I agonized over whether or not to publish these letters. I worry that I am endangering innocent people. I also worry that I am breaking a confidence. In the end, I was encouraged to post them here, because it seems that one source of hope for the people these letters describe is that their stories will be told and heard by people who are able to do something about their situation.
I would call readers' attention to the way "Beatrice's" impression of her surroundings changed in the two months she was in the occupied territories. I do not mean to condone terrorism, or introduce further bias into what is already a complicated situation. For her part, I know "Beatrice" feels that she is merely balancing an unbalanced equation of reporting what is truly going on in the occupied Palestine. I think the value of these emails lies in the stories of the people who are affected by this conflict, and in understanding how much privelage and security we must leave behind before we are capable of real empathy for their miserable situation.
Note that I have changed most of the names. Rather than substitute stereotypical Islamic names for the many Palestinians described below, I have simply given them one- or two-letter abbreviations (although the letter does not necessarily appear in their real names).
okay, so im being a little dramatic. im not sure anyone could describe this little house- with it's full fridge, large television, and air conditioning (in my room the a/c is remote controlled!)-hell. BUT i am getting pretty frustrated (and bummed and anxious). i got here a week ago and was going to try to get into gaza last wednesday. instead of going there, danny faxed all my info so i could get approved (or not) without going all the way there. he sent off all the information and by thursday night we had heard no news (despite Eddie calling and asking a bunch). so we had to wait through the israeli weekend and just yesterday we were told that my info was just sitting there growing grass becuase i need some sort of organizational affiliation outside of gaza, some ngo or group that has a relationship with GCMHP and can vouch for me or whatever. So after a whole lot of hysteria (on my part) and a whole lot of calling and talking to different people(on Eddie's part), my info was faxed yet again under the aegis of an NGO here in israel. Now im waiting to hear. and waiting is to me, hell. there's a pretty good chance, even with all this official correctness, that i wont be able to get in. both organizations that ive affiliated myself with are potentially not considered legit by the border folks/IDF.
but in my priveledged little hell, Eddie and Beth have been amazing! i cant believe the things they have been willing to do for me. i cant believe they're letting me stay here still, much less help me so much. i think Eddie is enjoying it all very much. when he has to talk to the official guys he'll take a deep breath, sit up real straight, clear his throat and make the call. he has all these plans for what we'll do if i dont get in and he has missed a lot of work actually, making all these calls, waiting with me to get my visa extension and working from work to get all the stuff faxed off. He's a funny man, he talks more than ive ever heard anyone talk in my life and sometimes i cant help but zone out. he makes a lot of wierd and loud noises and he and his wife both know that if she wasnt around he'd be screwed. he just cant keep track of more than one thing at a time and just becomes completely engrossed in whatever it is he's doing at the time. he forgot to eat ! dinner the other night because he was craned around watching jane eyre for god's sake, which is about the most opposite thing to captivating! [Steve- he's like a mixture of your dad and al!!] Without them though, i dont know where id be right now. i know id feel lost and far more anxious and sad and clueless. i might have even just hightailed it back to egypt for all i know.
So that's me, i wanted my next email to be from rafah, but as mick says- you cant always get what you want. i wanted to tell you guys about how wonderful the tadmors have been though also. so... god willing, my NEXT email will be from rafah.
ps- hello to my new egyptian friends :)
07/25/03 Subject: Il hamdu li allah!!
i guess god WAS willing :) and here i am writing this email from rafah!! i got a call on tuesday saying that i had been approved to get in, i got a little teary, i was so shocked and happy. that day i headed down to gaza, got in no problem, everyone at erez was really nice and off i went. that first day i went to the gaza community mental health program and met some folks there. i stayed the night at a hotel and spent the evening reading literature from the program on my balcony over-looking the main street in gaza. the heat is... well damn hot. but that doesnt bug me as much as the constant and unexplicable stickyness. i dont get it, its not sweat and you cant really wash it off, ive been told ill get use to it. anyway, the next day i went back to the center. it's a really nice beatiful building in a fancy neighborhood by the sea called Rimal. it's huge and the center has all sorts of amazing stuff going on- research, clinical stuff, PR, a post graduate training program in mental health, and communityoutreach. everyone seemed really ni! ce as i got the tour of the place. gcmhp is doing really great necessary stuff here and the people who work there are very proud of what they do, and that they were among the first palestinians who are researching and addressing mental health issues in palestine. they really need me up in gaza, they need a lot of helpp with editing and native english speaking stuff and web development. they wanted to accomidate my desire to work with people, but the womens clinic in rafah has no english speakers at all and so\ i think ill be of better use in gaza. i think they'll let me work something out where im here in rafah for part of the week adn up there for the majority of the week. i met a woman here who told me about an open studio up in gaza in rimal that's 200 bucks a month and ill go look at it tomorrow, but i think it sounds great. that way i can come down here on weekends and stuff, but live and work up in gaza.
ugh, too much news :) i still have so much more to tell and i know ill forget stuff...
oh- the number has to be prefaced with 00, so 00972... and the time difference is 10 hours (so i dont forget :) if you have problems call the operator and tell them its an israeli cell phone number.
i spent the night with the J family last night, it was so wonderful to see them. when i called M he said 'i come to take you home right now!' and then when he came he got tears in his eyes. at home it was clear to see that firyal is very very pregnant! so that is neat. also, the rest of M's family recently moved to the same building which is so wonderful. last night we talked about how i shared thier story with folks back home. they were so interested in what people thought, if they believed me and if they cared. i told them that i talked about how wonderful they were and what had happende to them and that people cried when they heard. M was VERY interested in what my mom and dad thought. he didnt care about me being on the radio or talking to a lot of people, he wanted to make sure that my dad and mom (mostly dad though) knew that i was safe with him and that they had taken care of me when i was here.
bad news too- B, M's sister who was shot by the sniper... i thought she had her leg broken, but it was SHOT OFF by a mortar fired from the tower! she lay in the steet because there was so much firing around her after she was shot that no one could get her. finally a young man ran and grabbed her and ran to the ambulance with her, he took her right in time to miss the snipers continued fire right where she had been laying. if L, the J family's 9 year old, had been on her other side as they walked, she would have been killed instantly. she had her foot shot and it was very badly broken, more like crushed, by whatever had shot B. it was really hard to see B. when i was here before this happened she was wonderfully loud and obnoxious and she play-fought with the kids and teased everyone as she would move all over the house doing stuff. she cracked me up and i had no idea what the heck she was ever saying. now, she was just sitting on the bed, really quietly! . she's very depressed and scared. but M brought two guys to the house who had lost their legs too. he wanted her to see that they have full lives and drive and go out and walk with crutches, so she is starting to do more now around the house and she thinks maybe she can have something of a normal life now.
in general here though, it's much more peaceful and quiet than when i was here before. there were still tanks right outside, going up and down the track by the wall, but there was only very little shooting. people seem a lot more at ease now too, a lot lighter.
the group of internationals here are great. smart and respectful and cool. i trust them a lot more than i did the organizers i was here with last time. some will be here for a long time too, so im excited about that. the situation here in terms of what internationals will be oing is sort of up in the air. we could do some actions, some accompaniment actions with well-workers but we also have arabic classes that we take, and english lessons that we help with and a women's project and a mural project. so there's a lot fo options, but i think it will all take a while to get people settled and going on their paths.
im really excited about the work ill get to with the mental health program. i think its kind of a big deal too that im getting to work with them and i hope that i can be helpful to them while im getting such a good deal.
it just feels like a differnt place this time and i think there a lot of reasons. i have alot more knowledge of the place, i have a lot more control, i have more time to be here, more freedom, more people i trust and the lack of constant shooting is also nice.
not much more of interest beyond that, im really really happy.
hope everyone else is doing great too!!
07/27/03 Subject: warning, longest email ever written
but give me a break, im a little lonely
i want to start out by saying that in the last email i said that i trust the internationals in this group more than i did the last group i worked with. this is true WITH THE EXCEPTION of my wonderful friend Elmo who i trusted and liked very very much.
okay, that said, i can continue :)
again, there's so much to say that im know im not going to be able to remember all the fun stuff that id like to.
Im in gaza city now. and am writing from the most wonderful blessed holy place in all of the gaza strip. it is an AIRCONDITIONED email cafe and i hope they have cots in the back cause i aint going nowhere.
yesterday all us internationals (all americans actually) went up to beit hanoun. this is the town that the israeli army occupied for two months, they actually just left about two weeks ago. when you hear about the israeli army offering a great show of trust and benevolence by "leaving the gaza strip", switch it in your mind to the truth, which is that the army pulled out of this town only, they are still very much in the gaza strip. additionally, they didnt really benevolently pull out of beit hanoun. we got a 'tour' from the folks at the water municipality. the 4th largest army in the world tore up as much of the town as they could in the time they had. 4000 dunams (1000 acres) of crops- citrus and olive trees, wheat, squash, watermelons, tomatoes, garlic- all of it was bulldozed. its hard to picture what it used to look at when looking at the wasteland it is now. Out of the 100 wells of the town- 41 were destroyed- by rocket, by concrete being poured in, by the imane! ntly useful bulldozer. the army also worked on cutting the pavement of as many streets as they could get to and ripped down telephone poles and found and pulled up pipes that carry drinking water and sewage (sometimes causing the mixture of the two). all of the destruction is hard enough to see, but when we talked with a man under his demolished home in what is now sort of a tent of concrete, it got so much more clear and so much more... horrifying. We all sat in a circle as he spoke, there were kids running around in the destroyed building, playing and running back forth from us to the tent theynow live in. a woman offered us glasses of coke from a tray. the mans personal story can be heard all over palestine, so many relatives killed, children forced to watch fathers shot with their six-year old arms above their heads, his home destroyed, his uncles home destroyed, his government giving him nothing, no government giving him anything. it made sense that he didnt beli! eve in peace and certainly not in the road map. he explained ! that the
israelis did this because of water. the israelis and the palestinians share the same sources of water. if this lush farming town, with its need for large quantities of water had no more crops to water (and wont now for at least 10 years) and if almost half of it's wells are ruined and they have no money to rebuild them, that's a lot of water that will be available for other towns, israeli towns. yuck
after beit hanoun, we went to gaza where i was dropped off and everyone returned to rafah. i was especially sad to see Willie go. he had been my home stay buddy the night before at the house of A and he cracks me up. the poor guy had serious 'intestinal difficulities' all night. now A's house is on the border of rafah, im talking like ON the wall. whenyou look out of his kitchen window theres an israeli tower where a garage should be. i have never been so close to one and here is this family living there. There are so many holes, some little, but some HUGE, all through the house. there's a huge sign on the house facing the tower that says in hebrew "please dont shoot at this house as there is a family trying to sleep here, thank you". when the tanks go by it sounds like your at the airport on a freakin runway it's so loud. the chickens in the yard dont help you get a good night sleep either as they all think it's dawn all night long. So anyway, the b! athroom is the place with the biggest holes and its right next to the wall and the tower. Willie would be in the bathroom (for so long sometimes that i thought he fell asleep :) and a tank would go by, and i was so worried every time. i mean what a way to go!! i said that one time when he came out and he said he hoped they would shoot him to put him out of his misery. These two sweet little neighbor girls hng out with us on the porch in the evenging, the second that F, A's wife left, they turned into little gangsters. they set on us in a team "shekels shekels- ten!! ashara!! just ten!!" right in our faces and patting our pockets. Wes started walking around with his pockets out of pants so they could see that he wasnt hiding anything, but theywere not to be deterred :)
so anyway, last night i went from one world to another. from beit hanoun to gaza. i found a flat to rent that is so nice and clean and furnished. I asked the son of the owner for close stores thinking id go get some bread and a candy bar for dinner. he offered to take me to the store, but then we ended up going to like the fanciest restaurant ive ever been to. right on the ocean on a big patio, girls in tank tops and whiteys everywhere. Except for the old guys in headresses smoking argila pipes, it could have been confused with san diego. the guy, C, had just gotten back from turkey and he regaled me with tales of all the beautiful women around the world that he knew. when i told the guy i work with, H, that i rented a flat from hassan shara, my suspicion that this was a really rich family was confirmed when he said 'oh yah, ive heard of them, no wonder you went to al-deira for dinner, they arre really wealthy." so i guess here, money does buy freedom.
today i went to work and the office is this huge hotel right on the water. it all makes me feel pretty yucky actually. i mean, i want to feel safe and have a safe nice place to be, but i also dont want to be in this place in a safe little bubble of privlege, untainted by the 'natives' and their ways. im glad to be helping the gcmhp, and i think i will help a lot. but i think going to rafah every weekend will help me feel like a little bit less of a jerk.
i just noticed ive been writing for so long it's dark out now. a couple more little lthings though. as i was walking in my fancy neighborhood today trying to remember that i was in gaza, the 'second most dangerous place int he world' as i walked past huge walled mansions, i saw a herd of goats wandering down one of the streets. you sure dont see that in los gatos! and today from the office, i saw a group of little boys on the beach, running with an adult and later swimming- they have a junior lifeguard program here!! :) also, if you're ever in a country in the middle east, dont stand around looking like you're lost, men will come en masse and will not understand your poor arabic and will want very badly to help. you may try to extricate yourself with what sounds to you like, 'thanks im okay' in arabic, but apparently doesnt mean that becuase at least one guy will follow you insistantly (wanting to help im sure)and all the other guys will either follow a while also or of! fer up their children to show you the way. finally, one guy will understand english well enough to know you dont know a damn thing and will stick you in a taxi and somehow youll get home. :)
i cant believe how well everything has gone, im being taken care of so well. i have a bag of groceries to take home and im going to be picked up for work tomorrow where ill continue editing an annual report. again, i hope you are all very well. and not too tired after reading my book :)
love love love
08/05/03 Subject: again :)
alright, my excuse this time is that if you were all here with me, i wouldnt have to write at all!! so there.
This 'note' (or book- as you like) is going to be about some good stuff in rafah, some not good stuff in rafah and some yucky predictions about the cease-fire and relative calm here.
the first good news from rafah is that im falling in love :). His name is N and i think he's about 10 or 12. He's one of the J family's kids and out of all the kids, he's the hardest to read. S, the oldest, is a doll and a total teenager and isnt around a whole lot. L, the littlest and only girl is a hellion. she beats up her bigger brother T and pouts and cries at the least hint of 'no', but she's still pretty cute (she was the one who was shot in the foot with B). T, i adore already. he is so so cute and he just takes the abuse of L, then looks up and smiles with these big big eyes and dimples. But N has always been very serious and quiet. at first, i thought he was scared of me or something. But on the first night back with the J family he told his mom (not the other way around) to wake him up when it was time for me to go to bed so he could move somewhere and i could take his bed. Then the other day he taught me how to make a kite a! nd we flew it together (kites here are THE toy, all the phone lines and poles are littered with tangled homemade kites, especially by the beach. in the poorer areas, the kids just tie string to plastic bags and fly those, and they seem pretty happy with them). And when Y got home he told her all about how we flew the kites and i RAN AROUND, which is something i guess dignified folks dont do around here. then we were all sitting around one evening and he was all excited about news that he had heard that day about the ISM in the west bank and how foriegners, like me, had gotten shot and arrested.
Another cool thing from rafah has been the english teaching we get to do. We teach one class of girls and a separate one with boys. In gaza and especially in rafah i have had NO opportunity to hang out with high school age kids, certainly not the boys. and ive been curious about what they think about stuff and how they'd feel about us being there and teaching them. the girls were so easy and so sweet. Some total teacher kiss-ups, some painfully shy, and my personal favorites- the ones who stared at me and said 'you're so beautiful' :). i asked the girls their favorite and least favorite thing about rafah. One girl, only one, said anything about the israeli occupation as her least favorite thing. the other girls hated the 'rubbish' in the streets and the pollution and all the smoking and many of them thought rafah was just ugly and they didnt like that. they all loved the people of rafah, one girl loved the zoo- yah zoo! in rafah! who knew?
The boys were wary at first, but then we all started having fun. they have a teacher who is great and a little obnoxious like me so they werent too shocked i guess. there was one who was so cute, big glasses and cheeks and always smiling. i asked them what they hope for the future. all of them hoped for an end to occupation all expressed very hostile feelings to the israelis and my sweet little favorite who said i was a good and nice teacher said with a big sweet smile, 'some day i hope to kill ariel sharon and i want to be in hamas. And i want to live in london and be a doctor.' it didnt surprise me, and i dont think he's too rare in the OT's, but it did make me sad still, i wish so badly that he could go to london to be a doctor. But he cant, he's stuck here. the dream that is far more feasible to him to achieve is for him to join Hamas. what a thing for little kids to have grow up thinking about. and no one has to teach him to hate ALL israelis via his only inte! raction with them via the IDF. parents and teachers have to fight AGAINST thoughts thoughts like these and actions that stem from them here.
after the class i was trying to take a taxi to gaza and the dude at the taxi depot was super loud and yelling about something in a goodnatured way about me going to gaza or something. anyway, next thing i knew i had 8 17-year-old protectors surrounding me yelling back at him and trying to defend me from the 'threat' :). they escorted me to the taxi- me in the middle of the circle of them.
WE went one day to one of the areas in rafah that has particularly militant children. Most of the kids are sweet here, a whole lot of 'whatsyourname, whatsyourname howareyou howareyou's' but thats it. in other areas the littlest of the little kid knows what to do, if far away from the foreigner, throw rocks. if close- pick out the stragler, the weakest looking one, and herd them away from the rest of the group and try to get from them or find for yourself on them shekels. this happened to me the other day and it sounds funny, but it was freaky. they totally got me alone and separated from everyone and wouldnt let me get back to the group. Anyway, we were going to go to one of the areas and try to play with them, hang out, toss some (very large and not painful when thrown) balls, do art. and leave the balls, you know- a good will effort, or a bribe, read it as you will. anyway, we didnt get far with the big bag of balls we had. we got stopped by a group of kids who o! ffered us nuts and danced with us, we failed miserably in our objective, these were NOT the driven, wiley type of child we were aiming for:). we went in to have tea with one of the families and i had my first proposal from a woman who wanted me to marry her husband so we could hang out together forever- that was a new one. We ended up having a really good conversation with the folks there about america and palestine. it's so interesting, if you get invited into a palestinian home, its impossible to leave without getting tea and food, even from the poorest of the poor. it's also pretty rare to make a visit and not get a very sincere invitation to stay the night. but if i was to bang on a door of some family in rafah and push through the door and start eating food out of the kitchen and pushing kids around, id quickly find myself on my ass outside and pretty lucky to get away with some bruises. and that was one of the things one the guys said about the Israelis- that i! f they had come without agression, without kicking people out ! of their homes and demolishing whole villages- it would be a totally different situation today. maybe it's true, maybe it's not. but after being here and seeing how they treat guests adn friends i wonder.
in rafah, the months between last time i was there adn now were not gentle. Block O, where i had tea with the dec. team and in the home of one of the early palestinain organizers is pretty much just gone. a row of houses that the un built and i for some reason took a picture of in dec. is totally decimated. the J family's old place is still not fully razed, but a whole lot of american tax dollars were put to work in blowing big ass holes in it for some unknown reason. they need a little quiet time down there.
Speaking of quiet time, i feel a little ashamed about how ive been portraying things here. im ashamed of how ive been thinking about things actually. it IS quiet here, but its NOT peaceful. a lot of people here say 'peace peace' and i ask 'and freedom?' and they pause, and say 'well, yah freedom' I think everyone here is so used to living in trauma/crisis that quiet is all they have the ability to ponder. people here have been worrying so much about daily survival- literally- will my family get killed today by the tower that shot into my home last night? will that f-16 that's flying overhead suddenly swoop down and drop a bomb in front of my car? tonight when the tank stops outside, will the bulldozer come too? will my farm be here tomorrow? -they dont have time to worry about statehood. and here i am looking around and thinking 'hey this is great- everyone can drive throughout gaza again, the kids are swimming in the ocean, it's so quiet at night in rafah wow! no sh! ooting all night long. this is swell' and the more i talk to people and hear what's still happening i realize what bullshit myown thoughts have been. the people here STILL worry about those things, there's no guarantee that it wont all change tomorrow. and besides what ABOUT freedom? they still arent free here, far far from it. im worried that the international community will be as stupid and as blind as me and that they'll say 'hey its so quiet, 10 kids didnt get killed today, what are they complaining about?' that now that its quiet here everyone will stop paying attention and they'll stop working at all toward the only thing that will lead to a true, just and lasting peace- an end to the occupation.
im worried because i know what you guys hear in the news- you hear about the attack on the settler the other night by the al-aqsa martyrs brigade, you hear how israel is doing everything it can and that the PA better work harder to reign in militants, you hear that there's a wall being built in order to keep israelis safe from terror. i also know what you DONT hear about.
You dont hear that after sharon promised to take down the 'outpost' settlements- there's been a request for more building in the gaza settlements and more outpost settlements are going up than are coming down in teh west bank and that sharon said to the kenesset- we're not going to stop building, just dont make a big deal about it when we do. I know that in this fragile time, sharon went to washington, not to talk about the road map, but to raise funds for the wall (that is twice the height of the berlin wall and is within the west bank, that 1000s of trees have been uprooted for it, that families adn towns and farms are being destroyed and isolated). I know that right before the hudna was called most of the police stations were bombed (its hard to reign in militants when your headquarters are being bombed). i know that of the 1000's of palestinian prisoners in detention in israel, israel is releasing less than 600, and of those, 200 are civic prisoners and another 200 ar! e almost done with their prison terms. which is a very very different story than the one abu mazen told the three militant groups in order to get them to agree to the hudna or cease-fire. you dont hear this, but the palestinians sure do.
and im so afraid and so sad to think that sharon will play this out, as he has before, to NOT do anything he said he would and just wait until some people get mad enough to want to act on it. The way you all hear the news will make it look like israel did all it could and that those 'crazy muslim fundamentalists' just dont want peace. when the truth is far far from that. you know what's even more sad? people here have access to, and watch, isreali news and bbc and cnn. but we dont have access to the arab news stations. they at least get to see both sides, but we dont, we see so little of the story. and here they are looking at people talking about them from the safety of tel aviv and washington and they see that it's not what their lives look like at all.
im getting unable to think. too much writing! hopefully you guys did this in more than one sitting :). i am sorry about the length. but im tellin ya, if you all were here...
anyway, im enjoying myself very much still and even more so since i think the 'quiet' here isnt going to last very long. im going to have dinner at my supervisors house tonight. the people at work are wonderful!! today we were talking about a project we are starting and H asked me if id like to stay longer than i had planned and they'd PAY me!! i was really surprised and honored, im so glad that im being that helpful to them. but i dont think i can stay longer this time.
so you are finally done reading and im finally done writing. i miss you all and i hope you arent too irritated by the group email thing (i know how i HATE list mail and how i LOVE email that's just for me :). but if i wrote this much to all the folks on the list i would probably die. love very much molly
08/13/03 Subject: untitled
So the "peace in the middle east has been shattered" by yesterday's dual suicide attacks. and again i have to remind everyone that the peace was shattered a long time ago. Apparently, if a family is shot at in their car and their little five year old girl is shot in the hand and their 3 year old boy is killed, its peaceful. When a building is blown up with a bomb from an F16 and four people are killed, it's not a big deal. When a home is blocked off to all who might want to enter by a wall of bulldozed dirt, and children are shot at from a tank when they volunteer to recover anything they can from the house thinking they wont get shot at, and a family's life work and life savings is going to be ruined becuase they happened to want to buy land near what is now the border between egypt and gaza, maybe we should think this a trust-building measure? All of these things happened in the LAST WEEK here, the first in Jenin, the second in Nablus and the last in Rafah. and im no! t even going to go into what's happened in the 6 weeks of "peace" in the occupied territories.
None of this is to say that suicide bombing is okay or that it's not terrorism or that its not newsworthy, but what conclusion can be drawn from the way it's responded to and the way everything that goes on in the OT's is barely even covered?
In any event, the gloves are certainly off. last night when the F16's were cruising overhead, many more than usual and much closer than usual, i tensed up each time. With the cease fire in place i at least had the reassurance that if a bomb was dropped here the isreali army would be embarrased at the very least, that they might for once get pegged with being 'haters of peace'. Now there's not even that flimsy protection. F-16's are easy to ID. they dont sound like planes- you dont hear them from far away getting louder adn louder as they get closer and then quieter as they move away. they sound more like an earthquake that's about to hit. All of a sudden they're right there in the sky and they're so much louder than planes, in fact the lebanese president just requested that they stop flying over lebanon in what he termed "air terrorism". you hear them, but you can feel them too. and i would imagine that for most gazans who have seen them, felt them and heard them dr! opping bombs on buildings, hearing F16's means something more for them.
Yesterday i went with one of the trauma counseling teams of the Gaza Community metal health programme to a home in deir a-balah. Deir a-balah is a town in the middle of gaza. Balah means date and there are date palms everywhere in the town, even though at some point in these last three years the israeli army came and uprooted 1000's of them to replant in israel. The town is green, so green after gaza adn rafah. But one side of it is very close to one of the settlements here, kfar darom. we visited a home that has 7 children. all of whom are traumatized from the last three years. some of the boys are wetting their beds, the little girl cant leave her mothers side, when one little guy hears anything loud he tries to get under anything he can and cover his head. On one side of their house is the settlement, complete with wicked looking sniper tower. on the other side is the demolished police station, bombed by an F16. living next to settlements here in gaza means the ! same thing wherever you are. it means tanks and bulldozers and shooting all day and all night. For this family, it also meant one of the bulldozers knocking over their neighbors houses and running into one of their walls as they hid inside and screamed. it was hard to picture as we sat in their garden under an olive tree and drank tea together, harder still when i looked at the family smiling and passing the little kids around for snuggling. But then when i took out my camera to take a picture, after i asked if it was okay, the littlest guy lost it. it's huge and black and im not sure what he thought it was, but whatever it was, it wasnt good. Everyone at the deir a-balah clinic, all the relatively wealthy, educated men, had different responses to yesterdays bombing, but the kids who sat there in their pokemon shirts and bare feet, the kids with big curious smiles who are totally unable to change anything about their world, those kids were scared about what they knew ! will be coming next. That family who used UNRWA flour sacks t! o make a new wall and to shut out the view of the settlement will have to sit and wait. They will pay the price for government plans, international inaction and militants' dreams.
I came home last night to gaza and learned that my safe little area is not immune. there are a couple of demolished buildings right down the street from this Intifada. and places were cops hang out, there a couple in the area, are also juicy targets apparently.
but hey, there's lots of fresh good fruit here! :). Really. i have come to love figs. and after my first experience buying fruit where the guy 'helped' me by picking all the nastiest fruit just for me (by the time i got home ALL the plums and peaches were a mash at the bottom of the bag), i have learned how to buy it. I have found the source of peanut butter in gaza, it's kroger even, the same stuff from QFC! ive been instructed to smuggle some down to rafah. also, my next door neighbor has access to... WINE. we had our first bottle last night and we were both pretty pleased with ourselves, especially her becuase she's been living in france adn has gotten too used to wine :). and we found out that P, the guy who also lives in our building can get wine and beer! I found two more miraculous things today- a library with english language books- a BIG library! AND a place that has not only THE best coffee in gaza, but CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS, fresh and damn good. I told th! e guy at the counter that id see him tomorrow :).
The other day two things happenned that made me feel reassured that id be okay here. every day i go to this little store by my work to buy a big water (see everyone im taking care of my hydration, which a lot of you have been concerned about :) and a coke. and every day it's 5 shekels. on monday i went and got my water and coke and something new- a candy bar. Then the guy say's 4 and half shekels. and i said 'hey, these two things alone are always 5, what's up?' or something like it in my not-improving arabic. and he just shooed me away. Then at the internet cafe i got charged a ton less than i usually do too. both were cool, but made me wonder how much more money ive spent here, everywhere, than everyone else :).
Hey, guess who else is in town? the CIA! and man, do they want everyone to know they're here. they look exactly what cia guys look like in the movies. we were eating lunch in gaza (by we i mean the rafah crew). and they were at the next table looking all american and tough-guy. apparently they're working with the palestinian intelligence, egyptian intelligence adn israeli intelligence in some new buklding by the beach and the group is called the 'Fourth Community' (i think they're now getting ideas from the movies instead of teh other way around). their job is to gather info about the militant groups here in order to better crush them. the next day in rafah we were walking to a day at summer camp when a police car sirens blaring raced by followed by three huge grey suburbans with tinted windows and another police car behind them. they are apparently unconcered with being identified.
i am still constantly humbled by the sweetness of most people here. i have learned that i cant say i need something or want something. last time it happened i was commenting that id love some peanut butter (before i found the store). The guy in the back of the car i was in, someone i work with, said 'stop the car' to the driver and ran out and came back with peanut butter! i siad something about wanting some film and the next day a guy from work brought me film. i asked someone on the street for directions (to the peanut butter store :) he told me and then when i was coming out of the store he was wandering around just to check that i had found it. im hoping some of this generosity and helpfulness will rub off onto my lazy, selfish butt.
Okay, im done finally, ive given up trying to come up with rationalizations, it's long- read it or not :).
08/21/03 Subject: im okay
Hey all, i got a sweetly worried email from one of my moms :) telling me that i need to let everyone know im okay when something happens here and i totally agree. i dont have enough time to write my usual chapter, lucky for you all :). But i do have enough time to say im fine. things are happening fast around here. i was going to write this earlier today just to reassure you that i was okay after the horrible attack in jerusalem. But i got interrupted and now im writing to say that im okay after the the horrible attack in gaza as well.
i came to rafah this morning and we were having a meeting when N heard that abu shanab, a hamas spokesperson whom i have met, was assassinated in his car in gaza city. the apache fired three missiles and killed him, his guard and another man in the car in addition to seriously injuring at least 20 bystanders. he was attacked near the gaza governate, sort of near the place where you can get teh best falafel in gaza, but very far from my house and office. looks like the ceasefire that never really was is over for real.
Abu holi, the main checkpoint that can cut gaza off at the middle, has been open since the cease fire. the isrealis moved afew yards back and now it's guarded by palestinian shurta (police) instead. this morning for the first time we were stopped there and had to wait for a while to get let thorough. there were tanks and cars and bulldozers working and it seems likely that the isrealis will begin manning it again, and closing it again. all over gaza there are checkpoints now manned by shurta, its thier responsibility to make sure no militatn action happens, basically they are responsible for guarding teh settler roads, settlements and military bases. The night of the jerusalem attack they went running from their posts, they were afraid of teh sniper towers and all the israeli posts that still cover gaza. they told my friends cab driver that if went through abu holi, it would be at his own risk. luckily nothing happened and today they were all back at the checkpoints.
im a little scared, more than before certainly. im not really a lot scared for myself, im never in places that are targeted and im with people all the time who know what to do and what not to do. i have like 10 groups of people here who consider me family and i know that all of them will protect me like their own, and try to tell me what to do like they do their own :). so when you all hear about stuff happening here, try to train yourself to realize that most likely im fine. (even if i was in gaza when this had happened, im would have been so far away that i may not have even known it had happenned.) and i will try to train myself to let you know im okay :).
still hot :),
ps, i meant heat-hot,not hot-hot
also, i feel like baby cows must feel when they're being prepared to be veal- i never get to walk anywhere and people are just constantly feeding me awesome fried food. so dont say anything about it when i come home mom okay? i know i know :) i love you all
08/23/03 Subject: untitled
Im back in gaza city after the weekend in rafah. even though nothing here has really changed, it feels like a different city to me. people's kindness is more appriciated and anything negative has taken a darker tone. the electricity just went off all over gaza and everyone here in the internet cafe blamed the isrealis. not an unrealistic accuasation actually, as the army frequently turns off electricity in rafah as well as cell phone service.
anyway, the reason you all got a break from my excedingly long messages last week was because after teh bombing in jerusalem i just felt... wholly inadequate and a tiny bit conflicted. i saw the pictures of the bloody crying babies being run to ambulances in the arms of rescue workers and sort of didnt really want to say anything. i certainly didnt feel like i had anything important to say after seeing something like that. also, i know that if there was no occupation, there'd be no reason for suicide attacks, and i know that in this struggle between a country without enough money to buy police cars and another with the fourth largest army in the world, the most influencing 'power' or bargaining tool the palestinians have are suicide bombing in israel(the only lever they had in the road map was ceasing these attacks). i know that, but i still think one of the most hideous things about this conflict is that members of BOTH groups believe that killing innocents and babies i! s not only acceptable, but even sort of God's will- part of their holy struggle- regetable maybe, but in the long run worth it. finally, i came back to my original feelings, the same feelings that got me here, which are that any work to end the occupation is good work, and that any work that brings hope and support and love to people who need it is good work too. Inshallah, this is what im doing here, please oh please God.
Then came the attack on abu shanab. Abu shanab was a well-respected man in palestine. He was educated adn wellspoken and something of a moderate (he believed in dialogue with abu mazen even though abu mazen lied to hamas a number of times regarding the peace process). And as usual, any fine distinction is lacking in the news- hamas is a big organization, within which exists a 'military' wing- the qassam brigade- and a political wing. the political wing is responsible for many things, but not for planning or implementing attacks. This might not matter to many of you, but it does matter to the palestinians. and as usual, it was a move made by sharon that i really dont get. The only thing that will happen is that people will get more fired up. abu shanab was not irreplacable, there's no leader that once killed will kill the resistance. People in israels own government have questioned sharon regarding choices like these and asked him point blank, in public, if his intentio! n is simply to cause more suicide attacks.
yesterday i was supposed to go to the beach with the J family. the night before N said ' i wish it was tomorrow already' and could barely fall asleep. apparently he doenst know that at 12 he's supposed to be working toward coolness and teenagerhood, not treating a trip to the beach like christmas morning or something. The next day we all packed up, M got the day off (as a policeman he's been working every day from 7 to 2 am), and off we went. But as we got to the main checkpoint in gaza- abu holi- there were cars lined up like there had been in the days before teh hudna when abu holi would close for days sometimes, completely cutting off the north of gaza from the south. we waited for two hours. everyone was sad and angry. M yelled at S in a way ive never seen before. Y said 'hamas' in an insulting way and M yelled 'not hamas, not fatah, blame the isrealis!!' N was silent in the back seat with his head down. all i heard from hi! m was a quiet 'ya allah' (oh god). and it reminded me again of something ive seen here so many times- the people here continue to have faith in, depend on, love and trust in God. They say 'inshallah' and believe it, they really do mean god willing and if god wills they are happy; if god isnt willing, they may not be happy, but they'll endure with faith anyhow. it also made me think that people with the ability to do that are the kind of people i wouldnt want to fuck with. any group of people who can live through what they've lived through for 50 years and still truly trust god, and not in a 'god-will-give-me-what-i-want-if-i-do-this' kind of faith or a 'ill-trust-god-to-change-this' kind of faith, are the kind of people who arent going to give up on anything.
we eventually turned around and went back to the most wonderful place M could think of in rafah to have a picnic, his demolished house. we sat in the rubble and tanks and jeeps drove by, a few shots were fired from tel zorob tower in our direction, but there we had our picnic. Y and M made kabob and abla made them into sandwiches. we drank tea and M smoked shisha. L put on her inflatable vest for floating and ran around with it on in the dirt, filled with air. The boys ran around the house and played baseball with rebar and blocks. and to me, it was as sad and as morbid as it sounds. it made me mad and i couldnt tell if it was at the situation or at M for bringing us there. but the rest of the family laughed and cooked and teased me for being so quiet. i lied and said i was just hungry.
today, saturday, abu holi was open and i came through no problem. Also today beit hanoun, the town in the north that we visited earlier, is surrounded by tanks and tonight will be invaded again, maybe the idf wants to run over the 20 remaining olive trees. hamas and islamic jihad have declared an official end to the cease-fire and sharon has promised to track and asassinate any 'militant' he damn well pleases, and bush froze the assests of some groups that support hamas, which caused rantisi to call him the 'number one enemy of islam'. Im not sure what's going to happen here, no one is. But i still feel okay about being here. i feel guilty every time i think about leaving, becuase i can- i can think about it and i can do it.
last night i stayed at U's house on the border. it was one of his daughters engagement parties last night and she was done up in true palestinian style- fully whited up with makeup, lavender dress with a huge hoop skirt and two 'tatoos' on her arm of intertwined hearts and on her chest of a sparkely eye. she tried so hard to adopt the typical look of palestinian women at their weddings, which is one of total indifference, but she couldn't stop smiling and neither could her fiance. This morning we sat in U's garden and ate bread that his wife had made, hummus, an egg/tomato/onion mixture, fuul and figs from the tree we were sitting under. i felt so lucky to be there and to be with the people i was with. U and his wife talked about theupcoming wedding and for some reason they started teasing each other- he banged the wall behind us saying 'this is her head' and she said the only english word she knows- 'crazy'. J, their 11 year old BEAUTIFUL, lo! ud, totally spoiled daughter came up and asked for 2 shekels, U said no way. she tried to get it by charging for a kiss. she grabbed his old head and he resisted, but she finally kissed him and he wiped it off with his sleeve and spat on the ground. but when she left and he explained that she was blackmailing him his smile was one that could only be described as of the 'shit-eating' variety.
so if anyone starts worrying about me, try to worry about them instead. i will be fine, most likely they'll lose their home soon. uck, i try to end these with happy thoughts, sorry. ummm... its getting cooler, is that good news?
in love and safety :)
08/25/03 Subject: you are all getting jaded
i didnt mean that you guys shouldnt even CARE about me!! :). whats a girl gotta do to get a little love around here? an apache fires missiles down the street and no one even wonders how i am? sheesh!
Did it not even make the news in the US? i wouldnt be surprised actually... Last night i was sitting on my cool quiet walled-in garden with my friend R who's up from rafah. we had just gotten done eating dinner with my other friends K and D. they were chatting and i was spacing out. i heard something that i had never heard before in gaza city and i asked R to stop talking and tell me if that was an apache. She said yes, but it's sunday so no big deal, it's just the international monitoring day for helicopters. i asked her if she was making somthing up, cause what the hell is the 'international day of helicopters?' and we laughed. it got closer adn closer and we stopped laughing. we sat and waited and tried to place it in the sky. there was a huge whumping sound and we all ran into my apartment as far back as we could and got down.
we waited and the apache stayed in teh same place for five minutes and we stayed down, expecting more missiles. then we heard the ambulances, 7 total. the apache flew a little ways away, but we could hear it for about 30 minutes afterwards. Then we called everyone we could think of to figure out what had happened. Apparently, 5 guys had been chillin by the beach. one of them got up and folks here think he called the IDF to inform them that these four guys were good to go. then the apache came and fired 3 to 5 missiles at them, killing all of them and injuring i dont know how many. they were all hamas activists, which means they had all taken part in planning or carrying out actions against israeli targets, probably settlements/military targets here in gaza.
and as it turns out i have had to re-evaluate my whole 'im safe in my privleged little neighborhood and office' mentality. it happened right between both, on the road i go on to and from work, right across the street from teh beach i go to and the fruit stand that i love. my new theory is that apache attacks can occur anywhere, anytime. so im now thinking of how to deal with that occurence. into the equation i will have to factor in how many times a day i go to the bathroom, cause after last night, i know that'll be a problem. and im still PRETTY sure that a bomb wont drop on my building, which i wouldnt feel so sure of if i was in sheik radwan where lots of big hamas dudes live. but tonight D told us that one night last october f-16's dropped bombs around his neighborhood for 7 hours. so maybe ill need to re-evaluate that too. he seemed pretty sure that that would never happen again as they got all their targets- all the police buildings and hang out areas around ! here.
its so interesting, when im in the us and i hear helicopters i immediately think news, or something medical. nice things, helpful things, safe things. when i see a bulldozer im reminded of my dad. i like the drivers immediately becuase of that association and i want to see what they're working on. it took me one day here to have those associations totally wiped out by a survival response. Now when i hear anything remotely bulldozer or helicopter-like i get tense and sick and ready for literal death and destruction. when i returned from rafah last time it took a long long time for that association to decrease. survival/fear stuff like that digs deep into the brain, and it has to be at the cost of some other learned thing. it makes me think about all the little guys here, all of their adaptations and survival skills that have had to be learned, and it makes me wonder what it has cost them.
I met abu shanab, the guy who just got killed on thursday, at a meeting about how to stop kids from being involved in the intifada. with good intentions, the quakers set this meeting up. Abu shanab had his turn to share what he thought about children in the intifada and what part he as a palestinian and a parent could play in stopping them. Without rancor, without bitterness, with a totally even-keel tone he explained: people in the west wonder if we love our kids or not, they wonder why we dont stop them from throwing stones at tanks, they assume we dont love our kids like they do. Kids here are ALL being affected by the intifada. no person CANT be affected. kids stay in their homes all day, and they are killed doing that. Why do people from america and israel think it's okay that that happens, they think its okay to jail 15 year old boys, like adults, for 7 years for throwing stones, they think its okay that our kids are having their childhoods stolen from them. an! d then they blame us for not loving our kids or protecting them? they want us to stop our kids from being involved in the intifada, but they dont want to stop the occupation. and we cant stop them until the occupation stops.
today, it was business as usual. i asked people about how they felt, do they change anything they do when something like this happens? W said they cant. they cant feel and they cant respond becuase if they did they'd stay inside all day and be afraid doing that too. So everyone just acts like nothing happened. when we drove by the spot this morning, the only evidence was a little circle of black sand. no one gawking, no photographers, no blood or memorial.
funny place, gaza. i think its hard not to feel pointless here.
i wish so bad that all of you knew how so so so lucky you are to be safe, to be where you are. i know that ill go home and even after seeing this and living here, i wont realize it either. what a rip off :).
love very much
08/29/03 Subject: untitled
i never know what to say at funerals. what doesnt sound trite or empty? thankfully, here in palestine, there are rules about what to do and what to say. I wish they had rules about what to say and do when visiting pissed off injured men and sweet sweet injured boys in the hospital, but even here, you're on your own for that. We wanted to find out more about the people who had been affected by the the two lastest attacks in Gaza. so we went to a memorial service for one of the men killed in the first attack after abu shanabs murder, and we went to shifa hospital to visit some people who were put there by the 2nd apache missile attack. My friend O was sitting on the beach the night of the first attack. sitting, enjoying the warm night air of gaza, the waves and talking with his friends over shisha. somehow, i have no idea how this is possible, but somehow, none of them heard the apache that was right above their heads. they DID hear teh explosions that slammed into the men that were sitting across the beach and the street from them. They turned and looked and couldnt make out what was happening. O tried to call home, but as usual, the signal had been blocked. there were three more missiles and they crouched and waited for teh apache to leave. When it backed off a little, they started running for their cars. O tripped over something and looked down to see a hand and part of a head. This tough strutting young guy passed out cold in the sand. it freaked out his friends, they thought somehow he had been killed too. finally he woke up and they all went home to find their families perfe! ctly safe.
X was one of the four men killed. he was the main target in fact. he was from the Zeitoun area of gaza, poor even by gaza standards. His neighborhood is all small alleys and sand roads, the faint smell of garbage is everywhere, as are piles of rusted metal and cars. the funeral protocol dictates that women pay thier condolences in one place, men in the other. So we were escorted to his house, where he and his wife lived with his whole family. Protocol also dictates one of many greetings to the relatives, i chose 'azemullahi adjerak" and kissed his mom and wife on both cheeks. we were seated and given dates (part of the rules also) and sweet sweet fruit juice, which is NOT protocol. usually guests are given bitter coffee, but this family gave juice to show that they were joyful, not sad, about their sons death. His wife was a beautiful, 18 year old, pregnant girl who sat with her head down the whole time. his mom was friendly and welcoming. his brother ! had had some interesting english instruction and acted as translator. his english made it hard to understnad what he siad, not becuase it was unclear, but becuase every other word was "here, now" or "really, please". so it went something like this- Herenow reallyplease, my brother, herenow, was fighting, herenow reallyplese, the enemy, israel, really please herenow. im not exaggerating. what made it harder to not start laughing until i peed was the fact the whole room of women was laughing the whole time, incuding X's mom and wife. one woman finally poked him and siad 'why are you saying herenow reallyplease? quit it!" he didnt listen and i sat there the whole time working harder than i ever had before to not laugh. anyway, they showed us pictures of X and his friends taken hours before thier death. when we asked why we learned that israel has published a list of 34 most wanted men, X was number 19 and although he thought the guy on the list was another X from tulkarm, he got ready to die anyway. his wif! e said s he'll finish college now and bear his child and live with his family. after that we went to shifa. its hallways were smaller and less impressive without the frame of the tv set that i always see it in, with bloody people being run into it, and the chaos that accompanies every attack here, everyone wants to help. we went with a sad array of cheap carnations, we wanted to give each person we talked to SOMETHING. bad idea i guess. The first guy was a man with 13 kids, who had been walking out of a store before the second attack which happened in jabalyia, north gaza. in this attack, an old man and three donkeys had died and many had been injured. he was just one of them. his leg was wrapped thick with bandages and blood was still coming through. his arm was wrapped too and his color wasnt so good. we pulled out three limp carnations and handed them over. our translator explained who we were and that we were americans. Then the tirade began. and continued and went on until he made himself almost pass out. he yelled at israel and sharon, america and bush, us- what we did here wasnt enough (at this point he picked up the carnations and shook them at us) and said, how was he going to feed his family now that he cant work? and we all took it and listened and felt like crap, becuase he was right. we came in there with our 400 dollar cameras and fancy bags and gave him 3 flowers. but i ended up f! eeling like if it made him feel better to get it out, that was at least SOMETHING i could do.
The second patient was a precious little 14 year old, gangly with glasses and crooked teeth. he talked to us quietly and held the flowers almost with reverence. he told us that he was driving his families donkey cart and heard a huge noise and then woke up in the hospital with a broken leg. his donkey was killed. His mom and dad and aunt were beside him and they looked pretty poor. we asked him about his family and a friend next to him said, "they have 18 kids- its a kattiba!!" which is a small military unit. everyone laughed. im crying now thinking about his sweet little face, his leg and voice and i wonder, too late, if his family has enough money to buy another donkey.
So it continued until we had had enough. as we went to leave, our translator heard that a boy,a 17 year old, who had been in the ICU, had died just then. a mass of police, military and family friends came in and we didnt stick around.
it was hard, but felt right too. i felt like we had done something for people who needed it. it was so small and nothing, but it was what we could do.
last night there was another attack in khan younis and we might head up there to visit the family too.
i spent the night with U's family in rafah and again, felt so lucky to be here. they have a crazy family that reminds me a little of mine. being here, in this place that family is so hugely important, makes me miss my family even more. Hi guys :)
01/09/03 Subject: gaza stuff
September first, first day of school here in gaza. at 12 and 3 you can see bunches and pairs of little girls and boys. Girls walk by holding hands and giggling wearing their uniforms of white and blue-striped dresses with jeans underneath, little white collars and headbands. the boys wear dark pants and light blue oxfords or polo shirts. last night the main shopping street in gaza city, omar al-mukhtar, was packed. Its always pretty crowded, but last night- even more than usual. and today there were waves of uniformed kids on the street at about 12 and 3 (there are two shifts of school, a morning and evening, becuase there are so many kids).
i left work early and had planned to walk from work so that i could take a picture and pick up some fruit on the way home. A restaurant, the Lotus, has these bizarre/funny/creepy creature statues above the door- a giant plaster hamburger, with a face, and a giant hot dog, also with a face. the hot dog is wrapped, not only in a bun, but also in an american flag and how could i not take a picture. i went up and took the shot and the three guys sitting at the window called me over, wanting to know if i wanted anything else, some food maybe. One was an older guy that spoke really good english. the other two were huge, muscle-bound shurta (police). One smiled a lot, the other one, not so much. when they found out i was american, they insisted that i come in and have coffee.