Report from Gaza: "The Long Anxiety"
Report from Gaza: "The Long Anxiety"
Gaza Horia 12 Sep 03
1) From my colleague Noah, about the closing of Abu Holi, the checkpoint that divides the Gaza Strip into north and south. It's been closed for the majority of the past week so that they can rebuild the military watchtower that was temporarily dismantled during the hudna.
2) Update on the Rafah Border and Abu Jameel's family
3) Letter and update from my friend Molly who lives in Gaza City andworks with the Gaza Community Mental Health Clinic
1) From my colleague Noah, about the closing of Abu Holi, the checkpoint that divides the Gaza Strip into north and south. It's been closed for the majority of the past week so that they can rebuild the military watchtower that was temporarily dismantled during the hudna. September 9th, 2003
Waiting for the Olive Harvest.
We are waiting. Waiting for an invasion which Isreal says is coming, waiting for Erez (the northern enterence into Gaza) to open so our friends can get in and out. We are waiting for night to fall when we know the military will start sending haphazard vollies of bullets into the streets and the houses we are staying at near the boarder. And we are waiting for morning to come when the military will stop shooting into our neighborhoods. We are waiting for the year's first rainfall when the olive harvest will begin. and we are wating for the occupation to tear itself to shreds, the way a drowning man at sea grasps for the tiniest pieces of boards from his splintered ship before he finally gives up. And while we wait, the Gaza Strip seems to get smaller and smaller. It is already tiny. Maybe it takes an hour, barring checkpoint closure, to get from the southernmost portion of the strip, Rafah, to the north in Gaza City. Nevermind that no one can leave even this tiny isolated island of land, or that it takes a small miricle to get even internationals into Gaza. Nevermind that large swaths of the cities in the strip have been decimated by the incursions and home demolitions, economic depression, and the constant frustrating isolation of the occupation. Nevermind all this, now Abu Holy checkpoint is closed with huge blocks of cement, cutting the stip in half and leaving us stranded and seperate from where we need to be. It has been closed all day, and the military is threatening that it will remain so for three days. My team mate and I were trying to get to a meeting in Gaza City with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC) to coordinate an international presence for this year's olive harvest. But our meeting has been cancelled due to this closure and we are waiting for the media to get here so we can do some sort of action to negotiate an opening with the military. We don't expect an opening...
After a brief huddle to stratagize our action, I called the US Embassy to let them know that two Americans were going to approach the Israeli Military to try to negotiate a crossing for the people who were waiting, who had been waiting all day. I requested them to call the commander at the check point to let him or her know that we were non-violent, unarmed, and American citizens. The woman on the phone sounded bored and asked my name, then said she would call back. She called me back when we were standing apart from any other human, alone at the road block with our hands in the air. She said she needed our passport numbers? I said that all I wanted was for her to notify the military that we were unarmed and I told her where we were and that we kindly requested all haste in this endeavor. Really, if it wasn't such a deadly place, I might have laughed. She asked me why I was so concerned with telling the military who we were. I said I didn't want them to shoot at me. She asked me why I was worried about them shooting at me. It took me by suprise, why wouldn't I be worried about it? I thought about those who have come here before me, Rachel and Tom, and others who have been shot and injured while trying to confront the military. I saw the great rift in our perceptions, mine and hers, at that moment. I saw the great distance I would have to leap in order to meet her at a place where I could explain all that is really happening here, and to be able to understand from where she was coming. I looked at the military towers where trained snipers were sitting, at the military base covered in camaflauged netting, and at the swiss cheese texture of all the buildings still standing in the area. I looked around me at the wide circumference of lonley land where no one was for fear of being shot, where the two of us were still standing but for our white skin with our hands in the air. I really couldn't explain properly. So in the end I just told her that they've shot at us before, and that I had to go. The military had ordered us to go back, and we were waiting to meet with someone to speak with, trying to communicate our wishes by articulating shouted requests. They were waiting in their jeeps watching to see what we would do, and how long we would wait. After standing for more an hour in the quiet hot 200 meters of solitude between the waiting palestinians behind us and the waiting military personel in front of us, the nearby settelment tower started firing their machine guns into the area. They had had enough of waiting.
We were quick to get down on the ground, and from our bellies decided to retreat. On our way back to the mass of parked cars we found ourselves leaving a escalation of machine gun fire, and entering a crowd of reporters and onlookers who we were suprised to find cheering for us. I think we felt like we had failed, we felt like appologizing for not waiting long enough to speak with the military. But upon returning we found that our friends were happier that we were back safe with them. Of course they would be.
