Modes of Control; checkpoints, border-crossings & guns – Egypt to Gaza, Dec 27, 2009 – Jan 02, 2010

Modes of Control, Hamas, Gaza Demonstration, 31 Dec 2009

Modes of Control; checkpoints, border-crossings & guns – Egypt to Gaza
Dec 27, 2009 – Jan 02, 2010

Bearing gifts of duty-free whisky and Champion tobacco, Conor managed to find his way to my apartment building, made visible by a large ‘DIESEL’ sign at its base. He walked past the Boab- the doorman, and stepped into the archaic lift, synonymous of downtown Cairo. At the 7th floor I met him trying to un-jam himself from inside the dodgy box; I opened the gate and apologised for not waking up earlier.

Situated next to the enormous Al-Fath Mosque on Ramses Street, this home had been mine for the four weeks prior while I had been studying Arabic, climbing into old buildings and walking along railway yards late at night, trying to sneak a free swim at expensive hotels, drinking ample amount of coffee, tea and fresh juice and being “WELCOMEd TO CAIRO”! at least 12 times a day.

My room, the loudest in the apartment, had a 24hr symphony of honking cars and a 5am wake up call to prayer. It also had a rooftop full of shanty homes, a stairwell full of rubbish, and a faulty system of electricity, gas and water.

The fact that C found the place at 6.30 in the morning after arriving from a 26 hr journey from Australia assured me that he knew how to travel, and would be a much needed/appreciated entity of the journey ahead. Although we didn’t know each other, he brought with him a familiarity of home, of the activist/enviro mob, and of a certain calm and humour that would prove the most valuable of traits in absurd situations.

We made coffee and I tried to breakdown what the situation was for the 100 Internationals now arriving in Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March set for the 31st of December- A march which was to commemorate the one year anniversary of the brutal ‘Operation Cast Lead’ – the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to send a message to the world to finally end the siege and open the borders.

“As you know,” I whispered to C as to not wake my nocturnal housemates, “the Egyptians (authorities) have done everything to prevent this march from happening, to prevent us all from going to Gaza tomorrow. They’ve used ‘security reasons’ for their position and have canceled all our buses and set up new checkpoints along the highway to Al-Arish, the police are everywhere and all the hotels are being monitored.

“What Codepink (the organisers) are planning to do, is to have a symbolic departure tomorrow morning, knowing that they won’t go anywhere, and then over the course of the next week there will be demonstrations, sit-ins and the like all over Cairo; at the UN, at different embassies, etc. They are still hoping to go to Gaza, but it’s not looking good. Danya and I want to go and set up a camp at the border of Rafah, leaving tonight. We will, of course try and cross the border first, but failing that, we’re planning to camp out.”

We woke Danya, my partner in crime and savior earlier in the year when we were both in Israel/48 Palestine and I had only a very subdued friend and project partner for three months. I knew D well, also from Australia; working on anti-nukes and forest campaigns. There was no explanation needed between us and the absurdity of our surroundings, we knew the area, the mentalities and the possible obstacles to come.

So we set out to buy a large tent, for some 15 of the people we envisioned to be camping at the Rafah border with us once we arrived; we had been getting text messages from various groups that had made it to Al-Arish – just 50km from the Egypt-Gaza border-crossing. These small groups knew that the larger delegation wasn’t going to make it out of Cairo and still wanted to try to enter Gaza – but they were all now under hotel-arrest, having police monitor their every move and prevent them from travelling on to Rafah.

So, maybe I should skip a few details; involving bargaining for the tent, bargaining for the taxis, eating koshary, deliberating on whether or not to leave, when to leave; watching the sun go down over the smog and realising we must leave if we want to go at all. A Turkish girl jumped on board who didn’t speak too much English, so didn’t speak much at all, the withdrawn silent body that popped up with strange questions at strange times.

