Sunday, July 31, 2005

I Shall Surprise You By My Will

From Australian Aborginal poet Romaine Moreton, featured in a documentary in the Austrailian Film Festival in Israel. Courtesy Bethlehem Bloggers.

I will make oppression work for me,
With a turn and with a twist,
Be camouflaged within stated ignorance,
Then rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I will make oppression work for me,
With a turn and a twist,
I shall sit cross legged like a trap door,
Then rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I will let you pass me over,
Believe me stupid and ill informed,
And once you believe me gone or controlled
Will rise,
And surprise you by my will,

I shall spring upon you words familiar,
Then watch you regather as they drop about,
Like precious tears thick with fear,
Hear you scream and shout,
Then I shall watch convictions break away,
And crumple like paper bags,
And then as beauty I shall rise,
And surprise you by my will,

It is only when you believe me gone,
Shall I rise,
From this place where
I Wait Cross legged
To surprise you by my will,

For I shall stumble from houses of education,
And I shall stumble from institutions of reform,
I shall stumble,
Over rocks, over men, over women, and over children,
And surprise you by my will,

I shall stumble over poverty, over policies, and over prejudice,
Weary and torn,I stumble,Then bleary and worn I shall rise,
From this place where I wait cross legged,
And surprise you by my will,

For the mountains we crossed,
They were easy,
And the rivers we swam,
They were easier still,
And even then,
As I attempted to outrun inhumanity,
I surprised you by my will,

I have witnessed the falling of many,
Heard them cry and hear them still,
Even with grief inside me growing,
I command my spirit to rise,
And surprise you by my will,

And for all people,
We are here and we are many,
And we shall surprise you by our will,
We shall rise from this place where you expect
To keep us down,
And we shall surprise you by our will,

For the bullets we dodged,
They were difficult,
And this ideological warfare
More difficult still,
But even now,
As we challenge inhumanity,
We shall rise,
And surprise you by our will.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

"Don't even think about it!" Posted by Picasa

Its good to be king!

Yousuf stuffs his face with a locally-made candied apple (that we had a *bit* of trouble prying away from him afterwards) Posted by Picasa

Follow that Truck!

Would you still read my blog if I told you I chased down a truck carrying a load of oranges, halfway to Jabaliya, all so Yousuf could have his OJ? Well, I did.

I had an accomplice, though: my father. He came to pick me up from my tai bo class (yes, yes, there are such things in Gaza, the subject of another blog entry I hope), and mentioned that he thought he saw a truck carrying oranges pass by. Why the sudden interest in oranges, you might ask? It all goes back to Yousuf. He loves orange juice. And unlike the United States, we don't have the luxury here of drinking OJ out of season. Its either freshly squeezed or not at all.

Orange season here usually ends around the beginning of June. This year the oranges were available longer than usual, a high note given the amount of trees that were raised in Beit Hanun and Jabaliya in last year's Israeli incursions. But we haven't been able to find any in the souks for well over a few weeks now. So when my father thought he spotted a truck carrying oranges, that could mean only one thing: there is a secret orange cartel in Gaza! Or there were some oranges left that we didn't know about.

So we did the only sane thing any parent-who-wants-the best for their child would do: we chased the truck down! When we finally spotted it, and got close enough to smell the sweet citrusy fragance, we knew what we had to do. We had him "pull over" in the middle of the road, and I ran out to accost him as my father manned the car. "You MUST sell us these oranges! Its my son, he has to have his orange juice!" (I can only imagine how this must seem to the outside observer, but I assure I'm completely sane).

The truck driver said the oranges were already sold (my guess is they were being driven to Karni, where they would sell in Israel for double the price). "Take one or two, free of charge".

"NOOO you don't understand...I can't have one or two...I ..." but the driver took of. It wouldn't end there. We continued to chase him, much to the bafflement (and disturbance) of my friend, who was riding with us. He finally pulled over again, this time my father had a "word" with him. I wonder if he thought we'd call in our kaleshnikov toting hired agents (cheap these days in Gaza).

