|Article Date:||23:32 2011/01/18|
|Article Date:||23:32 2011/01/18|
Abu Yazen is nervous, he hasn’t slept for a while. That everything would become so big, go so fast, that he had no idea of. His name also isn’t Abu Yazen, but giving his real name, is no longer an option. Too great is the danger you face when you put your frustration into words at a place like Gaza, your anger at everything and everyone, the governments and the world, which seems to have forgotten young people like him. He is just one of 800,000 young people in Gaza, over half of the population in the small sealed-off coastal strip is under 18. He is one of those born during the first intifada, spending their childhood under Israeli occupation, in the midst of a second intifada, a civil war, and finally the Israeli attack on Gaza in winter 2008 / 9, in which over 1400 people were killed, about 400 of them children. And since 2007 he lives like all adults and children here under a total siege, imposed by Israel, tacitly accepted by the world. His home is a prison in the middle of the daily terror of a now 60-year old conflict. “I’m young, I want to live my life, but where is my freedom,” says Abu Yazen quietly. “Above me is the noise of the F16, a few kilometers in each direction I meet borders guarded by snipers, and on the sea I see the Israeli warships.” But usually Abu Yazen doesn’t speak quietly. Now, perhaps, now he is tired and exhausted, and you never know who is listening, at the next table. But generally Abu Yazen speaks very loud, about what it is that frustrates him here so much, and makes him so desperate. He is a member of Gaza Youth Breaks Out, a group of five young men and three young women who have written a sensational Manifesto. Their Facebook page accumulated 15,000 members within a few days, and the press of the world is standing in line to get an interview with them. But Abu Yazen and his group are cautious, their Facebook page has been temporarily closed for comments, and these days you’d better not criticize those in power in Gaza so openly.
But the group wants to put straight that the most important focus of their anger is not directed against the divided Palestinian factions, especially since the press took their criticism of Hamas as a godsend. For that reason they also rewrote their Manifesto, it doesn’t begin the provocative statement “Fuck Hamas” any longer. “[We are] sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes”, they wrote. Abu Yazen clarifies: “We will not be used as a tool for the western media to demonize the Arab or Islamic world. Israel justifies all its actions toward us with Hamas being in power. But we have been living under occupation for 60 years. The blockade only increased the conflict between the parties, the division of Palestine, and prevents us from finally having our own state.” They feel abandoned, yes, in the midst of a political conflict over power and who’s right, let down by their government, by the Palestinian parties, and the UN, which here in Gaza is visible everywhere, with their flags, their armored vehicles, talking, but never acting, that’s what they blame them for. “Our demand is that the siege is at last lifted, and that our fundamental human rights are respected by Israel”, one of them makes clear. “When this is fulfilled, then we can address our internal political problems. Then we will by ourselves be able to elect a new government freely and independently. ”
They wrote their Manifesto because they saw their situation getting worse rather than better, because the occupation became a siege, and violence became war. Because they did not see anyone actively taking sides with them, and because they wanted to take their fate into their own hands.
“We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; […]” their Manifesto states with energy and anger. “We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; […] sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, […] we are sick and tired of living a shitty life”.
Gamila is a pretty young woman, and when she speaks, her voice is clear and precise. You realize immediately that she knows what she wants. She is one of the three girls from Gaza Youth Breaks Out, and what she wants is a life in security and freedom for her and her family. She wants to explain why she is a member of this group, where her desperation comes from, so that people “out there” would understand her. The fact that people “out there” know the truth is a stated goal of the group. Gamila spent one year in a house without windows. Windows are among those things that have been declared “luxury goods” by Israel, and were not found on the one and half-page list of items and food allowed in by Israel to supply 1,5 million people during the worst time of the blockade. The richer families of Gaza, for them such things come through the tunnels, but for people like Gamila, that’s of little use. One year she lived with no windows until she closed them in the winter with wood. Her mother had cancer, Gaza’s hospitals couldn’t provide her with the radiation therapy she needed. When the doctor told her that she should go to Egypt within one week because her cancer had spread quickly, it took her two months until she received the required permits. At this time there was the war, she traveled across Gaza amid falling bombs. “The war was the worst thing that ever happened in my life,” says Gamila. “I had left my house because it’s near the border, and prayed in a shelter that me and my family would survive.” And now, even though she completed her studies, she doesn’t find work in the disastrous economic situation of Gaza, where the unemployment rate is over 45 percent since the siege. A situation deliberately intended by Israel, as a wikileaks cable newly revealed: “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” Gamila has tried to get an exit permit to find a job outside, or to do her masters abroad, in vain, like most other young people of Gaza. But giving up hope is no option for the group. “We have an aim in front of our eyes, and that’s what we fight for,” says Abu Yazen, and at that moment you feel the power and strength of will, embodied in the Manifesto. He talks now loud again, forgotten is the exhaustion and threat they feel from all sides.
