What is to give light must endure burning.
Yesterday the tour with Adham, Louisa, and Awni. Generally we were south and east of Gaza City, as far as Khan Yunis but not to Rafah where I’d asked if we might visit the murder site of Rachel Corrie. Rafah is too dangerous, Adham announced. We’d headed first for the electrical power plant that had been bombed in the summer of 2006 and then repaired. I’ve been confused by conflicting reports about its condition. I can verify it appears intact and seems to be operating. I made a series of photos from outside the facility—we didn’t gain permission to access it. While there Belal called to arrange a meeting for later, an auspicious event like those that mobile phones might elicit.
While in that area we heard shooting, Awni correctly concluded this was from a funeral. He’d heard Israelis had recently invaded Al Bureij refugee camp; some Palestinians killed, and guessed the funeral was in Al Bureij. We reached the camp moments later to join a huge throng of men of all ages—women don’t attend these events unless immediate family in which case as either they with the family lead the parade to the cemetery or ride in cars to join the mourners for the burial—and eventually Awni dropped me off with Adham to join the marchers.
Was I the only foreigner marching, stared at by children, yet accepted by all. I ignored the constant din of “what’s your name” “where are you from” and “how are you” to try to concentrate on the action and photograph it. Once again my Nikon lens is a problem: stuck between about 20-25 mm, occasionally generating an error message that seemed to prevent exposures, and so my range was severely limited. For this event I switched to the telephoto lens and tried valiantly to manage.
Adham asked if I’d like to move ahead and extract ourselves from the back. We didn’t get far in the jam-up. Constant rifle and pistol shooting in the air, which Adham feels is stupid and futile, and when we neared the cemetery the blaring loudspeakers wiped out any feeling of reverence or sorrow for me. I was annoyed. My reaction only, not necessarily that of others.
The cemetery was thick with grave markers. At many of them small clumps of about 3 men squatted or knelt at the stone reciting, Adham told me, parts of the Koran that would enable safe passage to the next world. We never reached the grave site. Mourners—were they all mourners for that particular person killed or were some, perhaps the majority, residents of the camp mourning the situation?—streamed out, including a cluster of about 4 internationals, maybe journalists. I saw few TV or photographers people.
I lingered to show individuals resting, thinking, recalling, considering, how knows? My telephoto lens here worked to my advantage. This kind of photography I could do eternally.
I visited Bureij last year invited by a remarkable family, to breakfast with them and see their compound. Also the flamingly gorgeous Ragdha and her most friendly brother Mohanad who toured me around the camp. (Photos here)
I thought I might see a familiar face in the funeral crowd but did not. Nor did much of the area we walked thru look familiar.
Louisa had to sit this one out: she’s a female. When Adham and I returned to the car there sat Louisa in her furry white coat, green beret, dark wide sunglasses, chatting with local kids, mostly girls. She is a clear hit. Folks love her. Her laugh is infectious, her enthusiasm contagious, her demeanor warm and compassionate—she beguiles people. Writing for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, she is knowledgeable about much of the Gazan dynamic. She often writes the news dispatches I found later on their website. Her last name suggests she might be the daughter of a famous British author. She is also determined to have her way: she was about 20 minutes late for our meeting, and she insisted several times on walking alone along the beach. I photographed her on several occasions hoping I have something to remember her by besides my fickle interest.
Adham offered a cogent analysis of some of the reasons for the current interfactional quiet in Gaza: complete control by Hamas. Previously many factions fought each other, not only Hamas and Fatah, but the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, etc, and numerous splinter groups who often did the kidnapping. Apparently a mafia-like family kidnapped Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist, for the money. This situation has ended—for. Hamas rules, sets policy, enforces, at times unjustly, brutally, criminally. For instance, shooting guns into the air. And shooting off kneecaps. The new policy allows such shooting at funerals and against Israelis but nothing else, not at weddings for example. So folks, even if Hamas, doing this are arrested. Is this progress?
So goes another day in Gaza, living what I hope is a partially ordinary life.
Today’s plan: maybe without a big plan or accompaniers, on the occasion of the Islamic new year. Make hot cereal from the bulghar we bought last evening on the way home, chat with Adham who is staying with me for protection, over to the AFSC office for computer work, to include the beach series, writing already on my blog, photos to follow, begin thinking about teaching (this has been totally absent from my brain, a welcome relief), more about what to do in Gaza and during my endgame (leaving the territories in 15 days), and as always wondering what will happen next, who and what will magically appear in my life. Maybe I’ll be alone tonight for a change unless Louisa drops in.
—Journal of January 8, 2008 Tuesday, Gaza