A new spirit in Gaza

Israel/Palestine
on 19 Comments

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Jennifer Bing and other American Friends Service Committee staff from the U.S. traveled to the occupied Palestinian territory to meet with other staff in the region. The AFSC published this reflection on its website and will be be publishing more reports on its Acting in Faith blog in the coming weeks.

As I drove with my Palestinian colleague to the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel—passing hundreds of children coming out of school, dodging donkey carts full of vegetables and fresh eggs, and hearing the call to midday prayers—I asked, “Is it just me, or is there a new spirit of hope in Gaza?” He replied, “Yes, there is a change since you were here two years ago, even in the last weeks.”

My AFSC colleague who listens to Fairuz in the morning and Um Kulthum in the afternoon—two legendary female vocalists in the Middle East—is unable to get a permit to attend meetings outside of Gaza. He has deeply felt the impact of the blockade, especially after his neighborhood of Sheja’iyeh was heavily bombed in 2014. Like the two million residents of Gaza, his family of five have adjusted their lives to the electricity power cuts, lack of clean water and medical care, and overcrowded schools.

“We have to have hope things will be better,” he told me as we said our farewells at the border crossing.

A few days before I arrived in Gaza, Palestinians filled the streets celebrating the beginning of reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political factions. On Oct. 12, a few days after I left Gaza, a national reconciliation pact was signed in Cairo, setting the stage for possible changes that may lead to improvements in the lives of Palestinians in Gaza who suffer from a decade of international blockade, years of internal political strife, and decades of Israeli military occupation.

“The streets support unity,” said one of the young participants in AFSC’s program, whom we met our first night in Gaza. “If unity will bring a better situation, a better future for youth, of course we support it.”

Today youth in Gaza have a bleak existence, facing with their families the lack of clean water and sanitation, electricity cuts, overcrowded schools, underfunded medical services, high unemployment (62 percent for youth) despite high levels of literacy, and restrictions on leaving Gaza.

“I just want the chance to travel abroad to learn from other cultures and get new ideas,” one youth told us. “I want people to know that Gaza is suffering, but also that we have talented, good creative people who live here—we are not just victims.”

One university researcher we met in Gaza told us: “Youth feel estranged in their own communities. Seventy-four percent of youth would emigrate from Gaza if given the chance. They don’t see that they have influence over their social or political lives and are not participating in collective ways such as unions or political parties.”

As Palestinians in Gaza focus on their daily survival—navigating power cuts and making sure families are fed (70 percent are now food aid dependent)—many don’t focus on challenging the structural violence of military occupation.

Fishermen repairing nets in Gaza (Photo: AFSC/ Jennifer Bing)

“We are happy to feel any kind of hope, but reconciliation must result in the liberation of Palestine.” This perspective was shared by a Palestinian fishermen who sat with us over morning coffee on the docks in Gaza City. Proud of their role in one of Palestine’s major industries, the fishermen told us that the blockade has dramatically reduced the quality and quantity of fish caught in Gaza’s seas. Israeli restrictions on the nautical miles they are allowed to fish, Israeli army attacks on fishing boats, high fuel prices, and raw sewage dumped daily into the sea due to electricity shortages have had devastating effects on the fishing economy.

One fisherman told us: “We want to work on our sea without danger, and feed our people who need to eat. We want a job with dignity. We need protection from Israeli and U.S. weapons.”

Another added, “We are the port to the world, but the blockade needs to end.”

Wedding guests in Gaza (Photo: AFSC/Jennifer Bing)

As we drove through the streets of Gaza from the North to the South, we witnessed reconstruction efforts mainly funded through Gulf countries. Despite improvements, some buildings, such as a new hospital funded by Qatar, did not include funding for staff and equipment and thus is yet to open.

Border crossings in the North and South were empty. One of the Palestinian non-governmental employees we met said financial assistance to Gaza has been impacted by regional conflicts, and “donor fatigue” is an issue for reconstruction. “Some people are optimistic that the reconciliation talks will mean more funding will be available for Gaza and that the blockade will ease, bringing some measure of stability.”

