in an attempt not to be too long and just blot the whole of my diary down, here are some snippets from 10 days spent in gaza, seeing how things have changed/not changed since i was there in march, re-connecting with friends i’d made the first time, trying to focus my energy on stories of daily life and simply ‘life’ in gaza- trying to gain a bit more of an understanding of what life is like for people here. as varied and differing the stories are, they all have a shared experience of horror and loss, but also a shared optimism and hope that things will change. or simply a resilience not to give up and to lose more dignity that the hope imposes on them.
we are being followed around by Hamas security, they are putting curfews on us, restricting our movements and hassling our host-families, no one knows the exact reason for this; perhaps the recent infighting in the west bank, perhaps they really want to protect us, perhaps they just want to be looked at in a good way, seen as protecting peace delegations. in any case, it is causing dramas – for example, today i caught a taxi from Beit Hanoun, where i am staying again with my host family, the lovely al-za’aneens, and in the taxi was a few other people, one being a middle-aged man who spoke very good english – he started asking what we were doing in Gaza, and i responded “salaam, peace, we are a peace delegation, to bring children’s books, toys, playgrounds and medical supplies, and to support the people of gaza.” “So are you delegating with Hamas?” he says. “Well, we have to meet with them as they are the democratically elected government here, we don’t support their actions, but if you want to make change you have to talk to everyone.” – i say. “You people are disguisting, you make me sick, you should just all leave now, you are doing nothing but bad for the palestinian people, you are making Hamas look good, which is only bad for the palestinian people.” – at this point i didn’t know what to say, i had had my own reservations about meeting with hamas, about the fact that i have heard many stories about them killing people inside, and doing the same damage, if not more than israel to the palestinian people. We do not support them and i wanted to do my best to stay away from them, but how to translate this? “I am an artist and writer, i am here to listen and record stories about ordinary people, unassociated with politics!” “yes but you are doing more harm than good by being here!” he responds. Now i am crying, this is the last thing i wanted to happen, actually doing damage to the situation. but i’m upset so i respond “you can’t blame me for that, you can’t see me just as an international person to take your problems out on, i am here only to give support to the palestinian people and get their stories out there!” – and so i turn away and look at the streets zipping past, donkeys overpacked with fruit and vegetables, streets full of potholes, bombed buildings here, graffiti with the names of those killed all over the shops and walls. bullet holes flying through my mind as i cry as silently as possible. “I’m sorry, i’m sorry” he says, but khalas (enough), i can’t speak.
later today we re-visited devastated areas in the Abbed Rabu area, where we spent quite a bit of time in March interviewing people. Almost all of the tents had been blown over in the wind and no new ones reconstructed. It left the questions open of where are all the people now, considering not one single building has been reconstructed since ‘Operation Cast Lead’.
In the evening I went back to the Al-Za’aneens and spoke to Ibdisam about her recent trip to Ramallah in the West Bank for a committee to enhance the position of women in the west bank and Gaza. On her way back from Ramallah through the… checkpoint to Jerusalem she was put into a small room, no bigger than space to sit on a chair, with no air and no one listening. She banged on the walls, saying “listen to me, I can’t breathe.” But no one responded for around 45 minutes, when she was told to “go back to Ramallah” by Israeli authorities. As she was walking a fruit seller told her to go and talk to the women from Machsom Watch (checkpoint watch) a group of Israeli’s who monitor how Palestinians are treated at the checkpoints within the West Bank. They spent over an hour making phone calls and organising for Ibdisam to safely get from the West Bank back to Gaza (about an hour drive); and successfully they took her through the checkpoint, carrying her bags, with one woman in front of her and one behind her, to make sure there were no problems. Now Ibdisam will deal with them when she needs to travel, If h a m a s will let her travel, that is.
“There is no grey area between justice and injustice, it either is or isn’t. The country should be built on equal citizenship rights…” – Jabar from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).
some quick notes before sleep;
just heard 5 or 6 very loud – window shaking explosions from my bed in Beit Hanoun (– which at the time I thought was the cease-fire breaking, i.e. missiles launched into Israel, but later I learned that it was Israel shelling fishermen and camps in the northern areas). I sat up, looked out the window and listened to gunfire, noises, response, anything, I am a foreigner here, so have no fucking idea what is what, what is sounds from Israel, what is sounds from Hamas, what is normal what is what – im just sitting here on my bed in the near full moon light listening wondering, feeling slightly frightened, not for myself, but for who the sounds are affecting, for where I am and what this life is like here – where no one even finches or acknowledges sounds like these sometimes – “don’t worry Jess, this is normal.”
this evening, on the way to find a taxi from Gaza City to Beit Hanoun – Ahmad, friend and translator from the March trip here, tells us about last year on his way to joining his friends one afternoon in a field near the border areas, a very open field, where everyone can see what is going on there.. as he was walking up to them, everyone laughing and happy, playing music on their mobile phones, a random explosion hit the three friends of Ahmad’s, right before him, all he saw was smoke and rubble, of course he was shocked and frightened, he ran over to them, and after the dust cleared he just found them in “pieces all over the footpath”.