2) Update on the Rafah Border and Abu Jameel's family
In the morning I was helping Rasha and her mother Suad clean the apartment across the hall from ours, flooding the rooms with soapy water that thrust a sense of vibrance into old dying air. In the morning Noura called from the front line, last house before the wall with an infant and two toddlers, to alert us to the bulldozer that had already begun to demolish her house. We arrived in not more than ten minutes but the bulldozer had already left, leaving a gaping hole filled by crumbled cement blocks and deformed rebar where the front wall and the balcony of the house had been. The bulldozer had gone but everyone here says the first wall to go is like a warning shot, the family's eviction notice. The children and women on the street were helping Noura through belongings out of the window with the matter-of-fact heroism of raising children here on Rafah's front line.
The bulldozers left an halo of tense uncertainty behind them. We don't know when they will come for the rest, later today, tomorrow, in two weeks. We are here with the family until then. There was shooting and shelling all day from the army, morning until around 6pm. There was virtually nothing from the Palestinian side, a couple of pipe bombs that are as symbolic and ineffective a form of resistance as rocks, nothing that would warrant more than a minor paint job from a tank. This continued along all of the border with a relentlessness that exhausted video tapes and faded from the originality of surprise to the ordinariness of background music. Twice in the night ambulace sirens blared into the streets but we of yet have no further news as to why. This is how it was three or four days every week before the hudna and Noura preserving the daily routine of house and children with all the practical determination of a mother. She says it was like this yesterday as well, and undaunted by the onslaught of the days, she walked with me to the front of the house, the side that faces the border with the combined strength and vulnerability of nudity, where the wall that had been desecrated with bullets for three years nightly now crumbled almost easily into the room below, the strength of concrete reduced to the obsolete life of dried leaves beneath the footsteps of careless wanderers -- we walked (I with my breath held) to the place where there is no protection from the whims of the soldiers, to dig children's clothes out of the remains of the demolished wall, from where Noura used to hang her clothesline. I went with her with the half-faith we still hold onto here that international presence will make a difference to the army's collective mind, and the faith in Noura that she would not walk us into danger; thrown past my fears despite myself by the tenacity with which she insisted on retreiving the details, and the precariousness involved in saving the tiny baby sleeves of buried fabrics, and the accumulation of love grown into her footsteps, made automatic in the most dire of hours.
Against the day's corrugated background we ate a lunch of fresh cucumbers and cooked tomatos. Abu Jameel told us he wanted to make new banners, to complement the signs hung months ago on the house's tall walls announcing the presence of unarmed internationals and children (thus far ignored by the army's random shooting and house raids). The new signs will announce: We Will Not Leave. "Today, I don't know why they do this." Abu Jameel sighs against the endless machine gunfire, taking long drags off of his Cleopatra cigarette.
At this point five hundred tanks have surrounded northern Gaza and four battleships are hovering off of the coast. Sharon is back from his four days in India, his time cut short by the suicide bombs yesterday - one in Jerusalem and one in a military bus station in Tel Aviv that left twelve dead. The images repeated endlessly on Al Manar TV, frightening night images that resembled eerily the images of missile attacks in Gaza. Sharon is coming back for an emergency meeting with three things on the table: the expulsion of Yassir Arafat, a massive bombing operation on Gaza City, and a full scale long term invasion of the Gaza Strip. A friend of ours who lives in Gaza City is afraid of what might happen and tried to join us in the south today but Abu Holi was closed as it has been closed almost completely for days. We are waiting uneasily to see what will happen. By morning we should know which parts of this world will continue as they have been and which will be thrown into a chaos more extreme than I want to envision.
3) From my friend Molly who lives in Gaza City and works with the Gaza Community Mental Health Clinic
One of my recurring nightmares is about a coming tidal wave. It's my second least favorite recurring nightmare, my least favorites being the ones about the end of the world. In my tidal wave dreams, the scariest part is the waiting. i know it's coming. i can see it and i know it will be bad but i also know i can't run fast enough to get out of the way. alternatively, im stuck and can't move. Either way the dream sucks.
In Gaza City right now, people are getting ready. they cant go anywhere either and they know something big is coming. Most people think Israel is going to invade, actually come into gaza-the city itself- with tanks and street fighting, the whole deal. People are buying enough food for a month. all sorts of preparation is going on. a few days ago i saw two big warships in the water, they're pretty far away, but people here were really unsettled. yesterday they were joined by four smaller boats. Also yesterday i learned that in the first intifada, boats like these shelled gaza city. Last night husam, the guy who owns the internet cafe i always come to, said "Go home and stay there. Buy food. Be careful, the Israelis are coming tonight." i laughed, thinking he must be sort of teasing me. But he was totally serious. He said if not tonight, then the next day. i asked what he meant by "coming", what does that look like? he said, "Lots of blood." "Will there be tanks driving around in rimal, like out on that street??" "Yes, invasion. Maybe a week long, maybe two."
