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Updates from Rafah -

Updates from Rafah - October 10, 2003




by Laura

1) RAFAH UPDATE. October 9, 2003

On Yom Kippur (to specify, October 6), the most holy day on the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement in which we are supposed to cease every form of work in order to pray and request forgiveness from God, the army began construction on a new permanent checkpoint in the Gaza Strip, another slice. Tanks cut off the main road between Rafah and Khan Younis (the city just north of Rafah) by driving ten tanks right in front of the European Gaza Hospital, the only decent hospital south of Gaza City, and the road has been closed for days. Nothing can get to Rafah, many things in Rafah are simply not available right now, things like medicine, the ability to cash checks, basic supplies. People who study or work in Gaza City and Khan Younis haven't been to work or university for days. It makes me think of high school, when snow and ice could shut a city down. Upstairs from our apartment, Rasha can't hide the small relief she feels from this reprieve of study. I wonder how much the relief Rasha feels has to do with getting let off the hook from dealing with checkpoints. The week before this closure, she spent 5 hours one day waiting for Abu Holi to open so she could go home and the next day it closed all night, leaving her to sleep at her friend's sister's house in Gaza City after waiting for 4 hours in a hot taxi in line with hundreds of cars waiting for the checkpoint to open. I compare our worlds, like parallel universes, squinting at each other from both sides of a mirror.

When tanks cut off the main road people trying to get home used the sandy road and tanks cut that road too, shooting all the time, and bulldozers followed, demolishing anything anywhere near Moraj settlement, mostly olive trees. They are still demolishing. They've also started construction of something, people are saying it's a permanent checkpoint, another Abu Holi. Nobody knows much, not even the human rights organizations are going, nobody is risking going near the place because the tanks are shooting anyone who approaches. Nobody has dared approach since the first day of the incursion, when the army invaded without announcement, taking people by surprise as they drove to and from work. They injured four people, including a doctor who was shot in the head and is in critical condition in the European Gaza Hospital where he used to work. In addition Rafah has accumulated another shaheed, Said Abu Azzum, 26 years old, who was driving with his wife and their two sons on a routine trip to Khan Younis, without any idea what was happening some meters down the road; shot in the heart as he turned a corner. He had no job, no money, and no house, and now he leaves behind a 21-year-old widow with nowhere to go, a 4-year-old and a 6- year-old with nowhere to go. They couldn't even have the wake in his sister's house where he used to stay because it's near the border and because it's too small to accomodate visitors, so they sat for three days in a cousin's house in Shabura so that people wouldn't be afraid to come and pay their respects. When I went on the third day, his mother was angry. She said, where is your camera, where are the journalists. Not one person from the media had come to photograph her. I was embarrassed. I hadn't brought my camera, thinking it disrespectful to bring journalism to a wake. She said, if you're going to write, at least take notes that I can see, write in your book that Sharon and Bush murdered my son, from the comfort of their offices.

On the same day Said Abu Azzum was killed, Mohammed's older sister Wisam was coming home from the European Gaza Hospital where she works as a nurse when she hear the army had cut the road, and her taxi went with the other taxis towards the sandy road to bypass the tanks, but not fast enough. Tanks drove into the road as they were crossing into Rafah and began shooting indiscriminately, and it was at this point that people were injured and killed upon running from their cars to try to reach safety. Wisam was part of a group of women that walked together after the men had left, holding a white mendeel to signify surrender and peace. The tanks shot at them anyway, is this the way to tell this story? as they were walking (the words are so vile), and they lay down on the ground in the sand for a half an hour while a tank rode back and forth right next to them, a meter away, vile bastards, before retreating. Wisam did not walk to Rafah, she ran, in bare feet (having left her sandals somewhere on the ground), and arrived in her family's home, her abaya torn, with the black glove of a woman she didn't know that somehow found its way to her shoe, found her family and cried for hours, she says she's never going back to work. The road is closed in any case so for now it's not a question. She is taking her respite with her family, in Tel Zorrob, farther from the border than the main street in town but not far enough that their third floor flat can't be seen by the Zorrob sniper tower, which effectively keeps them from using the kitchen and one bedroom. The tower shoots all day and night. It shot at us while we were eating kabbab in the living room, and as Wisam impressed me from room to room with the delicate furnishings in her home. She said, "Yesterday, I couldn't stop thinking about your friend Rachel. I thought I was going to meet the same fate."

