wall, Hamas will bring it down."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gaza in a Cage.

Yasir lives in a prison.

In March 2007 Yasir and his father were caught in crossfire between Palestinian factions as they were walking home. A bullet hit Yasir’s spine leaving him crippled from the neck down.

Yasir’s prison is his body.

Since that day Yasir has lived in various ICUs in Gaza City. Daily, the injured enter and leave the hospital around him; many of them leave dead. Yasir is ten years old and very aware of what goes on around him. During his one-month rehabilitation stay in Israel he learned to speak despite his new condition. His sentences are short and barely audible, but he speaks.

Yasir is limited to the inside of a hospital intensive care unit, not unlike the community beyond the walls of his room.

Gaza exists in a cage.

With the very rare exception Gazans are unable to travel beyond the borders designated to the “Gaza Strip” by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. People are transported in and out of the Gaza Strip to better medical facilaties, often due to deadly attacks by a neighboring state and its strangling siege that, not unlike Yasir, is causing Gazans to experience a slow death. They too raise their voice, but it is only barely heard, their cry for help rarely reaching beyond the walls that encage them.

Gaza’s cage is the double-standard of a silent world.

The gates to those walls have grown increasingly sealed shut over the past two years. The source of this act is a people voicing their opinion in a democratic election that the world’s sole superpower, the USA strongly supported and heralded. Subsequently the election outcome was renounced and Gaza’s inhabitants collectively punished for an opinion the world did not approve of. One may criticize the views of a political party, but to punish a whole people for the vote of the majority is untenable by the international law standards of our time.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said,

Israel must immediately either withdraw from the Gaza Strip completely, thus handing over control of the Rafah border to Palestinian and Egyptian officials: or else Israel must acknowledge its continuing occupation of the Gaza Strip, and, as an Occupying Power, act upon its legal obligation to establish an orderly and transparent mechanism, mediated by an independent third party, that will guarantee freedom of movement for the people of the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday one of those walls came down, whether legally or illegally, it came down and raised the voice of a people strangled by the injustice of a world community that turns a blind eye to injustice. Although it is chaos that has followed, slightly enlarging the size of this cage, the crumbled walls sound out the hypocrisy of a world that remains silent in the light of its two-faced disposition.

Yasir is waiting for a donation for his family to purchase the medical equipment that will allow him to move out of the ICU and back into his home.

Gaza is waiting to one day be given the chance to be free, to create a home to live like people do all across the world; not within closed walls.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zoo Break

The metal wall that stood between Gaza and Egypt is folded over like a piece of paper.

Yesterday a group of women massed at the Rafah terminal crossing that has been sealed shut with only two exceptions of a few hours since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

At 2am the border was stormed and from that time on the population across the entire Gaza Strip has been thinning out as people young and old head to the border.


To get a breath of fresh air, to see something different, to take their sick to the hospital and buy food and household goods.

Two nights ago Nusseirat camp where I was visiting was out of candles and electricity had been out since the night before.

It is hard to find public transportation as taxis and buses are all heading South, just to get out.

For now electricity is back for hours at a time. Israel allowed in enough gas to restart Gaza City’s main power plant and hospitals but none for gas stations. They remain closed.

Despite the shortage, vehicles are running. Today prices to Rafah are double for a space on the back of a truck what they were for a seat in a taxi yesterday.

Escaping from this cage of boredom is being done at any price.

The increased siege over the past week finally caused an explosion.

Cigarettes are down from 20 shekels to 7.

The bakeries have flour to make bread.

image 1: AP

Sunday, January 20, 2008


1:57 minutes we have left before the power is shut off in all of Gaza. Most of the power lines from Gaza’s main electricity station have already run dry, two lines remain.

Dr Attallah pointed out that the siege on Iraq lasted two years and then they attacked it. Maybe tonight its Gaza’s turn?

People are panicking and buying up what is left to buy. In less than two hours we wait in the dark to see what is to come.

Two nights ago I spent at Jamal’s place in Beit Lahya refugee camp. It was freezing. Jamal and I got there at 10:30pm knowing that electricity had been out all evening and that it would return some time then. We found his wife Salwa and Maysa, Haitham, Majid and 2 year old Abdullah huddled around a fire. Maysa said they had been there since 5pm. We joined them until Salwa prepared us dinner at which point we moved in doors and used their electric pot, which they use to bake bread turned upside down as a makeshift heater.

Tonight they won’t have the heater and Gaza is out of wood for their fire.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Good night Gaza

My driver tonight informed me all gas stations in Gaza are out of gas. All gas in Gaza enters via Israel, which directly or indirectly controls all of Gaza’s borders. Two days ago Israel allowed the last shipment in.

Yesterday, an empty government building was bombed by an F-16. Over forty civilians were wounded, mainly children. One woman was killed. Most of them were near the building attending a wedding. This incident was a no-no for Israel, but in the overall equation it has already been forgotten, today the world of breaking news is on to bigger and better events. The children with charred faces, one family with a mother less, mourn on. But even they, are already getting used to the matter. They have no other choice.

In Gaza weddings often turn into funerals.

The UN’s food aid trucks are being prevented from entering Gaza as well. This zoo is closed for a few days and its inhabitants will have to wait until its keepers consider letting in the bare necessities.

Bakeries have closed, they are out of flour.

The absurdity of the matter is that Gaza’s keepers will eventually let food and gas in because a humanitarian disaster that draws too much attention is of no benefit to any entertainment park’s administration. So it is only a matter of days till the bakeries are happily selling bread again. Until then, everyone will make due because they too know that a zoo with no feed may actually make a headline or two.

With a much increased siege since June of 2007 there is no cement in Gaza. These days graves, which here are usually covered with cement, are laid over with asbestos or scrap metal.

Electricity comes and goes but tonight I have the honor of turning off my own lights as I go to sleep.

Good night.