Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am praying for Gaza, for you, and your family.

May God have mercy on us all. Laila, please continue writing, the voices you share should not be silenced.

A reader from Canada.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my thoughts and prayers are with you all. please keep writing - your story is important to those who cannot possibly fathom what you are going through

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep writing Laila. We are reading your blogs and making duaa for you and your family and all the people of Gaza. This is your contribution to them and trust me people are reading and being moved to action. It takes time but every step counts.

With love

5:53 PM  
Blogger Mark Coughlan said...

You're doing amazing work as a personal journalist and making this conflict seem more human to a world that has become desensitized to the horrors of war. I'm enthralled by every word, you really make the reader feel for your subject "Counting makes it’s easier. Systemizing the assaults makes them easier to deal with. More remote.", like a window into your heart.

It hurts to read it but I feel obliged to. Keep writing.

A fellow journalist



7:00 PM  
Blogger Gabriel said...

Alright girl.

I just finished listening to your interview on a Seattle radio station.

A few comments:

1. I am an American whose been watching the Middle Eastern drama since the 60's.

2. I kept waiting for you to renounce the pledge Hamas has made to "eradicate Israel". The moderator gave you several opportunities to do so, and you dodged each opportunity. Very conspicuous.

3. If Mexico (our next door neighbor) had a standing pledge to "eradicate the United States", I would fully support an Israeli-like position to marginalize such a primative notion and to interdict any efforts to undermine our status as a powerful nation with a major responsibility to preserve regional peace.

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Gabriel's point #3:

Would you be perfectly okay with the United States punishing Mexican citizens as a means of pressuring the Mexican government? Because that is what Israel has been doing to the CITIZENS of Gaza since 2006. It is not a ceasefire when the CITIZENS cannot get access to food, medicine, fuel, and clean water. What kind of peace is that?

Remember in the 15 months leading up to the Palestinian elections, Hamas was engaged in a unilateral ceasefire as an attempt to legitimize itself.

Israel and the US did not give Hamas a chance to prove itself. What did you expect the result to be? We told the Palestinians to have an election. We told them to elect whomever they wished to elect. They saw that Fatah was a corrupt organization. They instead chose Hamas, which was trying to be peaceful.

Israel and the US did not care. They saw Hamas as a party that will not bow down before them, like Fatah has done.

When Israel seals the border to Gaza, when Israel denies Gazans entry and exit from their own land, when Israel embargoes food and medicine, when Israel prevents fuel so that hospitals have to run on generators, when Israel forces doctors to choose which patients get to live and which have to die:

what do you expect the response from the Palestinians to be?

what would you want your government to do?

May God watch over and protect the citizens in Gaza being slaughtered mercilessly by the Israelis.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to Gaza on my mind

As you clearly stated, Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people.

When a democratically elected government:
1. Allows itself and other in its territory to launch rockets & mortar bombs at towns & villages of a neighboring country (and remember Hamas was the one to break the cease-fire)
2. Says loud & clear its main goal is to wipe out that neighboring state.
Would you expect that neighboring state to sit still and wait for its citizens to be killed?

Funny enough it happened for a week (19-26/Dec) when shelling on Israeli towns was a daily sight, with no response from the Israeli government. However Hamas (and since democratically elected I can also say the people of Gaza) pushed it too much and got a painful response.

I'm not blood thirsty, I read the news, see the pictures and understand the pain of the people in Gaza. But if you seek peace I would suggest suggest a simple start - publicly declare: We, Hamas & the people of Gaza recognize the right of Israel to exist.

We can then sit down and negotiate to a better and hopefully peaceful future.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the Palestinians gave up their arms there would be peace, If Israel gave up their arms there would be genocide.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Beth Wellington said...


I wrote about your post at: http://bethwellington.blogspot.com/2008/12/laila-el-haddads-insider-take-on-gaza.html

I also reviewed it at NewsTrust:

Hope this helps spread your words.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also kept waiting for you to denounce Hamas' charter - and I waited in vain. I always find it funny when people who demand tolerance are the ones most stingy with it.

