Counting for the new year:

END the Occupation of Palestine NOW.

Break the Siege of Gaza

Break the Siege of Gaza
The siege is a genocide and don't say you didn't know

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Baby doll permit

"Mummy, do you think that the baby boy doll needs a permit at Hawara checkpoint?"

This question was thrown into my face by Luai at the beginning of August this year. We were planning for his fifth birthday. We were going to make the party in Nablus where he had been staying in his grandmother’s house while I was looking for a flat and a job in Ramallah. Luai asked for a baby boy doll that cries, snores, breathes, etc. I promised that I would look for it in Ramallah. But he found it in Nablus. And since he knew that I was looking for a flat in Ramallah, he anticipated that we would have to buy it in Ramallah if it needed a permit like he does at the Hawara checkpoint.

This question has become a daily question since we left Gaza and came to the West Bank. Every time Luai wants to ask about going from one area to another he raises the questions: Do we need a permit? Are we allowed to go to this area? Will we face the Israeli soldiers and how many checkpoints will we have to cross?

Luai has 8 cousins from two uncles living in Nablus. Staying there for about one month and a half gave him the opportunity to get more acquainted with his cousins, uncles and grandmother.

Luai now knows the checkpoints very well between Ramallah and Nablus. "When we leave Nablus we first go to Hawara checkpoint, right? We are searched by the soldiers there and then we go by a service taxi to Ramallah, right, Mummy? But after a few minutes we face the Yetzhar checkpoint, isn't that its name, Mummy? We are again checked by the soldiers. Then before entering Ramallah we stop at Atara checkpoint. This one takes a long time, Mummy." On the road to Ramallah he keeps asking when we will arrive at the next checkpoint, making sure that he is pronouncing the name correctly. He raises these questions instead of asking me about the landscape, which is totally different than the one in Gaza. Of course he also shows his knowledge by telling me about the sequence of these checkpoints between Ramallah and Nablus: first Atara, then Yetzhar and at the end there is Hawara. But we might face a "flying checkpoint" on the way between these also. And it's true, because we might find ourselves in front of a portable checkpoint of the Israeli occupation army. So the trip that used to take only a 45 minute drive in the beautiful mountains of the West Bank in the not too distant past might now take hours. I sometimes envy Luai that he does not know those times. When we used to ride in the same car from Ramallah to Nablus.

Since we have moved to Ramallah, his daily inquiries concern our movements and the movements of our belongings. Are we allowed to go to Hebron without a permit from the Israeli army? Do we need a permit to go to Jericho? What about Gaza, when are we going to see Dad, are we still allowed to go there?

I had been worried when I was in Gaza whether Luai and I would be able to leave the Strip after the Hamas coup. Then, when I finally could leave, I became worried about my future in Ramallah, about the flat, the job, Luai's school and mainly worried about Adi, my husband, who was still in Gaza and whom we were trying to get out.

My father asked me once: "Why are you worried? You are used to be obliged to move from one country to another; you are used to changing homes, furniture, schools, and jobs." My immediate reaction was “Yes, I'm used to all that, but this is the first time I have to do it by myself. Every time, my parents were responsible about housing, schools and jobs. This time I'm responsible for my son and my husband. Believe me, this is not easy, especially when you have a child like mine who's watching everything going around him very carefully and trying to understand why he has to hate an army which he sees as the strongest and that's why he should like and not hate.

Now Adi is finally here in Ramallah. We have rented a flat. Luai goes to school and is trying to integrate in the new community; actually, we all are trying. Still, Luai is always asking about the permits for him, for his things and his cousins. He's still asking about the possibility of going to Gaza and meeting his friends and neighbours again. But now I think he's asking just to make sure that he knows the right answer: we need a permit from the Israelis to go there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

One of the land marks of Khan Younis.

I was lucky to meet her during a training course in Gaza in 1995.