"Duktor, we are acting like a bunch of gangs in a chase scene in a bad Egyptian movie!" he said. He finally agreed to sell us two large bagfulls of the oranges for 10 shekels, and swore they were the last oranges of the season, picked from a bayara (grove) in the Breij refugee camp in Central Gaza.

So Yousuf finally got his orange juice, we got our satisfaction with a chase well worth it, my friend is a little bit more worried about my mental health, and two truck drivers in Gaza are a little more scared. All is well.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


my op-ed in the Washington Post on the same subject, featuring (well, citing) Yousuf. I'm excited this got published where it did. I just hope it has some effect on Washington policymakers.

"Disengagement From Justice":

Like the much-maligned Oslo peace process before it, which for 10 years was just that, a process and nothing more, this disengagement cannot yield a lasting peace unless it brings justice for the Palestinian people. So long as the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to illegal settlements in the West Bank and Israel maintains its control of Gaza's borders -- including its sea and air space and land crossings -- the disengagement will suffer a fate similar to that of Oslo.

Gaza Smokescreen

Another inventive protest by the great folks of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in the West Bank:

Palestinians have burned rubber tyres along the trail of the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank in a symbolic protest against its ongoing construction under the smokescreen of the Gaza pullout.

Black smoke seen rising along the wall's path from the areas of Marda to Qalandia in the Central West Bank on Thursday was an "SOS to the world" to take action to stop Israel's annexation of their land and "imprisonment of the Palestinian people."

6 of the protestors, including two children, were injured when Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at them in the village of Bilín.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back to Gaza, closed in again

So my mother made it back to Gaza, finally. That means I have rejoiced, and Yousuf's menacing can once again be put in (arguable) check. Unfortunately her trip back from Khan Yunis, where she was stuck for three days while visiting her mother, after the Israelis closed down the Abo Holi checkpoint, was not so easy. The Israelis annonced they would be opening Abo Holi for 1 1/2 hours last night, from 7-9:30pm. Thousands of stranded Palestinians fled to the checkpoint to try to make it back to Gaza in time, including my mother. She was stuck in a car for 4 hours, with a 5-month pregnant woman that began to have abdominal pains for waiting so long, and most likely miscarried her baby later on, according to my mother (a physician). The Israelis were only letting through 5 cars at a time, which result in an immense backlog of cars, people, goods. We did'nt hear from her for 4 hours and were afraid something had happened-the invisible soldiers in the outpost guarding Abo Holi often shoot haphazroudly at commters (last week they killed a 14-year old boy). Thank God she made it home alive, and once again, we are sealed into Gaza. Abo Holi was closed again today.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Its a conspiracy, I tell you!

I'm convinced. Yousuf has secret ties with the Israeli government. How else would Sharon have known my mother was in Khan Yunis visiting my grandmother, and closed the Abo Holi checkpoint to coincide with her visit there?

It was sealed off to all Palestinian traffic 3 days ago, after Palestinian fighters killed two settlers travelling on the road above it to the Kissufim settlement. The problem is, the closure is a form of collective punishment, as we are reminded by a large sign posted near Abo Holi: "Terror has negative repercussions on Palestinian society."

Abo Holi divides northern Gaza, where we live, from southern Gaza, where my grandmother lives. Thousands of Palestinians have been stranded on either end as a result, and prevented from attending university, jobs, and hospitals, while settler traffic continues uninterrupted.

In the end of the day, its all in Yousuf's interest of course. The boy's energy has no bounds I tell you. Without my mother's help, I could hardly keep up with his mischief (and my work), as he emptied the kitchen cupboards to make an ideal hiding space, hosed down the bathroom walls, and couloured his face red (war paint perhaps?) with a marker he conveniently found tucked away in the corner of my desk-all within the span of one hour. I can just see Sharon snickering smugly in his Negev ranch now. *Sigh*

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Gaza fishermen

Gaza fisherman and their sons resting on their boat, docked due to poor catches in the face of Israeli restrictions on fishing zones. Posted by Picasa

A bleak forecast

I was busy last week assisting a BBC World Service crew here on assignment from London, and working on my own article, pondering the economic impact following disengagment.

