Sunday, April 18, 2010

Postcard From Gaza

By Flora Nicoletta

April 17, 2010

"The hell of Gaza is the paradise of Israel", a Gazan citizen.

The problem in Gaza is not the lack of food or the humanitarian crisis. The major problem in Gaza is how to keep his sanity.

You come across betrayed people who are completely depressed and betrayed people who actively search for a spark of hope. You come across indigenous crocks who enjoy swimming in the despair of their own people and international crocks who arrive when the fire has already burnt everything.

You have a nation divided in four. One part lives in exile; the second one is called Israeli Arabs; the third is trying to remain in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem; the fourth survives in Gaza. It is a nation without a state but with two functioning governments, with real ministers and real cabinet meetings: one government democratically elected sitting in Gaza, the other one kept in intensive care in Ramallah by the international community.

Raed is an independent and studied six years abroad. Now he is in charge of English courses for young people who want to pursue their education abroad: "How are you today? For us it's ok. We are here and we will remain here. And my son and my grandson will remain. Here, we are in our land. Were you here during the war?

"Have you heard what the Israeli want to do in the West Bank? They want to expel all the holders of Gaza Identity Cards. Maybe they will also send here Salam Fayyad [the Prime Minister of the Ramallah government] and Abu Mazen [the Palestinian President]. Abu Mazen could be a good president for Switzerland!"

Last February Abu Amjad closed his large well-known supermarket in a commercial street of Gaza City and opened a hypermarket. To finish it quickly the laborers were working even on Friday, their day off.

Abu Amjad, an engineer by profession who speaks good English, has added three new departments in his hypermarket: one for all kinds of fresh meat, one for all kinds of cheese and the third one for fresh fruit and vegetables. The hypermarket is full of all sorts of goods and the prices are moderate. A lot of money has been invested in this new enterprise. When you hear the news you need stomach to do it and Abu Amjad is not the only one. In Gaza, many others put plenty of money in new projects, as usual.

Abu Amjad: "They can destroyed Gaza, but they cannot destroyed the people. We're hear to stay. We go ahead with our life whatever the circumstances. We'll not be defeated, we'll not surrender. If you were in my shoes, what will you tell to the world? You're living with us, you're facing the same problems we face. What would you say to the world? We'll not die, we'll live. The people will continue to face all the adversities in order to remain alive.

"Wherever they are the humans are used to face difficulties, in Italy, in Chine, in America, in Africa, it's normal. We're not different. There is nothing else to say, it's like this. This is my message to the world. Thank you."

In January, the association Sharikna Esh-Shahabi took children and teens to a wall just across the Legislative Council which has been already painted thousands times in the past. That day the children and the teens painted in English and Arabic on the wall: "Gaza will not die", "Gaza will be free", "2010", "Gaza will be better tomorrow".

When I was living after taking some notes, a boy called me and asked me in English: "Ms, will you write Gaza will never die?" His name was Omar, 13-year old. Yes, I will write Gaza will never die... but it is already written on the wall...

The National Center for Studies and Documentation held its third conference on the refugees and the right of return on Wednesday 31 March and Thursday 1st April, in Gaza City, in the Commodore Hotel. The Center has been founded and is headed by Abdallah El-Hourani, born 67 years ago in the village of Masmiyeh, in the 1948 territories.

We listened to Palestinian experts in international law. We heard people speaking about Yazur, El-Qastina, El-Breikh, Isdud, El-Faluja, El-Majdal, Semsem, Hamama, Yafa. These are the names of some villages and towns erased by Zionist gangs on the creation of the Jewish State in 1948.

It is an open injury. The refugees in Gaza number more than one million out of a population of 1.5 million. These names are written on the faces of the people, in every human cell, in every drop of blood, in every grain of sand of the Gaza Strip and beyond. They are carved in the Palestinian memory.

However, three youth commented: "We live in the Beach refugee camp. There is no work, no dollar, no life in Gaza, no future. We want to go to Norway. So, how the return?"

A man on his seventies, a refugee from Haifa, was telling me: "The return is only a dream. All these talking are empty words and moreover we have lost Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for ever. Israel doesn't want peace. Israel has the power in its hands and the might, everything is on the side of Israel. So, why have they to be concerned for the suffering of the Palestinians? Why have they to give back our land? Who can oblige Israel to do it?... a piece of paper can force Israel to accept peace? All the international community supports Israel and the Arab regimes too. If I were in the shoes of Israel I would do the same.

"At the end perhaps we will get Gaza and a piece of desert where to create our state. I'll show you on the map where the Palestinian government will be... Everything is lost!"

Raed, the professor of English language: "We will not cease to hammer the conscience of the world till justice will prevail. I saw the Berlin Wall and it fell twenty years ago. And the Soviet Union collapsed, and the British empire collapsed, and the Roman empire collapsed, and the Apartheid regime collapsed, and the Ottoman empire collapsed... and France left Algeria after 130 years of occupation.