Then a friend from rafah called and said i should pack all my stuff and hightail it down to rafah, becuase rafah would be "safer". When Rafah is a refuge, you're in trouble. So i did, i packed all my stuff, all the while feeling frantic and paralyzed just like I do in those dreams, knowing i couldnt make it. As i walked to the taxi station the moon was hugely full and low, which made me laugh a little- it was so cheesy, like a movie or something, all the drama. Then police car after police car went flying by with lights flashing. Everything coming together to increase my desire to flee or poop.
i went to get a taxi, but it was too late, Abu Holi was closed already. Strangely enough i ended up eating ice cream with my friend, who himself is completely unworried.And we had one of our typical over-shisha conversations about his shoes and how he loves them and why.
So i went to work like normal today. A guy i work with, we'll call him Fred, took my busted zoom lens to get it fixed for me a couple of days ago. we went to pick it up today together. I asked him about what he thought might happen. He doesnt speak a lot of english but i figured out that he said something like, "I'm ready". To help me understand, he threw open the glove compartment of his red jetta. Sitting there was the biggest handgun ive ever seen. Then he showed me the gun he had ON him, in the back of his pants. But he wasnt done. This man, this man who had driven far three times for me and my silly zoom lens, this man who gave me a book on war crimes, this man with a pharmacist wife and two little boys also has in his trunk, to the best of my translational reading of boy explosionnoises, a bomb and/or grenades AND a machine gun, all the time, in his trunk. He said something about never being first, he is only ready if someone was to hurt his family or come into his house. Driving toward sheik radwan, an area where a lot of hamas people live, with "Fred" and his freaking munitions vehicle, in a place where apaches come out of the sky and bomb the shit out of anything, could have been one of the most unsettling things ive done. But, again, he wasnt done. He went on to explain that the night before, like almost every night before that, he was tooling around Gaza and didnt get home until 300. He is wanted for something, i dont know what, and he's afraid of the jasous (callaborators) telling the IDF where he is. He said he wasnt afraid for himself, but for his wife and kids, so he stays away from the house. My vision went a little funny for a second. Everything turned out fine, and before everyone freaks out- there are A LOT of wanted people in palestine. I've heard of people going to jail for years for painting grafitti here, for throwing stones. And i guess, becuase i know him, i mostly just felt bad that he and his family had to live like this. his wife and 3 year old and 14 month old only getting to see him a few hours a day. Him constantly feeling like any minute he could be killed.
on the way home i tried to get advice from marwan. should i leave, should i stay, should i try to leave gaza altogether? He said, "Don't worry, before it was much worse. For example, the streets were covered with sand." i had no idea what that meant. "we piled up sand in the streets so the tanks couldnt get through." "Oh, you mean like they just did on the street up from mine??" He didn't have much to say after that.
Last night in rafah, 50 tanks invaded the yibna refugee camp. 15 homes were demolished. 160 people who had begun to believe the quiet of the hudna could last forever were pretty quickly disabused of that silly idea. My friends were camped out in one home that wasnt fully demolished, just one wall had been bulldozed. They sat all day in a house with three walls. The wall that was had protected the family, somewhat, from the tower that is next door. Now the family and my friends down there are waiting for their tidal wave.
I want to say too, that i know this sounds one-sided, because it is. I, of course, heard about the awful terrorist attacks in tel aviv and jerusalem. And im pretty sure you all did too. But im equally sure you all havent heard about rafah or about how people here are buying months worth of food and worrying about getting shelled from the sea and the sky. Im not failing to write about the other side becuase i wish to demean it or pretend it doesnt exist. In fact, when i saw the news about the attacks i was impacted by how amazing i think people are here, israelis and palestinians, who live this live. These people who are afraid and feel targeted and vulnerable, yet still fight for peace. Israelis and Palestinians who have enough power to continue to have hope where there shouldn't be any are the true peacemakers. Im also writing from this perspective becuase it's what i know. if i tried to speak about tel aviv or jerusalem and how it feels to live there, id have to lie,! becuase i have no idea.
okay, im going home now. there's police and some other stuff out there and i can feel my tummy responding as it usually does when i hear scary things. i AM safe at home i KNOW that. so im going there. i think ill hang out upstairs with ali and his family.
love love love molly
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useful websites: www.mezan.org www.rafah.vze.com www.palsolidarity.org www.electronicintifada.net www.imemc.org www.electroniciraq.net www.soundslikefreedom.org
And, for a map of the "Seperation Wall" (separating Palestinians... from their land) in the West Bank, see http://www.gush-shalom.org/thewall/index.html
In the dark
times, Will there also be singing? Yes, there will be
singing, About the dark times. --Bertolt Brecht