2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gaza is one large catastrophe. The humanitarian conditions are horrible. 1.5 million people are pressed together in a small area. The structures of society have all broken apart. The only thing that still works is apparently the military structure and the will to constantly challenge Israel.

Is that the fault of Israel? When will the international community hold the changing Palestinian regimes responsible? For decades the West has pumped a dazzling amount of money into Gaza. Denmark has contributed generously as well. Money that was meant for common Palestinians and in an effort to make the region better able to take care of itself. What has become of that money? Well, the international community slowly realizes what the corrupt-to-the-core Yassir Arafat used the billions for. He spent it on a two-digit number of security services in addition to keeping his private accounts abroad fully stocked.

What Hamas uses the energy and money for is beginning to be equally clear. They have built up to 700 tunnels under the border to Egypt, which are being used to smuggle weapons into Gaza, and they have thrown themselves into a simultaneous battle of life and death against the competing Fatah organization.

Israel cannot be responsible in any way for the changing leaders of the Palestinians, taking their own population as hostages in a darkened, fundamentalist battle. Israel is essentially a Western outpost in this struggle, which is underlined by the fact that on all of Israel’s fronts Iran is pulling the strings.
From the Jyllands-Posten

5:52 AM  
Blogger Matthew Crouch said...

...I don't have words - just a empty voiceless crying out in silence from reading your words.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laila, my prayers are with the people of Palestine and your family and loved ones. Please continue to write.

I understand why you do not denounce Hamas' charter; for the same reason I do not denounce the Hamas charter. You are not Hamas. You do not denounce something you are not. But you are Palestinian and a proud Palestinian.

There are people that commented, that want to forget that the Israeli's are being backed by my goverment and that the US is a skewed system with censored media sources.
Regardless of all of you readers beliefs regarding war, Hamas, Israel or Palestinian liberation, they are killing children. They are killing innocent people.

The US and current system of government was built on the ideology of colonization. This has wiped out many people who rightfully belonged to this land. Those that believe in it, believe in racism. Plain and simple. This is happening in Palestine. As Americans we can not support behavior that our country is now apologizing for doing to millions of people right here on our own soil. War is wrong. Israel is not trying to kill off or defend themselves from the unsophisticated weapons of Hamas.They are nothing compared to Israeli Navy or Army. They are trying to kill off Palestinians.
Defending the Israeli goverments attack is like defending the act of striking a 5 year old with a bat becuase he hit you with a rock.

There are Americans and others all over the country who are praying for Palestine...and Israel.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May Allah protect your parents and help the people of Gaza. They are all in our prayers. Keep writing, I think your writing brings the reality to light. Allah is most merciful and the Palestinian peopl will get their justice. Ameen

9:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am a Jew and a former Israeli writing in deep shame. The Zionist state has become a killing machine gone mad. Using US-made figther planes and weapons, they kill and kill and kill to subjugate the Palestinians. Certainly Israel is entitled that its citizens will not be targets of rocket attacks, and there is no doubjt those attacks are illegal and immoral. But,as Richard Falk, the Jewish professor and UN Special Rapporteur has pointed out, Israel rejected many offers to have a long-standing truce or agreement with the Hamas government. Israel is not interested in that. They want to continue the embargo and blockade for political reasons. To topple the democratically-elected government of the Palestinians, and continue with their ethnic cleansing and population control measures. The blockade is also a form of terror, and I do not understand why the world was silent while in the past two years Israel terrorized 1.5 millions of Palestinians. Now they strafe civilian population with fighter jets and Apache helicopters and gunships. Wow! How heroic! A "moral beacon" indeed.
Please post on your website the latest statement of the Specail Rapporteur of the UN, Richard Falk. (I can send it to you by email).

3:48 PM  
Blogger Artistic Logic said...

Peace be upon you sister,

i have just found your blog... i am not Palestinian but i am a muslim and watching the news constantly... i feel so helpless...
keep writing please and may Allah protect your family and grant success to the people of Gaza

11:33 PM  

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