Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Safety is a state of mind

My father just called. I have learned to expect that the 9pm call is not a jovial one: it is usually to alert me of some awful thing transpiring around them. It helps, in whatever way, to broadcast this event that has yet to be broadcast to the world, to whomever you can. In this case, that person is me.

I see the number on my caller ID; my heart races. I answer my cell phone.

"We ...are under..heavy bombardment. Heavy bombardment" says my father in terrified, articulated syllables.

"They are bombing the Legislative Council building next to our house. They are bombing just down our street."

"Baba...are you safe, are you both safe??" I ask, not knowing what else to say.

"I have to go now..I have to go...i just wanted to tell you that..but I have to go..." he stammers. And the line goes dead.

We have figured out a system. When the electricity is back on in Gaza- which has happened for one hour during the past 48, my parents get on Skype immediately. If I am not around, they give me a quick call from their landline to let me know they are back on; they have 2-3 hours of back-up generator time after this. They stocked up on fuel during the past few weeks.

Then, it is dark again.

When the bombs are dropped around them, they send me a quick note to inform me of what happened before running to safety. I am still not sure where "safety" is; and neither, I think, do they. It is perhaps more a mental state and place than a physical one. In any other situations, people flee to where they perceive are safer locations. In Gaza, there is no "safe". And there is no where to flee to, with the borders closed, the sky and sea under siege.

This afternoon, we had a brief exchange.

[1:56:04 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: F16 and Apaches are in the sky of GAZA now

[1:56:16 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: FIVE new explosions

[1:57:58 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: One near Al-Nasr hospital, two behind our house. Money exchangers ( Al-Bar3asy and Hirzallah ) two other explosions a little bit far away.

Yesterday, my uncle's neighbor's home was leveled. Luckily, no one was hurt. But all 50 occupants were made homeless. They were out on the streets with nothing but their backs. Each had to find shelter with a different relative.

This morning, we appeared together on NPR- WUBR's Here and Now. There was as surreal quality to it. And for a few moments, we were in that "safe" place together, on some distant, sterile air waves. It is windy and cold today in Durham. I shiver when the shutters shake. and I think of Gaza. I think of home.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli Navy Attacks Civilian Mercy Ship

Yesterday's press release:

Israeli Navy Attacking Civilian Mercy Ship! TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY!

The Dignity, a Free Gaza boat on a mission of mercy to besieged Gaza, is being attacked by the Israeli Navy in international waters. The Dignity has been surrounded by at least half-a-dozen Israeli warships. They are firing live ammunition around the Dignity, and one of the warships has rammed the civilian craft causing an unknown amount of damage. Contrary to international maritime law, the Israelis are actively preventing the Dignity from approaching Gaza or finding safe haven in either Egypt or Lebanon. Instead, the Israeli navy is demanding that the Dignity return to Cyprus - despite the fact that the ship does not carry enough fuel to do so. Fortunately, no one aboard the ship has yet been seriously injured.

There are 15 civilian passengers representing 11 different countries (see below for a complete list). At approximately 5am (UST), well out in international waters, Israeli warships began surrounding the Dignity, threatening the ship. At 6:45am (UST) we were able to establish brief contact with the crew and were told that the ship had been rammed by the Israeli Navy in international waters, and that the Israelis were preventing the ship from finding safe harbor. We heard heavy gunfire in the background before all contact was lost with the Dignity.

It is urgent that you TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION!

CALL the Israeli Government and demand that it immediately STOP attacking the Dignity and endangering the lives of its passengers!

CALL Mark Regev in the Prime Minister's office at:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5062 3264

CALL Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence at:
+972 33697 5339 or +972 50629 8148

The Dignity departed from Larnaca Port in Cyprus at 7pm (UST) on Monday 29 December, bound for war-devastated Gaza with a cargo of over 3 tons of desperately needed medical supplies donated by the people of Cyprus. At our request, the ship was searched by Cypriot Port authorities prior to departure, to certify that there was nothing "threatening" aboard - only emergency medical supplies.


passengers include, among others, surgeons, journalists, and politicians, including former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Still as death, dark is life

“There is a complete black out in Gaza now. The streets are still as death.”

I am speaking to my father, Moussa El-Haddad, a retired physician who lives in Gaza City, on Skype, from Durham, North Carolina in the United States, where I have been since mid 2006- the month Gaza’s borders were hermetically sealed by Israel, and the blockade of the occupied territory further enforced.

He is out on his balcony. It is 2am.

“I can only see gray plumes of smoke slowly rising all over the city, everywhere I look” he says, as though they were some beautiful, comforting by-product of some hideous, malicious event.

He takes a deep restorative sigh before continuing. “Ehud Barak has gone crazy. He’s gone crazy. He is bombing everywhere and everything…no one is safe”.

Explosions are audible in the background. They sound distant and dull over my laptop’s speakers, but linger like an echo in death’s valley. They evoke terrifying memories of my nights in Gaza only 2 years ago. Nights that till this day haunt my 4 year old son-who refuses to sleep on his own.