She was full of energy, enthusiasm, streetwise and funny. She approached me, asking me to apply for a job in the organization she works for. I was curious to know her better. I wondered whether she was a returnee or had been born in the Gaza Strip. Surprisingly, I found out that she was born and spent her entire life in Khan Younis, a town in the center of the Gaza Strip. She didn't like my surprise at the beginning, she considered it insulting. But with my little experience at that time with the people in Gaza, I found it amazing to find an open-minded young woman, without a head scarf, knowing how to deal normally with men and women in Gaza at that time. The next day I applied for the job she mentioned and then started to work with her.

Her name is Majda, she became one of my very close friends, and in a very short time. I don’t know when and how I started describing her as a landmark of Khan Younis.

Majda is from a big family; she has two brothers and five sisters. Two brothers and two sisters are married. She and her other three sisters are not.

When I used to visit her in her family’s house I always felt as if I were with my own family. Her mother is kind and tender with everybody, but especially so with Majda's friends. She reminded me of an old aunt who lives in Syria, and whom I had not seen for a long time in those days. Her father always met me with great respect and tenderness, which was unusual for an old man from a conservative community, especially when we take into consideration that I'm a smoker and do not cover my head.

Majda's father died recently when I was in Ramallah. I was so sad because I wanted to be with my best friend in such conditions, but of course I could not. I admired her father a lot; he was relatively open minded. We used to sit with him in the garden of their house, which he took care of, and we always discussed politics with him. He was a discrete person, who took care of and helped many needy families in the city secretly. He believed in his talented daughter and never opposed any of her activities in the community, even when they were occasionally against the traditions. Such an old man is very rare to find in a conservative community. Many young women envied Majda for having such a father.

During this Intifada Majda became the only woman who did not wear her hair covered in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. In spite of the difficulties that her father might face in the community he never asked her to cover her hair.

Majda works mainly with young people. She is in her thirties but understands and communicates very well with children and teenagers. They love to work and take part in activities with her and she does, too.

It was very difficult to give my condolences to her and to her family by phone only. I wanted to be with them, to embrace her and her mum and cry on their shoulders. But the separation inside our occupied country didn't allow us to indulge in even such a small human need.

Now I talk to Majda almost every day and sometimes several times a day. When I hear her voice, when I listen to her news about the Gaza Strip I feel so touched and so connected to her, to the place and to the people. Her humour and sarcasm is unique; she could always make us laugh in the darkest of times. One of these times is the current one. Whenever I call her she tells me a joke about the situation in Gaza and the suffering that she and the others are going through. I call her, having in mind to try to cheer her up but she always ends by cheering me up instead.

I know that she feels so lonely, so trapped in the Strip, which she cannot leave because of the continuous denial of the Israeli army to give her a permit to leave from Eretz. Still, she can always create and produce new things in her work.
Majda was always used to having Palestinian friends and foreigners in her house; she knows a lot about the Gaza Strip and used to guide everyone who visited from outside around the Strip and always took us to places we never knew about. She knows almost everyone and every corner of the Strip. And she is very well known, as well. Most people are advised to meet her whenever they come to Gaza. Now and because of the closure it's very difficult to enter Gaza, even for foreigners.

When Majda knew that I was writing again she took the initiative and decided to work on my blog. She changed it to look like what you see now. I like what she did and I know that she will keep on changing it all the time. So whenever you see an improvement or change in my blog it's because of Majda.

I wish I could see her face to face and not only speak on the phone.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gaza, Ramallah: Torn apart in the same country

“Mummy, what’s that? But we are in Ramallah, not Gaza!!” This was Luai’s reaction to the sound of thunder a few days ago. It was so strong that for seconds we thought that it was a sonic bomb.

Yes, we have been in Ramallah since 30 June. I was given permission to leave Gaza on that day with no permission to return. I left Gaza with Luai, but my husband, Adi stayed on, hoping at that time that the conditions would improve. But they didn’t get better. Adi had to sell everything we had, the car, the almost four year old flat and furniture and he waited for a permit to come to us in Ramallah. He was able to come only on 15 October.

We were alone for four and a half months, in a strange city surrounded mostly by strangers. We speak the same language but have nothing else in common except for the Israeli occupation but here it is a different experience.