The BBC crew wanted to better understand the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, and how they may or may not change after disengagment. I spoke to fisherman, real estate agents, businessmen, politicians, and farmers.

What I heard from them was not promising: as long as the problem of "access" is not resolved, nothing will change for Gazans. In fact, they may only get worse. This according to Salah abdel Shafi, an economic consultant for the PA, and Mohammad Samhouri, the head of the technical committee in charge of withdrawal. One of he major challenges they are facing is planning for the future: in 20 years, Gaza will house some 3 million people, it is predicted.

A big-time Palestinian bussinessman, who co-built the Palestinian airport and flour mills in the '90s, predicts that internal problems may only aggravate the situation. He told me "we have to work within our limits", that government disorganization in combination with a lack of purchasing power and credible investors would prevent Gaza from sudden economic recovery.

We also visited the fisherman's port. I like fisherman, especially those in Gaza. I’ve always seen them as honest, hardworking, and very easy to talk to. The two I spoke with told me how for 4 months, their boats had been docked in harbor, in the face of Israeli restrictions that bar them from reaching the “good” catches; how they were shot at by Israeli navy; splashed with cold water; thrown overboard.

The fishermen can only fish from Dair al-Balah up to the Soodaniya area of Gaza-the entire southern coast is off-limits. One of the fishermen old me he's resorted to using fishing nets that are considered illegal by world fishing organizations, because the holes are small enough to trap even the youngest of fish. The entire Gaza coastline's ecosystem is being set off balance as a result.

Even if and when fishing zones are extended after disengagement, and the sea port (now a cabbage farm) is given the Israeli stamp of approval, they don't think the harassment will let up, or that they will be allowed to export freely.

Real estate agents told me that there will be a surplus of farm land after withdrawal, and manyPalestinians who own land within the settlements will be anxious to sell it quickly, but the purchasing power is simply not there to buy it as it was in the '90s. Besides, if you can't export your tomatoes, hundreds of hectares more of them become worthless.

Interestingly, I learned that the Gaza Strip is the number one producer of Cherry Tomatoes in the world, but that more often than not they are labelled "Israel" in EU markets. This from an EU projects consultant, who is Belgian.

He also told me about a project for a "trench" road they are planning, to connect the WB and Gaza, that will double as a water catchment when it rains (crazy how creative you have to get to overcome Israeli restrictions). As with almost everything having to do with disengagment coordination, the plan has yet to be approved.

He was a bit crude and matter-of-fact in his dialgue, though he did promise me a box of Belgian chocolates. The funniest anecdote of all that he shared with me: Gaza municipalities only have the capacity to treat 20, 000 cubic metres of sewage water. Currently, 35, 000 cubic metres are produced. "Which means that 15, 000 cubic metres of sh** are going directly into the sea each day."

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I leave you to ponder the future of Gaza after disengagement.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Yousuf shows off his pearly whites for the camera Posted by Picasa

"This seems like a good place to stick the watermelon rind..." Posted by Picasa

"K" is for..

Time for a Yousuf update (after all, the blog is called “Raising Yousuf” :) : While I was busy helping a BBC World Service crew here on assignment from London, Yousuf made that long-awaited realization that what comes out of his bum, and stays snugly in his diaper, actually belongs in the toilet. Or so I think. A least it seems he’s made that verbal link…he actually said “kaka” yesterday! A milestone in the El-Haddad household here in Gaza, whose diaper purchases alone have probably helped the struggling economy stay afloat.

Of course, the timing was less than opportune. We were having dinner with guests down at our farm (finally accessible now that the coastal road is once again open and re-surfaced), discussing the future of Gaza's economy after withdrawal, and as I was feeding Yousuf, he blurted out “KAKA” to make sure everyone sitting could hear him.

