Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Down goes the wall

Last night I received a text message from my dear friend Fida-"its coming down-its coming down!" she declared ecstatically. "Laila! the Palestinians destroyed Rafah wall, all of it. All of it not part of it! Your sister Fida."

More texts followed, as I received an periodical updates on the situation in Rafah, where it was 3 am.

"Two hours ago people were praising God everywhere. The metal wall was cut and destroyed. So was the cement one. It is great Laila, it is great" she declared.

For the first time in months, I sensed a degree of enthusiasm, hope...relief even, emanating from thousands of miles away, via digitized words, from Gaza. Words that have been all but absent from the Palestinian vocabulary. Buried. Methodically and gradually destroyed.



[Palestinians stock up on fuel in Egypt's Arish. Picture by Fida Qishta]

Of course the border opening will only provide temporary relief, and the ecstasy it generates will be fleeting, as it was in 2005 when shortly after Israel's Disengagement, the once impervious and deadly, sniper-lined border became completely porous. It was an incredible time. I will never forget the feeling of standing in the middle of the Philadelphi corridor, as it was known.

Of standing there with hundreds of thousands of other Gazans, savoring the moment of uninterrupted freedom, in this case, freedom of movement. Goats were being lobbed over the secondary fence; mattresses; cigarettes; cheeses. Egyptians took back bags of applies from northern Gaza, and comforters. For two weeks, it was the free market at work.



[The Rafah Wall, from the Palestinian side. Picture by Laila El-Haddad]

Once a nesting ground for Israeli tanks, armored bulldozers, and the like-all of the war metal-the face of the occupation- that became synonymous with destructions and death for us in Gaza, and particularly for the resident's of Rafah, Philadelphi had so suddenly become nothing but a a kilometre of wasteland, of sand granules marking the end of one, battered, besieged land, and the beginning of the rest of the world.

But traveling this short distance had previously been so unthinkable, that the minute it took to walk across it by foot was akin to being in the twilight zone. You couldn't help but feel that at any moment a helicopter gunship would hover by overhead and take aim.

It was then that I met a pair of young boys, 9 and 10, who curiously peered over the fence beyond the wall, into Egypt. In hushed whispers, and innocent giggles they pondered what life was like outside of Gaza and then asked me: Have you ever seen an Egyptian? What do they look like? They had never left Rafah in their lives.



[picture by Laila El-Haddad]

And so once again, this monstrosity that is a source of so much agony in our lives, that cripples our movement and severs our ties to each other and to our world, to our families and our homes, our universities and places of work, hospitals and airports, has fallen through the will of the people; and sadly, once again, it will go up. Of course, Mubarak has tried to take credit for this, blabbering something about how they let them open it because Gazans were starving, while arresting 500 demonstrators in Cairo for speaking their mind against the siege.

The border opening also will not provide Gazans with an opportunity to travel abroad, b/c their passports will not have been stamped leaving Gaza, but it will at the very least give them some temporary respite from the siege. I emphasize temporary because this too, just like Israel's on again-off again fuel stoppages is not going to resolve the situation. Allowing in enough supplies to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, in the words of the Israeli security establishment, somehow makes sense in the logic of the occupation; as does escalation; and cutting fuel in response to rocket attacks. And Israelis can all learn to forget Gaza, at least long enough to feel comfortable.

People often ask me why such things-meaning people powered civil protests that can overcome even the strongest occupation- don't happen sooner, or more often, or at all for that matter. We underestimate the power of occupation to destroy a people's will to live, let alone resist and and attempt to change the situation. This is the worst thing about occupation, whether a military occupation like Israel's, or a political one like Hosni Mubarak's in his own country. And it is only when you can overcome the psychological occupation, the occupation of the mind, that the military occupation in all its manifestations can be defeated.

27 Comments:

Blogger @bdul muHib said...

Allahu akbar! Mabrook! I am sohappy for this brief respite for the Palestinian people. May they know no hunger, but only peace, within this generation.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Behdad Bordbar said...

I feel for you and all the people of Gaza

12:27 AM  
Blogger that chick said...

YAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!

12:45 AM  
Anonymous CleverGirl said...

And in the background, Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn sings, "And they call it democracy"

Now, one wonders, if this will be unstoppable, like the Berlin wall, or a fleeting moment of people-centred resistance.

xo CG.

1:22 AM  
Blogger ياسمين حميد said...

Mabroooook
and 3oqbal THE wall!

2:50 AM  
Blogger richard said...

god bless them, such a brave and beautiful thing.

4:53 AM  
Blogger alajnabiya said...

Even if it is short lived, it gives us a bit of hope. It is an amazing thing, looking at pictures of people in wheel chairs being pushed over the fallen slabs of concrete. I wish someone could go push over the ones separating me from my family and friends who live so close, yet I cannot visit!

