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Jihad the date collector


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The shades of orange and red of freshly harvested dates stopped me in my tracks. Two horse carts waited streetside, one loaded with heaps of dates still attached to their branches, the second with boxes of crisp, red, newly plucked dates and sweet, dark, time-ripened dates.

Although I’d seen dates at friends homes and in small forests in central Gaza, something about their intense colour insisted that I photograph them.

As I turn to leave, three men approached, more dates in hand.

Jihad, from Beit Lahiya, moves around Gaza city harvesting date trees. With his horse carts, he and the two young men (relatives of his) take the bounty to markets and get 50% of the sales, the other 50% going to tree owners.

He has one of those huge smiles that doesn’t easily disperse, stays planted perhaps even in his sleep.

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I learn that the crispy and slightly bitter bright red dates which I don’t enjoy eating soften and sweeten into the dark brown dates I love in just a matter of two or three days.

We chat more, I ask where exactly he is from in Beit Lahiya.

Near the American School, he answers.

Oh.

The American School was flattened by F-16 bombing during Israel’s massacre of Gaza. I was with medics [one of whom who was martyred on 4 January, shredded by an Israeli-shot flechette/dart bomb while he worked] who went immediately after the attack to retrieve any wounded and martyred. It was late at night and we couldn’t see, not even the corpse of the school itself. F-16s and dronse still loomed overhead, threatening to bomb the site again as they so often did, killing people who had come to help. We left and returned at daybreak, retrieving the corpse of the young night watchman slaughtered in the bombing.

The watchman came from the region, lived next to the school in the shanty shacks that surround the area. Very poor people.

Jihad tells me that his house was destroyed in the bombing: “rohht,” he says. “It’s gone.”

He’s still smiling as he relates the loss.

Where is he living now?

With family in Beit Lahiya.

He has 10 children, which he is now supporting through odd jobs like this date harvest.

Jihad speaks of his family abroad, in Jordan, in Europe, and how he’d like to see them, but can’t because of the sealed borders, the siege…

He doesn’t once frown at me, beseech me for aid, or even look miserable about his loss, though plainly he would be.

Instead, he offers me sweet dates, smiles a lot more, and invites me to visit (at his relatives’ home).

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