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

Monday, December 4, 2006


Wednesday night, two weeks ago, the news talked abut opening the Rafah border for the Gazan's to leave the next day. That night, thousands of people went to Rafah and spend the night on the borders to make sure that they will leave as soon as it opens. This happened several times before but the borders were not opened.
On Thursday morning the borders were opened and some people could leave.
Eitimad, a friend of mine, she is a widow, with two children, the daughter Nida' who is 19 years old and studying in the University in UK, the son Majd who's 16 years old and will finish high school this year. Eitimad is doing her PHD in UK too, but she's in Gaza now for the research. Khaled, the late husband who died on 2004 spent 18 years of his short life in the Israeli prisons. The first time for 13 years, after which he got married and when his daughter was one year old he was rearrested for a year. The third arrest was when his son was two months old and it was for four years this time.
Eitimad is a development expert who has been working for different NGOs in Gaza, and now she is the Director of Institute for Developmental Studies.
Eitimad, like most of the people in Gaza had her own plans for this summer. She was planning to let Majd go to Egypt with his aunt's family and Nida' would join him their coming from the UK, and both spend part of the summer holiday there and then join their mother in Gaza. The first part of the plan was fulfilled but coming to Gaza could not be achieved. How could it be? The borders are closed since June 25th.
Eitimad was suffering because she is not allowed to leave, her children are not allowed in. They are all squeezed by time, because Nida' has to go back to her university on time, and Majd has to come back to Gaza on time too for the school.
Eitimad, finally after a lot of phone calls with the children in Egypt and discussion among friends decided to take a very difficult decision. She will let both her children go to UK alone. Well Nida' is used to it but Majd is still young, and he is in a very critical time of his life, he has to finish his high school this year. He does not like UK at all, he tried before when he went after his dad's death to spend a year with his mum and sister who were both studying, and could not cope with the different culture, and the missing of Gaza. Still they all decided that this would be the best solution and that they can control their emotions. Eitimad would try to see them as much as she can and of course as soon as the borders open.
So, it's understandable that Eitimad was among the first people to go to Rafah when she heard about its opening. Cause she's alone she didn't sleep their, but when she arrived she already found thousands of people old, young, women, men and children from all social groups, educated, high society , workers, soldiers, poor. All society representatives were there. But here they were all equal. Everybody is waiting for the opening of the borders. There was no order at all. Nobody knew where to go to? whom to ask? What are the procedures? How can they get to the buses?
She tried hard to describe to me how she felt. I cannot even find the suitable worlds.
But the most difficult thing for Eitimad was the memories from Rafah. Almost in the same season but 2004 when Khaled died. At that time she and Nida' were in UK, during the first year of her PHD study. The borders were open at that time for a couple of days after a long closure as I recall. Eitimad and her daughter had to sleep on the Egyptian side for two nights before being allowed into Gaza. So she missed seeing her husband and his funeral. She could never forget this bad experience and her feelings. "But for Nida' it was more difficult and it defined her relationship to the borders".
This time it's worse on our side of the borders. No body could help anybody. It depended on your physical power to push and fight for a place as near as possible to the gate, which was closed by the Palestinian security. It's a very narrow area in which at least 3000 people gathered (this is only the lucky part of the crowds that could reach the gate). "Men, women and children were very close to each others, that the parents had to hold their kids up in the air in order to breath.
The police men tried heard to organize people in a queue but people were angry and could not stand anymore. "I will bring a kalashinkoff. I won't only shoot at the walls but also at the people" one angry young man suddenly started to shout. Well he had been waiting for hours trying to trust the policemen, but these finally said "We can do nothing, we cannot help in anything, it's not our decision" so naturally people will explode and forget everything about order and civilizations. "Each one of us had a good reason to leave, the schools, the university, the work, the residencies outside, the illness..etc"
Eitimad went late that day; she arrived at the border at 13.00 hoping that the crowd would finish and that she will have better conditions to leave. Well, she stayed in this situation till 16.30 when somebody announced by the microphone that the border is closed. That day many people discovered that some families were split, part of them could cross and the other part could not.
"Some people decided to stay and sleep their on the floor, because they don't want to lose their precious place, I couldn't, I know my self I'm not strong enough for such circumstances. I decided to go to Marwa my friend's parents' house in Abasan village, which is nearer to the borders instead of going back home to Gaza."
When she finally at midnight knew that the border will be open the next day, she decided to try again and she promised herself to cross this time.

