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Yasser Abu Moailek's Letter From Gaza

For Some Gazans, Joy At Israeli Pullout Is Marred By Grief

By Yasser Abu Moailek

*******

A set of white marble steps lead to the entrance of Gaza City's Rashad Al Shawwa Cultural Center, which is currently being used as the Palestinian press center to cover the Israeli disengagement.

Although the steps were too hot to touch from the scorching sun, a group of elderly women did not seem to notice, as they sat on the steps, carrying large portraits of young men.

Amid the celebrations over the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, these women want to make sure that Gazans and foreigners alike do not forget those who are unable to join the festivities: their husbands, sons and brothers who remain behind Israeli bars

Um Hossam Abul Nour, 67, held up a portrait of her eldest son, Hossam, who was sentenced to several life terms in prison by an Israeli military court. He has been in prison for a year-and-a-half now.

Although joyful at the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of Jewish settlers, Um Hossam could not help but shed tears of sorrow over the fact that her son could not share these special moments with her.

"I'm sitting here to meet senior Palestinian officials and foreign journalists to tell them how much I miss Hossam and that our prisoners should not be forgotten in the midst of the joy about the occupation's withdrawal," Um Hossam said.

Not far from where Um Hossam sat, Osama Al Ghaleeth was at his modest tin-roofed home at Beach Refugee Camp in Gaza City, huddled with his five children together as they watched different TV news stations broadcasting the latest developments on the Israeli withdrawal.

Ghaleeth lost his brother and land to an Israeli incursion three years ago. He was also wounded seriously in his arm during the same incursion in the northern Gaza Strip.

"I used to live in the town of Beit Lahiya, where I was born and raised," he said. "But after the Israeli incursion three years ago in which I lost my brother, home and the land supporting me and my family, I moved to this house," he said.

He added that these days more than ever he missed his brother, who had always wished to see the Gaza Strip "occupation-free".

A crackle of bullets interrupted Ghaleeth's statements - not to announce another funeral of a killed Palestinian, but as part of the celebrations following the Israeli withdrawal.

"Everyone still feels how cruel life is here despite their happiness. I still suffer pains from time to time in my right arm from that deadly incursion, but what always keeps my spirit up is seeing joy in the eyes of people."

In the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, the hardest hit in the Palestinian territories by Israeli forces, ex-prisoner Abdel Raouf Maarouf said that he missed his comrades at the Israeli jail, which he had left only three months ago.

"Despite the joy I feel at seeing the occupiers leave our land, remembering the suffering of my brethren at Israeli jails takes away most of that joy," Maarouf sighed.

He said that his dreams were shattered when he learned that the Israeli government would not release Palestinian prisoners. After spending four years in jail he feels injustice - and a bad conscience - for having to witness these historic moments while his friends and comrades remained behind bars.

According to the statistics of the Palestinian ministry of prisoners and ex-detainees, Israel still holds about 8,500 prisoners in its jails, of them 680 long-term prisoners from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has refused all negotiations to release those prisoners following the withdrawal from Gaza, insisting at every security meeting with Palestinian officials that they must serve their sentences.

Back on the streets of every city, town and refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, an extraordinary mixture of happiness and sorrow wraps Gazans. Some families remember their fallen loved ones during these moments, while others long to see their entire land free of the grip of Israeli forces and Jewish settlers.

These emotions are intertwined with car horns, Palestinian flags flying everywhere and jubilant songs played on every Palestinian radio station.

Taha Said, a newspaper deliveryman, said that he had started to feel proud of his job again.

"I used to bow my head when delivering newspapers after every Israeli incursion or bombing, for I didn't want to be the bearer of bad news to the families of the killed or the wounded, but now I'm truly proud of being a newspaper deliverer. Everyone awaits my arrival to learn about the status of the Israeli withdrawal," Said proclaimed.

He added, "the tone is the same almost everywhere; following a stream of cars decorated with Palestinian flags and posters celebrating the Israeli withdrawal, or entering a shop and hearing the local radio newscaster describing the evacuation of settlers or the demolition of settler houses. Everyone now looks forward for the final declaration that Gaza is free from the occupation."

In one way or another, every Gaza resident has been affected by the Israeli occupation and the Jewish settlements, commented Tahani Ferwana, a university student.

"You don't have to lose a loved one, a house or a piece of land to be happy when the Israelis leave Gaza.

"It's an opportunity to exchange congratulations and blessings like any other nation celebrating their feasts and holidays. It's a long-awaited opportunity," she said. "It's a long-awaited opportunity."

Yasser Abu Moailek is a writer and producer living in Gaza, Palestine.

ENDS

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