Visiting Gaza


Alison Wier

I

don’t want to be overly dramatic, but I was sort of shot at yesterday.

I

say "sort of" because I don’t think the Israeli soldiers in their

tower were trying to hit me, or the people with me… if that had been their

purpose I have no doubt that they would have. There is massive evidence here

that their aim is quite good. I think they were simply asserting their power.

And I think they were trying to intimidate me, as a foreigner, into leaving the

area.

There

were no "clashes." There was no stone-throwing. Everything was quiet.

I was being shown around Khan Yonis, a bullet-riddled refugee camp in southern

Gaza filled with ragged barefoot kids and angry, resigned, perplexed parents.

"Why are they doing this to us?" people kept saying to me… "Why

they do this Palestine people? They say we guns. Where guns? Why America help

Israel? Why America not help Palestinians?"

Houses

were riddled — and I mean riddled — with bullets. There were 2-foot wide holes

in roofs where mortars had come through. People showed me around their homes –

for the most part they had moved into areas away from the outside, where, they

hoped, they would be safe — huddled on mattresses on the floor. They showed me

around one house right at the periphery of the camp. It had lovely,

bullet-riddled archways inside, the remains of a tiled kitchen. When the

children saw I was curious about the bullets, they gathered them for me by

handfuls – smashed, distorted pieces of metal that tear through walls and

people. Ill try to bring some back. I wonder if Israel will let me bring my

souvenirs of their country.

They

opened a door a few inches for me — they were afraid to do more, they know what

happens if you do — and I could see a guard tower a few hundred meters away.

Even I was afraid — usually so easily brave, armed with my middle-class

American feeling of invulnerability — I’ve read too many reports of injuries in

just such situations… seen too many pictures of people with bandages over eyes

that had been shot out. Earlier in the day I saw a picture of four boys probably

about 7-12 sitting on chairs in a waiting room somewhere, looking at the camera

with no expression on their faces, and each with a large piece of gauze where

one of their eyes should be. They were the lucky kids — these were only rubber

bullets, and they hadn’t gone on into the brain…

Did

I say no expression? Perhaps the expression is beyond describing… of being old

far beyond their small bodies.

So

when I looked out at the guard tower where soldiers with sniper scopes and

binoculars were no doubt watching us, I, too, was nervous.

We

continued to wander around the camp — groups of smiling children coming up,

saying salaam, hello, giggling. The streets were Gaza sand –the ocean is

probably only half a mile away… but these children never get to swim in it.

There are soldiers in between.

Instead

they play in the dirt.

I

needed batteries for my camera, so we went to a tiny store. The owner gave us

small glasses of strong coffee, and would take no money for the batteries.

Intense,

frustrated, he pointed out what his life had become. He showed the inevitable

bullet holes in his store, the larger hole where a missile had entered a

store-room — destroying what looked like 50 five-gallon jugs of oil. He showed

me his house next door — full of bullet holes, and told me about his children

who luckily had remained uninjured, if trauma and subjugation don’t count as

injuries. He told me that all he wanted was peace, to live his life. Again, he

asked why Israel was doing this, why America was doing this.

What

could I answer? All I could try to do was explain that Americans don’t know that

this is going on — that their newspapers and television don’t tell them. And so

Americans think it is a complicated issue, and that it doesn’t involve them.

Amazingly,

I don’t find people hostile toward me, as an American, even though they so

clearly know America’s role in their suffering. By the way,

"suffering" is a word they use often in trying to tell me what their

lives are like. They always smile at me, shake my hand. When they hear I am from

America, they virtually always say, "Welcome."

We

wandered over to another house, on the other side of town. I saw a family home

no longer livable — bullet holes everywhere, large hole in the roof — another

once-lovely home, and probably loved home, with an interior garden and

children’s toys, and bullets scattered on the floor.

It

was when we went outside of this home that the gunshots occurred. We were behind

a wall, and so it didn’t feel scary. Of course, feelings lie — I had seen

numerous holes through such walls. They showed us another way out. At the time,

I didn’t take the gunshots personally. Once again, a middle-class American, I

didn’t think anyone was firing near me on purpose — I thought it was just an

accident, a coincidence.

But

as I’ve thought about it further, I think I was wrong. Why then? There? In that

particular part of town?

And

this would fit the pattern I’ve heard about lately. A few days ago when the UN

team investigating human rights violations was here in Gaza they were shot at.

The Canadian Ambassador was shot at. A young American documentary filmmaker I

met this morning, James, had been in Khan Yunis a few days ago, and had been

shot at. He showed me footage of the Israelis shooting at him: He is letting the

camera roll as he walks on a dirt road following 5-6 small boys. None are

throwing rocks. It is quiet. There is a tank at the end of the road — this is

nothing unusual. They continue walking. Suddenly there are gunshots, the camera

tilts. No one is injured. But the Army has made its point. Except it didn’t

work. He went back today.

I

asked him if he had a time-frame for making his documentary. He said until he

ran out of money or got shot, whichever came first. It isn’t much of a joke.