All eight of them are well-educated, and speak very good English, but they are normal young people, not exceptionally rich or poor, not from exceptional families, they do not demand exceptional things. Exceptionally brave, that they may be. Brave enough to step out into public and demand what every young person in this world is entitled to demand: their basic human rights. They may need active support of the world community and governments to enforce their demands, but they certainly don’t need anyone to talk for them. That’s what Abu Yazen, Gamila and the others can do by themselves very well.
“We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and to such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted. We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves; we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.“
Vera Macht lives and works in Gaza since April 2010. She is a peace activist and reports about people´s daily struggle in Gaza
Two years ago, Israeli shells fell on Dr Abuelaish’s family home in Gaza, killing three of his young daughters and their cousin. The horror was caught live on Israeli TV when the doctor phoned his broadcaster friend. Amazingly, the loss did not embitter Izzeldin Abuelaish. Instead he decided his girls’ deaths must not be in vain – and slowly he has turned his family tragedy into a force for peace
Their first stop was a surprise. Unbeknown to his family, Abuelaish had recently bought a small olive grove, about an acre in size. Separated from the urban sprawl by a 10ft-high fence, it was “a utopia, a little piece of Shangri-La”. The smaller ones, delighted to discover this new place, ran among the olive, fig and apricot trees, before finally settling down to eat their falafel sandwiches beneath a bower of vines. As they did so, the family talked. Abuelaish had been offered a job in Toronto, Canada, and he wanted to know how the children, who had never known anywhere other than Gaza, would feel about this. (Good, as it turned out. “I want to fly, daddy,” said his daughter, Aya.) The family discussion over, they headed to the beach, where the children dashed over the dunes, chased the surf, and wrote their names in the sand. Abuelaish cherished their laughter, the way they mimicked and teased one another. For the first time in many days, his spirits lifted. “We are getting there,” he remembers thinking. “They will be okay. Together, we can do this.”
In Gaza, though, a man may take nothing for granted. On 27 December, Israel launched an air strike against the Gaza Strip, a response to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli border towns by Hamas. This was followed, on 3 January 2009, by a ground invasion. For the next three weeks, Gaza was a war zone. It was impossible even to leave the house. Was Abuelaish frightened for his family? Of course, he was. “But we were prepared. I filled two small suitcases with precious things: passports, certificates. I told each of the children what would happen in a case of emergency. Because the shelling was everywhere. No one was without risk.”
All the same, he refused to consider the possibility that anyone in his family would be hurt. Apart from anything else, they were not involved. No weapons in the Abuelaish basement, no Hamas militia on the roof. “Could we fight the most advanced military in the world? No. We had only our muscles, our blood.” He trusted in God and, though he does not spell it out, in a kind of magical thinking. Don’t think about it, and it will not happen.
He also made himself useful. For the duration of the war, the Israeli government allowed no journalists to enter Gaza; they could only gather on the border, and listen to the shelling. But Abuelaish knew plenty of Israelis – thanks to his work as an infertility specialist, he had worked in several Israeli hospitals – and among his many friends on the other side was Shlomi Eldar, a reporter for Israel’s Channel 10. Eldar began calling Abuelaish late every afternoon to ask what had happened during the course of the day. Live on air, his friend would then describe the scene – from the vantage point of his living room window, he could see entire neighbourhoods being obliterated – for the benefit of viewers of the evening news show. Abuelaish knew that his audience was not likely to be particularly sympathetic to his point of view. Most Israelis believed the Gazans had brought this crisis on themselves. He also knew that there was a chance that someone on his own side would take against his addressing Israel, and that this might involve reprisals against his family, but he kept taking the calls. “With my voice in their ears, the Israelis couldn’t entirely ignore the cost to the Palestinians of their military action.”
The next days were dreadful. On 13 January, the air was so full of debris and dust, it was hard to tell day from night. On 14 January, a tank rolled up outside their front door, and only after a hysterical phone call to Shlomi – who, horrified, called the Israeli defence force to ask if they knew that they were aiming their guns at the house of a doctor with no connections to Hamas – did it finally move on.
