“Even the world is sad today!” the Mum dramatically declared as she took note of the clouds in the sky. I personally felt relieved to see the extra cloud cover, providing us with a bit of shelter from the glare of the sun, but I understood the sentiment.
Everyone has gradually been showing increasing signs of exhaustion as the month trudges on. Physically exhausted from fasting and emotionally exhausted from the ongoing war. The news is on 24/7, as the figure of daily deaths goes up by the hour. At 6pm it’s ‘125 deaths today’ but you know it will be more. When you hear someone break the sombre silence with a number in the hundreds, now coming into the thousands, you needn’t ask what it’s for. There’s little more response than to swallow hard and look at the ground.
The mum’s not alone in crying every day. I tell her not to watch the news that constantly streams images of the newly dead, the remains of houses, and desperate cries of those around, but it’s hard to pull yourself away. People feel disloyal to change the channel – to watch the Eid soaps or listen to music. The first night of Eid it was reported that children had been bombed whilst playing on the swings. I still don’t know whether the sight of their crisp corpses or the manic screams of their parents was most horrific. The mum burst into tears. I felt sick in disgust.
The Israeli army phone or text families a minute before they’re going to bomb their houses, telling them to get out. They know that they’re bombing homes occupying families but yet they still pretend that making such families homeless it part of an operation to ‘protect themselves’. Protect themselves from an old woman who had just sat down to break her fast and didn’t get out in time?
And where can the homeless in Gaza go? They’re in a cage being killed off one by one.
I’m close to a family of whom half live in Gaza. On asking my friend how they were, this was his response: “We’re very well, thank God… they bombed the mosque next to us but they warned inhabitants so we went down to the basements and no-one was hurt. The real problem is that nowhere is safe in Gaza, even hospitals, schools and houses. Hopefully the war will stop soon.”
What shocked me the most was his blasé response to a bomb dropping right by his house after describing his family as being very well. I keep being told how strong Gazans are, how “they’re stronger than us [Palestinians in the West Bank]. They don’t just let the soldiers come in. They fight back.”
Yet I’m always amazed by the strength of all Palestinians. Just to think that all but the youngest have lived through at least one of the intifadas is hard to get your head around. That a whole nation has experienced such hardship but manage to carry on with life, find coping mechanisms and make the most out of what they have.
Which got me thinking about the remarkability of the human psyche. How we’re able to find releases and sources of freedom from the situations we find ourselves in. And so I started asking people what they do to ‘escape’…
Some told me that working gives them that sense of freedom, or that they feel free when people leave them alone and don’t interfere in their lives (a rare luxury here). My friend said she likes to walk in the fields.
The second day here I overheard my boss:
“People keep telling me to stop smoking but I tell them ‘I live in Palestine! Smoking is the only way I can feel free!’”
I saw a girl, maybe 5 years of age, in a refugee camp, wearing a t-shirt that had written on it:
Loving someone can feel like freedom
which had a rather melancholy ring to it in the land of forbidden love.
This time from a graphic designer: “I find freedom between the lines of drawings”
The one that left the biggest mark on me was from a friend who meditates:
“I imagine that I’m far away, in any place I want to be. My niece and nephew join in with me. I ask them ‘Can you hear the waves?’ They say ‘Yes, we can hear the waves’. I ask, ‘Can you see the shore?’ They say, ‘Yes, we can see the shore’. ‘Isn’t the sea beautiful?’ ‘Yes, the sea is beautiful’”
People are trying to find ways of coping in the midst of the ‘war’, as they call it (though the circumstances and death tolls are more indicative of a massacre or genocide being met with hopeful attempts at resistance).
Strikes and protests quickly sprung up in the towns, with anger growing as people feel unsupported by even their own government and police who try to suppress the demonstrations and have even used tear gas and live ammunition against protesters. The biggest so far was on Laylat el-Qadr, the Thursday before Eid, and the holiest night of Ramadan. 40’000 people took part in the protest that started from al-Amari camp near Ramallah and terminated at Qalandia checkpoint. A 19 year-old and a 27 year-old were killed on the night, as Israeli soldiers opened fire, with hundreds of injuries, and the death toll rose by the next day.
There is a movement ‘Kolna Ghaza’ – ‘All of us Gaza’, as a way for people to show their support to Gazans, and t-shirts have been made for people to wear, with the money going to Gaza.
I felt discomforted at first at the idea of the t-shirts, so asked my friend what she thought. She said that it’s fine until people start wearing them just because it’s fashionable. But I think it’s more than that. It’s the insanity of people in the West Bank giving what little they have to those even worse off than themselves whilst banknotes in the billions flow through wires between the big players of this world. And it’s the sad sight of seeing a people so at a loss of what to do that they feel that at least if they wear a t-shirt showing their support, showing that they have not forgotten their fellows in Gaza, they are doing something.
A youth in Gaza, almost delirious, perhaps asked the most pressing question this morning, when he began screaming at the camera: “WHERE IS THE WORLD?? WHERE IS THE WORLD??”
I think the world is trapped under governments – governments that hide behind eloquent speeches and diplomatic red tape before daring to make a true stand against the atrocities that continue to plague us.