Needless to say, I didn’t let the impropriety of it all curb my excitement. “Kaka?! Did you hear that, he said Kaka!” (tumbleweeds…) Of course it may have been his mouth was simply full of rice and he was trying to say “Tata” ..short for “chocolata”. You never know with these things. Why is that house training cats takes less than a day, but with kids…

On another note, my friend Deema who was visiting from Jerusalem taught Yousuf how to “fly” like an airplane. He didn't waste time putting his knew-found skills to pracice, as he “flew” throughout the house, knocking down everything with his “wings”. Suffice to say, my mother was not pleased. It may take him a while to figure out he can’t actually “lift-off” into the air though (judging from the nose dive he took off my bed the other day…ouch).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Would you like ice with that?

A Palestinian youth sells Carob juice to weary travels at the Netzarim junction near Gaza city, with a sniper tower overlooking himPosted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Crossing over

Palestinians crossing Netzarim checkpoint in Gaza. Posted by Picasa

Big brother is watching you

An elderly man walks around the trench that has been dug at the Netzarim checkpoint on Gaza's coastal road, with a sniper tower overlooking him. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 18, 2005

When will it end?

I spent much of today talking to Palestinians trying to cross the Netzarim checkpoint today. It is basically a 6m deep trench dug deep into Gaza's coastal road, which has in recent days been ripped apart by nocturnal armoured bulldozers that come out from behind the lone sniper in he distance, and dissappear before dawn when their work is done.

The checkpoint, along with one further south at Abo Holi, has divided Gaza into three isolated segments for over five days now: Rafah and Khan Yunis in the south; dair al-Balah, Maghazi, and Nseirat refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip; and Gaza city, Beit Hanun, and Jabaliya in the north.

It was a painful site, as I heard testimony after testimony of the hardship endured in what would otherwise be a daily routine. Commerical trucks, donkey carts, fruit vendors, taxis, all attempting to make it down the trench and across to the other side. Young women heading to college carrying textbooks, walking over 3 km around the checkpoint; Women with infants; Elderly Palestinians trudging across on canes through mounds of sand; And most heartbreaking of a all, a man who was suffering from Parkinson's, and had come back from al-Shifa hospital with a bag full of medicine and a medical transfer to Egypt, though he would be unable to travel there because further south, Abo Holi checkpoint was completey sealed off to commuters.

I heard accounts of "close-calls", of bullets just missing commuters heads, fired in "warning" by the lone sniper overlooking the checkpoint, and when it was over, I headed home, relieved that none of those bullets had been fatal, satisfied with a job well-done, and wrote the story out.

I made it home in time to meet with a colleague from the BBC (and former boss of mine at Aljazeera) who was here on assigment for a radio program. "I just heard a 14-year-old boy was shot at Abo Holi, but the IDF hasn't yet confirmed it," she said.

I checked my sources. I called the hospitals, the families in Dair al-Balah, and sure enough, 14-year old Raghed al-Masri was brutally killed, as he was waiting with his family in a taxi at Abo Holi.

But the world's media was too busy covering a press conference Abbas was holding, and a meeting between Hamas and Egyptian delegates on the "ceasefire."

I immediately called an Israeil Army spokesperson for an explanation. THey dodged my phone calls, and finally, late in the night, they called me back, only to tell me the matter was "under investigation".

"All we know is that Palestinian cars attempted cross the checkpoint by force, so the soldiers fired warning shots into the air, not at the cars, and we have not received word of any injuries-there wasn't even an ambulance there."

Suddenly, all I could think about was Tom Hurndall. And Rachel. Iman al-Hams. Norran Deeb. And her mother's tears. and her father's silent anguish. And the lies. the terrible lies.

The doctor who examined Ragheb's body said the bullet hit him in the back and came out through his chest, tearing his fragile heart apart. There is no chance this bullet was fired into "open air".

Now I think to myself as I head to bed, having just submited a news story on the tragic incident, after rewriting my initial story that merely talked about the closure's impact (how could I know the impact would be so deadly?), I feel a sense of emptiness inside.