It is a very strange feeling to leave Gaza and come to Ramallah. It is as if one were emigrating. For a while we forget that we are talking about the same country, Palestine, and are the same people, Palestinians. Well, usually under normal conditions, in normal countries, when people decide to move from one city to another in the same country it’s not that difficult or that strange. If someone decides to move from Vienna to Strasbourg he/she can continue to meet friends and relatives from time to time or at least on vacations and weekends. They are able to move their own belongings in one truck from the old place to the new one. They can drive from Vienna to Strasburg in their own car. They can move together on the same day and the same hour with no checkpoints and searching on the road.

But we were apart from each other for four and a half months, because of the closure imposed by the Israeli army on the Gaza Strip. Each one of us suffered alone and differently. We have no hope of meeting our friends ever again unless a miracle happens. We have not been able to bring any of our belongings except for the very personal ones. We were not allowed to bring even books because of the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip. We were allowed only a 12 hour permit that allowed us to come to the West Bank without returning back. We had to cut all the bridges with the city that we chose to live in 13 years ago.

Gaza, the big jail, the city of love and hatred, of the sea and the desert, the city of poverty and wealth, the city of heroes and cowards, the city of fighters and gangsters, but above all the city of people who love to live and know how to survive with the minimum. I love this city, I love its people, I love its sea, its noisy and crowded streets full of cars, animals and people. I really miss the city and my friends there.

Living in Ramallah seems easier, but for me it’s still difficult. I have decided not to take a position on it, not yet. Till now my experience here has been so difficult, and that’s what I will try to write about in the future.

I’m glad that I can write again, I will try to reflect on all the new experiences and as usual, by Luai’s reactions. He is missing Gaza too, but he’s showing it the child’s way. By writing at least I will keep in touch with my friends in Gaza, whom I won’t be seeing for a long time.

But I still have the hope that I will be able to go to Gaza again.


Friday, June 22, 2007

We are not super people

I’m looking at Luai’s eyes and my own are full of tears. I can hardly keep from crying in front of him. I’ve been trying to take him out of the flat for two days and he refuses, saying “I don’t want to go anywhere, mummy, I love to stay at home”. It seems that he is afraid to go out now because of all the stories he has heard from his friends during the past week about the killings and shootings.

Yesterday I went to Al Deereh Hotel, one of the nice places by the seaside in Gaza, to meet a journalist. I found that many people are on the beach, swimming and enjoying the calm sea. I felt so relieved that the people of Gaza are back to their normal life.

Many people have asked me why I am not writing. I stopped writing in December when I visited my mother in Syria. It was the first time that my mother, my two sisters and our children and I have met in Damascus at the same time since 1983. The joy was interrupted by the events in Gaza at that time, the assassination of three children as a result of the armed dialogue between Hamas and Fateh. I returned in January only to find out that I was unemployed. And the series of a lot of fighting rounds between Fateh and Hamas has taken place from January until now.

I became so desperate, like most of the Palestinians, but this time, it was not because of the collective punishment imposed on us by the international community, not because of the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza Strip, the big prison. But because of the fighting between the Palestinians themselves. I thought to myself, “What should I write to the people outside, that we are killing each other, that we are destroying our dream by our own hands?” Thus, I was unable to write.

The last round of fighting was the attack against the Palestinian Authority security forces last week all over the Gaza Strip, by Hamas and its Al Qassam militant group, which resulted in the control of Hamas and Al Qassam over the entire Gaza Strip.
This time we had to stay at home from Monday till Friday night. I was so afraid - the bombing and the shooting I heard from my flat, which was in the middle of three fighting areas, was terrible. The result of the attacks was shocking to all Gaza residents. At first, we thought, “It is another round like those before it but it turned out to be a round that changed the lives of each one of us. Hamas controls Gaza. Politically, this has great implications for the Palestinian issue but I won’t deal with this now.

What has made me decide to write is the fact that I feel so down today, so desperate, that I’ve been crying the whole day. I’m not afraid about my life, or my husband’s or even my son’s. I feel bad because I have discovered that we are not the “Super People” I thought we are. I discovered that we are normal human beings. I know that most of the people all over the world, especially the freedom lovers and fighters look at us as idols, as a people who cannot be defeated, as freedom fighters who are trying to achieve their liberty and live in dignity.