During the taxi ride home Ahmad sat slumped, silent and chain-smoking in the front seat, unable to mutter even a word, when normally he can’t stop talking. I just put my hand on his shoulder (something women don’t do in this society!) and didn’t know what to say, how to help…
I had told Ahmad that I wanted to talk to a storyteller, or an ‘elder’, someone who was born before 1948, someone who had grown up here and seen the developments and changes happen over his lifetime. so this is how we met Mohammed Rachit. Mohammed is originally from Beit Hanoun born in 1931, making him 78 years old. His family were all farmers.
I ask him about what life was like before 1948 and he tells me of some of his earliest memories and knowledge about the time:
“In 1944, I had to walk to school from here to Gaza City (about 8km), there was now, transport like there is today.” Although to residents of Gaza City these days, catching a taxi to Beit Hanoun is like driving to the outskirts of a 50km wide city. It’s like…the end of the country…
“I left school early” Mohammed continues, “because my father wanted me to work on the farm…
“It was during the British Mandate when the support for the establishment of a Jewish state was moved forward… but in 1919 it had already been planned, during the Balfour Declaration
“By 1936 Jews, Arabs and Brits were fighting, but not so much.”
“In 1948 they took the land. People didn’t know what was happening… they thought they were going to return, if they knew they would have stayed here.
“The weakness of the Arab countries didn’t help [us fight]. Israel was supported and we weren’t. I remember them attacking this area. I was a part of a resistance group then, a fighter, a soldier. In May 1948 there was the fight in Beit Hanoun, we resisted from evening until early morning, but we didn’t have enough weapons or bullets to keep fighting, we had to leave to Jabaliya then.
“After 3 years, people realised they weren’t going to return, then the Jihad started.
“We knew we couldn’t defeat Israel so we were gaining support from Egypt, training, education etc. We wanted to lean to co-exist with Jews. We always kept the hope.
“Land is life. I prefer to stay on the land than to leave the land. For us, we cannot separate between the culture and the land. They wanted to remove the people to remove the culture in order to break our connection to land. But the strength of the people lies within the land. After people fled and were forced to leave, the most important thing was to educate the children about the land. A lot of old people who kept the stories were killed…
“This holy land used to be the place where many cultures would meet and exchange. It was wonderful. This land is our culture and our history. We used to live in peace, we had a free life, anyone could whatever they wanted. Why couldn’t it be like that again?
“After 1967: The Israeli government allowed Palestinians to work inside Israel and the families would take their children to their old land and teach them about their history there, they would tell them ‘this is where you’re from’. They would teach them about the area, the stories and the histories… It is still taught today so that the young cannot forget. It cannot disappear. The history and knowledge will never disappear. Even refugees living far far away will know where they’re from…
“The strength that Israel has is from the international community, if they stopped supporting them then it would change almost immediately.
“The recent offensive was a big surprise to us; we were not ready psychologically, logically, with food or water. It was much stronger than we have ever seen. They were using new weapons and everything, they keep getting stronger, but have our strength in the land. [During the attacks] we stayed inside the home, listened to the news on the radio, tried to keep in touch with what was happening. It was the most violent war we have ever known – for 23 days we couldn’t leave the house. There was no electricity, no water, no food. We didn’t want to show our children what fear we had inside. We just kept trying to tell our children that would all be okay, then we just prayed to Allah. We stayed here in Beit Hanoun when everyone was leaving, people were being forced to leave (because this is so close to the border of Israel). The number of people in our house was increasing as people just wanted to be close to their families. There was one good thing that came out of this, that was broken during the civil war, people were helping each other, just waiting for the attacks to stop.
“No one could image what happened here. We are used to Israeli attacks but not like this.