Daily life goes on in Gaza despite the blockade. We saw farmers harvesting olives, mechanics repairing old cars, gold sellers meeting with prospective brides, merchants selling fresh dates at street corners, children playing tag in alleyways, women going to hair salons, bridal parties singing congratulations, and boys playing soccer on the beach. Walking on the dark streets of Gaza City at night—streets only lit by the hotel generators that power wedding parties into the late hours—I felt the energy of Palestinians desiring to live a normal existence.

Gaza above ground tunnel (Photo: AFSC/Jennifer Bing)

Yet lives in Gaza are not normal, and the United Nations has predicted that the area will be “unlivable by 2020.” Children in Gaza are growing up in a world where they have never seen clean water come out of their faucets nor electricity continuously provided for a full day. A father of a small boy shared with us that he noticed that his small son would always be lying on the floor each morning rather than on his mattress. The father finally realized that the intense summer heat in Gaza was making his son roll out of bed in search of a cooler surface—the floor. “What kind of normal life is that?” he asked us.

“Your advocacy is crucial for us,” said a Palestinian we met with over coffee. “Tell our stories. We need to bring people to Gaza to see the life we lead. All the news cannot show the beauty of the people, nor how we can be destroyed in a blink of an eye.”

As we share the stories and hopes of Palestinians in Gaza through projects like Gaza Unlocked, we must continue to advocate for opening Gaza’s borders and giving Palestinians their right to freedom of movement so critical to the success of any negotiated agreement. As I passed through the long above-ground tunnel out of Gaza heavily fortified by the Israeli army, I was reminded by the highly weaponized border that the hopes for reconciliation and unity among Palestinians cannot succeed until the Israeli military occupation ends.

About Jennifer Bing

Jennifer Bing is director of the Palestine-Israel program at American Friends Service Committee. She organizes education and advocacy campaigns and has worked in and led delegations to the region.

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19 Responses

  1. just
    October 20, 2017, 6:15 pm

    “Your advocacy is crucial for us,” said a Palestinian we met with over coffee. “Tell our stories. We need to bring people to Gaza to see the life we lead. All the news cannot show the beauty of the people, nor how we can be destroyed in a blink of an eye.”

    Thank you, Jennifer.

  2. JosephA
    October 21, 2017, 12:30 am

    What resilience these human beings have. They are far more brave than the militarized-to-the-teeth cowards that regularly attack them.

  3. Elizabeth Block
    October 21, 2017, 10:34 am

    Remember John Kerry’s inane idea that Gaza could become a second Singapore? Without any interchange with the rest of the world?

    • amigo
      October 23, 2017, 12:27 pm

      “Remember John Kerry’s inane idea that Gaza could become a second Singapore?” Elizabeth Block.

      Kerry,s planning app was given the thumbs down by the Israelis even though Israel does not occupy Gaza.

  4. jon s
    October 22, 2017, 2:40 pm

    Why is Gaza “occupied” according to this writer?. Even “Mondoweiss Editors” on the other thread don’t think so.

    • just
      October 22, 2017, 6:35 pm

      Of course Gaza is occupied! Have you been there? Jennifer Bing has.

      The terrible thing is that you participate most willingly/eagerly in the horror of Israeli violent occupation while shutting your lying, settler- centric Zionist eyes.

      Please cite the bit where ” Even“Mondoweiss Editors” on the other thread don’t think so.”

      PS~ sad that a ‘teacher’ cannot read nor comprehend truth. Scary for your ‘students’.

      • jon s
        October 22, 2017, 11:49 pm

        Just,
        They refer to Gaza as “beseiged”. A territory can’t be both beseiged and occupied.

      • amigo
        October 23, 2017, 12:24 pm

        “A territory can’t be both beseiged and occupied.”.jon s

        The Israeli far left speaks again.

