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Rafah the cursed

by Silvia Cattori Thursday, Jun. 26, 2003 at 7:05 PM

"The reality is that the process of Apartheid they sat up and that consists in asphyxiating the whole population , is far more sophisticated and far more atrocious than what has been described to us until now."

Silvia Cattori is a free-lance journalist. thanks to spread this article.

Rafah the cursed (among the cursed) (translated by véro91)

Silvia Cattori

Occupied Palestine

The tens of thousands of soldiers sent by the Israeli army to Palestine are not at all the angel like beings that the media strive to picture us. But they are not nazis either.

The reality is that the process of Apartheid they sat up and that consists in asphyxiating the whole population , is far more sophisticated and far more atrocious than what has been described to us until now.

Nothing looks like life in this no man’s land. Situated on the border of Yibna , a refugee camp where Egypt is at sight; like a mirage. The only left are women , children and elderly who try to hang on to their walls. Half of the houses are already deserted . those who stayed will die here: "this is our life". Israeli fired mercilessly at close range on the houses for their inhabitants to leave for good. That way , they were able to grasp every month , a little bit more of the land.

Egypt , that one can gaze upon from the minaret –the only thing still standing erect- is over there, but only brings despondency. Between that country and the dilapidated houses that unluckily , were on the front line ; there is a huge desert like zone and it is strictly controlled by Israel. To feed its greed , the invader decided that it would become a ‘restricted military zone". The bandits pulled down everything , metamorphosed it all. There is not a living soul around any longer. The minaret is the only thing that one can hang on to , looking at it makes us realise that there is still some kind of human life around..

The old Abu Ahmad , who has been deprived of all his lands in this ugly device, gently talks to you about the old times ; before 1948.Listening to him , you start dreaming about all the houses growing back out all around.

Rafah used to be the natural frontier between Egypt and Palestine. Israeli settled in , confiscated everything and threw the people out of their home. Since then , they brutally occupy the wide empty land situated near this very silent neighbour that is Egypt.

The land ,harassed by the anxiety of the unknown, wounded by Israel’s guns, looks like the end of the word. It is today the most dreadful place in Palestine.. At any time , vehicles raising the Israeli flag can burst in.

It was not long before we saw a tank driving at an amazing speed along the border of the restricted area . Then a second one , and a third one .It was an awful feeling. We were not in Rafah by chance , but because the inhabitants of these out of state houses had asked us to come.. their houses were about to be pulverised like the others bordering the zone : taken one after the other , in turn. There is no trace of those houses .Abu Ahmad whose house had , at the time , become the Israeli main target , asked us to stand by the lamp post a tank had knocked down , while the men were raising it back up .

The presence of a TV crew who came to film the place where Rachel and Thomas had been savagely crushed down , helped us overcome the anxiety we were in : after having witnessed Thomas’ fall under the Israeli merciless shots the day before , his friends were miserable. When I could see the 3 tanks crossing the land towards us , I asked T. if he thought they had seen us and if they were going to spit out on us their shells, he reply positively. There was no way we could move anymore . We were stuck. Running would have been suspicious on the desert like plain. Standing or laying down; you are a dead man anyway. I understood T. was worried when he raised his hands. The tanks were 400 meters away. The day before he had seen Thomas blood coming out of his blond head. He was still under shock . he had lost all trust in his status as an international and suspected the Israeli soldiers to have deliberately tried to kill 3 of his comrades in the last few weeks. T. did not want to be there that day , but the members of the group had committed themselves to Abu Ahmad. Francesco , a young Italian man , described to us what he had witnessed in a week ; broken hearted , he looked like a sad clown.

We heard shots, we heard screams, we saw children running away. I grabbed the youngest , pushed the eldest forward. When I saw a white taxi with so many bullet holes that it looked like cheese , I literally jumped in it and managed to put all the kids inside . then , I thought to myself that if the world had seen all these hopeless children with those frightened eyes , It would have done anything to give them back their rights.

After having given back the children to their parents, I went to an internet shop. I just wanted to tell the people out there what my broken heart was feeling , why it was yelling in pain. I knew my words would get lost in the huge disaster that is indifference.

Yibna is a refugee camp on the edge of Rafah; it looks like many others in Palestine. It has been there for 55 years and was not set to last. Houses in bricks replaced the provisional tents.

In the last past years , life conditions , already disastrous , worsened to unbearable. The Israeli invaders did everything in their power to keep the Palestinians enchained. Only few of the men still have a job. When you approach them , they answer bitterly: "They want us to live like animals". They own nothing. They rot in hell.

The fertile lands nearby were monopolised by the Israeli settlers. The sea nearby along the Sheekh Ejlin coast to Der Elballa is for the Israeli settlers only.

I do not know what to say really about Rafah. Only that it is a place very difficult to describe. To me , it appeared like a prison like, full of children, rubbish bin . I remember very well the first time I stepped out of the taxi , I thought I was going to faint. I remember the small window of a bank , a petrol station , and the passers by. But the outlines of anything I would look at would strangely stand out against a dark background. The deeper I would go in Yibna , the worse was my fear of the invisible soldiers of Israel , standing there , at a few hundreds meters away.