“Can you hear them? Our house is shaking. We are shaking from the inside out.”

“Laila-your mother, she is terrified” he adds.

She comes to the phone. “Hello, hello dear,” she mutters, her voice trembling. “I had to go to the bathroom. But I’m afraid to go alone. I wanted to perform wudu’ before prayer but I was scared. Remember days when we would go to the bathroom together because you were too afraid to go alone?” she laughs at the thought-it seems amusing to her now, that I was scared to find my death in a place of relief; that she is now terrified of the same seemingly ridiculous scenario.

It was really the fear of being alone. When you “hear” the news before it becomes news, you panic for clarity- you want someone to make sense of the situation, package it neatly into comprehensible terms and locations. Just to be sure-its not you this time.

“It’s strange, my whole body is shaking. Why is that? Why is that?” she rambles on, continuous explosions audible in the background. “There they go again. One boom after another. 15. Before that, one or two, maybe 20 total so far.”

Counting makes it’s easier. Systemizing the assaults makes them easier to deal with. More remote.

We speak to each other throughout the day. She calls sometimes to let me know if there are gunships overhead, or explosions around them. As though there was something I could do about it; as though my voice would somehow make them disappear.

They cracked the windows opened, to prevent an implosion.

“By the way we are sleeping in your room now, it’s safer” she tells me, of my empty, abandoned space.

My mother’s close friend, Yosra, was asked to evacuate building. They live in a flat near many of the ministry complexes being targeted. They were advised not to go to the mosque for services, lest they be bombed.

Another family friend, an elderly Armenian-Palestinian Christian and retired pharmacist, is paralyzed with fear. Like many residents, she is confined to her home. She lives alone, in front of the Saraya security complex on Omar al-Mukhtar Street. The complex has already been bombed twice. Last night, her windows shattered around her. She went outside to seek help-no one was around. She cried all night. Shards of glass now cover the floors of her home, one that has been in the family for generations.

Monday morning, five sisters from one family were killed when Israeli war planes attacked a mosque next to their home. 4-year-old Jawahir Anwar. 8-year-old Dina Anwar. 12-year-old Sahar Anwar. 14-year-old Ikram Anwar. 17-year-old Tahrir Anwar

The small shop down the street from my parents’ home, next to the Kinz mosque where many of the Remal neighbourhood’s affluent residents attend, opens for a little while after prayer. My father goes and gets whatever he can-while he can.

They have one package of bread left, but insist they are ok.

“Those with children are the ones who are truly suffering. Um Ramadan’s grand children will only sleep in her arms now. They are wetting their pants again”.

Yousuf chimes into the conversation unceremoniously, popping his head into my laptop screen.

“Sido? I like the fatoosh you used to make! I miss you. When will the maabar open? Sido…are you ok? ”

Habibi, when we see other again-if we see each again- I’ll make it for you” he promises. The very possibility seems to comfort him, no matter how illusory.

It is Noor’s one year old birthday January 1. She will turn one. I cannot help but think- who was born in bloodied Gaza today?

Note: this is a shortened version of an article that ran in the Guardian Unlimited today.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Update: Gaza

Gaza's punishment continues today. Communication has been intermittent, but we have managed to keep the lines open. My father just called to inform me he was ok- after warplanes bombed the Islamic University there, considered to be the Strip's premiere academic institution.

A little later I called my mother, only to hear her crying on the phone. "The planes are overhead" she cried "the planes are overhead". I tried to calm her down- planes overhead mean the "target" is further away. But in such moments of intense fear, there is no room for rationality and logic.

There is you, and there are war planes; and nothing in between, besides orders and a video game screen.

Her panic subsided slightly..."ok ok your father says it was the navy gunships...they hit the pier...the poor fishermen, its not like its even a real pier... its just the pier, just the pier..."

She tried to convince my father not to go out to the mosque today. But he did. Most people stayed indoors.

So far, the death toll has reach over 300, with nearly 1000 injured, many critically.

OCHA reports search operations for dead bodies trapped under the rubble are still ongoing. Piles of bodies were places in front of Shifa hospital for identification-some too charred or dismembered to identify.

Most fatalities were civilian police; others included at least 20 children, nine women, and 60 other unarmed civilians.

The plotters have plotted; the pawns were in place; and the living dead continue to be massacred without a protest.

here are two videos I received from Fida Qishta in south Gaza's Rafah refugee camp:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The rains of death in Gaza

We woke up this morning to the news in Gaza. It seems we always wake up to news there- so its become a matter of perspective how bad the news is each time; how remote it seems each time; how real or not; how severe-and whether the severity warrants an "international outcry" or whether the animals can continue to fester in their cages for a while longer.

We received a call from my in-laws in Lebanon's Baalbeck refugee camp at an early hour, checking in on my family in Gaza, since they cannot call them directly. We call my parents. My father does not answer. We call his mobile- we reach him. He has just returned from Shifa hospital- we hold our breaths.

"We are OK. We went to donate blood and to see if they needed any help" says my father, a retired surgeon.