Now I have discovered that we are like any other nation, savage, brutal and looters.
The looting scenes from inside the governmental buildings, the private houses and flats, reminded me of Baghdad after the American occupation and the collapse of Saddam’s regime. We thought that we could never be like that. I know we did it after the settlers went out of their colonial settlements in the Gaza Strip, but these people were our enemy, those who had stolen our land, not Palestinians.
The news about the different acts of violations of human rights against each other is shocking. It reminds me of the practices of the Israeli occupation forces in Gaza and the West Bank.

What are we doing to ourselves? Why are we trying to destroy our dream of a democratic, independent state for all Palestinians.

So, I think and I wonder, “Are we really like this? Are we really savages? Aren’t we supposed to overcome our differences by peaceful means? Who is to blame for this happening to us? Isn’t it the international community who denied us our legitimate right to have a state of our own? Isn’t it the international community who denied us our right for democratic choice in our election and decided to punish us for that? Isn’t it the international community, which has starved us and made us depend again, after 59 years. on humanitarian aid?”

Now I know we are not superhuman or super heroes or super people. We are normal people who will become savages when you put them in a cage with the minimum needed to survive.

I know everyone is waiting from me to tell personal stories about the events that took place. But I am sorry, I can’t. It’s too difficult to tell stories about what we’ve done to each other. I only ask the people to be objective when they look at the news and ask themselves why is it happening to the Palestinians?

As for me, now I’m planning to take my son to the Al Deereh Hotel and let him see the world again, whether he likes it or not.

I hope tomorrow I will be in a better mood. Maybe I can write some more details.

Gaza City
22 June 2007

Monday, December 4, 2006


“Mummy, why did you go to Beit Hanoun? Don’t you know that half of the people were killed there?” I replied, “No, half of the people did not die there”. “Do you mean that all the people die there? Don’t you know that you could’ve been killed when you went there?”

This was my conversation with Luai when he knew that I went to Beit Hanoun.

I don’t know why but since the last invasion of Beit Hanoun I have been deeply depressed or, one might say, even lost. I don’t know why it took so long to make me feel like this, why my despair was postponed. It should have happened long ago.

I have not wanted to write but I have been witnessing so many events that I think I should write about.

The invasion of Beit Hanoun was as horrible and savage as the Israeli invasions usually are, but this time it was bigger, longer and with many more victims, including women and children. Going to Beit Hanoun was so difficult, meeting the families who lost their beloved ones while holding them in their arms. A mother described for me how the bomb separated her child from her hand when she was trying to escape the bombing. Her son was pushed to the wall and when she reached him his belly was open and she tried to put everything back in its place. He died and then she had to go to others, his cousins, uncles, grandmother, everyone who was lying, injured or dead, in the small alley. His 11 year old cousin died while he was looking for his glasses. He fell while he was running, lost his glasses and a bomb killed him.

His other cousin was awakened in the early morning by the sound of the bombs hitting their house. While he was trying to call somebody with his mobile for help he was hit by a bomb, amputating the hand which was holding the mobile. He had his mobile with him and while he was trying to call an ambulance for help he was hit by a bomb and his hand was amputated and never reached his ear.
The question beats in my head, ”For how long?”

A few days later we learned that Maha, a colleague in the office who lives in Beit Lahia, was being held hostage in her own house, with her husband, four children and her mother in law. The Israeli army occupied her house in the middle of the night and nobody could contact them. For several days we were in great worry about them until the army left and we saw Maha and heard the entire story.
Again, we asked ourselves the same question, “For how long?”

Every day we wake up to hear the number of people killed and the number injured. We constantly hear the shelling, bombing, shooting, the F16s, the apaches and the surveillance planes. This goes on day and night. It is annoying, it is affecting my nerves. I cannot stand it any more.
Again and again the same question, “For how long?”