“Despite the strength of Israel and whatever they do, the Palestinian people will always be connected to their land. Actually, it just makes their strength and desire for the land grow stronger.”
this evening was HipHopKom – see previous post.
a little more from an interview with Khaled Harara from the Black Unit Band:
“One of my goals is that the people outside know what really happens here in Palestine. Most people here in Gaza believe we have brought a bad thing in from outside. They think that outside hip-hop means drugs, girls, cars, bullshit, and of course in side Gaza we don’t have all these things, we have war, occupation and my people that fight against each other. They think we have brought western culture here to delete our culture. This is why I believe Hamas shut down the show last night. Also because there was a connection with the West Bank and there’s many problems for Hamas people there recently. I think there were a few people that were killed there just this week. There’s a lot of people that resist us here, because of our style generally reflecting western culture.”
some lyrics by Khaled Harara from the Black Unit Band
Phalistine forgive me,
My tears dry, my wounds dry,
I can’t hold it anymore
I can’t stop and I can’t be silent, about everyone who has stolen this country,
I can’t stay silent, because everyone here has trodden on us, treated us like dominos, they kill us, and then they take money for it,
Hamas colour is green, Fatah is yellow,
They’ve raised the Palestinian flag and now the colours are just green and yellow, that’s what they want
We want from the united nations in the Gaza strip, for the fuckin situation, we want more corn and more soup to wash our faults that have been put on our shoulders, and the faults are now like a graveyard, it’s the freedom that’s buried in that graveyard.
The military are rich off the backs of the people, the people who are standing in the lines to take a bag of flour from the United Nations…
Mond took us to meet with his uncle who is a farmer in the northern area near the sea. here is some transcriptions from the interview: but so stupidly i didn’t write down his name, i will get it soon.
“My original homeland is from over there, where you can see the city of Ashkelon today, just over the border into Israel, I can look at where I’m from everyday… My Grandfather is from Al-Gora, what is was called before they named it Ashkelon. They had 800 dunams there. I have 30 dunams here (=7.4acres). I still have the papers for our land there..
“…after the 2nd intifada the farm was destroyed the first time. I used to have honey, but the flowers have been destroyed so there can be no more production.
Every time there was a war here, the fruit and vegetable fields were destroyed. I have planted new olive trees after the last war, and they’re going well but they will take a long time to produce any fruit. A lot of the land was destroyed in the last war. This are depends on bore water; the Israelis drill bores every two hundred metres – sucking water from here, now I depend on sea water and have to buy drinking water – I use tactics to filter the sea water for the farm, like filtering through sand.
My land is my life, I cannot leave this land for one day – maybe 1 at most… I am the happiest and the most at peace when I can sit amongst the trees and make a cup of tea.
“My wife doesn’t work in the farm, she stays at home and looks after the kids, and she makes the best pickles in Gaza. My children don’t work in the farm because I don’t see hope for it in the future, but they spend a lot of time here.
“Every time my land was destroyed I go out there the very same day and plant new trees. I can give up because I have to have fun, I have to live my life. Life and death are the same to us, I have lost a lot of friends but I have to keep hope. How can I be sad when everything here is beautiful? Can you hear the sound of the birds? The only reason for someone to be sad is to be afraid of something. When we were kids we played with the simple things, like the sand. Everything in this life has an end, and no body knows when it will come.
Israel is lying to the whole world but they can’t lie to us, we know the truth, we see what happens here.
We are simple people in this area. The Israeli’s didn’t look for war here, because there is no resistance here, just the trees.
We had a demonstration today, at the Erez border, well, near to it, with 300 Palestinians and a handful of internationals to demand an end to the siege and occupation. see glimpsesofgaza for the media release we put out.
every day coming back to my room i am amazed and inspired by the selflessness and simpleness and resilience and hope that people hold here in Gaza – something we can learn a lot from on the outside and also making my own simple whining and whinging about money and jobs and not moving forward seem so selfish and greedy. i remind myself of these words and thoughts when i get going on that personal diatribe.
we’re leaving tomorrow, insha’allah we are allowed out. it seems too short, but also we have a lot to process and a lot to do from here. as i have the priviledge of leaving of the gates of rafah tomorrow back into egypt i take with me the knowledge that 1.5million people are stuck inside,and cannot travel with this freedom i have, they are stuck with just the bare essentials and their dignity being stripped from them on a daily basis, with the future for many looking not further than the money he makes from selling ciggaretts, and never being able to play a soccer game in the West Bank, and never being able to study abroad or smell a different climate, or simply never having the choice or freedom to do so. but we also leave with their hope and strength that it’s going to change and there will be future outside and within the walls of gaza. we leave knowing these people aren’t going to stop fighting for that, for their human rights and for a dignified life and for the choice and freedom that so many of us enjoy on the outside.
peace salaam shalom.