The international media has devoured the story of Palestinian and international human rights activists, doctors, academics, parliamentarians and lawyers sailing through Israeli gunboat-infested waters to reach the besieged Gaza Strip. But inside Gaza, the reaction has been decidedly mixed.
As a consequence of the illegal siege, many Gazans are literally going underground to circumvent the border controls that keep them imprisoned.
I am stranded and can’t get home. I left Gaza early Friday morning, before the border at Erez closed, and thought I would be back at home by Sunday afternoon: but this is turning into a bit of an epic.
The festival of Eid al-Fitr ended a couple of days ago, and most of us in Gaza have just dragged ourselves back to work. After the sluggish month of Ramadan – when most people fasted, followed by a week of almost solid eating, drinking and visiting friends and relatives – it’s actually a bit of relief to get back to being busy every morning.
Resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine comes in many forms: every Friday, Israeli, Palestinian and international activists gather in the village of Nil’in, near Ramallah, in the Palestinian West Bank, to protest peacefully at the construction of a new slab of Israel’s so-called ‘Barrier Wall’ that will slice through Nil’in and separate the villagers from their land. And every Friday the activists are teargassed by Israeli soldiers, and sprayed with a foul-smelling liquid: they are often shot with rubber-coated bullets too.
As she scanned my overgrown eyebrows, tweezers in hand, the beautician
berated me for my laziness. ‘You should have come back here weeks ago.
You’ve left it too long, and now it’s going to hurt.’
The month of Ramadan began about ten days ago. Most of my colleagues are fasting, as are most of my friends, though – as you may already have guessed – I am not. Abstaining from food from sunrise to sunset would be OK, because the weather is still hot and I don’t feel like eating very much – but going without water is really more than I could bear. So I eat and drink discreetly, and observe Ramadan from a subtle distance.
When two small fishing vessels sailed into Gaza Port on 23 August with their renegade crews of international solidarity activists, thousands of Gazans came to greet them. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, and the 46 activists on board the boats had done something amazing: after sailing more than 30 hours from Cyprus, they’d broken the siege of Gaza. Few of us who live here thought they’d make it, and we were delighted to be proved wrong.
Four months ago, on April 16, the Israeli military carried out two separate attacks against groups of civilians in Juhor al-dik, a village in the middle area of the Gaza Strip. In the first attack, Israeli troops fired two missiles from a helicopter into a crowd of adults and children who had gathered together during an Israeli incursion into Juhor al-dik. The first missile killed two children, and when the crowd ran screaming, the soldiers fired a second missile that landed inside in the garden of Mahmoud Ahmed Mohammed. He was killed instantly, as was his brother, and four other children.
I got back to Gaza a couple of days ago. One afternoon I was standing in a central London supermarket, trying to decide what brand of chocolate to buy for my Palestinian friends – and the next morning I found myself standing outside Erez Crossing, the border crossing into the Gaza Strip, feeling very hot and slightly dazed. My brain does not travel at the speed of an airplane. Anyway, I had no problems at Erez, and less than an hour later I was at home in Gaza city, unpacking my suitcase.
I was starving after work today, so I went straight to the Al-Deira Hotel for a sandwich and a cold glass of melon juice. The Al-Deira is on the seafront, next to the old Gaza harbour: it is an elegant old hotel with swish rooms and a huge terrace overlooking the sea, and the local hang-out for delegates and journalists who come to Gaza. Now that it’s midsummer, the Al-Deira is packed from dusk onwards, but the customers are mostly local.