Then, suddenly, a grandmother commits a suicide bomb attack against the soldiers. I read the comments in the internet and feel so sorry for her. She must have been so desperate and have suffered so much before she took such a decision but it is still very alarming to see how violent our society has become. The culture of killing, blood and violence is leading us to accept that a grandmother who, under normal circumstances, would be telling stories to her grandchildren, not only classic fairy tales, but also the story of Palestine, has preferred to kill herself in an attempt to kill soldiers who are the age of her grandsons.

Another question comes “Where are we heading? What is happening to us? Who is to blame?”

Yes, these are big questions that need to be answered. Many of us think that they have the answer. It is the natural development from the cycle of violence we are living in. Of course, the paramount violence is that of the Israeli occupation, resulting in the Islamic fundamentalism which is now in control of our society; these factors are to be blamed for the trend in our community. Is it really that easy to analyze and to know the answer? Another question hammers in my head.

Then, a wedding of a dear friend who had to make it simple and limit the guests to her family and her closest friends, which is unusual in our community, because two relatives of the groom were killed and the third is in the Intensive Care Unit. The wedding took place the same day that seven people were killed. Still the bride was beaming, we enjoyed ourselves, we danced and sang. We needed to be reminded that we are still alive and life goes on, no matter what .

Another question: Am I really happy? Isn’t something broken inside?

The last straw. Close friends are leaving for good. The dearest friends who, like we did, chose to live in Gaza, who gave a lot to Gaza and took a lot, too, friends whose home was one of the oases in Gaza where we could meet all types of people, artists, writers, journalists, doctors, engineers, NGO professionals, Palestinians and foreigners from all over the world. Their home was a place where I could feel at home and be myself, I could dance, play, be happy and also be sad and cry. Maria and Rasheed chose to come to Gaza over all of the places that they were able to live in and now they are obliged and forced to leave. The questions: Is Gaza pushing us away? Is Gaza not able to have people like us any more? Will I be obliged to leave, too?

Do I have answers for all these questions? No, and that’s why I feel lost, disoriented. I don’t know what to do, desperate and depressed. Maybe one of the things that cheers me up sometimes and gives me hope is hearing about the solidarity activities that take place in different places in the world.

Should we really blame ourselves?

On Wednesday night two weeks ago we heard the news that the Rafah border might be opened for Gazans to leave the following day. That night, thousands of people went to Rafah and spent the night on the crossing point to guarantee that they could leave as soon as it would open. (This has happened many times but often turned out to be a false alarm.)

On Thursday morning the crossing point was opened and some could leave.

Eitimad, a friend of mine, is a widow with two children, her daughter, Nida’, who is 19 years old and is studying in a university in the United Kingdom, and her son, Majd, who is 16 and will finish high school this year. Eitimad is also completing her P.H.D. in the U.K. but she is currently in Gaza for research purposes. Khaled, her late husband, who died in 2004, spent 18 years of his short life in Israeli prisons. The first sentence was for 13 years and after his release he married. When his daughter was one year old he was rearrested for one year. The third arrest was when his son was two months old and the sentence was for four years. Eitimad is a development expert who has been working for different NGOs in Gaza and she is now the Director of the Institute for Developmental Studies.

Like most of the people in Gaza, Eitimad had plans for this summer. She was hoping to let Majd go to Egypt with his aunt’s family and Nida’ would come from the U.K. to join him there, both spending part of the summer holiday in Egypt and then join their mother in Gaza. They were able to enjoy the first part of the holiday but it was impossible to come to Gaza. How could they? The crossing point has been closed since 25 June. Eitimad was suffering because she was not allowed to leave nor were her children allowed to enter. They all have limited time because Nida’ must be at the university on time and Majd must return to Gaza on time for school. After many calls with the children in Egypt and discussions with friends, Eitimad decided to make a very difficult decision. She would allow the children to go to the U.K. alone. Nida’ is used to this but Majd is still young and he is at a critical point in his life. He must finish high school this year. He is not happy in the U.K. He tried after his father’s death to spend a year with his mother and sister, who were both studying, and could not cope with the different culture and missing Gaza. Still, they decided that this would be the best solution and that they could control their emotions. Eitimad would try to see them as much as possible as soon as the crossing point was open.