Rafah stands on a hill and is quite fragile ,in the way that children are not kids , homes are not houses ,roadways are not streets and the standing bodies lining up in front of the shops are not men. It’s a place that tears your heart apart .A frightening sight. One can never forget that behind this weird big ditch that lifts up clouds of dust , behind the dark grey walls of what seems to be haunted houses ; there are guns ready to fire at anything left that can still breathe. Fear paralyses you even more when children , turning around you as if you were some kind of attraction , pull your sleeve down ,amazed that you would want to come here. They repeat with anger "Thomas , Rachel…Israeli !"showing you with a movement of the hand that Israel had cut their head off.

You feel like a tiny little thing ; so much so that when the dark mass of a tank looms on the horizon, you are stirred by different feelings : nearly delighted to actually see what was still uncertain because unseen. It is then that you start dreaming , hoping that maybe some hearts beat inside these mastodons driving at speed towards you. Hoping as well that the pilot of the hunter flying low with his bombs under its wings ,will have pity on you.

But even if you hang on to your illusion , fear runs back to you. It is harassing to switch from one emotion to another. We know that these feelings haunt the nights and the days of the Palestinians , tearing their heart apart. Palestinians who are condemned to live in this huge jail that is called Gaza. In the West Bank , the other Palestine cruelly separated from its little sister on the seashore; Israeli soldiers are as dreadful and destroying as here. Nevertheless , at check points , one can from time to time , see their face and talk to them. Keeping in touch with reality. It gives you a chance to appeal to the human being sleeping inside them: Who knows! Dreaming is not yet forbidden.

Rafah! Oh Rafah! Even if being there was painful , I don’t regret a thing. I can now understand better those wonderful children of the ISM who loved it so and who died for its children. I went back to Rafah many times, in the amazing area of Yibna; and I felt very much with its dignified inhabitants , unfairly stricken by death, who resist by staying …until death.

Gaza is the despaired mother of Rafah’s eviscerated children. It is not a good place to live in; once again because of the Israeli settlers and their army guilty of the worst violations. The Palestinians are stuck between a settlement , a check point , a military base , do not know where to turn to. Then , when their mind blows out , when men throw themselves under a tank ; Israel yells that it is threatened by terrorists. It is a very good opportunity for them to send to Gaza even more soldiers and shoot even more bullets with their machine guns and kill even more civilians. I saw bullets, 500 mm to 800 mm long making a hole as big as a prune when it enters the body and opening a wound as wide as a plate when it comes out of it.

Heavily armed , the Israeli soldiers , for other reasons , are too, very scared of the Gaza strip’s streets. That is why they do not come out of their armoured vehicles. We do not even see them through their observation tower’s horizontal windows. These impressive towers made only to frighten the population , target the children who have managed to be out of their parents’ care. The soldiers do not watch you from the towers ‘glass: They watch you from a computer screen , target you with precision, and just need to press a key…In your imagination , it makes them become even more frightening: they have no other face than this concrete made tower with its khaki top .How hard it is to know that they keep still up there, dominating , cold , retracted behind hangars , armoured machines , towers: like in Guch Katif , where they yell in loudspeakers , order you to stop, step back , step forward , or forbid you to go through for hours; only to humiliate you more. If your taxi van is unlucky enough to breakdown when they ask you to drive forward: you are already half dead. Everyone stops breathing , gets out fast , raises his hands in panic and starts pushing the van. It is in this tension that the inhabitants of Gaza live in every single day. They never know what horror the next minute will bring….

Shouldn’t we be concerned about the Palestinians , whom Israel – that hides the worst horrors it is inflicting from the rest of the world- is desperately trying to isolate ?

When you are discouraged , you are full of anger for the leaders of this injustice. How can we possibly understand the Israeli, victims yesterday , brutalising a whole population today?

The Palestinians who welcomed us feel no hatred. They have nothing against the Israeli population , they only hate the ones that oppress them.. When an ISM member tells them that he/she is a Jew – 15% to 20% of the ISM activists in Palestine- , they are welcomed with even more emotion. They hope for a little while that the solidarity the outsiders bring with them, will take them away from the terror. Israel locked up the Palestinians and the Arabs in a cheap cliché. The West , that does not know a thing about their culture , never considered them as human.

Their Arab brothers are not allowed to enter Palestine and help the Palestinians because Israel keeps tight the key of this massive jail and forbid them to enter the country.

On April the 14th , 2003 ; a herd of journalists got to Rafah to immortalise the arrival of Thomas Hundall ‘s parents . they recorded them at length , interrogated his friends at will. His parents who were in despair ,came from London to grieve on the spot where their son had lost his life. They had understood that the Israeli soldier who pointed his gun at him , shot him in cold blood. They faced the cameras , express their anger with firmness and emotion.

The world did not hear or see a thing about it.

No TV channel showed what people all over the world could have easily understood :that Israel had ,for a long time , been over all the limits…

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