Their home was starting to feel crowded. Abuelaish’s second eldest daughter, Dalal, 19, was at her aunt’s house, but his other children – Bessan, 20, Shatha, 17, Mayar, 15, Aya, 14, Mohammed, 12, Raffah, nine and Abdallah, six – were all with Abuelaish. So, too, was his brother Shehab and his daughter, Noor. In the apartment below was another brother, Atta, and his family; in the apartment above, his brother Nasser’s family. Between the three apartments, there was much coming and going: there was comfort in crowding together. But supplies of food and water were running low. There was talk of a ceasefire, and Abuelaish tried to reassure his children that it must surely happen soon. Privately, though, he was worried. Rumours of a ceasefire often signal the last violent bombardment of a conflict. Could the worst be yet to come?
On 16 January, after a lunch of duck with rice – Shehab had taken the risk of heading out to the backyard to grab the birds – and a phone call to Dalal, whom everyone was missing, the family drifted out of the dining room. The girls, meanwhile – Shatha, Mayar, Aya and their cousin Noor – went into their bedroom to read and do their homework until it was time for the family again to huddle together on the dining room floor (no one slept in their own beds; they were considered too close to the buildings’ outer walls for safety). Nine-year-old Raffah was in the kitchen, with Bessan. Mohammed was in the hall. Abdallah, the baby of the family, was on his father’s shoulders. Abuelaish was trying to distract the boy; the situation – his family’s imprisonment in their own home – was incomprehensible to him.
Suddenly, there was a monstrous explosion: “a thundering, fulminating sound,” says Abuelaish, that penetrated his body, almost as if it were coming from within him. There was a blinding flash, and then it was pitch dark. Dust everywhere, the struggle to breathe, the sound of a child screaming: these are the things he remembers, and always will. In the next few moments, it dawned on him that a shell had hit his daughters’ bedroom. He ran towards it. “I saw everything,” he says. “My children in parts. A decapitated head. And Shatha in front of me, with her eye on her cheek.” The room was now a heaped mess of school books, dolls and body parts. Mayar, Aya, and his niece, Noor, were dead, their limbs strewn about the place as carelessly as their toys. Shatha was bleeding profusely from her hand, one finger hanging by a thread. Then came a second blast. This took Bessan. Ghaida, his brother Atta’s daughter, who had run up the stairs from their apartment towards the noise, lay on the floor, wounds all over her body. Abuelaish looked at all this, and inside him, something stirred. A desire to fight pushed his shock, which should have been so paralysing, out of the way with unexpected force. “I thought: what can I do? And I started moving, fast. I thought of Shatha. I didn’t want her to be blind, to lose her fingers. I didn’t want that. Then I looked at my son. He has lost his sisters. Now what is he going to do? How can I protect him? Is he going to be an extremist, to be crazy, to hate the world?” These thoughts, he insists, are not retrospective. Truly. His brain was working overtime. “I started to think. What can I do for those who are living?”
Abuelaish remembered that, though there might be soldiers outside his door, though it would undoubtedly take a long time for an ambulance to push its way through the dangerous, pot-holed streets, he still had a powerful connection to the outside world. He pulled out his phone, and called Shlomi Eldar.
Eldar was in a Channel 10 studio in Tel Aviv, sitting behind a desk with another news pundit. He saw Abuelaish’s name come up on the screen of his phone, but he didn’t answer the first call. The show was live, after all. Then, just as an interview with the foreign minister Tzipi Livni was about to begin, his phone flashed again. This time – to this day, he doesn’t know why – he answered. Livni could wait.
I have since watched what happened next on YouTube at least a dozen times, and all I can tell you is that it never grows any less powerful. Eldar holds his mobile up to the camera, so the audience at home can see it. He also puts it on speakerphone so that the voice on the other end is clearly audible. On the line, a man is weeping. “My God, my God,” he says, over and over. “What have we done? What have we done?” The expression on Eldar’s face is terrible. It is clear that he is struggling not to cry. “Tell me where you are,” he says. “They’ll send an ambulance to your house.” Abuelaish seems not to hear this. “I wanted to try to save them,” he says. “But they died, Shlomi.” This goes on for several minutes until, finally, Eldar, ashen, tight-lipped, excuses himself, pulls his microphone from his shirt, and exits the studio. “I can’t hang up this conversation,” he says.