"Nobody could believe before that all those monstrosities would disappear one day like castles of sand."

Nahed, one of the conference's organizers and a refugee from Isdud: "We live under Israeli occupation and international embargo. We've plenty of food, we've everything despite the blockade of Gaza and you can see the people going out for a walk and for shopping. But the youth need hope, life. For that they want to leave Gaza. Gaza is besieged... here it's closed and here it's closed and there it's closed... They finish the university and they don't find a job. They want to marry and they don't have money.

"Before, our people used to go to work in Israel. Now the border is sealed. Therefore, the youth have no future here. They think that they have a future in Norway, in Sweden, in Denmark... I understand them. The youth of Gaza cannot move, they are encaged. If Rafah crossing was open... if we could go ad return back... However, when you're in search of a better life, it doesn't mean you forget the land of your ancestors.

"We want peace with the Israelis. We can share the same land. We can have only one state and live all together. I think it's the best solution. How many people have been killed since 1948? And have we peace? It's enough!"

Saleh A. Raheem, 30, a graphic designer, and his wife Lana Hijazi, 23, who starts making documentaries, don't consider at all to leave Gaza. They have been married for four months now and live in a lovely flat in Er-Rimal district in Gaza City. They are among those who try to speed the coming of a spark of hope.

On the night, from their windows, one can enjoy the astonishing beauty of the martyred city of Gaza and Saleh often looks at lights on the horizon. Once, there, stood Herbia, his village of origin, now in Israel, over the border, not far from the apartheid wall. And Herbia is so close that we could go there on foot passing by the beach.

Saleh speaks like an expert on power cuts: "The occupier doesn't provide enough energy fuel for Gaza Power Plant, so we suffer from electricity shortages. Nevertheless, now we have become accustomed to the electricity cuts. I organize my own life according to the schedule. Today, the Gazan Electricity Company will cut the power in our district from 8:00 to 15:00. We'll have electricity from 15:00 to 22:00. At 22:00 the electricity will be cut for 5 minutes or one hour, we don't know. It depends of something... we don't know what. Then, we will have the electricity till the day after at 15:00. After that the power will be cut from 15:00 to 22:00. And then the power will be restore till 8:00 the following morning.

"The critical time is between 14:00 and 15:00 because we don't know exactly when the electricity will be cut. Additionally, we suffer also from unscheduled power cuts. When I'll have the money I'll buy a generator."

Another plague of Gaza is the lack of water and its bad quality. So, recently, Lana and Saleh took their cameras and microphones, went out and made a documentary called "Besieged waters", after Lana was selected in the course of a competition by the producer, the NGO LifeSource.

In 1942, at the age of 20, Khamis Abu Shaaban opened the first bookshop of Gaza and named it after Hashem, the great grandfather of prophet Mohammad who died in Gaza and was buried here. For that Gaza is called Gazat Hashem, meaning Gaza of Hashem.

Khamis Abu Shaaban is now 88. Every day he can be find in El-Hashemiya Bookshop in Gaza City from 8:00 to 14:00. An old fashioned gentleman, he is always impeccably dressed: suit and tie.

In addition to books, Khamis used to sell papers and magazines from Egypt, Jordan and the Arab world. Since 1946, he is the exclusive agent in Gaza for the Egyptian magazines and newspapers. Due to the blockade of Gaza, since four years he doesn't received anything at all. He refuses to sell the Arab magazines which reach Gaza through tunnels since more than two months now - including the latest edition of Newsweek in Arabic - because he prefers the official way.

Last August, when resumed the new academic year and the pupils of Gaza were without copybooks because they were not allowed into Gaza by the occupier, Khamis Abu Shaaban took from his store old copybooks and put them on the shelves of his stationery department. Good paper and strong cover, they are around 55 years old and are the remains of his former printing house.

For a good number of years now, twice a week, in El-Hashemiya Bookshop, every Sunday and Thursday, at 11:00, a dozen of people gather. Most of them wear the suit and the tie. They discuss, reflect, meditate about books, politics, the current situation, the past and the future.

Among the participants are some old communists, a surgeon, a physician, an erudite, a major general, a prosecutor... All of them are retirees. All of them are a piece of Palestinian history. Most of them are over 70.

Khamis Abu Shaaban affirms that he is optimistic and believes peace will prevail in his country and in the entire region. However, when I ask him how peace could be achieved, he broadly opens his arms and replies: "Mah!?"

PS - A friend of mine remarked that postcards of Gaza don't exist. He is right, there are no anymore postcards of Gaza. Nevertheless, after searching, I found a good number of old postcards, but not on sale. Khamis Abu Shaaban keeps them in an album as souvenirs. They were printed and coloured towards the year 1955 in Italy for El-Hashemiya Bookshop.

- Flora Nicoletta is an independent French journalist who lives in Gaza. She is currently working on her fourth book on the Palestinian question.

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