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.