Excerpts from my journal about a 6 week journey to Gaza.
“Doctor My Eyes”
By Jackson Browne
Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
and the slow parade of tears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
was I unwise to leave them open for so long
Cause I have wandered through the world
And as each moment unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from those dreams
People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems
Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it is too late for me
Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry
(Thanks to Alice Kast)
November 20, 2010, Saturday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal
I write in my little room, the same one I used last year, about 3.5 by 5 meters, with a small kitchen adding another 1 by 2.5 meters of space. Totaling about 20 sq meters. This is approx 1/4 of my space at home. Cost is around $450 for the 6 weeks, making it about $300 monthly, which I suppose by some standard is reasonable. I feel lucky to have any place at all, given the conditions in Gaza, the siege, the nearly total blockage of building materials.
I face the patio where ordinarily I can write and read in privacy. Little privacy this time. The owner is adding a seventh floor to the entire building and to do this he’s had scaffolding erected on the back and one side stretching way up. I hear workers outside (at 8 AM) moving slowly about, whacking, scraping, shouting, chips of cement falling in the patio. The rare construction materials come thru the tunnels into Egypt, and are very expensive. Yesterday afternoon when I returned from a short visit with Ban and Islam, I found about 6 young men outside the gate, waiting patiently with a donkey and cart for someone to open. I opened. They smiled, thanked, and came in, I believe with more gear.
A small inconvenience having them around but a gift in that I can follow their work and photograph it.
The smoothest Erez crossing yet. The authorities can’t claim they’re too busy. I was about the only one entering. I noticed a few Palestinians waiting on the other side to enter Israel. Personnel very polite and efficient. Immediately outside the main building as I was searching thru my luggage for the information about what to expect—I should have dug this out earlier—a young soldier approached, said, Skip, here’s your permit. Earlier I’d stopped at the first gate and presented my passport to a young woman. This time I asked before entering passport control where the toilet was and made my preventative pee stop before what could be a long process. A few perfunctory questions at passport control by another young Israeli woman—why are you visiting, for how long, with who, etc—and I was cleared.
Now the challenge of jamming my wheeled suitcase thru the turnstile, only to encounter a huge metal gate with no instructions. I waited until someone remotely opened it, and then the very long walk, maybe a few km to Gaza. I reluctantly turned away one porter, and carried my own luggage the entire way. Once I’d cleared what I thought were the most surveilled sections I pulled out my small camera and began surreptitiously making photos of the corridor. Front and back, side to side.
Until I observed numerous clusters of young men sifting thru building material detritus. This was the site of the former industrial zone, now totally demolished. They were collecting rubble, stones and old concrete, to be recycled into buildings. The siege continues to block the entry of most construction materials. Justification by Israel? Possible military use, a threat to Israel’s security. Metal, glass, concrete, asphalt, largely blocked, except for what can be transported thru the tunnels into Egypt.
The young men risk being shot. Several have recently been injured by snipers shooting them in the legs. One might wonder, what exactly is the real issue with salvage? As one might wonder, by what right does Israel control access to Gaza?
I met the driver, Ahmed, not my favorite Awni, the crazy Gaza taxi driver. Stop at the Palestine checkpoint. I’d mentioned to Ahmed I was importing booze (for a Gazan friend
). Not this time. Last year, in part thanks to Awni’s chatting up the inspector, I brought in 2 bottles for human rights’ workers. This time, as a gift for one of Gaza’s heroes, I couldn’t get the booze thru. I argued, they resisted. Ahmed said repeatedly they want to broke it. Which I thought at first meant, they will break it and then somehow let it thru, or I should break it, or it is broken. What they meant, I discovered later to my horror, was they would break it and spill the contents into a pit—before my eyes, not allowing me to photograph it. Later when I told this story to B and S they confirmed that conditions have tightened, thanks to Hamas and other elements of control in Gaza. No booze for anyone.
A few minutes before this debacle I’d visited a Palestinian control person who checked my passport and entered me into the computer system. He was affable and seemed very intelligent. He asked me what another word was for shame, when someone is bad, related to shame, and whether shame is bad. Yes, shame is bad, and you might be thinking of ashamed. To be ashamed is considered bad, roughly speaking.
He asked, single or married? Divorced. He looked crestfallen, said, I’m so sorry. That doesn’t happen much here. He asked, any drugs? I assumed he meant am I carrying drugs? No. Ahmed later explained that because I looked so excited the attendant thought I might be high. Oh no, Ahmed, just truly thrilled to be in Gaza again.
TO BE CONTINUED
Islam & Ban, blessed by the full moon
“Is Hamas robbing the poor?” By Ashley Bates
“Photostory: The Erez Crossing Point in Gaza,” by Rima Merriman, May 2005
UN Flotilla Investigation finds Israel guilty of violating international law, “brutal and disproportionate” violence, and “willful killing.” Full report here. (Thanks to Anna Baltzer for circulating this, the first I’ve seen of this crucial report, helping foster accountability according to international law)