Outside the studio, on another line, Eldar rang the administrator of the Erez checkpoint. Open the border, he told him. Let the ambulances we’ve called through. The idea was that the Israeli ambulance teams would meet their Palestinian counterparts at the border, so that Shatha, Ghaida and his brother Nasser, who had also been injured, could be transferred to an Israeli hospital (Gazan hospitals are simply not well enough equipped for most emergency work). Meanwhile, someone else had the foresight to dispatch a camera team to the border, too – which is how, a little while later, television viewers in Israel came to see Abuelaish first kissing a heavily-bandaged Shatha, who is by now on a stretcher, and then directing the paramedics as they put her inside an ambulance. I’ve watched this several times, too. The first action is so tender, the second so determined. Though it seems not to make any sense at all, amid the chaos and the flash of camera lights, you already glimpse in Abuelaish the qualities on which, in the coming days, people were to remark admiringly, and with some amazement, again and again: his calmness, his stoicism and, above all, his dignity.
In Toronto, it is far too many degrees below freezing for anyone’s comfort and when I arrive at his suburban house, Abuelaish is, somewhat inexpertly, shovelling snow. “You don’t get this in Gaza,” he says, with a smile. The job done – well, sort of – we go inside. “Welcome,” he murmurs, extending an arm. “Welcome.” The house smells faintly of za’atar, the thyme and sumac mixture Palestinians claim as their national dish and, on a side-table, stands a model of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. But otherwise, this could be the house of just about any Canadian family: flat-screen television, computer, gleaming fitted kitchen. From upstairs comes the reassuring sound of children bickering. Everything is very normal, and very safe: about as far away from Gaza as it is possible to be.
Abuelaish is now a professor in global health at the University of Toronto. What does it feel like to be here? Another beaming smile. “It’s not such a change,” he says. “We just think: why can’t it be like this in Gaza? Why not? I hope that when we go back to Gaza, this is the feeling the children will take with them.” So they will return? “Of course, eventually.” Is the family homesick? “Yes. We are so far from our beloved ones, from the graves: my mother, my wife, my daughters. But we are also great! The children are great! Talk to them, you’ll see.” His daughter Raffah appears. She is very pretty. “I’m the second youngest,” she says. Her father gazes at her adoringly. “It’s true what people say,” he murmurs. And what do people say? “That time is a great healer. And faith helps. It’s a great asset; it’s a blessing from God, and it helps you.” Right from the start, he tells me, it was his children that reminded him of this. “When I called my friend [Shlomi Eldar] and I was screaming, my son Mohammed said to me: ‘Why are you crying? You must be happy.’ ‘Happy for what?’ I asked. ‘Because my sisters are with their mum,’ he told me. It came as a message: this 12-year-old boy telling me to move forward. I was saved, and now it was my job to save others. I could have been killed, too, so very easily, and then no one would have known our story.”
This is his mission: to tell his family’s story and, in doing so, prove to the world that not every Palestinian is motivated only by revenge – and he embarked on it right away, as soon as Shatha was out of surgery. The morning after he and Shatha arrived at the hospital, Zeev Rotstein, the director of the Sheba Medical Centre, a hospital where Abuelaish had once taught, organised a press conference, and asked him to speak. Abuelaish told the journalists that, inside the hospital, all were equal. Why, he asked, could this not also be the case outside? About halfway through, however, he was interrupted, in full view of the television cameras, by a screaming woman, her face contorted with rage: Levana Stern, an Israeli mother of three soldiers. She blamed the victim. “Who knows what you had in your house?” she shouted. “No one is saying anything about that.” Abuelaish, pale now, put his head in his hands. “They don’t want to know the truth,” he said. This is the only time most people have ever seen him look anything like close to defeated.
It must have been a horrifying moment. But, amazingly, it didn’t change anything. “Actually, it was good,” he says to me, now. “She was one Israeli, only one. Others started to open their eyes. Hundreds of people from all over the Holy Land, people I didn’t know, sent messages to me. They were awakened. And that’s when I understood: this tragedy will do some good.” Hours later, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, announced a unilateral ceasefire. “So, we saved lives. I told the children: your sisters’ blood wasn’t wasted. We sacrificed them for others. There was a reason.” Encouraged, he determined to keep going. During the two years since the shelling of his home, he has travelled the world, always giving, in essence, the same speech: I refuse to hate, he tells his distinguished audiences, and I do not believe in revenge; hatred is an illness, and the enemy of peace. His stance has won him humanitarian awards around the world, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. But it has also, appallingly, led to claims that he is cashing in on his loss, a point of view to which I can only say: weren’t there people who said the same about Otto Frank?
