Updates from Rafah: The Same As Hell
ISM Updates 09/23/03 : from Rafah: The Same As Hell
Updates from Rafah: The Same As Hell
Gaza 24 Sep 03 Laura, Mohammed
1) Rafah update by Laura.
2) The Same as Hell. Report from my friend Mohammed who keeps a website Rafah Today www.rafah.vze.com
1) Rafah update by Laura.
It’s been so long since I’ve written that I don’t know where to begin, how to compile the weeks into any linear or coherent story. It’s back to business as usual along the border, gunfire every night right next to and into the homes we stay in and all along the border, incursions every several days, dozens of homes demolished and half-demolished in the past two weeks, home raids in the middle of the night have become commonplace and the injured are filling the hospitals, some in critical condition.
I read a recent UN statistic that close to 1200 homes have been demolished in the Gaza Strip. But the UN only counts entire buildings and so their statistics don’t apply to the reality here. In Gaza, unowned or undeveloped land essentially doesn’t exist so you can’t build out, you have to build up. Families live on one floor, and when children get married, their parents build another floor on top of it for them to live in. So the real number of homes lost, according to the PA, who takes this into consideration, is about twice the UN’s estimation. And about half of the homes demolished have been demolished in Rafah - over 970 by the latest estimation of the Rafah Governorate, explusing about 7000 people from their homes.
Most of the homes here have been built by the sweat of a dozen or more years working long hours of cheap labor in Israel or abroad. And when they build, they don’t make finished structures but rather build one floor at a time and leave concrete columns and rebar sticking up to jumpstart the construction of the next floor. Sometimes they don’t even build an entire floor. The building across from our office has two floors built and the third has only the bare basics, collumns and roof, the walls have remained unbuilt for the entirety of my stay here. Construction materials are the most expensive commodities here, and become more expensive every time the army demolishes a factory, which happens frequently, most recently one week ago here in Rafah, in Block J, a refugee camp on the border. Our friends the Jabbers live there, where there is one row of houses between them and the bor When we went to visit them, Feriyel was waiting for us in the door, her abaya pinned together over her six months pregnant belly, strips of white flowers embroidered into soft black that whispered at the floor as she ushered us in. The house smelled of cleaning materials and food, the air succumbed to freshness from Feriyel’s endless pursuit of cleanliness, running after unfolded blankets and dirty clothes, sweeping and mopping once if not twice in a day. The living room was lined with woven chairs with bright, intricate patterning in red and gold, punctuated by the mural on the wall that has existed since before the family moved in and nobody knows who painted, an idyllic western scene of trees and sky and a path, ameteurly painted in simple greens and blues, I imagine it to be a Mary Poppins painting, somebody wishing to escape to a world completely different than their own, wis
This house and its slight distance from the border is quite recent. Feriyel’s family used to live on the border strip in a massive four-story house that was partially demolished in January. I’ve seen pictures of their house after ISM moved in late December, PEACE and DON’T KILL and STOP SHOOTING in large spraypainted letters on the side facing the border made stacatto by bullet holes. In January the house was partially demolished - a wall knocked in - and that sent the whole family running; the reality that sooner or later their home really would be demolished hit closer to home from that demolished wall than from all the bullets flying into the house. So they’ve left, not only because of their fear but also because they are one of the few who can just barely afford to leave. Mustafa, Feriyel’s husband, is a police officer which means he’s one of the lucky 15-20% of Rafah to have a job. The family pays 300 NIS ($70) a month for their home, which is a fraction of the size of the home they used to live in, and they don’t own it, which means they have no shelter to offer to their children when they grow up. It’s a cozy, clean, colorful home but Feriyel and Mustafa hate it, they feel like hostages in this home where all four of their children have to sleep in one room and where their is nothing to call their own. Mustafa is so attached to his old home that he constantly goes back just to sit in it. One day the family meant to go to Gaza for a picnic on the beach but the checkpoint was closed and after three hours of waiting they turned back to go to Rafah. Mustafa drove them to their old now-abandoned house where he insisted on having the picnic anyway.
Feriyel is a small woman with a moonlike face, goldenbrown skin expanding over high cheekbones, sinking into the fold above her chin. Her eyes are attentive with the gentle alertness of one accustomed to raising children, her smile broad from the delight of receiving guests. In a city where most women marry young and forget their schooling as domestic responsiblities take priority, she remembers all the English she learned in high school 13 years into marriage without ever having attended college while closely managing the house, the kitchen, and her childrens’ education.
On this particular afternoon, the children were still in school and she led us to her sister’s house next door. Abla was walking home from buying groceries several months ago when the Tel Zorrob tower shot her leg off and now Feriyel does her sister’s housework on top of her own. Their mother, Fat’hiya, lives with her, they help each other through the ailments of age and injury. Fat’hiya’s face is an older version of Feriyel’s, hair wrapped in bright flower patterns beneath the massive white mendeel of women who have been to Mecca. When the bottom floor of the family’s house was demolished, a lifetime’s work embroidery - clothes, blankets, pillows, curtains - was trapped under the the wreckage. She stays on the floor at all times held there by old woman knees.