And congratulations on the birth of your daughter. May she inherit a future better than the mess this world is currently in.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May this event somehow galvanize a successful resistance to the genocidal occupation - among all people, inside and outside of Gaza.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Halla said...

Laila,

Even if this is temporary, It still gives Palestinians a small measure of satisfaction. Good for them, they are making a statement!

7:20 PM  
Blogger fjb said...

Congratulations to you and your husband for your "new year's surprise".

A momentary breath of fresh air and freedom from the largest open air prison in the world, fleeting as it may be, must feel remarkable. Bless them all.

10:02 PM  
Blogger nicola said...

Where should we go after the last frontiers,
where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Mahmud Darwish told us how important is to overcome psychological occupation.
But the voices of all those gathering across the rafah border filled our heart with incredible joy.
nicola and ottonella

12:55 AM  
Anonymous shamai l. said...

Laila
Jeff Halper called it "Power to the Palestinian People." And indeed it is a both heart-wrenching and joyous at the same time to watch oppressed people take their own fate in their hands in a direct-action way.
As an Israeli Jew, who demonstrated today in front of the Israeli embassy demanding CEASEFIRE NOW and END THE GAZA GHETTO, I was disappointed that no Palestinian-Americans or Arab-Americans joined us.
The people of Gaza, the sane citizens of Israel (yes, there are some) need the help of bloggers. (Forget the mainstream media, they are hijacked.)
Consider using your blog to rally support and solidarity. There are actions going on in the US in different places - details can be found on www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org

As Benjamin Franklin said:
We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Gila said...

Actually, there are quite a few voices here in Israel, including official ones, to leave the wall down and the border open...and to the extent it remains necessary, let Egypt be responsible for transfer of aid/provision of electricity/ provision of services/ etc. to their Arab brethren. A point mentioned in defense of such a plan is that the Gaza Strip was part of Egypt through 1967; and as such it is not an unreasonable proposition. It would have to be done it properly, including the construction of a new power plant in either Gaza or Sinai that can replace the 70% of Gaza's electricity currently being provided by the plant in Israel.

Another common refrain: Egypt has had the ability to help the entire time; now they can no longer avoid responsibility by hiding behind a wall. Not sure how accurate it is or is not; either way--this provides an opportunity for the construction of a new paradigm.

From a practical standpoint, the weapons are coming in anyway. This way, at least, life can continue on both sides of the border. Commerce can be conducted via the border with Egypt.

The real question is whether an open border and the de facto cessation of Israeli control will lead to a cessation of the daily bombing attacks of Israel by Hamas? Because as long as those bombs are being shot at us, we are going to shoot back.

Gila

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

perhaps I'm wrong, but there seems to be will to resist in gaza. working on an israeli ambulance, I saw the bloody results of that resistance, as blood poured down the pavement and human flesh was draped over the wrecked frame of a bus.

Look, I as a Jew I dream of a state that represents ALL of its people, Jew adn Arab, between the Jordan and the sea, but I'm terrified of that same possibility, that it will just bring more bombings.

Civil protests dont need to happen when life is all rosy. it's when there's occupation that there is the greatest need for civil protests.

So in short, I don't buy that the palestinians have no will to resist. and any time its ever been inportant to resist, whether in south africa, or in burma, its been difficult. and i dont see any solution to the conflict happening before individuals on both sides learn to express things in a civil, non violent manner.

-sarah

9:33 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Your recounting of the boys is beautiful.

I hope one day I can meet them to settle their question!

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are very brave to live there- I'm glad things are looking up at least a little for now. I hope one day Gaza and all of Israel can have peace.

6:05 AM  
Anonymous T4K said...

Asalamu alaikum,
May Allah protect you and all the Palestinian brothers and sisters. Insh Allah, one day I will be able to visit a free Palestine.
Ma Salamah

3:11 AM  
Anonymous AllAboutGQ said...

Sarah,

You stated, 'Look, I as a Jew I dream of a state that represents ALL of its people, Jew adn Arab, between the Jordan and the sea, but I'm terrified of that same possibility, that it will just bring more bombings.'

Ever stop to wonder why the bombings occur? No one really wakes up one day and decides to bomb a place while eating a bowl of cereal.

The Muslims don't have a problem with living next to the Jews and Christians. Islam allows it. However, just give back the country to the Muslims and everything will be fine.

So in short, I don't buy that the Jews are willing to coexist with the Muslims (Palestinians in this case).

12:14 AM  
Anonymous nomad said...

allaboutgq--
Would you make the same argument about Israelis who kill Arabs? After all, no one really wakes up one day and decides to go on a shooting spree while eating a bowl of cereal, right? If Baruch Goldstein shot and murdered Arabs he must have been driven to it, no?