So far, the Israeli government has neither compensated Abuelaish, nor apologised to him. “Actually, for me, it’s not a question of compensation,” he says. “But an apology? Yes. That would be good. The truth is the shortest way in life. It’s not shameful to apologise. If I did something wrong to you, and I said sorry, I would be highly valued by you, and in the eyes of others. I wish they would have the moral courage.”
He has been told that there exists a statute of limitations on the issue of compensation and apology of two years. Two years! “There is no statute of limitation for our loved ones. It’s insane. For me, it’s now. It’s now, and it will always be now. It will never leave me, so long as I am breathing.” He sees his daughters in waking dreams: they move, they smile. They live with him still, spiritually. “Believe me, even as I speak to you, I see them.” Though he makes no sound, he has begun to weep: huge tears, that he makes no effort to wipe away.
The pity of it is, he could not even bury his daughters. The Qur’an says that the dead must be buried quickly, and getting a permit to travel back into Gaza from Israel, where he was still watching over Shatha, Ghaida and his brother, would have taken too long. Nor were Bessan, Mayar and Aya permitted to be buried beside their mother; the family was told by Israeli soldiers that, at the present time, no one was allowed into the Jabalia camp cemetery. Did the doctors save Shatha’s eye? “Yes, but not its sight.” And her hand? “She is able to use it, but with some difficulty.” Where is she now? He smiles. “She’s upstairs, studying,” he says. “I wanted her to talk to you, but she apologises: she did not know you were coming, and so she is not ready to show herself.” A pause. He is grinning, now. “She is a very good student, believe me. Just a few weeks after the attack, you know, she got 95% in her final high-school grades. Now she’s studying computer engineering at the University of Toronto. She’s amazing.”
This is true. But my hunch is that she is also a chip off the old block. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s childhood was, as he puts it in his new book, spent “in the shadow of a promise”. We’ll go back soon, said his parents. Maybe in two weeks, maybe a little longer. The Abuelaish family is from Houg, a village near Sderot, the Israeli border town now so mercilessly plagued by Qassam rockets. The family was a large and prominent one, and Abuelaish’s grandfather, Moustafa, was the village head. In 1948, however, when the State of Israel was created, Moustafa decided that it would be wise for the family to leave; he had heard rumours of attacks on Arabs elsewhere and, though he didn’t know if these stories were true, he decided to run. Gaza, a designated safe area, was not far from Houg, so that was where they went. Today, the Abuelaish family farm is owned by Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli general and prime minister, who now lies in a coma in an Israeli hospital.
At the Jabalia refugee camp, where Abuelaish was born in 1955, life was hard. Until he was 10, the family, which eventually numbered 11, lived in a single room only 10ft square. Water was delivered by the United Nations; the children were usually barefoot, flea-bitten and hungry. When Abuelaish was five, one of his newborn siblings – there always seemed to be a newborn – was killed in a terrible accident. His brother Nasser had been messing around and, trying to escape his mother’s slap, had accidentally jumped into the dish bucket which doubled as a cradle at night, crushing his tiny sister. The child was buried the next day, and no one ever mentioned it again.
As the eldest son, Abuelaish was expected to contribute to the family’s meagre finances as soon as he was capable, and by the time he was 12, he had no choice but to combine school with part-time work. He sold milk rations to other desperate families, and he loaded fertiliser on to farm trucks, rising at four o’clock every morning to start. Life was a grind, punctuated by more misery: in 1967, came the six-day war, after which Israel assumed full control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; when Abuelaish was 15, his family home was unaccountably bulldozed under orders from Ariel Sharon. There were, he writes, two ways young men could respond to all this. Some became political. Abuelaish’s brother, Noor, joined Fatah, Palestine’s biggest political party, and went on to do a stint inside an Israeli prison (after his release, he went to Lebanon; the family has not heard from him since 1983). Others invested everything they had in education. This was what Abuelaish chose. He worked, and worked, and he was rewarded: a scholarship to study medicine in Cairo; a postgraduate qualification in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of London; and a masters degree in public health at Harvard.