I compiled the facts and snapped he photos and wrote them out, nicely arranged, on a page, on a site, that soon, will be forgotten. Along with Ragheb. Along with all the innocent angels that have fallen. And I think to myself, when will it end?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The sky's the limit

This picture was taken the evening after chaos erupted in Gaza (see previous posts), on a small playground by the beach. It was desolate, save for a few families, with most people opting to stay indoors, for fear of an impending Israeli atack. There were a few boys playing on this swing set, and they took Yousuf along with them. Their happiness struck me, and their childhood innocence shined through despite all that was happening around them. Posted by Picasa

lawlessness at midnight

A quick post on the situation before I head to bed: Its a bit crazy here, Fateh people, from what I can tell shabab with nothing better to do, are out on the main city streets in a show of force banging their rifles every which way, in response to yesterday's incidents.

I'm crawling into bed and suddenly I hear the all-too-familiar darts of bullets spraying into the air. I look out the kitchen window (note to self: never look out glass window when Fateh men are firing haphazourdly) and see several hundred Fateh men marching down the street, chanting "kata'ib", in reference to the Fateh-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Ok, now he rundown: No idea why: 1) they chose midnight to do this; 2) why they are endangering innocent bystanders lives with their emotions run wild (though perhaps they may argue that is why they chose midnight...) 3) why the police, under the auspices of the Ministery of the Interior, is not doing anything about this, but all-too-anxious to shoot at Hamas folks.

Just today, a spokesperson for the Ministry assured me that "no one is above the law", which they would enforce equally, without discrimination or hesitation. My take on it is that there are simply WAY too many unlicensed weapons on Gaza's streets. I mean, anyone whose no one can get a hold of a gun.

There's something rather unsettling about a lot of fed-up, stressed out people, locked in a 350sq mile open-air prison with a bunch of guns in their hands. Let's not even talk about road rage. And by the way, all of these real psycho-social implications of the occupation, according to a Gaza psychiatrist I interviewed last year.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Chaos and uncertainty in Gaza

It was all-out chaos in Gaza city yesterday, as factional infighting claimed the lives of three teenage boys after drawn out battles between security forces and Hamas activists in northern Gaza spread to the city (just a street down from my house), keeping most residents indoors on Friday, and Israeli helicopter gunships left 6 Hamas men dead.

Within the span of 24 hours, it seemed like all hell had broken loose here, and things reverted back to the way they were 5 months ago: the Strip has been split into three, dividing families all over; Rafah crossing, an official just told me, has been once again sealed off to Palestinian men and boys between the ages of 16-35; and tanks are massing near Jabaliya preparing for an offensive.

In the midst of all this, my family and I went out to visit and congratulate a cousin of mine who passed his Tawjihi exams, and Yousuf got a chance to play with the ducks and geese they keep in their backyard ( Their house is located a block over from the site yesterday's assassination. The streets were eerily empty, save for Palestinian police officers attempting to "keep the peace", corondoning off certain streets and directing traffic. Smoke from burning tires, which is said to "blind" the all-seeing eye of the unmanned Israeli drone, filled the air, a practice usually reserved for refugee camps, and the site of Israeli offensives, like Jabaliya and Rafah.

Today, in scenes reminiscent of of a few months ago, funeral processions for yesterday's victims were held. Thousands of Palestinians marched through the streets from different factions in a show of solidarity, as Hamas activists vowed revenge by way of more Qassam rockets on the settlements.

Analysts and officials I've spoken to insist the "truce" (if this is a truce...) is not in tatters, and tha neither side, strategically speaking, will want to officially abandon it. At the same time, neither side is defining its "red line". Its simply easier to be vague, politially speaking, I guess.

We can only wait and see what will happen tonight.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The evil pink bunny

Don't be fooled by the puffy mane (since when do rabbits have manes anyway?) and innocent smile...this is one scheming little bunny. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 11, 2005

Pat the bunny

Yousuf has picked up a new, nasty habit: he has taken to swatting me ferociously with his hand at every available opportunity, and he seems to enjoy it. I wanted to pinpoint the source of his questionable habit du jur-was life in Gaza finally getting to him, is a therapist already in order (for this, and his vacuum cleaner phobia), or was he mimicking something he saw?