Have

you heard about the American stringer for AP who was shot a few months ago? — a

young woman, her name is in another notebook (I’m at an Internet Cafe in Gaza

City with the slowest computers on earth) — but I think she was about 26. Mark,

a 30-year-old freelance English photographer I’ve just met, knew her, and told

me about it. The Israelis shot her in the pelvis, destroying her spleen and

uterus. They say it was an accident. She says they knew quite clearly that she

was a journalist. Israel is apparently investigating how this could have

happened. Was this reported in the press? Will we hear the results of the

investigation? Wouldn’t you think this would have been headlines? Shouldn’t it

have been? If she had been shot by Palestinians don’t you think it would have

been?

Another

man today told me about working with a Fox film crew, when suddenly they were

being shot at by the Israelis. They finally, barely managed to escape, and they

filmed it all. But Fox never aired it. He told me the problem with the US

coverage wasn’t the crews, it was management back in the States. I believe him.

Some

people in the refugee camp told me about a new gas bomb the israelis shot last

weekend at them. They said it had black smoke, and a "good" smell. At

least 40 people are still hospitalized from it — I’m going to pin the number

down tomorrow — apparently there are people in several hospitals, so the true

number could be considerably higher.

From

the refugee camp we went to Al Amal Hospital, to meet the doctor and see the

patients.. I saw a 22-year-old man in the ICU. He was moaning and had IVs in

both arms. He said it felt like knives in his intestines. Sometimes he had

trouble breathing. His mother and aunt were hovering over him. His little sister

was sitting next to him. I went to another ward, and saw six more. I met a

father who was obviously distraught — two of his sons were in the hospital. I

saw two men have seisures while I was there — convulsing.

They

all said the same thing. They had just been going about their lives when

suddenly "bombs" came into their houses. some had been outside, and

had gone in to rescue people because they thought the house was on fire. But

they said there was no flame, just black smoke, and a good smell. In most cases

nothing happened immediately, but after 10 to 15 minutes they collapsed… some

became unconscious.

Israel

is, as usual, denying that there was anything unusual about this gas. As usual,

they are lying.

Apparently,

this also explains a lot of the bias in the US press. The reporters in Jerusalem

and Tel Aviv get their numbers and "facts" from military spokesmen.

Information from Israeli sources is printed, information from Palestinian

sources isn’t.

You

see, an Israeli is one of us. A relative, a friend’s relative, a colleague’s

relative. We hear distorted versions of what is going on from these friends, and

colleagues, and we think they know what they’re talking about. And that they’re

not biased. Because they sound so reasonable and confident and knowledgeable.

They say just enough about what is wrong about Israel, about the

"two-sides" to seem neutral. This is bs.

The

problem is when you know the truth, it is far too much to describe, far too

cruel… far too diametrically opposite what we used to think and what everyone

still thinks to express. It is hard not to sound fanatic, over-wrought, biased.

The lie is too big, the repression too complete, the Palestinians’ lives too

horrible to write about reasonably. I find it difficult to write anything –

rare for me — because there is so so so much. You have to retrieve and redefine

the very words out of the newspeak that Israel has created of

"closures" and "bypass roads" and "security."

So

I think maybe I should try to take on just one topic at a time — and for now,

this new gas… Today I was going to visit the Ministry of Health for more

information, and then back to the Khan Younis hospitals with Mark to take

photos. But he didn’t show up at the scheduled time. Probably something just

came up. But over here you always worry…

Tomorrow

I’ll go.

As

I said, there is so so so much to try to describe. Who will ever believe all

this? Israel couldn’t possibly be this cruel, this arrogant. Who will believe

it? They must have a good reason… There are two sides here, of course… just

the way there was in South Africa’s apartheid period…

I

also visited two tiny encampments of women and children living in tents on the

dirt. They were people who used to have homes in Khan Younis, but the Israelis

decided to make a road through them — for "security?" to divide the

people? to terrorize them? just because they wanted to? who ever knows? an

absolute conqueror doesn’t have to explain — so they bulldozed their homes and

their date palms and orange groves. This is already far too long — I won’t go

into the details of how they bulldozed them, how the people fled…

And

the people are living in the dirt, and show me a bent-up aluminum wash pan that

they retrieved from where their homes had been — everything else, they said,

was "under the land" Again, they asked me why america was helping

Israel do this to them. Why did Bill Clinton do this? Would George Bush still do

this? They’re on a first-name basis with our presidents. And we don’t even know

about them. One old, newly poor woman knew all the international news — she had

been given a radio and listens to BBC, French broadcasts, German broadcasts,

etc. She hears the Israeli statements. The US government positions… She’s

living in rags in the dirt now. Four months ago she and her husband had two

homes — they had just built another one for their son, who had been married

just two months when his new home was bulldozed.

But

you’ll be glad to know the international community isn’t ignoring these people.

The Palestinians have been pleading for an international team for months to come

over to protect them from the Israelis — but the US keeps blocking this. Why???

Why??? How could this be even imagined to threaten Israel’s

"security"??? But you’ll be happy to know that the international

community isn’t ignoring them — it contributed the fly-covered, floor-less

tents that the people are living in. Meanwhile, how much aid did we give to

Israel today? Eight million was it? Sixteen million? And tomorrow we’ll give it

to them again, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day…

They

gave me tea, as we sat surrounded by dirt, and told me to tell America to stop

doing this to them. I’ll try. Maybe you could try too.

 

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