Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Letter from Gaza
Two days ago, R, a close friend and a wonderful fellow international activist from Australia, who I worked with in 2007/2008 in the Occupied West Bank, managed to make it into Gaza. R spent several days waiting at the border waiting to get in before being allowed through.
With her permission, I am sending out an edited version of the email she send myself and her other friends to let us all know she was okay. In it, R, describes the devastation of Gaza and ongoing assaults taking place despite the “ceasefire” supposedly being in place.
Letter from Gaza
.... Since then, I've mostly been in Rafah and Khan Younis - following up on stories of devastation and violations of the ceasefire.
It has been a strange time to enter Gaza. There is so much devastation mixed with so much everyday life. Most people just trying to get on with their lives, whilst others sit on the piles of sand and rubble that were once their houses, with nowhere else to go. Re-arranging the rubble to make better seats. "Most days we just sit here in the sun", explained a woman from the Samouni family - who have received a lot of media attention since 29 members of the same family were killed as their houses were destroyed with people inside, but little material assistance. "We don't want to have to go to a neighbour's house. We want our own house".
And whilst many people seem to be coping in a way that is unfathomable to me, recounting their stories for all the journalists and human rights workers who come round, there is so much grief and anger, that, as a foreigner, I magnetise. Not that they are angry with me, but, as a representative of the outside world, which mostly stood by while the Israeli government dealt out their deadly "education" to the Palestnian civilians (educating them not to vote for Hamas; not to allow anyone in their community to resist Israel's occupation and siege), I am an easy outlet for them.
Also, I am witness, apparently, to a level of goods and services that haven't been seen in Gaza for a long time. There are fresh fruits in the markets - Israeli and expensive, but accessible. There is electricity a lot of the time in the places I have been. And water, whilst unsafe to drink from the taps, at least runs. Life seems strangely normal.
It was only last night that I realised this, when visiting the family of a young farm worker who was shot in the neck and killed by Israeli snipers from across the Green Line, whilst he was picking parsley and spinach for a meagre sum of 20 shekels ($6) a day. His mother was trying to explain to us the hardship of their lives. How his father is sick and paralysed. How he has two small children and a young wife left behind. How they have no source of income now. How the one year old baby doesn't crawl properly because they can't feed it well enough. How they had electricity that day, but before that, they were cooking on fires and using kerosene lamps.
This visit came straight after we had been in the village where Anwar was killed - Al Farahin. There it was explained that villagers are drowning economically, as they can't go to their lands near the Green Line. That they've been shot at everyday since the ceasefire. That their radishes are dying from lack of water; that their chickens and pigeons are already dead because it's been so long since they could go to feed them. And even this is not as bad as it was, explained one woman. "We were ready to start eating dirt, and then they stopped the bombing".
A lot of the precarity of the situation here only became real for me when we returned to Rafah last night, to the house that I have been staying in. There was no electricity - hadn't been since the afternoon. And then at 2am, there was a renewed airstrike by the border - about 1 km from here. It sounded much closer. It was only really then that I viscerally understood the oft-repeated cry of so many in Gaza: "Where could we go? There is nowhere that is safe. We would think to go to the school, but they bomb the schools. We would go to the mosque, but they bomb the mosques".
I know a lot of you have expressed worry over my well-being since the war on Gaza started, and were quite relieved to find out I was in the West Bank where there was a relative level of calm. I hope my coming here doesn't cause too much concern. My plan is to be here for ----, before heading to -----, a plan that involves me leaving here in one piece.
Many of you will (hopefully) be pleased to know that this plan also involves me coming home in ----- . I look forward to seeing everyone.
Love love love