So. Again. So. We made our way to the outskirts of Cairo to catch a mini bus, full of Egyptians, we had been told to ‘look Arab’ on our journey to Arish, so on the mini bus we women covered our heads with scarfs and pretended to sleep; by now the time was around 10pm so this wasn’t hard. I asked the other passengers on the mini bus if we could swap seats and sit in the back so that when stopped at a checkpoint we would be less obvious – they were confused at first, but then understood why we were dodging the authorities. They agreed, and kept saying at ‘the café’ we would swap, but the café never eventuated.

Our new friends warned us when the checkpoints were coming, so we ducked our heads and covered our skin, after we passed through the gaze of police, everyone on the bus cheered. We made it through three checkpoints and were feeling positive, however, when stopped again I heard the policeman asking the bus driver if there were any foreigners on the bus, and he said yes, for fear of persecution if he lied.

C was taken off first, then D, still mumbling, pretending to be sleeping, then me and the Turkish girl got out and had to hand over our passports, to ‘officials’ who refused to show us their ID’s – “No ID, no ID,” they kept saying. Mohammed, the main spook, was happy to learn that I spoke a bit of Arabic, as there were two other internationals he hadn’t been able to communicate with very well; a mother and son from the UK, who had been pulled over earlier and were waiting there at this checkpoint some 150km from Arish in the Sinai desert.

Mohammed, as they were all called, an unofficial official, took a liking to me after I tried to describe our reason for travelling to the Arish. By now our bus had to take our bags off the roof and continue it’s journey. “We’re doing a project, a book project, on the Mediterranean,” we said. “We’ve been to Turkey, France, and now Egypt. We’re writers for university, and photographers.”
But, “Terrorists,” they said, it was dangerous for tourists in Arish. “But why Arish?” we asked. “Rafah,” one said accidentally, then was corrected by someone else, “Arish,” they said again. So we were ordered to wait, and I was trying to sweet-talk the Mohammed in charge, calling him a prophet, as you do, in Arabic.

Our Sinai Checkpoint/Camping Ground

Soon after, another two internationals, one from Australia and one from Malta, were pulled over in a taxi and ordered to get out as we were. So we were now eight, strangers mostly, in the desert, going on midnight.

Our conditions were that we had to return to Cairo, and then we would get our passports back, but we refused, and after an hour or so, J from Australia and L from Malta tried to pitch a small camping tent at the checkpoint; the spooks got so infuriated that they called in a squad of armed police and yelled “YALLAH” “go/lets go/move” a hundred times and threatened arrest. They moved us to an area about 100m away, where they didn’t care what we did, just as long as were out of their sight.

So we pitched our massive 15-person tent and deliberated our situation. We had no food and not much water, we would write a media release and try and get it out to the others, but I was beginning to lose charge and credit on my phone, and our internet thumb-drive didn’t work on Macs.

At around 3am Mohammed came to ask us if we knew George Galloway, and if we were a part of his convoy. We looked at each other, confused, What was happening? Could we get through if we were part of Galloway’s convoy? Should we lie? “Yes, we know him, we are going to meet him in Arish,” we said. I’m not sure Galloway would have like this very much, but it helped our Mohammed have a change of heart and declare that in the morning he would help us get to Arish to join up with Galloway who was coming through. We were delighted.
At 4am Mohammed came back and asked me to translate passport details, so I complied. He also asked if he could come in to sleep next to me; but having previously said I was married to C, to help me out of these situations, he didn’t believe me, and asked me when C was born. I had to check his passport and memorise the birth date to get through it. I finally got into my sleeping bag freezing cold at about 5am.
At 7am Mohammed came and asked me to come and translate, then the new spook, also Mohammed, took over. I asked Mohammed what was happening with Galloway, “I don’t know,” he said, and left.
We checked up on the Galloway convoy and found that they had been refused travel through Israel to Egypt and had to go back to a Syrian port to continue their journey to Gaza, carrying millions of dollars in aid.
Confused, we got back into bed and slept until midday. A few people went to find food and water about 5km away while the rest of us dozed and walked around the tents a hundred times, played soccer and looked into the desert at Bedouins herding sheep.

Much later when the others came back with food, they came back with news that a Bedouin man, also named Mohammed, who, after a series of charades, had managed to understand our situation and indicate that he wanted to help by driving us around the checkpoints through the Sahara/desert.