Right from the beginning, he was determined never to generalise when it came to Israel. It was easy to despise an individual: a particularly difficult soldier at the border; the Jewish mother who accused him – a highly qualified Arab doctor – of trying to murder her baby. Ditto the policies that made life in Gaza so difficult. But it was not acceptable, he felt and still feels, to allow these feelings to transmute into hatred for an entire people. Besides, he had so many Israeli friends.
As a teenager, he had worked on an Israeli moshav, where he was never treated with anything other than kindness by its owners. As a doctor, he had been employed by several Israeli hospitals, helping Israeli women with fertility problems. At the time of the shelling of his home in 2008, he was working full-time at the Gertner Institute, a renowned centre for the study of health policy and epidemiology in Tel Hashomer, near Ramat Gan. During the long – they sometimes felt endless! – journeys between Gaza and Israel, he learned, not hatred, but a patience and a humility that have seen him through a great deal. Impossible to get ideas above your station when you spend as much time as any taxi driver, farmer or waiter standing at the border checkpoints. On one occasion, Abuelaish arrived at the Israeli hospital where he was working, only to find that he had left his briefcase behind accidentally at the crossing. By the time he had driven the 27 miles back, it had been blown up by the soldiers. It took him two months to replace the documents – those all important travel permits – that had been destroyed.
Tell him that you wish more people were able to be so clear-sighted, though, and he will only admonish you. “I am not exceptional,” he says. “You think the same, don’t you?” But it’s easy for me, I say; I don’t live in Gaza or, for that matter, in Sderot. “Well, in the case of the Palestinians, we need to make them ready to listen. You didn’t do this interview out in the street in the cold, or in the middle of the night. You came with your tape recorder, and you were prepared, and you listened. It’s the same with Gaza. People are hungry, and sick. If we made sure they were not hungry, or sick, they would be in a position to listen. Who can help them? The Israeli side. Their sickness, their hunger, affects the Israelis. Return my life to me, and I will show you how much I appreciate that life.”
Nevertheless, I am in awe of his extraordinary optimism. Even from the safety of my sofa at home in London, I can’t feel optimistic about the situation in Israel/Palestine. “But that’s not true,” he says. “Why did you come to see me? Because you feel optimistic about this interview. And that’s great! This small spark of hope… maybe we can turn it into a big fire.”
There is talk of another war in the region right now; the borders are more tense than they have been for many months. Does this worry him? “I think that nothing is impossible. But I also think there are alternatives. If this situation was a patient of mine, I would not necessarily be suggesting surgery.” His main anxiety, he says, is the refusal of the Israeli government to stop building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. “It’s such a small thing: just to freeze it for a few months. The world is begging them! But if we can’t even make this happen…”
What does peace look like? “I can say only that there will never be peace when it works only for one side, and that maybe peace cannot be imposed but must come by choice. It looks to me as though Palestinians and Israelis are sailing in the same boat, and what’s dangerous for one is dangerous for the other. They are like conjoined twins! We need a two-state solution which gives security and dignity to both.”
Meanwhile, in Canada, his work goes on. Abuelaish has established a charitable foundation, Daughters for Life, which he hopes will support the education of girls. “Because I am determined that my daughters’ names will not only be written on their gravestones, but on the doors of institutions, and other good places.” The week after we meet will be the second anniversary of their deaths. For the first anniversary, he returned to his house in Gaza, now finally rebuilt. He needed to be there. But this year, he will stay at home in Canada. “We will sit together as a family, and we will talk about them, and pray for them, and look at photographs. Those precious, lovely souls. They were combatants for humanity, and for peace, and their loss was unjust. But we will remember them with holy deeds and noble words, and we will keep their memory alive until we see them again. As long as I am living, they will speak to me, and to others.” For a moment, he closes his eyes. “For as long as I am breathing, they are breathing with me.” The silence that follows is broken only by the sound of Raffah. The cartoon she is watching has made her laugh, and like wildfire, it spreads: first to me, and then to her father. This is the saddest story I have ever had to write, but it is not only that. It is also a story of hope and, as Izzeldin Abuelaish has already told me more than once, we are none of us anything without that.
|[ 11/01/2011 – 03:15 PM ]|
GAZA, (PIC)– Israeli navy forces kidnapped two Palestinian fishermen afternoon Tuesday off the Gaza coast while fishing in regional waters, the health ministry’s fishery department said in a press release.
The statement said that the navy gunboats attacked the two fishermen Mohammed Abu Omaira and Osama Abu Omaira while on board their small fishing boat off the Gaza pier.
