My message is to show as much love as you can to your parents, because I lost my parents and I am not able to care for them anymore.
—Mona Samouni, age 11 years
Mona Samouni with the identity cards of her mother and father soon after they were both killed during the 2009 bombings (Thanks to Adie Mormech)
Part of the Samouni family
Missile damage to a home
Excerpts from my journal during a 6 week journey to Gaza.
December 19, 2010, Sunday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal
(Note: BDS = Boycott, Divest, Sanction, a growing international movement, requested by much of Palestinian civil society, intended to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine; and ISM = International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led, non violent movement providing international support to end the occupation and Gazan siege)
2 signal events from yesterday, both connected to ISM, (which I’m much more in contact with than on any other visit to Gaza, thanks in large part to the friendliness and accessibility of Inge Neefs and Adie Mormech) and both surprising. The first was a meeting of local university age BDS activists, a group that has recently formed.
We heard from Dr. Haidar Eid, an articulate and powerful speaker and organizer. He reported about a recent Israel-Palestine conference he attended in Stuttgart Germany. Illustrating with examples—such as the authorities not readily granting permission for a meeting site—he demonstrated the reluctance of the German government to criticize Israel. He attributes this to the guilt many Germans feel about the holocaust. Hearing him I recalled the reaction of CW, formerly of Friends Meeting at Cambridge (my Quaker community), who seemed dumbfounded by my stance as a German about Israel-Palestine. Don’t you feel shame at being German when considering the plight of the Israelis?
No, sorry, Chris, I don’t. Perhaps the opposite. I identify with the silent Germans who lived during the Nazi period, unwilling to see and speak out about the truth. That is my legacy.
From the conference report to business for our group about who’s doing what about BDS—website makers, bloggers, letter writers, video makers, connectors with the international community, etc. I suggested the tactic of culture jamming (see link below). Haidar thought it would be premature for Gaza, later maybe. I also suggested hosting a showing of the Itisapartheid contest videos that Rick had suggested I do. This caught fire and we might see some action before I leave. Israel Apartheid Week was also on the agenda.
I felt tremendous excitement during this meeting, the fact of so many that seem so energized working in Gaza to boycott Israeli products, especially when there are so few alternatives here. Some discussion about this, identifying Israel products—apparently a popular one is a fruit drink—and alternatives—fruit drinks are locally manufactured. I think I’m drinking a Gazan product this morning, an overly sweet orange confection.
Adie co-led this meeting, and the team of Haidar and Adie is strong. I also felt synergy in the room, people’s energy bouncing off each other, lighting each other’s fire. My photo student Rana attended and contributed forcefully. As did Inge and S from ISM. The group is definitely Gaza-based, Gaza-led, Gaza-inspired, and Gaza-focused. My dear buddy back home, Rick, will be very happy to learn about all this.
Thinking I was done when the meeting ended, I hung around to see if I might visit with Inge and Adie, maybe a falafel in the park in Soldiers’ Square. This notion turned out to be eating falafel on the run, stopping by their flat (not far from my house) to pick up about 5 large bags of winter coats, and deliver them to the Samouni family that 2 years ago had been herded into one building under the promise of safety and then many of them shot. I’d heard about this incident—the horror of it, the duplicity, the savagery, the senseless killing, usually of male family members and including innocent children, before the eyes of the family.
The Zeitoun neighborhood in January 2009
(last photo courtesy of the Independent)
The Samouni family lives in an outlying region of Gaza city called Zeitoun (Arabic for olive) and indeed I saw many olive trees as well as other cultivated plants. My first impression was about all the rebuilding I observed. How much was destroyed? How did people live during the immediate aftermath of the attacks during Operation Cast Lead? Why did the Israelis attack? Where’d the money for rebuilding come from? What do the survivors experience now? How deep is the suffering? How are the children doing?
Zeitoun in January 2009
To some extent I was able to begin answering these questions in a few ways: wandering around, observing, photographing what appeared to my eyes and lens; a formal interview with 2 boys about 10 years old (movie forthcoming); and a long discussion later with Adie who’s done extensive reporting on this affair and promised to send me information (linked below). I expect to research it as well, and perhaps blog and post photos about it, maybe even—because I used the video capability of my still photo camera—insert something into the main movie Tom and I are making. A pity we didn’t have our video team with us.