It is therefore understandable that Eitimad was among the first to go to Rafah when she heard that Israel agreed to open the crossing point. Because she is alone she did not sleep there but when she arrived she already found thousands of people, old, young, women, men, children from all levels of society, educated people, workers, police, the poor. All levels of society were there. But at Rafah they were all equal. Everyone was waiting for the opening of the borders. There was no order at all, only chaos. No one knew where to go, whom to ask, what the procedures were, how they could get to the buses.

Eitimad tried to describe to me how she felt but I cannot even find suitable words for it. The most difficult thing for her was the memory of Rafah. It was almost the same time of the year, in August 2004, when Khaled died. At that time she and Nida’ were in the U.K. It was the first year of her studies for the P.H.D. The border was open at that time for a few days after a long closure. Eitimad and her daughter had to sleep on the Egyptian side for two nights before being allowed into Gaza. So she missed seeing his dead body and attending his funeral as well. She could never forget this experience and her feelings. “For Nida’ it was even more difficult and defined her relationship with the borders,” she told me.

This time it is worse on our side of the border. No one can help anyone. It depends on your physical power to push and fight for a place as near as possible to the gate, closed by the Palestinian security. It is a very narrow area in which at least 3,000 people gathered (the lucky ones who could reach the gate). “Men, women and children were crowded very close to each other, so much so that the parents had to hold their children up in the air so that they could breath.”

The policemen tried to organize people in a queue but many were angry and could not stand any more. “I will bring a Kalashnikov. I won’t only shoot at the walls but also at the people,” one angry young man suddenly shouted. He had been waiting for hours, trusting the policemen, but they said “We can do nothing, we cannot help, it is not our decision.” So people started to rant and rave, forgetting everything about order and civilization. “Each of us had a good reason to leave, schools, universities, work, residence outside, illness, etc.”

Eitimad went late that day, arriving at the border at 1.00 P.M. and hoping that the crowd might have dwindled and that she would have better conditions. She stayed until 4.30 P.M. when someone announced via the microphone that the border had been closed. That day, many people discovered that their families were divided, some of them able to cross and others not. “Some people decided to stay and sleep on the floor because they did not want to lose their precious places. I could not. I know that I am not strong enough for such a situation so I decided to go to Marwa, my friend’s parents’ house in Abasan Village, which is near to the border, instead of returning home to Gaza.” When Eitimad knew that the border would be open the next day she decided to try again and promised herself to cross this time.

The next day she went earlier, arriving at 8.30 a.m., but the place was already full of people. This time Marwa took her by car and tried to help. She forgot all about Marwa and followed a young man of 17. “I felt that he might help me. It seemed that he knew all the ways that could let me enter. I even paid him to help me.” He carried her bag and took it to the hall. It was more organized that day. Women were sitting on the right side and men on the left. It was very hot and humid. “The young man left me after giving me my bag and then, after two hours, we discovered that it

was the wrong place. People started to leave the hall. I asked some where to go, no one answered so I simply followed them, carrying my bag and pushing everyone in front of me. Suddenly I found myself very near to the gate. This is an achievement, I told myself. It means that I will pass through today with a little pushing and patience. I was so happy with myself and I thought that I could even stand there for seven hours.”

“All the social reservations disappeared. It was all right if the head scarves of the women accidentally came off, revealing their hair, because there was no possibility to put them on again, no space to move. Everyone was pushing and shoving. It was all right to touch the other sex accidentally, without any reservations, because there was no space. We forgot all about customs and traditions in this moment. The only focus was to reach the gate and to leave. It could happen that your shirt was open but no one would look at you. You might touch a man in a sensitive place but no one felt that. No one looked at me in a weird way, as they usually do.” (Eitimad does not cover her hair and there were very few women like her in this crowd.) She continued, “It was very hot. Well, it is August, after all. Everyone was pushing. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt thirsty and this frightened me. I looked for water but could not find any.” At this minute I saw an old man fainting and falling, another father was holding his little daughter and threw her to the other side over the fence in spite of the fact that she might get there alone and be lost without her family.”