It said that the navy sailors took the fishermen away and left their small boat to capsize.
The ministry held the Israeli occupation authority fully responsible for the lives of the two fishermen, urging human rights groups and the Red Cross to immediately intervene to secure their release.
The Israeli navy last week abducted three Palestinian fishermen only two nautical miles off the coast of Gaza Strip. The IOA allows Palestinian fishermen to fish in an area three nautical miles off the coast.
Al Qassam website– Beit Hanun -An elderly Palestinian farmer was shot dead at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) near the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun on Monday, medical sources reported.
Adham abu Salmiya, the spokesman for medical services, said that Sha’ban Qarmut, 65, was hit with three bullets in the chest by the IOF soldiers.
He said that Qarmut was farming his land north of the Beit Hanun city when he was executed, adding that he died instantly.
In the details of targeting, said the general coordinator of local initiative Saber Aza’anin ” that we were in a visit for the farmer Qarmut with a joint of Italian project manager, we sat down with the farmer in his farm and talked with him about his daily suffering due to the Israeli security fence and deportation of his family out home by IOF soldiers.
“At about 2:00pm we left the farm of Qarmut around the Beit Hanun crossing , we got to the car on the street, then Qarmut went to tie his donkey near home for about 10 meters from the west.
The Israeli soldiers stationed at the military watch tower opened fire directly at Qarmut and shot him delibrately to the neck, what caused of his death immediately .
The IOF troops daily target Palestinian farmers and workers along the security fence surrounding the Strip.
|[ 04/01/2011 – 07:25 PM ]|
GAZA, (PIC)– Major Tahseen Saad, director of the police explosives engineering department in Gaza, said that Israel used over 3,000 tons of bombs and projectiles containing internationally-banned substances during its war on the Gaza Strip.
In a press statement posted on the Palestinian ministry of interior’s website, Saad pointed out that Israel tested and used up in Gaza war most of its ammunition stored in its military warehouses, recalling some news reports that talked recently about the aerial bridge that was established by the US and Israel’s allies to supply it with its military needs.
The major said that the Israeli occupation forces used during the war bombs, missiles and shells of different sizes and weights, mainly the MK bombs which were dropped on Gaza in the first air strike.
He also talked about different missiles and shells that were used by Apache helicopters, drones and tanks to target civilians and vehicles, especially the anti-tank missiles named as Hellfire and Nimrod.
The police officer underlined that the impacts of these weapons are not confined to the killing of people, but also they contain chemical substances such as phosphorus, tungsten and uranium that causes cancer and body deformities.
The officer hailed the important role of police sappers who combed and cleanse many bombed areas, and managed to collect unexploded ordinance and remnants of projectiles and store them in safe places for later disposal.
What a miracle! Two years elapsed and I am still capable of taking another breath of life! Who ever expected I would be writing this right now in the same Gaza, the very same place that was being entirely knocked down two years ago? Do I have to be grateful? Am I lucky enough to survive such a gruesomely unforgettable war to keep recalling it each year? Or would I be luckier if I was among the dead –definitely not the wounded- in order to be spared the torture of living its horrible memories over and over again? I expected a relieving answer from none.
If I happened to be asked to chronicle its events, I wonder what I would probably have to write about. Would it seem weird if I said I had seen nothing of most what I heard? Yet, I still insist I witnessed it all; every single second I had to suffer. How ironic! Yes I know. We underwent 23-relentless days of intensive punishments and collective genocide; days of heavy bombardment and white-phosphorous shelling; and days of tight restrictions and grave aggression. No electricity. No television. No connection. No contact. Our cries, our screams, our pleas couldn’t be heard in a such abandoned warzone-like area. The whole world seemed to suddenly turn its back on us.
As our cellphones were almost out of power, the only connection to the outside was the transistor radio. The shelling was targeting every living thing but we couldn’t figure out who and what the target was. The radio helped in updating us only with the death-toll, giving the number of the dead bodies. With everything based on anticipations, nothing was certain.