Trampling on the bedding of the family whose house these soldiers confiscated
The boys were very eager to use my camera. Inge had warned me about this. I’d forgotten until a boy appeared with a beautiful Canon Powershot SX 20, a recent model of what I have, the SX 3. Is this his family’s camera? was my first thought. Then I recalled seeing it with Inge, asked her, she confirmed, hers, lent to the boy who was unwilling to share it with others. We photographed each other. Eventually some boys used my camera so the photos from this session are of mixed origin. I noticed an extraordinary one of Inge that I know I didn’t make—I’m still too shy to come in too close, but one of the boys has passed thru that stage.
Kanaan in a tent some of the family lived in
while rebuilding their homes
Inge Neefs, photo by Kanaan Samouni
Adie gave an English lesson, the girls seemed very involved. Inge and I sat with one of the families outside a tent they’d used while rebuilding their home. The woman was especially gracious. She witnessed her husband’s execution, as did her children.
Adie Mochmeh giving an English lesson (while learning Arabic)
I asked Adie, what do you think the Israeli logic was that led to this killing? Hard to know. Some of the men were affiliated with Islamic Jihad but that’s true of every neighborhood. The Israelis systematically bombed, routed families, shot men and kids, destroyed buildings, prohibited emergency services from entering, left people bleeding to death, and commandeered a house and left it with shit on the floor [the mark of the most moral army in the world?] and graffiti promising to return and kill more [I’ve photographed this, heard about it, now witnessed it, assuming it was not implanted by Palestinians hoping to garner support].
Any accountability? I asked. Some very slight, he answered, one court case, probably against a soldier, not an officer.
Israeli soldiers murdered this man in front of his family
Later, reading Adie’s article, thinking about what I’d seen and who I’d met, considering the wanton, heedless, insane brutality by the Israelis, I felt deep outrage—and sorrow. Why this killing and destruction? What effect on the men who perpetrated this massacre, and on the population that supported it, the leaders that inspired and condoned it, the rabbis who blessed it? The city on a hill, a model of a democracy in the Middle East? When I’m home I plan to continue my research and advocacy, in large part, using the Goldstone report.
I was well aware that each person I met and observed had been stricken by the attacks of January 3 thru 5, 2009. What was I doing at that moment, where was I, how aware was I of what was happening in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza city?
I learned someone who’d traveled thru with a circus from the UK had raised money to purchase winter clothing for the children. Some $4000, and Adie and ISM bought the coats, all new, locally at a discount. They were of different sizes, one man with a list distributed them, one woman who’d come with us and who’d translated the interview for me aided the distribution. As we left a woman complained that the coat given her child had a broken zipper. Adie promised to replace the jacket.
The money for reconstruction had come from private Islamic agencies. And perhaps the UN had a role. I assume most of the building material comes thru the tunnels since this is not an official UN project. From what Adie told me I estimate about half the houses originally in the neighborhood were destroyed. Some 5 new ones were going up.
Unknown are the after effects of this violence. How do the kids feel about Jews, Israelis, foreigners, Arabs from other lands? I don’t have much insight into this. Perhaps the faces I show will reveal answers. Always faces, especially eyes.
Conclude with 3 dreams: in one I was with others examining the interior of a destroyed house (looking much like ones I’ve seen in Gaza, but in the dream the location was not Gaza), we decided to leave. I believe we’d entered thru a small opening in the ceiling, a few of us managed to get out thru it, but I was stuck inside. I had no idea where to place my feet. I began to panic. I felt the house might imminently collapse on me.
In another I carried a toddler on my back, old enough to talk to me, mature enough to tease me by tickling my neck. We had to cross a street with heavy traffic. I worried.
And in a third I attended a meeting or film showing about an ex soldier who’d been heroized for his bravery—not in combat but in refusing to wage war. The movie turned into the real thing, him demonstrating his bravery. The audience rose to give him a standing ovation.
So goes my dream report from last night.
Graffiti left by Isareli soldiers
“I speak English”
From Adie Mormech: Fida Qishta, an independent Gazan documentary maker made a short and very moving film “Where Should the Birds Fly?” from footage she shot during Operation Cast Lead about Mona Samouni and what happened to her family. In it, while walking through the ruins of her home, Mona recited a verse by the Palestinian writer, Lutfi Yassini:
I’m the Palestinian child,
I carried the grief early,
All the world forgot me,
They closed their eyes [to] my oppression,
“Amid dust and death, a family’s story speaks for the terror of war,” by Rory McCarthy in Zeitoun, 19 January 2009 21.26 GMT
“IDF Investigates Commander in al-Samouni Gaza Massacre” Tikkun Magazine, October 2010
Rana Baker’s blog: “Palestine: Memory Drafts and Future Alleys”