        Israel occupies it,s time , besieging Gaza.They, (The kind neighbourly and considerate zionists ) of course claim they are only “Mowing the Lawn ” as a favour to those with whom they wish to live in peace.

        Call it what you want—Occupy–schmoccupy–Besiege–besmiege.

        Cut the semantics Jon S.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2017, 12:29 pm

        .” A territory can’t be both beseiged and occupied.”

        Well, well, aren’t you the clever one. BTW, it’s spelled “besieged”, teach.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2017, 12:48 pm

        “Cut the semantics Jon S.”

        Oh, “Jon s” has been on a jag. He got his prescription for pilpuls refilled last week.
        And if you contradict him, he will call you anti-Semantic.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2017, 1:14 pm

        “PS~ sad that a ‘teacher’ cannot read nor comprehend truth. Scary for your ‘students’.”

        “Jon s” explained “Israeli Left” pedagogical positions extensively in the ” The pedagogy of apartheid” thread.
        I just hope he didn’t show the kids any pictures.

    • jon s
      October 23, 2017, 3:54 pm

      Just,
      I don’t know why you’re using such an agressive tone, but that’s your choice.
      In response:
      Yes, I’ve been in Gaza. Not recently.
      I thought that by now you would be aware of my views and know that I oppose the occupation and the settlements. Calling me settler-centric is ridiculous, I’ve actively opposed the settlements since their inception. Perhaps you’re the one with a comprehension problem.
      And where was I ” lying”?

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2017, 4:42 pm

        ” I’ve actively opposed the settlements since their inception”

        Which is why you live in Beersheba? Of course you are “anti-settlement”, you want them all annexed.

        (Yup, he got his prescription for pilpuls refilled. He’s just so sure today is the day we will see what a nice reasonable “Israeli Left” guy he really is.)

        “I don’t know why you’re using such an agressive tone”

        That’s why you are such a lousy, hopeless spokesman for Israel and Zionism. Of course, if you did know why, you wouldn’t be a Zionist.

  5. mcohen..
    October 22, 2017, 9:51 pm

    j bing writes

    “Palestinian unity cannot suceed until the israeli military occupation ends.”

    hamas and fatah have signed an agreement according to what i have read.which israeli military occupation does the author refer to ?

  6. eljay
    October 23, 2017, 7:31 am

    || mcohen..: j bing writes

    “Palestinian unity cannot suceed until the israeli military occupation ends.”

    hamas and fatah have signed an agreement according to what i have read.which israeli military occupation does the author refer to ? ||

    The one that continues to separate the Palestinians of Gaza from the Palestinians of the remainder of not-Israel (i.e., territory outside of Israel’s / Partition borders).

  7. Antidote
    October 23, 2017, 8:40 am

    ” I was reminded by the highly weaponized border that the hopes for reconciliation and unity among Palestinians cannot succeed until the Israeli military occupation ends.”

    One might just as well argue the opposite, i.e. that Palestinian unity depends on the occupation. Punch line from a ten year old article on blood feuds tearing apart Gaza:

    “What are they fighting about?” said the dead man’s sister-in-law, Iman Nofal, 37. “When there are Israeli incursions the Palestinian factions are united. When there are none, they fight each other. They are trying to divide the families against themselves.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/apr/03/israel

    It’s the same in Israel, of course, where unity depends on terrorist attacks.

  8. Ossinev
    October 23, 2017, 10:10 am

    @Jon s
    “They refer to Gaza as “beseiged”. A territory can’t be both beseiged and occupied”

    Strange I thought that Poland was occupied by the Germans who then ” besieged ” the Warsaw Ghetto.

    • jon s
      October 23, 2017, 3:58 pm

      It’s logically impossible for a place to be both occupied and besieged, two different and contradictory situations.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2017, 4:50 pm

        “It’s logically impossible for a place to be both occupied and besieged, two different and contradictory situations.”

        Those new pilpuls are some really good shit, huh “Jon s”?

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