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In Gaza

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In Gaza, a father and his six-year old daughter share the front seat of a cab after a trip to the most popular bakery in the strip. His hands gently massaging her shoulders, he asks her if she’s done her homework today. She guiltily replies no and shrugs her shoulders away. He immediately worries, asks if her shoulders hurt. He pokes her shoulder gently again and asks her if it hurts there. She says it doesn’t and he lets it go.

The cab driver halts the car at the corner of the main street, knowing it’s against the law, but also knowing that he won’t be fined. Stopping every other car on the crossroads, the daughter takes her time getting out of the front seat, scared of making the leap from her father’s lap to the street.

In Gaza, men in their forties, still wearing their police jackets, are retired. They hurry in the street with plastic bags filled with various random items to catch the first cab to the Middle Area. They don’t recognise those greeting them from cabs, they smile courteously and apologise for having full hands and not being able to shake hands. The cab driver, also a retired policeman in his forties, smiles back and asks the other man to send his regards to his family. Men in their twenties stand behind small booths to sell coffee, tea, and cigarettes, at every other corner. Sometimes, they occupy the middle tip of the street, making their presence noticeable. Sometimes occupying the middle of the street with multicoloured fairy-lights, they sit between the two directions of the street waiting for the next customer in need of caffeine or nicotine.

Society, in Gaza, stands for prohibitions, law, codes. Nobody is happy with that fact, but they abide to its invisible authority. If anyone knows where it gets legitimacy from, then they’ve kept it a secret from everyone else and so the majority dares not challenge that legitimacy. In Gaza, the lack of foreigners justifies the misery of homogeneity and the misery that the latter brings upon its members. It seems that being watched is the prevailing sentiment. Whether young men and women are actually watched by some mysterious representative of society and morals is also veiled but they mind the thought anyway. In Gaza, whatever suffocates people is tolerable; they can even invent a few additional things to suffocate themselves with.

In classrooms, young men and women learn the vocabulary for travelling, booking flight tickets and going on holiday, in English textbooks. They make jokes about it. They learn them, nevertheless, because who knows, maybe they will get to travel or go on holiday one day. Even as they see their classmate failing to cross the border for more than two months to join her husband in some Arab Gulf country that may be less than a five hour drive away.

Crime, here, is rare and always shocking. A man wonders about the times when crimes were unheard of in Gaza, when people ‘liked each other’. ‘I used to live in Jordan and the crime pages in newspapers there used to terrify me. Coming from Gaza, I couldn’t imagine people of the same blood could do such things to each other.’ He wonders what changed in Gaza.

In Gaza, a dozen children enjoy a trampoline set up in the middle of a public park which is more or less a yard where grass has found a place to grow. The grass stands in contrast with the building that drapes in the background with its grey sloping columns and protruding iron. The children jump up and down, up and down, falling on their backs and rising to their feet, girls with long brown hair flying in ponytails to their shoulders and little boys screaming their lungs out in joy. Three seven-or-so-year-old girls retreat to rest on a bench and laugh together maliciously as they plot a scheme against the two boys occupying the adjacent bench who in their turn are already planning the unheard of trick.

In this God forsaken place, Tension clings to everything, doors, windows, stair steps, people’s eyes and mouths, their hands and their necks. Tension roams the streets at night praying on young men and women’s dreams. Licking his fingers as the sun rises in the east, it sinks into the soil, into the water, and into the skins of those whose dreams it devoured.

About Rawan Yaghi

Rawan Yaghi is a Palestinian woman from Gaza. She graduated from Jesus College- Oxford, where she studied Italian and Linguistics and at which she was awarded the first Junior Members' Scholarship, a student led initiative to fund the studies of a student from Gaza. She is a Gaza-based writer. Fiction, journalism, and languages are among her interests. Follow her on Twitter at @larawanpal

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9 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    March 7, 2018, 12:27 pm

    tension licks his fingers!

  2. bintbiba
    March 7, 2018, 3:32 pm

    So powerful, Rawan ! Heartbreaking !

    I could taste and sense it on my skin through your words !

  3. gamal
    March 7, 2018, 4:58 pm

    wow Ms Yaghi, that was too much,

    “into the skins of those whose dreams it devoured”

    you are the voice of countless untold stories. I wait for anything you write.

  4. gamal
    March 7, 2018, 6:44 pm

    Dear ms Yaghi,

    Your piece put me in mind of a song here rendered in such a way that the little red head boy became a star

    it records how a man responded to the offer of recruitment to an army as vile as israels, he was Irish

    Spalpeen or brat “their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side we flung out as far as we could in to the tide”

    Arthur Mcbride, all of our hearts are with you brave people

  5. Misterioso
    March 8, 2018, 11:22 am

    For the record:

    Israel is still illegally occupying the Gaza Strip:

    Human Rights Watch, 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

    The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

    “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

    To quote Dov Weisglass, then PM Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser:
    “‘The significance of the [proposed] disengagement plan [implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda….’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

    • Kaisa of Finland
      March 8, 2018, 12:30 pm

      Misterioso, your comment reminded me of this article:

      “Who profits from keeping Gaza on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe?”

      “..Israeli security regulations require aid organizations to use Israeli transportation companies and vehicles, since Palestinian companies are not allowed to enter Israel to pick up goods from airports or sea-ports. Even more significant is the fact that the Palestinians do not have their own currency or central bank: financial assistance must be given in New Israeli Shekels. The foreign currency remains in the Bank of Israel, and Israeli commercial banks collect numerous service charges along the way.

      What this means, in fact, is that Israel exports the occupation: as long as the international community is willing to contribute financially to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israeli companies continue to supply them with goods and services and receive payment in foreign currency.”

      https://972mag.com/who-profits-from-keeping-gaza-on-the-brink-of-humanitarian-catastrophe/133549/

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