Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tonight They Martyred the Moon (Based on a True Story)

The fishermen were attacked again today,
As everyday on the Gazan sea.
Not once in recent memory
have they been left in peace.
The gunboats show no mercy
As they loom over the hasakas
They shoot randomly and with glee,
As the fishermen flee.

F-16’s crisscross the sky,
As everyday in the Gazan sky.
The sonic booms shake me as
i sit on my balcony
watching the crescent moon
as it falls to the sea.
i walk inside to refill my tea,
the windows rattle ferociously.
i return to my seat
tea in hand
the moon has vanished from the sky.
Damn, i shout, come quick,
the Isareli’s have martyred
the moon.

I scan the sea to the north
i see a rope around the moon
a Israeli gunboat laboring far below.
They are towing the moon to Ashdod.
It’s not allowed in the sky
over Gaza.
I wonder who decides?
As the world pretends to hide?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Bullets in Gaza

On Sunday it was reported that a young boy had been shot on farmland near the Rafah crossing. The details were unclear. Several colleagues and I traveled to Rafah to find out what happened. After making several inquiries, we entered a Bedouin area several hundred meters north of Gaza’s border with Egypt and three kilometers from the Karm Abu Salem area of the Israeli border on the East. We follow a young man on a motorcycle down dusty roads with small plots of crops and olive trees on one side and dilapidated homes made of corrugated metal, cinder block and plastic on the other.

Standing outside a rickety gate, three boys explain that we need to wait, as there are only women at home. A child runs off to summon a male family member.  Someone calls from inside asking us to enter. We pass through a dusty courtyard and are directed to a small dark room with nothing but mats on the floor. A bare light bulb hangs overhead. A plastic clock hangs on the wall. Despite all the children on the street and in the home, there are no toys. A young boy sits in the corner, playing with the fringe on a woman’s coat, shy and surprised at the strangers in his home. A woman with a child clutching her leg peeks from behind a curtain. Plastic chairs are brought in for the guests.

Faiza, the boy’s forty-four-year-old mother enters and sits on the mat next to the boy. He is six-year-old Sohab Sultan. He is the victim of the shooting, but he looks uninjured. Faiza pulls down his pants to show the fresh bandage on his left buttock. She explains that on Saturday evening at seven o’clock, they heard gunfire from the border. Sohab was sitting exactly where we sat, playing on the floor with his brothers when the bullet pierced the corrugated metal roof and struck him. She points to the hole in the ceiling just above my head.

She produces his x-ray, showing a large caliber bullet lodged inches from his pelvis. If he had been sitting in a slightly altered position he could easily be dead. As it was, the bullet did little damage. His mother explains that the bullet hasn’t been removed yet. They need to schedule surgery with the hospital.

Sohab’s father, Majd, enters the room and sits beside me. He explains the family’s circumstances. He is unemployed and his wife suffers from kidney disease. There is little income and very little support from the government. He and his wife have nine children. Sohab is the youngest. It is the first time a family member has been injured, although there is often the sound of gunfire from the border and bullets have struck neighbor’s homes in the past.

He said, “We are often afraid, we never know when a bullet could come down.”  He continues, “To the Israelis we say, “Please don’t shoot us, we are civilians here, we have no weapons, we live a civilian life. We just want to live like humans. We want to live in peace.”

Baraka al-Morabi was not as lucky as Sohab Sultan. He lived in Zeitoun camp with his mother, father and two sisters as well as his grandmother and three aunts with their families.

I attend his funeral. I watch as a father stumbles carrying his seven-year-old child to his grave. Baraka is wrapped in a white shroud and lowered into the ground. A short ceremony is held. A Palestinian flag is draped over the fresh mound of dirt and a cardboard placard identifies the grave. His is the last in a line of fourteen new graves of fighters and civilians. You can see a short video of the funeral here.

Several days after the funeral we visited with Baraka’s father, Mohammed Osman al-Mograbi. He led us down rutted dirty streets, past the gaggles of bare foot children, to his home in Zeitoun camp. We sat in a small concrete enclosed courtyard adjacent to a small stable that contained a horse and a small pony. The pony was born just weeks ago, a gift for Baraka.

As the family joins us under martyr posters of the young boy and his neighbors, we learn the story of Baraka’s death.

On Saturday March 17th there was a funeral in Zeitoun for three fighters who had been killed the day before in an Israeli bombing. Baraka was walking in the funeral procession. Many people were firing pistols and Kalashnikovs into the air, as they will during both funerals and celebrations. Suddenly Baraka stumbled to the ground. He was struck in the back of the head by a bullet falling from the sky. He was hospitalized for four days before he died.

Mohammed tells us, “Baraka was a happy child. He did well in school and was always smiling.” Now, he is gone, but not forgotten.

In Gaza, reminders of war and violence are everywhere. It is normal to hear the sound of drones and F-16’s crossing the sky. The sound of machine gun fire from Israeli gunboats often punctuates a day at the beach or disrupts ones sleep. Building facades made of plaster and cinder block are scored with large caliber bullet holes, or even larger holes from mortars. Weeds grow around twisted metal and chunks of concrete in lots where buildings were reduced to rubble in Cast Lead, and there are the newly flattened buildings from last week’s attacks. And often, the bullets find much softer targets. Posters of the newly dead replace martyr posters faded and torn. Then there is the one legged man in the market, the burned woman I pass on the street, the pock marked arms and faces of shrapnel victims, and the men forever bound by wheelchairs.