So we waited until around 9pm, dark and cold, then communicated with our personal minders that we were tired and hungry and were going to leave, to go back to Ismailia or Cairo to a hotel and eat some food. They were happy, and tried to organise us a taxi all the way to Cairo. But I said that we just wanted to go to the closest café, and then eat and then we would get another taxi to Ismailia. They refused, saying we must go all the way, because there is ‘nothing’ in between, and it’s dangerous.

I finally agreed, just to get our passports returned, and once they were handed over someone yelled “take your bags” and we took our luggage out of the taxi that was getting orders from the police not to stop until Ismailia, and we started walking up the dark highway, seemingly not being followed by the police.

The tent was so heavy and we struggled with it; stopping behind a greenhouse we called the Bedouin Mohammed. I spoke, where are we? Landmarks, signs, road, gas station? They found us in the end and C asked me “do they seem alright? Genuine? Dodgy?” I really couldn’t tell in the dark, after exchanging a few words. We got in the pick-up/ute and they drove us into the desert a few km away from our checkpoint, there we bargained prices and organised where we were going. We needed two cars and it would cost us 1000LE each, about AU$208- Far more than planned/hoped, but plans didn’t really exist right now, nor did choices.

We waited in the moonlight, the growing full moon, in the desert, while they got the other car and filled up with petrol. There was two of them, and the older man waited with us, to assure us of their sincerity.

badawi gazelle hunting

We’re in the cars now, two in the front and two in the back of each pick up; C, my pseudo husband, between Mohammed and me in the cab of one, – them, chain-smoking, me trying to read works and phrases from my dictionary to make sure I’m actually taking us somewhere, or no where at all.

“trees, dates, desert, roads,” Mohammed is speaking to me, I’ve got partial understanding of it all, but now it’s late, like 2am, 1am maybe, maybe later. He says we’ll swap somewhere, before Rafah, 50km before, and do a swap into another car. Why? Sure, we have no choice. When we stop at around 3am, 3.30? a new-looking 4wd pulls up next to us and two guys with gun-straps get out, we think, fuck, they’re police, fuck…but we realise they’re just.. in the business, of things, out here.

We all pile into their 4wd and say goodbye to the Bedouins, although our new friends are Bedouins too, a little better off perhaps. C picks up a belt of magazines and asks “what should I do with this?” Yusef, we’ll call him, responds with a signal to throw it anywhere.

So I’m in the front, with the gear stick in between my legs, and the Turkish girl sitting near on top of me, and the driver, Yusef and another guy, umm, Hussein, perhaps, on either side of us. On the journey we pass through an old checkpoint with a blown apart tank – it frightens me as we approach because I didn’t see it coming, and Yusef tricks me into believing we’re headed straight for the police…

I am trying to translate that we want to go to the checkpoint, to the border, of Rafah, but not quite the border, close enough to go there in the morning, but far enough away to camp and be out of sight for the night. Everyone kept changing their minds, though, which made translating in broken Arabic even more difficult. Finally we realised we had no more food or water, and should stay in town. By now we learnt that these guys were in the business of people smuggling, Africans into Israel, and goods smuggling into Gaza; they kept asking if we wanted to go through the tunnels into Gaza, or through the border, I’m not sure they understood why we would go to the border, when it was clearly full of police and closed…

On his phone, Hussein showed me a clip of Sudanese people jumping a fence and wandering off into the desert of Israel… C started speaking and Yusef told him to be quiet, because of the police, then he blasted Arabic beats and sped through the Bedouin-made roads of the Sarah/Sinai.

Finally I managed to translate/ask/communicate that we needed some place to stay for the night, did he have somewhere? “Yes, with me, my house,” he said. We were confused, I was confused, I wasn’t sure if I was translating properly, or if I understood.

We were taken to a hut, D and I instantly thought we were taken to a tunnel, but inside we found other Bedouins, and an Ethiopian guy called Gabriel, who spoke English, I was so happy, I didn’t realise how stressed I had become for having to semi-translate with my basic Arabic with people-smuggling Bedouins at 4 in the morning in the middle of fucking Sinai en route to Israel/Gaza/Police/hghsdifoh! – so we sat down drank tea.