Feriyel whisks us into her sister’s house, and immediately we are digging through pictures, old and new, learning recipes, they teach me how to make cheese using nothing but milkpowder, water, and salt.
After dinner we go back home where we stay up late with Mustafa, back from work. This night’s news is running images of Shimon Peres’ 80th birthday, his personal visit from Bill Clinton, and the right wing Israelis outside protesting not for or against any particular issue but against Peres himself.
We sleep late, and uneasily, as tanks shoot into the street around us, and wake up all of us achy and tired.
2) THE SAME AS HELL. Report from my friend Mohammed who keeps a website Rafah Today www.rafah.vze.com
It is 11:20. I just arrived right now to Rafah coming from Gaza and found the Abu Holly checkpoints closed. Hundreds of cars were waiting and the soldiers did not allow them to enter to their cities and homes. It is hard, really hard to move around. Many people were sitting in every place where there is some shade: tree, walls, and car shades. I went to the first cars, and taxies, to see why the IDF soldiers were blocking the roads. I held my pen and began writing and describing what was happening. The following is what I wrote:
I see 5 Israelis jeeps full of soldiers, and two trucks( red and blue), two bulldozers and many soldiers in the land. The soldiers were working and building new checkpoints. They are creating cement blocks. It is really very hot here and I feel the sun really burning me. Students are carrying their books and they have them on their heads to protect themselves from the hot sunshine. Many people are sitting near me on this cement block near the bulldozers. I am trying to find a shade so I can sit and write and describe what I see, but I can’t find any because people are everywhere. Most of them are silent, just waiting to cross this checkpoint.
The soldiers are still working now. Two jeeps just came and asked the people to go away. The soldiers began shooting 4-5 bullets in the air, but the people are still sitting, and no one moved. The soldiers got out of their jeeps and shot a teargas. I cannot write any more. It’s too bad, and I have to leave this area because it will harm my eyes.
I moved a few meters, then the soldier shot another 5 teargases. It hurt my my eyes again, and I have been unable to write or open my eyes for the past five minutes.
Now I opened my eyes and I saw people still putting their hands on their eyes and rubbing them. It is as though they were crying. But this one women made me sad. She cannot walk because she is an old women, so she fell down from the teargas.
The soldiers got back to their work with the trucks and bulldozers. Now I looked to my right and I saw some farm land that was recently occupied. I turned to the left. There was a group of cars for settlers and Israelis, walking very fast ways. I was listing to the man sitting next to me asking for water. I’m very thirsty too and didn’t drink since the morning. It is now 2 o’clock. Everyone is asking for water.
Now a women with her baby child were sitting in one of the shaded areas and she is asking for water for her child who was just waking up from sleep. She is asking everyone for water but she didn’t get it. People are trying to get water or buy it, but no one is selling their water. I hear the old man sitting next to me saying to one of the people: \"is there any other occupation in the world that deals with people this way?\" The other man answered: \"yes, we hear about that. It’s here in Palestine, where there is an international war against Palestine.\" One of the other people interrupted and said: \"Where are the kind people to see us here at this checkpoint that humiliates us in this manner?\"
He did not complete his sentence because they began shooting other teargas, and again, all people began running. This time the teargas broke the window of an orange Hyundai car and peole ran out of it. Gas entered in another white truck and the driver ran out.
The first cars are two ambulances which have two people who need to be in the European and Nasser hospitals.
Now Branine, a journalist for APnews, got many pictures of the bulldozers and tanks. The soldiers shot the teargas and he was the first one to leave the checkpoint because of the teargas.
One of the people just saw me writing and introduced himself. He was from Human Rights Center, and he interviews people. He asked one of the people about the checkpoint, and the man asked him who he was. When he told him he was from the Human Rights Center, the man asked: \"are there human rights these days in Palestine?\"
Now I see an 11-12 year old child wearing a black jeans. The child was getting closer and closer to the checkpoint and everyone was shouting at him to come back but he didn’t answer. The soldiers shot a bottle of teargas, and the child carried it and threw it again at the soldiers. I think it was hot in his hand. The soldiers are hurrying and they got into their jeeps after their eyes got burnt from the teargas that the child threw at them. A woman began shouting to the child and saying Mustafa Mustafa. She is his mother. He came back to his mother.
Now, it is 8 o’clock. I can’t write and describe any more because of the dark. As in the other right I see thousands of lights where settlers and Israelis are working, while the other side where Palestinians are sitting we can’t turn on lights because it is not forbidden. I hear people complaining to each other and trying to call their families to tell them that they will not come home tonight and that they will sleep at the checkpoint.
At 11 pm, the bulldozers just came and opened one of the cement blocks and they permitted the first cars to enter. Some people finally passed the checkpoint, but others will spend the night here.
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