After a while the police intervened, brutally. They first shot a few bullets in the air to separate the crowd but no one moved. “How could we move? We were very near to the gate and we might succeed in going to the other side,” Eitimad said, so the police started to push the crowd, using bamboo sticks. Still people refused to move. “Frankly, I was afraid. I found a spot by the wall and it was relatively quiet. I stayed there, waiting for another hour and a half. We were all wondering whether the border had opened or not. We were hoping for some confirmation either way.”

This inhuman situation continued. “I do not know. There is something beyond dignity and normal thinking. A mother took a towel from her bag and made a
small tent to protect her children from the sun. But this same mother is the one who shouted at her young daughter who was eating the sand, “you idiot, you animal, you stupid child”. Another mother started to shout at her daughter in front of everyone. The daughter started to cry. It seemed that she was not used to such behaviour from her mother.”

During the entire, humiliating time Eitimad asked herself “Should I stay or should I leave? Can I bear this humiliation? Will I lose my children if I return now? Is it possible that I do not have the will to bear more of this suffering for the sake of my children? I decided to stay and I smoked, can you imagine? I lit a cigarette in front of everyone there. No one saw me but even if they did, I did not want to see anyone.” (It is not usual for women to smoke in public in Gaza. We do not smoke in public places nor in the street.)

“I finished my cigarette and waited for another half an hour. After that, I made up my mind and at l.00 P.M. I decided to return. Everyone was surprised at my decision when they saw me holding my bag and leaving my precious place. I left but I did not

want to go home. I felt so lonely and decided to go to Marwa’s parents’ house. As soon as Marwa opened the door I started to cry and continued to cry even when I saw her old parents. I could not help it. I was feeling guilty. Why am I not physically strong enough to jump over the fence like the young men? But what could I do? I thought I would die. This was my limit!”

Eitimad’s children called her. They were waiting on the other side of the border. They were very angry, blaming her for being unable to do anything. “We saw people coming out. Why couldn’t you just try and push harder to come out, too? We miss you. We need you here. Can’t you overcome your weakness and come through the crowd?” Naturally this made her feel guiltier and she could not reply so she hung up and continued to cry. She could not eat anything and stayed like this until 9.00 P.M.. All that time she was thinking, “I might not be able to see my children for a long time, maybe even for a year. Or perhaps I will be lucky and see them in a few months.” I called them later and explained the situation to them and told them that I could not do anything.

I saw Eitimad several days after these events took place. It seems that she is coping with the fact that she has to live without the children for a while. Some of her friends managed to let her see them through the video conference facility, which is very expensive (approximately 60$ per hour) and she was very happy to have such an opportunity. She felt that her children, particularly Majd, have become independent at an early age but she can rely on them. Majd has promised his mother that he will be good at school and that they will keep in touch with her.

Now, thanks to technology she can see her children via internet. Of course, when Israel allows her to have some electricity.

I wonder if it is Eitimad’s fault that she could not see her children. Is it the Palestinian Authority’s fault? Or is it the fault of the occupation?

Isn't it obvious who is to blame for the chaos on the border? Is it not the controlling power, Israel, which can open and close the border, which can control the life of each and every Palestinian living under its occupation?

Lama Hourani
Gaza City
24 August 2006

“Rain Man”

Everyone is asking me why I haven't been writing lately.

It is very difficult to write these days. I feel that we are trapped from outside and inside. Because of the events which have taken place here over the last few weeks I did not even have the chance to enjoy my family reunion. But I will try to describe how we are living these days. There are different issues but they are all connected to the Israelis and their unjust attacks on us.

I often feel that we are living in a concentration camp during the Second World War. We are living in a camp with two gates controlled by the Israelis, Erez and Rafah. We have our own leaders in this camp who are trying to keep some order despite the policies of the commanders outside. Certain amounts of basic needs are permitted to be brought into the camp.

We are attacked regularly and systematically by the commanders outside. We are hunted, killed, arrested, our homes are demolished, our livelihoods as well, our infrastructure, even the trees are destroyed. All that is missing is the famous striped suit which was given to the inmates of the camps during the Second World War.