As I mulled over the problem in his play corner, I saw him punch a large, freakish pink bunny with glowing red eyes he received as a gift for his first birthday (why someone would design such a bunny for a child is another story). The bunny, in theory, is supposed to sing a nice song when you move it. Instead, what you get is the indiscernible voice of a child singing in which I have concluded to be a mélange of Chinese and Arabic slang.

“Not like that Yousuf,” I explained calmly, in Arabic. “Gently rub its tummy…pat the…like this…*bam bam bam!*” Suffice to say, I think I see where the problem is now. It’s the bunny. That’s right, there is a violent bunny in our midst. A bunny that teaches children to hit it to get what they want. The bunny, in essence, rewards violent behavior. Am I beginning to sound like a certain occupation army?

The moral of the story is that, contrary to popular belief, Palestinians do not teach-nor encourage- their children to be violent. Tanks, armoured bulldozers, Apaches, and occassionally, deranged pink bunnies, do that for us.

Summer jobs

A young boy sells mangos and plums in Gaza Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Here fishy fishy...

"Ayno! samaka!" (translation: Eye! fish!) Posted by Picasa

Taking a swim with Sido. Posted by Picasa

yum. Posted by Picasa

Soux Chef Yousuf experiments with fusion cuisine: A Nabulsi cheese sandwich in his right hand, a plum in his left hand, and nutella smeared across his face. The grimace says it all. Posted by Picasa

Sunsets and Smiles

Another dizzying sunset in Gaza Posted by Picasa

Swimming at sunset Posted by Picasa

Two sisters wait by a pile of watermelons their father is selling in Gaza Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ordinary lives, extraordinary circumstances

At long last-my new camera (Canon A95..absolutely incredible) has arrived, via a friend of mine who came from the states to the West Bank, and from her to another French friend who works for Medicin Du Monde and was kind enough to bring it over from Jerusalem (things aint' so easy when you are a prisoner in Gaza).

In case I didn't mention it before, my other camera broke (according to the fellow who tried in vain to fix it, it took one too many falls..*oops*...between Yousuf, and I, and a zilliion trips to Rafah and Jabaliya..I can see how). Anyhow, I have been trying to take more pictures of life in Gaza..of regular people living ordinary lives under extraordinary circumstances (of course this means many quizical looks from passersby..."hello..hello? You are foreign?" "No no... she is Gazan.") Meandering about taking random picturs of people on the beach, in the souk, etc. isn't so simple here, :)

Just beautiful: a young girl waits by the seaside as her mother sells fish on the nearby road Posted by Picasa

Watermelons in Gaza Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Interview with the settler

Before leaving for his 6 week vacation (that's right, 6 week! I didn't even know 6 week vacations existed anymore!), my editor begged me to look into writing an article from the Gaza settlements. Of course, seeing as how this is physically impossible, unless I tunnelled my way in, I did some research and came up with a settler I could interview by phone instead. His name is Avi Farhan; he is originally from Libya; he founded a settlement in Sinai before it was evacuated; then founded Eli Sinai ("Towards Sinai") in Gaza, and now says he wants to become a Palestinian citizen. Interested? Confused? Exactly. Read on. Here's an excerpt:

Farhan: All I want to do is remain, as a Jewish settler, in Eli Sinai in Gaza, just like Palestinians who live in the Um al-Fahem in Israel.

Me: Um al-Fahem is a Palestinian village. Eli Sinai is an illegal colony built on occupied land.

Farhan: We are a village, too. The word "settlement" is merely a lexicon - just a figure of speech. It just means settling down in one place. It's not the way the world is saying - that we conquered the territory. They made it into a negative word. Um al-Fahem is a settlement just like Eli Sinai.

Me: But Israeli settlements are racist by their very nature - only Israeli Jews can live there. Palestinians from Gaza cannot live there. On the other hand, you can live in Um al-Fahem.

Farhan: I can't even walk by Um al-Fahem - I'll get shot.