"I was out in the souk when the strikes began- I saw the missiles falling and prayed; the earth shook; the smoke rose; the ambulances screamed" he said, the sirens audible in the background. he was on talateeni street at the time of the attacks, just a few streets down from one of the attack sites.

My mother was in the Red Crescent Society clinic near the universities at the time of the initial wave of attacks, where she works part-time as a pediatrician. Behind the clinic was one of the police centers that was leveled. She said she broke down at first, the sheer proximity of the attacks having shaken her from the inside out. After she got a hold of herself, they took to treating injured victims of the attack, before they transferred them to Shifa hospital.

There, she said, medical supplies were in short supply: face masks, surgical gloves, gowns...

My parents live in the the city center, and the Israeli war planes attacked people and locations all around them. Over 50 "targets"by 60 warplanes, read the headlines in Haaretz. And over 220 killed- in broad daylight; in the after-school rush.

Like a movie tagline. Or a game. If you say it enough times, it does not sound real anymore: 50 targets, 60 warplanes, 200 people, 1 day.

All very sanitary. Very sleek. Neatly packaged: war in a gift-box.

"There is a funeral passing every minute. The bodies are piling up." Gaza's air is saturated with the smell of burning human flesh. There is panic, as one would imagine dogs would panic in an overcrowded cell when several of their own are violently, abruptly killed. But dead dogs-in a cage, no less, would create an outcry.

The rains of death continue to fall in Gaza. And silently, we watch. and silently, governments plotted: how shall we make the thunder and clouds rain death onto Gaza? Egypt; the United States; Israel...

And it will all seem, in the end of the day, that they are somehow a response to something. As though the situation were not only acceptable- but normal, stable, in the period prior to whatever this is a response to. As though settlements did not continue to expand; walls did not continue to extend and choke lands and lives; families and friends were not dislocated; life was not paralyzed; people were not exterminated; borders were not sealed and food and light and fuel were in fair supply.

But it is the prisoners' burden to bear: they broke the conditions of their incarceration. They deviated. But nevertheless, there are concerns for the "humanitarian situation": as long as they do not starve, everything is ok. Replenish the wheat stocks immediately.

The warden improves the living conditions now and then, in varying degrees of relatively, but the prison doors remain sealed. And so when there are 20 hours of power outages in a row, the prisoners wish that they were only 8; or 10; and dream of the days of 4.

For more analysis, details, and calls to action, see Ali Abu Nimah's article here:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Its in the details

We celebrated Eid ul adha last week with my brother. We made a 7 layer chocolate cake and decorated it to look like the Kaaba-around which the kids circulated 7 times as though performing the tawaf in Hajj. The children got a kick out of this gastronomical pilgrimage. I was tempted to make little marzipan pilgirms, but I thought that might be a bit gruesome eating their heads off.

As usual I skyped my father to wish him glad tidings and hear of the death of his great cousin, "the one who always sat on the street in front of Khamees's store, sipping a bottle of sparkling water, in the green bottles, from Egypt".

The funeral coincided with Eid, so my father's scraggly, awkard stubble of a beard, which he was growing in anticipation of the holiday following the prophetic tradition (though he has never before grown it as long as I can remember) could have easily been mistaken as a sign of respect in the incidence of a close family member's death: 2 in 1.

The news seemed to get darker by the day. At first they were happy with losing electricity for 4 hours a day. Then 8. 12. 15. And now, they are going for 18-20 horus of outages at a time. They have a geneator- purchased from the Tunnel gray markets in Rafah, says my mother. Its giving them some problems, and so have sent it to be fixed by a local mechanic. They fix anything- old microwaves, broken toasters, laptops, digital cameras, blenders. Most learned during their days as day laborers in Israel.

In addition to the generator, they also share a line from our neighbors, the ones who own a famous Gaza boutique and who are originally from Nablus; 5 brothers. They are on a different grid and so the outages are at different times. and vice versa.

We're skyping less and less these days. When the electricity is on, he takes the opportunity to logon immediately, or call me to let me know he can talk. Sometimes, he logs on with the generator, but then we can only use audio and for a limited time.

"How are things?" I ask, non-facetiously.

"Well, we got a bird"


"A hasoon. you know, they are quite rare these days."

"Doesn't he get cold?"

"You're just like your mom. She asked the same question. Birds don't get cold-how do you think he survives in the wild? But anyway, I cover him at night, and put him out on the balcony during the day."

"But he's not in the wild. Anyway where did you get him?"

"the guy who takes care of your mom's land in Mawasi....he likes to catch quails and he caught this hasoon and so i bought it from him..."

"He gave us cauliflower and cabbage from the land..." chimed in my mother. She rambled on about the land, and the man who is taking care of it, and the condition its in, and what's growing there, and what the plans are for it, or lack thereof. details which now escape me; The land, used to be my grandfathers, and it is very sentimental to my mother.

The details seem boring. But they are what keep them going. What keep us all going. You see, trying to find a way to keep up with the boring details, to manage them, also keeps alive the illusion of normalcy. It is some kind of anesthetic I suppose. it keeps the hope afloat that the dawn is near; even if near is someone in the not so near future.