They, the others, some, spoke of the tunnels, how much to go through them? Me D and C were not interested; they continued, actually D could speak some Hebrew, and they could too, due to the whole – border business.

I wasn’t present anymore, beyond tired, beyond bemused, amused, surprised, humoured, confused, I wanted to sleep. They brought Twinkies and soft drinks – we ate and drank them; wanting anything, not starving, just – not hungry even, just because they were there.

Finally by the call to prayer heard in the distance, we fell asleep.

Our temporary hideout, some 2km from three borders, – Conor, Sinai, #1

I kept waking, looking at the guys looking at us, watching us sleep, I felt dodgy, the whole thing felt dodgy, but we had some sort of ‘trust’ based on no alternative situation right then and there – if this is fucked we’re fucked, so we better trust that it’s not fucked. But they kept moving about, but when one of the young guys said ‘good-morning’, I trusted him. Perhaps, a little.

Wandering out of the hut we could see Kerem Shalom, one of the Israeli crossings into Gaza; we were not far from the borders of Egypt Israel and Gaza. Some 2km away perhaps.

Lunch, we were fed, meat, salad, bread.

No money asked for.

Visits, by – the sheikh, the big men of the area, all lovely and welcoming, some spoke English, Hebrew, as well as Arabic – more tunnel talks, more removal, more unknowing, what to do. If we go to the border we are sure to be taken in, straight into the hands of the police. But if we don’t go, do we stay in this hut until we have word from someone that there will be others moving to the border?

C and I want to make stories – photograph things, but they are cautious, making sure we don’t get their faces in any shots, and they tell us of the people smuggling, and we want to meet those who are smuggled. They say okay, we can do that – and later they take us in their 4wds, C and I sitting on top of AKs in the back. We’re driven around the desert tracks.. and after a while, realise that they’re just taking us for a joy ride through the desert; near the borders, near some huts, near not much, over some sand. L from Malta is sick.

We go up and down the dunes, laughing at the absurdity of where we are and what we’re doing.

badawi 4wding

Our people. From everywhere, all here, sitting in these fucking 4wds being driven round like quasi-tourists with people-smuggling Bedouins near contentious borders of high-security and no security and insanity.

What the fuck? We go with it. Nothing else we can do.

We get taken to a house ; a large, stunning, pristine house, owned by Abed Mahmoud, who seems to be a big player in the business/es – but has a heart of warmth and welcome – his wife and other women relatives prepare tea for all of us, then coffee, then tea, then later dinner, and prepare beds for us – our bags are brought over and we all shower and come alive again.

Badawi home, Sinai

badawi home

Sinai, Badawi/Bedouin House

We try and interview Abed Mahmoud, but my Arabic is so bad, and his English is not so strong, I think C gets a few interesting points, but I’m on the phone most of the time with people in Cairo, people hiding out at the border, near the border, – with people in Arish, trying to figure out what’s happening elsewhere, while we cocoon in our bubble hidden by Bedouins in precarious locations, unsure if we’re moving on or staying put.

The five other travellers with us are organising to go through the tunnels at night – D and I are getting stressed by the idea – but they persist, and we try and plan our moves; we’ll stay the night, then move on to the border tomorrow.

Around 8pm the others leave to the tunnels, we say our goodbye’s and wish them luck. As the door closes behind them we have a sense of relief – almost, all these differing opinions, ideas, conflicts, plans, – putting all this weight on this hospitable home we’ve been so welcomed in – we need to move on. Abed Mahmoud asks if we can stay with him for a few days, he’ll take us driving in the desert, camping, just with him, no money, he’s happy, we think, to be showing foreigners this place. We must look crazy to all of them, having arrived in the middle of the night trying to go to Gaza, legally, then having a plethora of different plans, then ending up not doing much at all – having heated discussions in the lounge room while sheikhs and other men waft in and out…

Half an hour later they all come back in through the door; our stress levels rise again – “Police, police around the tunnels, we’ll go back later…”

But they don’t go back later, and we continue our moving from one place on the floor to the next, drinking tea, smoking copious amounts of cigarettes, getting covered in a nicotine haze… conversations in Hebrew, English, Arabic, cultural miscommunications, cultural connections, laughter, hash gets passed around, eventually we sleep.

