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."

13 comments:

sarah said...

Philip,

I have been searching on the internet to find any contact information for the Sisters of Charity in Gaza City. As I was searching I came upon and read a couple stories of when you were there. Do you have any contact information of their you could give me? I worked and live din a leper colony and orphanage and am working with homeless and people with mental illnesses now- am looking to work with them this summer.
Thank you so much for your writing and all the work you do!

I hope to hear from you!

Sarah

Anonymous said...

sure, i can do this, please email me: tabulagaza@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Readers of this blog should know that two cells of armed Hamas gunmen have been detained today by Egyptian authorities. They entered Egypt through Rafah and were heading to the Sinai border for a terror attempt.
Just to present the overall picture

Anonymous said...

The source of this info is the London-based newsapaper al-Sharq al-Awsat. According to the report, these cells were planning an attempt against turists in the Sinai
Another group of gunmen were arrested inside Egypt on wednesday, armed with an explosive belt

Nisreen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nesrin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nesrin said...

Anarchy is the same anywhere in the world, and that we cannot speak up against or change. But I think that it is institutionalized organized official laws and actions that we have the ability to change and thus speak up against! Individuals are individuals who we cannot control usually. But masses, society, government and laws can be changed, and subsquently bring even more effect and benefit. Isnt it sad that the media focuses so much on what on individual done and blows its reprecussions out of proportion in comparison to a offical institionlized organization? Is it easier to attach individuals and their action, rather than an institution?

Anonymous said...

Individuals are responsible for their own actions, always and everywhere. Anyway, Hamas military organization is not an "individual"

Nesrin said...

so if individuals are responsible for their own actions, and hence not their own people group, why is their a collective punishment?

Nesrin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Today, Egypt arrested two more gunmen coming from Gaza armed with explosives. Two more Qassam landed, and two children hospitalized. The border seems to be open.

Many individuals are at work, indeed.

Anonymous said...

From Haaretz, quote: "Hamas Prime Minister in the Strip Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that economic ties with Egypt must be strengthened to break free from Israel.

"Since the day we were elected [Palestinian national elections February 2006] we have said that we want to progress toward breaking our economic ties with Israel," he said.

He stressed that "Egypt is in a much better position [than Israel] to meet the needs of the Gaza Strip."

A senior political source in Jerusalem welcomed the proposal Saturday. "This is excellent," the source said. "It is what Israel has desired for years, and it is only good for us."

"If Egypt agrees to the process, Israel will give it its blessing," the source added.
end of quote

Anonymous said...

Four mor Kassams today, two explosive "martyrs" in a commercial center in Israel.
Hamas declared it a "heroic act". The terror attempt was endorsed by a phone call from Gaza.

More individuals at work. In the name of Gaza children, of course.

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