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Report from Gaza, Palestine

by Tamara Rettino Monday, Jul. 08, 2002 at 1:01 PM
matashkati@yahoo.com 011 972-56-489-346

update from member of ISM in Palestine

The writing on the bullet ravaged wall said "If you destroy our

houses you will not destroy our souls."



We spent four days in Khan Yunis and Raffa, the southern most city in

all of Gaza, right on the border of Egypt. Everything there is more

intense, the heat, the poverty, the devastation, and the spirit of

the people. The people here can see the ocean, can dream of wading in

the mediteranian, but have not been able to reach the beach for over

two years. The population of Raffa area is around 140,000 in 24

kilometers. The Israeli settler population is between 100-200 people.

To "protect" these settlers and settlements (many of which are nearly

empty) the military has imposed grueling checkpoints and fences(a

mother and her two very small children were shot in the head at the

Khan Yunis checkpoint yesterday, which has no real security purpose

as nothing is searched and no id's are checked), has evicted hundreds

of families, and has completely demolished over 250 homes and

partially demolished a similar number. Every night we were in Raffa

more homes were destroyed. We came to the Hai Al Brasil camp in the

morning to find nine homes gone (the only warning given was the first

ramming of the bulldozer.) Shoes, cleaning supplies, and sweaters

were sticking out of the rubble, a fig tree uprooted with fruit still

fresh and green.Families asked us to stay with them to help protect

them from the shelling and the bulldozers. We alerted the media, and

made banners to hang from the windows announcing our presence and

reminding the soldiers that "The Whole World is Watching." However,

when we arrived the families, without any history or knowledge of

direct action and us being the first real ISM group in gaza, changed

their minds and felt we might attract more attention to them. It was

really frustrating,as most things in Raffa were, but we are dedicated

to following the lead of the locals and only doing actions with their

approval and help. Most of our work in Raffa was just meeting with

officials and laying the groundwork for future ISM groups. What we've

found, particularly in Gaza where the ISM is new, is that it is

really important to first build relationships with the people here,

and then gain their trust before busting in to start direct

action.The Palestinians have a very specific way of doing things, a

wonderful hospitality, but the pace is much slower then we

pushy "americans" are used to. We are so well fed right now. It

contrast to the fear of hunger we experienced under curfew in

Ramallah, the families here have been laying out spreads that would

impress a king. We sit in rooms lacey with bullet holes and eat

hearth warm pita, spicy fel fel, and lemon soaked tomato salads.

Everywhere we go they serve tea, coffe, and soft drinks before we

barely sit down. One of our first nights in Raffa happened to be the

4th of July. I can't tell you how happy I was to be spending it here

instead of there, I do not envy you the patriotic bullshit you must

have been subjected to. We had been invited to stay at an athletic

center which was very very warm inside, so a few of the women opted

to sleep on the roof. Our host,Ali, smiled and said, "Ah...just wait

you will be lulled to sleep by the music of Raffa." We were very

confused until minutes later choruses of machine gun fire began. Ali

assured us we were quite safe, and that this is an every night

occurance here. (We met several mothers who told us stories about

psychological and emotional affect this has had on their children.

Two year olds crying out at night that the Israelis are going to come

kill them, a three year old who stopped talking after his neighbors

house was razed.)The gunfire became more and more intense, and we

heard several explosions. We tryed to relax and take the attitude of

the Palestinian we have talked to who upon seeing our tears tell

us.."This is our life. We don't get upset. This is just the way it

is." But when we actually SAW the "rockets red glare and bombs

bursting in air," we decided to head inside. It's unbelievable they

live with this nightmare all the time.

At one point many of us felt like we were falling to pieces, like we

couldn't keep it together at all. We were trying to get into Al

Mawasi, a town near the ocean that has been cut off form everything

for a long time.The soldiers wouldn't budge, and barefoot street

children were swarming us. The boys were beating relentlessly on a

little girl, and for the first time I just began crying inconsolably.

With the shrieking of the soldiers in the background, I could see so

clearly that the behavior of these children was a direct result of

the violence of the occupation. When we stopped to rest I wrote the

following stream of consciousness/list:

too much to soak up, I can't hold it all, the poverty, the violence,

the culture, the hospitality under dire conditions,dirt, bullet holes,

graffiti, posters of martyrs, checkpoints, donkey drawn carts,

barefoot children with grabbing hands, women in black hijab, houmos,

pita, syrupy sweet sodas, glass after glass of sugar sweetened tea,

blind begging men, cigaratte smoke, ocean full of jelly fish, felafel

stands, rotting teeth, the cut scarred faces of children, roadblocks,

camoflage, the ring of machine gun fire,the swoosh boom of missiles,

the skepticism and the thank yous, women walking with bundles on

their head through trash filled streets, the over wrapped sweating

babies, the screaming soldiers, the heat, the stench, the fear, the

desperation, welcome to hell, dotted with isreali flags...how can I

ever wear my star again? Fruit stands, watermelon, bottled water,

communal eating, affinity group, negotiations, trying to figure out

how we can make it all go away.

We met with the mayor of Raffa, Said Zourob, he sits in a circle in

the sand outside his home every day so that people in the community

can come bring problems to hime after office hours. He tells us 48%

of those killed by the IDF in Raffa are under the age of twelve. He

tells us the occupation has made things so bad that people are

struggling just to survive, they don't have time to think about

resistance. But he warns us that the practices of the IDF are

dangerous..."If you make us more crazy...it is against the security

of Israel." He shoos the women off to meet with his wife and

children. His eldest daughters attend Univeristy studying majoring in

econmics and engineering. The whole family is bright and talkative.

The spill out their stories to us, while pushing bowls of humous

towards our mouths.Here in Palestine the elite and the working class

have common experiences and a common enemy. Even in their elegant

homes they upper classes are not protected from the horrors of the

occupation and the sound of gunfire at night.

We had the chance to meet with, Dr. Ghazi Hamed Hamed, a

respresentative from Hammas. He is by far one of the most interesting

and suprising people I have met here. Calm, well spoken, and very

upfront. He spoke frankly, and gave us a picture of Hammas that we

would never imagine in the west. He told is about the organizing they

do for those in need, the construction of schools and social service

organizations. They also have a womens group, "some people

misunderstand us.We do not discriminate against women and there is

nothing to prevent them from being leaders." He also said that

although he supports the Palestinian right (as detailed in

international law) to armed resistance, he does not personally

support suicide bombings. However he reminded us that many people

feel that is the only way they can fight against the

occupation. "Bush is stupid. He's acting just like Sharon," he told

us,"Pushing the war machine, which will create a million Osama Bin

Ladens."

After meeting with Ghazi we visited the Childrens Parliment. It was

one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. Children

gathered together to voice their concerns and vote on ways to

address the problems. These children were very small some only around

8 years old, but they spoke with great understanding and maturity.

The spoke of the problem of being shot at on the way to school.

Little children learning to process and respond in democratic ways

that I've never seen in the USA. One of the littlest girls had been

in the car when her father, and several siblings were killed by an

Israeli missile. The only surviors were herself and her mother. She

got up without prompting and sang a song, with clenched fist and

closed eyes, about her father. She sang, Where are you my daddy..when

are you coming home. I know you are not coming back, but I

understand. You were a fighter, doing what you must to fight for our

land, to fight for the freedom of Palestine.

Salaam,

Tamara

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