Since the hell had broken loose in Gaza, we were locked in our house, actually crammed only in one room, the smallest and the middle, leaving the largest and avoiding the wall-to-wall rooms which could be of a dangerous exposure to the explosions. Actually, that was my dad’s suggestion, thinking we would be protected this way from any harm and that we could all be altogether, offering support & warm to one another since each one of us, while holding each other’s arms, seemed to be shivering, either out of cold or out of fear. Israeli bombs and shells came from every direction in a frenzy of violence. With each astonishing sound, one would close the eyes and say” God God! Am I the target?” Our ears were functioning very attentively. I wished I were deaf. I couldn’t bear the roaring sounds of helicopters overhead which it seemed it would never leave the sky. I couldn’t stand the constant barrage of explosives which I thought would be the cause of my imminent deafness. Our eyes could peek out of the windows to see the air was full of fire, smoke and debris. We didn’t know what happened there. We heard tens and dozens were killed but we had seen none. We heard people screaming in panic but we could hardly know who the deceased was. We were prisoners in our houses. We couldn’t even run for our lives since every single spot and creature were targeted. No place was safe even at home. With much fear that we would be the next victims, we waited anxiously our turns to finally come in so the effects of such traumas would wear off the moment we died out.
Out of my scattered and shattered memories, one thing I remember very well is that I wasn’t told that the war was over; I just had the feeling it was. I spent the 23-days in total silence which was constantly broken by the sounds of the Apache or F-16. But I myself was completely silent, lost in thoughts, wishing not to be the only survivor among my beloved family. The very thought of it chilled my blood within me.
Whomsoever saw me thought I was resilient and strong enough to bear all of its atrocities with a deafening silence. In fact, I wasn’t. I was coward enough to having wished to be dead as soon as possible so I could rest in peace in my grave if I couldn’t find peace at my home. Twenty-three days and I shed no single drop of tears. This sent my dad into a series of questions. “Is she alright?”, my dad implored my mum, “why doesn’t she look affected?” My mum kindly thought I wasn’t afraid. To their great disappointment, I was. Fear tightened around my chest and it almost killed me. I was frightened by the thought of losing you, mum. I was selfish enough to pray not to be tormented by the loss of my mum and it didn’t cross my mind that she would even be more tormented by my loss. I should have prayed that we should all die together.
When it was over, I could fake my resilience no more. I do remember that two nights after the war, I woke up to find myself crying heavily. That time I hadn’t fought back my tears. I simply couldn’t. I wanted to release all my pent-up emotions so I broke down in tears. I could no longer contain myself. My mum was awakened by my pathetic sobs. So anxious was she that she didn’t know what she had to do. She took me in her warm lap trying to soothe away my fear. Clutching her arm, I bitterly wept. With bated breath she asked “have you waited 23-days to cry?” I didn’t know under what categories I should have classified my tears. Tears of survival? Tears of suppression? Tears of injustice? Tears of negligence? I didn’t care. I became better off since then, however.
As my mum once wondered if I waited 23 days to cry, I am now wondering whether I’ve been waiting 2 years to write. Perhaps I didn’t want to keep the memory of this tragedy alive; I wanted to forget to help me move on, but the world, in order to move on, shouldn’t forget this. Not only does this date mark the genocidal Gaza war but it also debunks the international conspiracy of silence.
Fidaa Abu Assi, 22, is an English Literature graduate from the Islamic University of Gaza. She blogs at http://fidaa.me/. Gaza Two Years Later is a series of posts by Gazan bloggers and writers reflecting on the two-year anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008/09. You can read the entire series here.
<a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtuWtPXbNVY&feature=player_embedded”>YouTube – Helping the children of Gaza two years on</a>.
|[ 28/12/2010 – 12:23 PM ]|
GAZA, (PIC)– A Palestinian worker was injured while collecting gravel east of Gaza city at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) who routinely target those workers near the Strip border areas.
Adham Abu Salmiya, the spokesman for the medical services, said that the 19-year-old youth was injured with bullet shrapnel in his nose and ear on Tuesday morning.
He said that the young man was hospitalized, adding that the number of wounded workers as a result of IOF shooting thus rose to 109.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank the IOF troops rounded up three Palestinians in various areas during pre dawn raids on Tuesday.
NEW YORK, USA, 12 January 2009 The children of Gaza have three hours a day in which its safe, at least in theory, to go out. The humanitarian ceasefire does not always hold, but it provides a measure of relief for those who need to find food and water, or try to retrieve possessions from their former homes.
In Sheikh Radwan, children climb over the rubble, looking for familiar things, trying to make sense of what has happened to their community in the last two weeks.
I was at Grandpas house, said Ehab, 12. I heard the shelling and ran away. I saw the house being shelled. The windows broke as well as the door. All of it gone, there is no longer a house.