So it goes. There is nobody in Rafah who doesn't feel the effect of this new blockage. Feryal is wondering where she will go if the road is closed when she gives birth to her fifth child, who is turning in her belly for the ninth month. When I visit them, her daughter Rula tells me, they've closed the road. What can we do? We want to see the world, we want some fresh air, we can't go anywhere, we're Palestinians. Rula is 7 years old. Her older brother Mohammed, 11 years old, has been given an assignment by school to draw something related to human rights. He draws a world, an armed man shaking hands with an unarmed figure. The armed figure is America, he tells me, and the unarmed is Israel. Palestine is a cloud raining down lightning bolts of anger onto them, separate, alone, excluded from the conversation, unable to hold anything but its own fire and tears.

2) RECIPE: Daamaa by Rasha

Heat less than 1/4 cup oil in a frying pan. While it is heating, take three jalepenos, slice them two thirds of the way down from the tip towards the stem, use a knife to dab a pinch of salt inside each pepper, and put them in the oil. When one side is bubbled and browning, turn and fry the other side. Remove two peppers and set aside in a bowl to eat on the side. Add one or two cloves garlic chopped to the oil, followed rapidly by 4 (large) to 6 (medium) tomatos, cut into slices or smaller. Add salt and pepper to taste, about a teaspoon each or a little more is good. Let cook about ten minutes, stirring every so often, until thickens.

3) INVASION October 10, 2003

There is a tank parked outside of Om Essam's house, Mustafa Jabber's family's home two houses down from his own. To the people the army is saying no one will be permitted exit for five days. On TV the army says three days, and says it is looking for anti-tank missiles come through the tunnels, the myth of the tunnels lives on after all but a scant few have been blown up by the army in underground bombs that shake the town like a minor earthquake. The army has invaded Block O, Yibneh, and Block J, a strip of three refugee camps along the border, with 50? 70? 100? or more tanks, depending who you ask, and 18 or more bulldozers. Feryal Jabber is nine months pregnant about to give birth any day, under curfew in Block J. She said, "There's a tank parked outside. The children, they are playing, can you hear them. Aish bidna n'sawi (What can we do?)" There are pictures on TV of soldiers occupying the tall houses, turning them into sniper towers. They'd been occupying homes randomly in recent invasions, without doing much besides coming and leaving, and everyone said it seemed like practice for something really big. So here we are. No one is going to the area, not even the human rights organizations, not even the scant media present here, so we are relying on hearsay and television to tell us what is happening a five-minute's walk away. We hear three shaheeds and 33 injuries, mostly in critical condition, but we don't know more. We don't know anything about demolition. An-Najjar Hospital, a small emergency room and transfer station with the most basic facilities, the most advanced clinic in Rafah, is full and is turning people away. Of course no one can get to the European Gaza Hospital, the only hospital in the area twenty minutes north, since tanks are parked in front of it cutting the main road and the side road and shooting at anyone who approaches.

In the night nobody slept. Everyone in the city remained frightened and awake, witness to an ugly soundtrack from some dark futuristic depiction of a world. The sound of Apaches low down - we heard three although we did not dare go outside - raining bullets the size of fists over Rafah, raining missiles all night over Rafah. I had stayed hanging at the office until it was too late to go to the border to sleep as I had planned and I stayed up all night here, with Mohammed and his father, listening to the gunfire all along the border, it all seemed to be coming towards us, in the center of the city, where we sat through the night in relative safety only feeling helpless and frightened.

Mohammed's friend had come to visit after his two-week visit to Lebanon, where he says the Lebanese are living a good life while the refugees living there make Rafah look like an easy life. Adwan, who is his cousin, biked three minutes under the Apache rain to come get collect him in the first hours of the invasion. Outside it sounded grim and we tried to close the door. Obstinate, determined to sit through everything at home where they were the only men in homesfull of their mothers and sisters, they left on bike and sat outside their homes with the hundreds of shebab (youth) that had congregated in Barbara Camp.

When we called my friend Anees he was escorting Japanese journalists out of Yibneh but his family was still there, the numerous children cousins brothers; the aging matriarch and patriarch, his parents. Assumedly they are under invasion and curfew but as they have no phone and Anees is in an area where there is weak phone service I haven't been able to get through all morning.

Abu Jameel's family and Abu Ahmed's as well are okay, I woke them up this morning checking up on them, no problems there al- hamdoulallah. Here it is quiet. Birds were singing earlier in the morning while the missiles were still dropping and the day was breaking. Strange to think about invasion 5 minutes away by the calculation of my feet.

© Scoop Media

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