"Rain Man" immediately comes to mind - the famous film of 1988 with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Hoffman received an Oscar for his performance in this role. No, I am not talking about the film which I loved so much and viewed more than ten times in cinemas or when I could see it on television. I am talking about the name of one of the operations of the Israeli army in the south of the Gaza Strip which took place last week. The result was more than ten martyrs and around 100 wounded people. Children were included in both categories.

I wonder whether Dustin Hoffman, whom I respect very much, as do many people around the world, knows about this military operation. I would be curious to know his reaction. What would he say? How would he react? Would he sue the Israeli army for stealing the film's name and connecting it with the inhuman, unjust, brutal, barbaric actions against civilians, infrastructure, trees, animals, against almost everything?

Internal fights between Fateh and Hamas in the streets of Gaza Strip was another scene last week in Gaza. It is terrible, yes. No Palestinian agrees with this conflict. But what do we expect from 1.5 million people imprisoned in a big jail with no financial resources, no direct contact with the outside world and attacked day and night by the Israelis? Any other people living under circumstances similar to ours for such a long time would be worse. It is the logical outcome of this policy – that we will turn against each other.

Luai, now has new dictionary: he knows the difference between a pistol and a machine gun, a tank and a truck, he knows the difference between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police. He knows that the Israeli army is attacking us, bombing and killing even children. "Mummy, do the Palestinian soldiers feel afraid when there is bombing? Do they run away?" He asked me a couple of days ago when he was having breakfast before going to his kindergarten. There was a sound like bombing; it turned out to be the thunder because it rained after that. So now he knows the difference between bombing and thunder.

Ramadan is about to finish. Usually, Ramadan is the month where the most is consumed in the Islamic countries. This year was the worst for the Palestinians. Our economy has been almost completely destroyed. Employees in the public sector have not received their salaries for months now. One can see hardly any shoppers in the markets of Gaza now. The last days of Ramadan were usually full of people purchasing goods for the Feast (Eid) following Ramadan. These days are usually full of joy, mainly among children who usually are able to buy new clothes and receive presents and money at this time. This year it is very sad. The markets are empty of buyers; many young men are touring the markets but only looking and unable to buy anything. The shops are almost empty of any new goods because of the continuous closure imposed on the Strip by the Israelis. The insecurity, internal and external, felt in the streets of Gaza does not allow people to go out as usual.

The electricity problem is getting worse and influences the behavior of people. Everyone is tense and can get into a fight with anyone, anywhere, at home, at work or in the streets. Life’s routine has changed. Sleeping hours, eating hours, bathing hours, reading hours, all this has changed and it is more difficult when you don’t have a schedule to follow. So electricity is still one of the first things we talk about in the morning at the office. Each one tells us how many hours of electricity she had the day before at home and what she was able to do with it. One colleague said that she heats candles now. "I used to light candles when I had a romantic dinner with my husband, but now I light them and I haven’t felt like having romantic evenings any more for ages.”

There is a rumor in the Strip that the electricity problem will be solved this week before the Feast (Eid). Everyone is talking about this and daydreaming about the things we would do when we go back to normal life. Not forgetting, of course, that this normal life will still include the daily incursions and killings by the Israelis, the almost daily clashes between the two main political Palestinian groups and the absence of financial resources for most families.

Still, from time to time one receives good news to brighten life -- very infrequent these days. For me, personally, it was the return of my husband to Gaza after many attempts and negotiations with the Israeli authorities to allow him to enter. But the Feast (Eid) is coming. It is at least a week long holiday, the borders are closed, and there is no way for the people to leave the Gaza Strip (those who can afford it) but even inside Gaza there are not many entertaining places for grownups or children and no place is secure.

I hope I didn't transfer my depression and desperation to you but I wanted to describe some scenes in Gaza over the last few weeks. We are still hoping that an improvement will come soon but it is not likely.

Maybe if a celebrity like Dustin Hoffman or Tom Cruise were to hear about the "Rain Man" military
operation and what it has done would get as angry as I am, perhaps this would cheer me up for a while.

Lama Hourani
Gaza City