Now there is a new poster, of a young boy who was killed in an act of senseless violence where violence and destruction seem the norm. His death just a footnote in the context of the larger systemic violence waged on the people here, but just last week he was not a footnote, he was a smiling vibrant seven-year-old boy who did well in school and had a new pony.
Baraka’s grandmother appears heartbroken. Baraka’s mother is less than reassured. She is pale and drawn. She is also carrying her fourth child, and on the day Baraka died, she thought she was ready to deliver and was rushed to the hospital, but the doctors sent her home to wait, and grieve.

Mohammed smiled. “Do not be sad,” he said to me, “Baraka is in paradise, it is a better place than here.” Mohammed seemed at peace. “We don’t worry,” he said, “We are a happy family.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

They Will Never Beg

I have read several accounts over the last few days of how life in Southern Israel has become unbearable for the people living there. In retaliation for the latest provocation by Israel over 200 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. 11 people were injured, one seriously. Most were suffering from “shock”. Two were injured when they tripped on the way to secure areas.

Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon on Thursday said, "Anyone threatening us is risking his life. We will retaliate until they beg us to stop.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel makes its "best effort to target terrorists and not the civilian population," but added: "We will not accept the constant disruption of life in the south of Israel, and I advise all heads of terror to think well about their actions."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned "in the strongest terms" the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. "We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these cowardly acts," she said in a statement Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Meeting with opposition leader Tzipi Livni in New York, Clinton said Israel has the right to defend itself.

Why is it that the Palestinians have no right to respond to Israeli aggression? If rocket fire into Israel is a “cowardly” act, what exactly is bombing with F-16’s and drones? Why does Israel have a right to defend itself, but no such rights extend to the Palestinian people?

With the exception of the two men Israel assassinated on Friday, Zuhair al-Qaisy, secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees, and Mahmoud Ahmad Al-Hanini, a Hamas military leader, the Palestinians killed remained nameless in all mainstream media accounts.

But i assure you, those killed have a name, and each has a family that grieves for them.

Adel Alessy, sixty-one-years-old, was working as a watchman on a piece of farmland. Saleh, his son, said people came to his house to tell him his father had been killed in an air strike on Sunday morning. “My father was known by all the people in this area and everyone liked him,” said Saleh, “He was working hard, trying to feed his family.” He added, “There were no rockets shot from the farm that day. The Israeli’s know that, but they wanted to do this crime to prevent our farmers from working on their land.”
Adel's brother Mohammed and his son Saleh.

Adel’s brother Mohammed added, “He worked hard his entire life, and he never refused to help anyone who asked for help.” Adel Alessy is survived by his wife and seven children.

On Tuesday morning Muhammed Mostafa El-Hasami, seventy-two-years-old, and his daughter Fayza, thirty-five-years-old, went to spend the day planting at their small farm. Dr Abed Allalah, his son, explains, “My father was a teacher as well as a farmer for the past 40 years.” Two rockets were fired from the adjoining property. One rocket failed and crashed into a greenhouse, starting a fire. Abed says, “My father and sister went to put out the fire when an Israeli drone targeted them. When we heard the bombing, we went to see what happened and found both my father and sister on the ground in pieces. Fayza’s mother heard her last words, “I am dying.” Her husband died within minutes of arriving at the hospital.

Abed told me, “Israel must be pressured to stop targeting innocent civilians. They must stop killing women, children, and old men. I believe Israel knows they are killing innocent people but they don’t care, because no one in the world is confronting them.” A wife, three sons and four daughters remain to grieve the loss of a beloved father and sister.

Ayoub's martyr poster in the courtyard of his home.
Um Mohammed, the mother of twelve-year-old Ayoub Asalya told me how her son was afraid when the air strikes began, and how he slept restlessly by her side the night before his death. Before he left for school he bargained with his mother. She would buy new sandals for him and he’d buy her a gift on mother’s day. A few minutes after he left the house his mother heard an explosion.

She found Ayoub’s cousin, Wafi, face down in the street. Ayoub’s body was found less than fifty yards from the house in the orchard, under a lemon tree. One of the neighbors said he couldn’t recognize Ayoub. Um Mohammed said, “I can’t imagine my son, who I was just talking with, lying in pieces.” Both legs were severed. One leg was not recovered.

Ayoub's mother in the lemon grove.
A breeze rustles through the lemon trees. Um Mohammed picks a lemon from a tree that is splattered with Ayoub’s blood. Shreds of his clothing lie scattered on the ground. “The Israeli’s claimed they targeted fighters,” she said, “Do they think Ayoub was shooting rockets? Where are the human rights of the Palestinian people?” Ayoub was the third child of Um Mohammed killed by the Israelis. “Now who will bring me a gift on Mothers day?” she asks.

The injured also have names, dreams, and memory. I was unable to lift my camera to record their injuries, but stood alongside them, silent. A friend did document the injured. You can view photographs of them here: No one was crying.  Their injuries were severe. Moath Abo al-Eash, twenty-years-old, suffered burns to his face and hands, smoke inhalation, and shrapnel wounds to his chest, torso, hands and face. When asked what message he would like to send to the world, he said, “My picture is enough to tell the world.”  

But I am afraid it is not enough. The Clintons, Nulands, Yalons, and Libermans of the world are not so easily swayed. The human misery they inflict on Palestine and the rest of the world does not influence their political calculations. They have the power, the money, the sophisticated weapons, and a complicit media. But I can also tell you this; the Palestinian people bear their burden with dignity. Like the people of Libya, the people of Egypt, the people of Bahrain, the people of Syria, and people around the world, they demand their freedom. They will never beg.