Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Ramzy Baroud: Gaza - The Line Of Memory & Despair

Gaza - The Line Of Memory & Despair


By Ramzy Baroud

I've known of Kassim Kafarneh for many years. His thick, wild beard is now neatly trimmed and his once unruly, black hair is combed in an orderly fashion. His spirit however is as free as the day I saw him filming in our refugee camp one Friday afternoon, 17 years ago.

I know for sure it was a Friday. Hamas was a young faction that had just emerged on the scene of the Palestinian Intifada of 1987. They declared their presence in a statement that was read exactly 80 days after the outbreak of the uprising, from under a large water tower, adjacent to my old house in the Nuseirat refugee camp.

It was there, by the graveyard of the martyrs, that a masked man covered with a shabbily sewn black and green garment, recited the declaration of the establishment of Hamas. A group of children cheered with giddiness and excitement. Grown-ups stood puzzled.

"A pathetic attempt to reintroduce the Muslim Brotherhood back to Palestinians," a cynic murmured.

Soon the crowd dispersed. My father, as overly anxious as he always was, herded us into the house. He smelled trouble.

A few days later, following the Friday sermon, Hamas held its first "military rally" in the camp. Scores of masked refugee youth, armed with clubs and holding posters of intifada martyrs marched in place. There were so many of them, surrounded by a large crowd, mostly worshipers astonished by the unanticipated after-prayer surprise. There, too, was Kassim, Gaza's only TV journalist, filming from the top of a parked Coca-Cola truck.

One of the camps self-declared political analysts, and they are many, deduced that this newly formed Hamas must be on to something big if they managed to drag the Strip's only cameraman to film their rally. Strange as it may sound, he was right.

I met Kassim nearly two decades later. Now, he runs a successful media company of well-trained Gazan journalists. They supply raw news feeds to numerous television outlets around the world. I met him unexpectedly in a shopping mall in some Arab capital, far away from the camp's old mosque and the martyrs' graveyard.

"I hate the mall culture," he complained, while protectively clutching a cigarette he longed to smoke. As we hurried outside the mall searching for an open space where Kassim could smoke, memories began to fall into place, united around that Friday afternoon, 17 years ago.

Much has changed since then. My mother died soon after the outbreak of the first uprising. She was buried not too far away from the water tower, which was also often used by Israeli troops as a lookout post. Our house is still standing near what was later named "Red Square", for soon hundreds of the camp's kids would be killed and injured there. And I was soon to depart, carrying with me the weight of a shattered childhood, the echo of tens of thousands of bullets, the haunting screams of angry Israeli soldiers and the cries of beleaguered children, calling on God for help while being beaten senseless.

"You're home free, Kassim, smoke the day away!" I said with some wit in a desperate attempt to break the overpowering chain of memories, as we drove away in search of an open coffee shop. I had no idea that I was inviting a typical Gazan psychoanalysis of what is so sacred and holy about a cigarette.

"It's an unconditional relationship, Ramzy. A cigarette will never turn its back on you," he said.

I didn't dare disagree, especially when the conversation drifted to the joy of slipping a cigarette into an Israeli prison where thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are still confined. That area was far too revered a subject for me to meddle in. So, I held my peace.

Kassim is also a US citizen. He could leave Gaza at any moment, if he wishes. But he chooses to stay. "If we all leave who will stay to tell the story," he said, in a prudent voice that highlighted the white hair encroaching on his head from various spots. He looked haggard and hardly smiled.

It hurts living in Gaza. It always has. Even those in the equally distraught West Bank pitied us Gazans. For one, the Strip was labeled, "the world's largest open-air prison", and my old neighborhood was for a long while known as the "starvation camp". We earned this title after the first Gulf War when Israel staged a 56-day curfew in most of the Gaza Strip and we ran out of food some days after its wake. If it wasn't for some wild grasses and bushes that had grown sparsely around the camp, God only knows what would've happened.

Kassim finally got to smoke his cigarette in style, followed by 20 others. I inhaled my share of unwanted smoke and uninvited, bittersweet memories. His stress augmented whenever he spoke of going back. It was not Gaza that frightened him. It was the Israeli-controlled border.

"I swear to God, they treat us like animals. No, in fact animals get better treatment than this and will find many who will defend them. I get sick to my stomach when I think of the humiliation I will endure at the border and always fall ill for days after I make my way in."

Last August over 3,000 Palestinian travelers were crammed into a tiny space at the border in an act of collective punishment, for 16 consecutive days. And it was only last week that Israel agreed to expose only 'suspected' travelers to its radioactive screening, responsible for an untold number of illnesses.

It was heartening to see Kassim's fighting spirit at an age where there are many wealthy Palestinians ready to sign off Palestinian rights to the last inch and to the last refugee. It was touching to wish that tireless fighter goodbye, as he was ready to embrace his camera and embark on the endless journey of 'telling the story".

"Just for the record, Kassim, you really were our hero growing up in the camps," I said. He nodded bashfully and clutched onto another cigarette, the last in an empty pack.

*************

-Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist, the editor in chief of PalestineChronicle.com and a program producer at Al-Jazeera Satellite Television.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news