At 2 in the morning I get a text from an eccentric Brit we’ve been in communicado with since Cairo; it reads “100m from border, hiding in bushes” – this sets D and me off laughing – trying to recap the past 4 days, has all this really been happening?

The next evening we make our way in 2 convoys to Arish – to meet with the buses coming from Cairo – our last desert trip in the fancy 4wd with blasting Arabic beats with the Bedouin people smugglers tunnellers with guns – our new friends of the Sinai – more hospitable that could have been imagined – no money was asked for out of this. A few rain drops hit the windows, the sky is blue – the lights of Arish ascend on us.. Abed told me to call him if/when we don’t get into Gaza, or afterwards, we must come back, he said. We hoped, Insha’allah.

We get out a few km from town – “straight ahead,” he says, “then taxi” – our tent is too heavy for us to carry, we look down the hill and see two large buses followed  by sirens from a police convoy – “fuck! That’s our buses! We’ve missed them! Fuck!” – after all this, to miss the buses to Gaza – we’re distressed – we ask some local kids to help us with our luggage and we run down the hill, get in a taxi and ask for the Swiss Inn, where we’re supposedly meeting the buses – the taxi goes in the opposite direction to the bus and we know we’ve missed it.

At the hotel we arrive into a disaster of differing opinions – we’ve been so out of it we didn’t realise what was going on, politically, socially, with the rest of the delegation. There is a huge divide, between those that believe no one should be going, and those that want to continue on, for whatever reason, aid delivery, journalists, Rabbis, projects, etc., so there is a large meeting inside, and those yelling at those who are going to not go, “all or none” – C and D and I are more stressed now. I totally agree with the all or none concept, it means nothing for a few to get through, it means nothing but a token.. but there are uses to, for some of us to go through. Some Palestinians who haven’t seen their family in 40 years, some who are going to make work about it, some who are delivering aid or starting projects..?

Two new buses arrive, it turned out the other buses from Cairo had gone straight past Arish to the border, and were now sending another bus for us. C and I organise some people to get onto the bus, those that want to go – we’re just on this mission, we want to go, I want to go to see the families I stayed with, to visit friends, to continue the body of work; I try not to analyse it too much because it makes me want to stay, but what would be achieved if I stayed?. We go. Finally.

Crossing the border of Egypt-Gaza for the 3rd time in one year – this big hall is so familiar now – this process of forms, like any border, so banal once inside, yet one of the toughest borders on earth… one of the hardest ones to cross. We pass through.

Arriving at Marna house around 1am – we’re welcomed by some friends from the Palestinian Unit and Palestinian Rappers, they’ve been waiting for us, and try and break down for us what has been happening in Gaza. “They, the green people (Hamas they mean), have hijacked the march, it’s going to be fucked, no one will go, no one knows…”

Of course, I think, this whole thing would be madder, more absurd, the whole thing is fucked, Hamas are watching our every move, more intensely than last time. We’re here for other reasons too, only 2 days here now.

C and I share a room, shower, sleep, try and download some images, not that my digital camera is working, it fell out of the 4wd somewhere down the track and the battery got stuck inside, now dead. I’m shooting film too, so…

We wake up in Gaza; finally.