Me: Theoretically speaking…

Farhan: A few hundred metres away from me there are Arabs living here. But there still isn't enough goodwill for them to live inside the settlement. I'm sorry to see things this way, but it's not a one-sided problem. f you'd like a laugh (or are just really interested in what settlers have to say), here's my completed interview with Eli Sinai ("Towards Sinai") leader Avi Farhan, who insists he aint moving from Gaza, even if that means becoming a Palestinian citizen (of course the interview is also riddled with contradictions-he insists all this land is God-given to the Jews, including Sinai, yet goes on to say its 2005 and things have changed now -for the Palestinians):

Friday, July 01, 2005

Erez Crossing, Gaza Strip. Posted by Picasa

Palestinians at the Erez Crossing wait anxiously for Israel officers on the other side of the crossing to approve their permits allowing them to travel to the West Bank and to hospitals in Israel Posted by Picasa

The Crushed Citizen

I was invited to attend a reception in Ramallah last month by my former scholarship sponsors, the Academy for Educational Development. They said they'd take care of the permit, though no guarantees were made. A few days ago I received word my permit was one of several that were approved. "Congratulations, you're going to Ramallah."

I am excited-it's been 4 years since I've been to Ramallah. Though it is only an hour away, permits are rarely if ever issued to Gazan Palestinians wishing to travel to the West Bank. I call up all my friends, relatives, and colleagues there. I even wonder if I can make it to Jerusalem on Friday. We leave early Thursday, around 7am, from Gaza city. In the van, the other girls I'm traveling with joke, share anecdotes about their time in America.

As we approach Erez, the ruckus dies down, turns into hushed whispers. "What's that?" asks one girl, who hasn't been to Erez in several years. "It's a tank silly". We enter Erez, popularly known as the cow pen here for the kilometer long fenced in corridor that passengers must walk through to pass through to the other side. We are forbidden from entering the Israeli side without first receiving approval from the Israelis, via walkie talkie to the Palestinian DCO. It is all part of Gaza's invisible occupation. We wait, and one hour turns into two, then three, then four.

There are people waiting in different groups, for different reasons. Some wait for approval to enter and visit their loved ones in Israeli jails. Others to receive medical treatment. There also foreign journalists and humanitarian aid workers attempting to make it through to Gaza. Israel has increasingly made this difficult for them. Oftentimes they are denied entry, with the footnote "Its for your own protection".

As we sit, we discuss Gaza, and the complete hopelessness of people there, that always seemed to be highlighted on borders. One of the girls recalls a caricature in a magazine she read growing up called the "the Crushed Citizen"-a scrawny, balding man, hunched over, head facing the ground, dejected, demoralized. "That's what we are in Gaza now, crushed citizens" she said. "Completely powerless, hopeless, impoverished-everything is against us."

A Palestinian officer approaches and calls out names that Israelis have denied entry. "Don't ask me why you're permit was refused, it just was. Israelis don't give reasons, its all in the name of security" he tells the crowd of anxious Palestinians. "Samhiri, Ahmed, Hillis, El-Haddad...". "

Why am I not surprised?" I tell one of the girls. It's not the first time I've been denied entry to the West Bank. The officer suggests I try to make some inquiries, so I make a few calls, and re-submit my ID card to the Palestinian DCO. The rest of the group is given the go ahead and proceed to the Israeli side, then to Ramallah.

After several more hours of waiting, surrounded by barbed wire, empty cola cans, and in the horizon, the land that I cannot reach, I learn that there is in fact no permit-at least that's what the Israelis say. The American who applied on my behalf insists it was approved. "It's probably their way of justifying your denial of entry, don't worry about it" she assures me.

I call an Israeli friend with some connections. He makes a few calls and ends up with the same answer: there is no permit. "As a Jew, I am sorry for this," he says.

I later learn that my permit was first approved, then, upon reaching a higher security authority in Erez, was rejected- I figure since you can’t deny something that has already been approved they made up an explanation for how it went missing (the only rational way to explain how it could be there, but not there, at the same time). Then, logic has no place in the Israeli security matrix, i think to myself.

Exhausted, hungry, and a little bit "crushed", I return to Gaza. Home sweet home, of 1.5 million crushed citizens.