Monday, 9:45 am
“Tayara! Tayara!” a toddler’s anguished scream announces. The roar of an Israeli warplane cuts through the sounds of the morning. Flying low, its menace is loud.
The child’s voice is not like that of the confident child I met half a year ago, who calmly named the warplanes by sound. Now I hear the wail of a traumatized child who equates the F-16 sound with terror and death.
I learned later that around the same time that the Israeli warplane was buzzing around the Gaza coast, the Israeli military dropped flyers along Gaza’s eastern border, proclaiming the 300m no longer a part of the Green Line, an off-limits zone in which anyone risks being shot. According to news reports, a box of the flyers hits a 12-year-old boy in the Tel Al-Hawa district, sending him into a coma.
The ‘Hope’ convoy tours Gaza after finally being permitted to enter yesterday evening, having endured a 24 hour wait at the Egyptian controlled Rafah crossing. Only a fraction of the European group, 22 of 100, is granted entry. They have brought with them 25 ambulances, a kidney dialysis machine, wheelchairs, and truck loads full of medicine.
After reading about the British doctors and nurse, who are on a hunger strike at the Egyptian Rafah crossing after being denied entry to set up a cardiac surgery unit in Gaza, I go to Shifa Hospital to learn about the situation of Gaza’s heart patients.
Dr. Nasser, head of the cardiac department, spoke of the great need for cardiac surgeons in Gaza:
There are only two in all of Gaza, and one of them is ill. The other cannot work independently.
He estimates that there are 400 patients in need of heart surgery.
”We lack the expertise,” he states, saying that it has become impossible to send doctors out of Gaza for training.
I go to meet with Abu Mohammed, the secretary general of the Gaza fishing syndicate to learn more about the issues fishermen face, namely heavy, illegal restrictions imposed by the Israeli navy on how far Palestinian fishing boats can go out to sea. Abu Mohammed spoke of the Israeli navy frequently kidnapping Palestinian fishermen, and of the Israeli navy’s daily intense, close range shooting and shelling at Palestinian fishermen in their boats. He shows me boats, which were shelled and destroyed during Israel’s war on Gaza. I ask about the owner of one of the destroyed boats: What is he doing now?
“Fish shugel,” Abu Mohammed tells me, ‘no work’.
“How,” I ask, “do the fishermen continue to go out every day, knowing they will be shot at?”
“We’re not afraid,” he answers. “But we are very aware, that we could be injured or killed any time or even kidnapped!”
It is like living near a construction site: night and morning, the sound of jack-hammers, repeatedly stuttering, drowning out thoughts. Except that the ‘jack-hammer’ sound is in reality the intense gunboat firing of the Israeli navy, attacking and harassing Palestinian fishermen. And, this harassment does not stop at sun-down, but continues through the night, and into the next day.
Then there is the shelling. After speaking with Abu Mohammed yesterday, I now understand how gravely close the shelling is to the fishermen: the Israeli gunboats fire shells into the water immediately next to the fishing boats, either causing surges of waves to destabilize the boat, while the fishermen frantically try to pull up costly nets, or even damaging the hull and boat equipment. If one of these shells hits the gas tank…
During the war on Gaza, Israeli gunboats shelled two medium-sized fishing boats, and two medium-sized hassakas [small outboard engines] in the Gaza city harbour, incinerating the fiberglass hull and sides, and destroying nets. At great expense the nets can eventually be replaced, but fiberglass is non-existent in Gaza. The boats are docked, fishermen made jobless, and dependent families are without an income.
In total, according to Nazar Ayesh of the Gaza fishermens syndicate, 23 boats in the Gaza city region, 30 boats and nets in the north, 25 in Deir el Balah, and 36 boats and fishermen’s huts in Khan Younis, along with another 17 huts in Rafah were destroyed by Israeli shelling and F-16 bombs.
Seaside, Gaza city, is livid with suffering, and with determined grasps at joy. This small stretch of sand just a few hundred meters –between the bombed port and the hotels on the seaside (also bombed) is a small luxury where families bask in the sun and breeze, stroll along the sand, and try to escape sadness, and the feeling of futility, for just a short time.
My friends long for normality. They want to do something with their lives.
“We go to work, eat, sleep, go to work, eat, and sleep. There’s no life, no dreams, no possibility of travel.”
Every day I see the stress and unhappiness on their faces. They work long hours, but the economy is devastated, and their pay is impossibly low.
Maybe one or two of them will manage to leave Gaza, see the world, and experience a different life.
However, that leaves a million and a half Palestinians trapped, the majority far less fortunate than my employed friends.
After two days, the farmers we joined have brought in their harvest of 30 dunums of wheat. It has been a surprisingly successful two days, considering the shooting – it is so heavy that it formed ‘clouds of dust’–from Israeli soldiers, which drove these farmers off their land just last week. We are all relieved to have finished without an incident, but aware that another 140 dunums of the same farmer’s land lies ‘off-limits’, as it has since Israel arbitrarily imposed the ‘buffer zone’ restrictions on Palestinians a decade ago.
Some of the young farmers leave their morning of hard labor to continue to a different plot, to tend vegetables, moving from low-wage work to low-wage work. Years ago, when the situation was different, they worked safely on the land, amidst the trees that have since been bulldozed.