Northern Gaza

The march; we arrive to a crowd, Hamas has taken over, I don’t want to be seen as a puppet for them – but isn’t it important that we’re internationals marching with Gazans, yes, but it’s not with the original organisers, but anyway, we’re marching together, I cover my head – I don’t want to be seen as a puppet, but would I be? We’re here together, fuck this insanity.
There are guns everywhere, Hamas everywhere, I’m more interested in this power play, this control, this regime…this fear…

Modes of Control, Hamas, Gaza Demonstration, 31 Dec 2009

Modes of Control, Hamas, Gaza Demonstration, 31 Dec 2009

Along the way I see that bricks are being re-made from broken cement from the year before – that workers are reconstructing destruction – it’s hope, it’s necessity.

recycling cement, northern Gaza

Anti-Zionist Rabbi, Gaza Demonstration, 31st December 2009

Modes of Control, Hamas, Gaza Demonstration, 31 Dec 2009

Modes of Control, Hamas, Gaza Demonstration, 31 Dec 2009

After the march, where we didn’t make it to the border, just some kms away, we’re taken on a snap tourist adventure through destruction, then back to our Hamas controlled hotels, C and I escape; I yell in Arabic to someone from Hamas who tries to stop us “I know where we’re going, I’ve been here before!” he gets the point and leaves us alone.

We meet up with Doa’a, from the family I usually stay with here, she’s a doctor, and now engaged, ready to move to Sweden; to finally leave here. But she, like thousands of others, are on a waiting list, which is usually bumped back by Hamas members – or by the Egyptians, or by Israel, all sides, inside and out, this control, so powerful, so overbearing, so…?

She takes us to her hospital where C hopes to take some photos, talk to some people, but we don’t have the permission, so we see the display of weapons from the last attacks on Gaza, the photographs of the dead, of death, of fear and terror –  Doa’a doesn’t want to look at this, she thinks it helps no one, does nothing, everyone in Gaza knows what happened, this doesn’t help us move on.

We talk about other things, marriage, life outside Gaza, but always back to Gaza, to the war, – “I couldn’t work in the hospital last war,” she said, “not in emergency anyway; after the first day, when I saw my professor from university arrive, dead, I said I couldn’t work here, any other department” – Her brother is also a doctor, just 25 years old, they’re twins. He’s also engaged.

We go and eat Knaffa, a Palestinian/Arab sweet/savoury mix – that fills our belly and distracts us for a few moments.
It’s new years eve, and that night there’s a hip-hop gig with the Palestinian Unit and the Darg Team – people are dancing, allowed to be free, they say, with the international presence, last time I was here, Hamas shut down the show and ordered everyone out. This time they dance, everyone does.

At midnight we welcome the new year in a circle in the foyer of the Commodore Hotel – the rappers and us – C falls asleep in the couch, I shake him, he tells me he’s trying to go through 2009 in his head, all the places he’s been and people he’s met, stories he’s heard and photographed – I try to do the same, but seems impossible to collate it all right now.

We go back to our hotel, we sip from the duty free whisky C smuggled in, it tastes perfect for now; everything seems to be absurd, but real, and we’re here, or we were there- to drift into the new year, to wake in Gaza again, to bring the new year, of last years memory of massacre, of this years knowledge of struggle, of what has changed? The world has opened its eyes, but the borders are still closed…the situation is still raw, homes are still demolished, aid is still minimal..

Friday Prayer, Jum’aa, Rafah, Gaza

Green flags of Hamas, quiet friday in Rafah

I’ve organised going to see the remains of the settlements, to go to the south and work our way up – I’m interested in the absurd, the banality of the absurd – I want to try and photograph this.

My friend Majed organises us a car, equip with Press credentials and a siren to get past slow moving vehicles, donkeys and the like. He drove for Abu Mazen, the previous Fatah government in Gaza – and he knows the areas we pass through, he knows the roads. We end up in Rafah, around the border of Egypt, and at the tunnels.

Friday prayer outside a tunnel and a blasted house, Rafah, Gaza

We ask if we can go in to one of the tents, the very obvious trade that it is, the whole southern edge lined with these tents, bringing in most of Gaza’s essential goods.

Inside we photograph bags of items being brought in from Egypt- we then go down into the tunnel, perhaps 12m down, climbing down a ladder, gear hanging off us.

Entrance to a tunnel, Rafah, Gaza

Inside we watch a 20 year old work, dragging sacks, moving the cut out tanks now made into a train-type thing which is pulled along the dirt ground by a generator fed pulley – all the way to and from Egypt. He’s strong, and smiling, this life, his work, some 30% of Gazans are employed in the tunnel industry I hear – perhaps 20%? Some people are making a killing off it, those who own the tunnels, – many Hamas.

