Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.
Be a haven for the distressed,
Be a defender for the victim of oppression,
Be a home for the stranger,
Be a balm to the sufferer,
Be a tower to the fugitive.
—Iranian (Thanks to Carrie and John Schuchardt)
December 15, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza City, my apartment in the Rimal neighborhood
One unpredictable part of yesterday [December 14, 2010] was meeting Omsayat Awaja, a young woman who’d traveled to Poland with Raghda last year. I was able to confirm with her, on video, that indeed, the story Raghda told me that I’ve endlessly repeated whenever possible is true: afraid to be happy. She may have added one detail that I’d missed: afraid our happiness would end once we returned to Gaza. This woman, maybe high school age, was carrying an infant. I’m not sure it was hers.
She lived in a tent complex with her mother and siblings. Her tent, unlike most of the others we visited—and this is 2 years after the destruction of their homes by Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the vicious assault harming mostly civilians—was neat and clean. She had a computer but the power was out so she couldn’t show us her Poland photos.
Writing this, belatedly, I am thinking I should have asked her email address and asked if she’d send me some of those photos. Or Raghda might have them. This might add to the story.
During the first of 2 visits in this area to people still living in tents, the thought occurred to me: this would be a good place to donate money. Back in the States before leaving on this trip, Phil had given me all the cash he had at the moment, $1, with the admonition to donate it to people or organizations in Gaza and ask for a receipt. This follows the Jewish tradition that Marty introduced me to many years ago: god will protect me until I’ve completed a commission someone has laid on me. I expanded this idea with the Airlift to Gaza notion [linked below]. And thought, why not assume at least a few people will donate to the option I listed, to me as a trusted vehicle, so I in turn can donate to overlooked individuals and organizations? I expanded the sum from 3.6 shekels (the local currency equivalent of the $1 Phil gave me) to 80 shekels, or about $50, 40 shekels to each of 2 families.
Omsyat’s mother and brother
Her brother, wantonly murdered during the Israeli invasion and slaughter
of Operation Cast Lead, January 2009
This had to be finessed. I discussed the idea with Adham, my movie director in Gaza, and Hesham, the soundman, first. Don’t embarrass anyone, give it privately, they told me. Don’t do it on camera because the Islamic tradition is to give without receiving publicity—don’t let the right hand know what the left is doing, a traditional Islamic adage. I believe part of the discussion was recorded, but not the actual donation of money.
I’m not sure how to write about this to my Levant list. I could write, thanks to an anonymous donor responding to my Airlift appeal, I’ve donated such and such to 2 families living in tents. The young woman who’d visited Poland will use it to buy a new pair of shoes, much needed.
December 16, 2010, Thursday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal
Two weeks remain on this journey. We are about 1/2 way thru the movie project, and I have ample time to do more photography. If only the leads materialize. Key among them: John Ging, the director of UNRWA (UN Relief & Works Agency), maybe OCHA (UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Friends of the Earth Middle East project in the south of Gaza, the Maia water project at MECA (Middle East Children’s Alliance), mentally ill people thru Ted and Marwan, children with psychological damage thru Marwan and the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, something more with Dr. Mona Al Farra, and various other ideas. I’ve not dealt at all with the expatriates theme, or much about extremism. [I completed about half of this list.]
With 2 weeks to go. 4 weeks running.
Today [December 16, 2010]: all day video and photograph in the south—Rafah crossing, commercial borders, sewage and water, Quaker Palestine Youth Program partners and coaches, refugee camp, etc; tonight celebrate.
Who is giving the gift to whom?
Here’s how Adham put it in an email to me:
We meet at 8 o’clock in the morning at Skip’s house, then we go in Gaza City to meet Mohamed Abutyoor to film him talking about his brother who was killed during Operation Cast Lead, I found that his brother killed in Gaza not in Rafah as we thought.
After that we go to Palestinian fishermen, Gaza valley, Mawasi area, an empty space indicating the siege affect on agricultural sector.
We continue to Rafah border and tunnels, Yabous Association, partner of AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), Rachel Corrie where she was killed, clean water station in Khan Younis and finally vehicles at the border…
Much to do…
TO BE CONTINUED