Or perhaps Goldstein and the bombers who kill innocent Israelis are all fanatics who feel they have the right to kill, regardless of the victims' actions. Maybe instead of insisting that the victims must have done something to cause their fate we should speak out against anyone who would attack innocents and call it a legitimate political struggle.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Omyma said...

Dear Laila,
Your blog is a real treasure to me, even though I'm far away and have no direct connection, yet I feel as if I am Gazan, and have an intense emotional reaction to this breakout from hell. I hope you and your family and all Gazans finally see total relief from this deadening occupation, and find true freedom, self-determination, life as it should be, not in some Israeli-mandated gulag archipelago.

You are a true hero and this blog is very important to bring your message to others who may know superficially what's going on, but don't really "know" - or understand the way they should understand.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous AllAboutGQ said...

Nomad,

I would not make the same argument about Israelis who kill Arab (Muslims).

The problem with people is that they either refuse to or simply cannot think back into history. Truth is Palestine was taken away from the Muslims. That itself is a reason to wage war against Israel (to me, Israel doesn’t even exist, but for the sake of argument, let us assume it does). I think it took a bit more than eating a bowl of cereal to go on ‘suicide bombing spree’ or martyrdom bombing as I like to call it. I think it took a series of events such as getting your homes taken away, watching the women get raped and the men humiliated and used as human shields. Isn’t it a bit ironic how when 3,000 people died on 9/11, the whole world became furious and waged war against the Muslims without questioning and looking at the root cause. However, when countless number of Muslims have been savagely killed (making 3,000 look like nothing), it is because of some fanatics that are involved in a power/political struggle. How dare they fight back – right?

What exactly is an innocent civilian? Every Israeli citizen (even if they were born outside of Israel) must establish army status at the age of 16 ½ - both men and women. Once they do that, they aren’t really innocent anymore. Each one of those citizens is a potential killer/rapist of a Muslim.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come there is no single Arab democracy ? and what about the DAILY bombardements of Sderot ? an Israeli town ? You are so single minded

2:09 AM  
Blogger @bdul muHib said...

Anon,

There are plenty of Arab democracies. They just are far from perfect. It's so much better here in the democracy of America, where our Presidents aren't elected by the people, minorities are disenfranchised, votes are lost and purposely mistallied, our President is the son of a former President, torture is permissable, wiretaps and searches are conducted routinely without warrants, noncitizens and citizens can be arrested and held without charge or right to trial, and the President has declared he no longer needs to obey the legislature. Yes, things are so much better in our vaulted democratic system here. Why won't the rest of the world catch up?

6:48 PM  
Anonymous babs said...

"The problem with people is that they either refuse to or simply cannot think back into history. Truth is Palestine was taken away from the Muslims. "

Heh! You make me laugh! The Muslims built their temples on the bedrock of Jewish and Christian ancestory. It is really very difficult for you to prove otherwise just based on what is underneath what... Go ahead and give me one example of archeological findings in the Israeli territory that would prove that Islam was there before Judiasm or Christianity...

I understand, based on my trying to post to your site a number of times that you have banned me. You might want to think about how "liberal" you are when you can't tolerate dissent.

9:30 AM  
Blogger @bdul muHib said...

Babs-

Perhaps your problem is actually that you're so incredibly racist that you confuse religion with ethnicity.

If you were slightly more aware of history, you'd know that the word "Palestine" comes from the word "Philistine"- i.e. the people who were in the land before the Jews moved in, some 4,000 years ago. Sure, these aren't the exact same people today, because all populations on Earth have mixed their blood through intermarriages. The Bible makes it clear that the Israelites merged with the Philistines to some extent. But there remained a group of people in Palestine throughout the millenia, who could trace their blood back to those Philistines.

Yes, Jerusalem wasn't originally Muslim. The Dome of the Rock was built on the remains of the 2nd Temple. Yes, that decision has caused untold grief. And before it was Muslim, and before it was Jewish, and before it was briefly Christian, Jerusalem was called Salem, and owned by the pagans. Based on your argument, I understand that you are suggesting we return it to the original owners?

Palestine was taken away from the Muslims because the people of Palestine were majority Muslim 70 years ago, and it was taken from them. Before that time, a long time ago, the people of Palestine were majority Christian, and a long time before that, majority pagan. Religions change. Doesn't mean the people weren't there before.

I'll give you this. The statement "Truth is Palestine was taken away fro the Muslims." was accurate, but not precise. At the time the proto-Israelis took Palestine away, it was 20% Christian- one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East. Now the Israelis have managed to drive so many Christians away it's about 2%.

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The arabs have many states and countries, Israel has just one. Why continue to rant and rave about this?

7:36 AM  
Blogger @bdul muHib said...

Because injustice is injustice no matter where it occurs or who does it- whether it be America, Europe, an Arab country- or Israel. As long as one person is injustly treated, I will continue to rant and rave.

7:15 PM  

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