We watch clothes, shoes, food and soap arrive in sacks, ripping apart, attached to the pulley and brought into Gaza, sold in shops with a 200-300% mark up price.

Goods like shoes, clothes and soaps entering Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah tunnels

Tunnel, Gaza

Communicating via radio, tunnel, Gaza

What will the new wall Egypt is putting in place do to the tunnels? We ask. “We have already figured out ways through it and below it,” the owner of the tunnel replies, We’re Palestinian, we know how to live, he implies.

We then visit the left over settler greenhouses, destroyed when they pulled out in 2005. Nothing has been made here, a strange, eerie space.

A greenhouse leftover from Israeli settlers after the 2005 disengagement

Gunshots at sea, we check it out, Israeli boats firing at fishermen – normal, absurd, daily.

In the evening I visit my friend Abdallah’s family back in Gaza City, the third time now, this family of.. 10? 11 – living in this small apartment, but one of the most liberal, or less conservative families I’ve met in Gaza. So welcoming, of course, with food and tea and biscuits. Asmaa tells us of being harassed by Hamas when she was out at the beach with her male friends, who of which none were her husband, they were beaten, the men, taken to Jail… for what? I don’t know.

Asmaa is courageous, strong and intelligent, a journalist, writer and activist, she’ll publish her new book soon, but have to leave Gaza in fear of the ramifications of her content, heavily critical of Hamas and Gaza, of this territory controlled by fear.

Our last night in Gaza, I’m stolen from out of the controlling watch of Hamas by a family I’ve stayed with before who live in Beit Hanoun – we catch up over late night falafel and humous, drink tea, and fall asleep late.

I wake at 4.30am, to go with my friend Ahmad Hammad, who has always helped me with translating when I’m in Gaza, to the fish markets, we pick up C from the hotel and drive down just as the sun is making it’s way over the tops of the city buildings next to the port.

I ask a few people about the fish, about the Israeli’s capturing, shooting harassing- how is the industry now? “difficult, the fish, few…, we’re always been shot at, or chased away by the Israelis.” There’s more to it, you know.

Gaza Fish Markets

Gaza Fish Markets

Bidding for fish, Gaza Fish Markets

Bidding for fish, Gaza Fish Markets

Gaza Fish Markets

My last photograph will be of a group of fishermen, young to old, gathered around a fire at 7am on a Gazan winter morning, overlooking the port, the boats, the city, they’re making tea, fixing nets, joking; a reminder, a confirmation, of how life goes on here, it has to, people just know how to continue, under the most fucked of circumstances, under the siege, under oppression from inside and out.

Gaza Fish Market/Port

So we’re shoved onto buses, some want to stay, but Hamas forces them out, threatens and bribes, putting other Palestinian chances to travel across the temporarily open border at risk – that’s the deal, that’s the Egyptian deal – you all must leave – it turns into a fight. But I’m tired, developing a stomach bug, half asleep for the next 12 hours back to Cairo- passed out on the bus, a few phone calls from C and D updates from being removed from Gaza, D, leaving Arish, goes to my apartment; a  welcome sight returning to the room, the honking streets of Cairo, the large mosque the tall roofs, the temperamental water system. C arrives at 3.30am.

We sleep late, I pack my things over a sick belly, empty, not ready to go home, but more than ready to go home, to end this 13 month journey for now. To carry with me all the stories, images, people and places with me, back to Australia, back to some sort of normality, affluence and wealth, cleanliness and sterile buildings, history painted on with a fresh new lacquer, a familiar smell, of post rain mixed with gasoline. To my own community, what I know, to familiarity. Home.

Salaam.

*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy and ‘security’ of those in need of it
**Check out Australian photographer, Conor Ashleigh’s fantastic work : www.conorashleigh.com and his recount of the journey: http://conorashleighphoto.blogspot.com/
***Check out Danya’s blog on Palestine & Israel – http://revisitingtheholyland.wordpress.com

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