The next day she went earlier, she arrived at 8.30 of course the place was full of people. This time Marwa took her by her car and tried to help her. She forgot all about Marwa and followed a young man 17 years old "I felt that he might help me, it seems he knows all the ways that could let me in, I even paid him to help me". He carried her bag and took to the hall, today it's more organized, women were sitting on the right side and men on the left. It was too hot, too humid. "He left me after giving me my bag, then after two hours waiting we discovered that it's the wrong place. People started to leave the hall, I asked some where to go, nobody answered so I just followed them, carrying my bag and pushing everybody in front of me. Suddenly I found my self very near to the gate, it's an achievement I told myself, it means I will pass through today with a little of pushing and patience. I was so happy with myself and I thought. I could stand here even for seven hours."
"All the social reservations disappeared; it was ok for the covered women to lose their vales. It was ok to touch the other sex without any reservation, well actually there is no space, and we forgot all abut the customs and traditions in this moment; the only focus is to reach the gate and to leave. It could happen that your shirt is opened but nobody will look at you, you might touch a man in a sensitive place but nobody feels that. Nobody even looked at me weirdly as usual" she does not cover he hair and they were very few women like her in this crowd. She continued "It was too hot, well it's August after all, everybody was pushing. I suddenly, and for the first time in my life, felt thirsty, and this made me feel afraid. I looked for water but could not have 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 had to intervene brutally, they first shot in the air few bullets to separate the crowd, but nobody moved, "how could we move? We are very near to the gate, we might go to the other side" Eitimad said, so the police started pushing the crowd using the bamboo sticks, still people didn't move. "Frankly, I was afraid. I found a spot by a wall and it was a quite place, relatively. I stayed there waiting for another hour and a half. We were all wondering, we didn't know weather the border is opened or not, we were hoping to here some confirmation either ways."
The situation continued to be bad, inhuman. "I don't know, there is something beyond the dignity and the normal thinking, a mother took out from the bag the towels and made a small tent of them 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, and you stupid. Another mother started shouting at her daughter in front of everybody, the daughter started to cry, it seems that she was not used to such a behavior from her mother."
During all this humiliating time Eitimad's brain didn't stop from wondering and thinking "should I stay or leave? Can I stand this humiliation? Will I lose my children if I go back now? Is it possible that I don't have the well 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 everybody there. Nobody is seeing me, but even if anybody does I don't want to see anybody." In Gaza it's not usual for women to smoke, we don't smoke in the public places and mainly in the streets.
"I finished my cigarette and waited for another half an hour, after that I made up my mind and at one o'clock I decided to go back. Everybody was surprised from my decision when they saw me holding my back and leaving my precious place. Yes I left, but I didn't want to go home, I felt so lonely and I decided to go back to Marwa's parents' house. As soon as Marwa, opened the door, I started crying and continued crying even when I saw her old parents, I could not help it. I was feeling guilty. Why I'm not physically strong enough to jump over the fence like the other young men? But what could I do, I think I would die. I can't anymore this is my limit"
Her children called her; they were waiting on the other side of the borders. They became very angry, blaming her of 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?" of course this made her feel guiltier and she could not reply so hanged off the phone and continued crying. She could not eat anything and she stayed like this till 9.00 pm. All that time she was thinking "I might not be able to see them for a long time, maybe even for a year. Or maybe I will be lucky and see them in few months" I called them late and explained the situation for 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 any of the children for a while. Some of her friends managed even to let her see them through video conference facility, which is usually very expensive (at least 60$ per hour) and she was very happy to have such an opportunity. She felt that her children mainly Majd have grown up to be independent so early but she can rely on them. Majd promised his mum that he will be good at school and they will keep in touch with her.
Now, thanks to the technology she can see her children via internet, of course when she has electricity.
Lama Hourani

No comments: