Passport toilet paperBlog post: 3/24/15 part three
Sunshine, sand, and post assault dysphoria
First we pass the “harbor” where rows of colorful boats are docked, victims of the crippling siege and the shrinking safety zone for fisherman. The Sea Road takes us from the middle area to the south, past the glorious blue water beckoning deceptively to our right. The Mediterranean is at once a liberating vision of life beyond Gaza, of potential escape and freedom, and at the same time, an impenetrable wall of the prison.
The road is intermittently paved and dirt, we see the now familiar houses turned to rubble, massive bomb craters, the empty aspirational “4 Seasons Resort.” A river of raw sewerage drains into the sea just adjacent to a solitary swimmer. The smell is sickening. We speed past empty farmland, a colorful resort designed for the staff of The Open University where classes are offered online for Gazans that want a degree but must continue to work. Young boys are running around in the front of the UNRWA Al Balah Elementary School, we pass shacks of corrugated metal, plastic, hanging rugs, ?favelas anyone. Boat skeletons, wandering sheep, scattered silent “resorts,” post assault dysphoria.
Nahed is narrating and answering our questions and I ask her something I have asked over and over again here. I cannot find anyone who admits to supporting Hamas, in fact most Gazans I talk to are disgusted with Fatah as well as Hamas (not to mention Netanyahu, Obama, the list is long). I rarely see green flags or the occasional political poster. What is going on? Her response is brilliant in its simplicity and honesty. Many Gazans, particularly post the 2014 assault, do not support Hamas leadership and are deeply unhappy with the current disastrous state of affairs in terms of the basic functioning of society. But if someone were a Hamas supporter, they would not tell me for the following obvious reasons. I am already aware that the Gaza strip is crawling with collaborators, vulnerable young men recruited during stints in Israeli jails or in exchange for permits for medical care in Israel. But more importantly, if someone’s opinion or photo inadvertently ended up on facebook or a blog post or some mainstream or social media, they would be vulnerable to a targeted assassination by Israeli forces, so this silence is a matter of survival. (Big ah ha moment).
The driver turns away from the sea into the Israeli Beach Camp, site of a former Jewish settlement evacuated with an implosion of national handwringing by the Israelis in 2005. A cluster of modern apartment buildings comes into view, a gift from the Arab Emirates to Palestinians from border areas who lost their homes in 2008. They moved in last year, that would be six years of homelessness. The ride is becoming more of a jolting chiropractic experience, past rows of plastic greenhouses, olive groves. It is starting to get really Mediterranean hot as we arrive at the PMRS mobile clinic, a small three room wooden house adjacent to a similar structure for social support sessions. Funded by Oxfam and Belgium, one general practitioner, two nurses, one lab tech, and a social worker come twice a month, seeing a collection of patients, doing very basic primary care (like there is no exam room), acute mostly non-serious illnesses, (lots of skin disease and scabies, hypertension), education (evacuation in case of attack, basic first aid). The services are all free, mostly women with resigned looks on their faces wait with their children. We can see the no go “buffer zone” and nearby Israeli border. A spy balloon hangs over us and in the moon scape of houses toppled over, shattered into massive fragments, the detritus of life’s minutia emerges from the rubble: pink snow suit, comb, electrical socket. The birds are singing their little hearts out and thistle and a cheerful yellow flower spread over the landscape, the life force in action.
The rutted roads take us to Alzana, the sight of even more destruction, which at this point is a really challenging concept. There are families living in tents, people who were once farmers and fisherman and businessman. A sea of white hijabs emerges as high school girls in dark blue uniforms and backpacks walk home, faces smiling, laughing, just kids doing their thing. PMRS has a much more comprehensive clinic here and provides the only health care for the area. I have seen these clean, competent clinics before, staffed with dedicated doctors, nurses, and health workers, making a lot out of much-less-than-adequate. The most striking observation for me is the wall in the hallway and the exam room riddled with bullet holes. Israeli soldiers shot through the front door and through a window, it seems they were trying to take out a dangerous otoscope and the nearby scale. Attacking a medical facility generally falls under the category of war crime.
We Are Not Numbers
- In the preface of your book, Broken Promises, you acknowledge how hard it is to reach beyond "the choir" when writing about Palestine. What advice would you give us, Palestinians in Gaza, about how to best tell our stories so that people beyond the sympathetic activist community will read and absorb?
- What kind of messages and stories were most effective in opening your own eyes, as a Jew, to the perspective of the "other"? We'd love to hear some examples.
- You are trained as a physician. When, how and why did you become a writer as well?
- You also are a filmmaker. Many people think video is much more powerful than the written word. How you view the advantages of both, and the continuing role of written stories?
- Now that you are in Gaza, after the war, what do you think are the most common myths about Gaza that we need to help dispel through our stories?