Monday, March 12, 2012

A Miserably Shrivelled Peace Tree

As I am driving in a taxi from Gaza City to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, an Israeli air strike explodes four meters from the taxi. Why? Do I need one more reminder before I leave this sad, forgotten and besieged place, that the opressed continue to be subjugated by an out of control occupying power? Let's face it. Israel has erected an ethnically based, inescapable concentration camp and "the world's most ethical army" is again bombing its helpless citizens.

I have since crossed that near-impenetrable border and have thankfully made it safely to Cairo. I am distressed however to read reports from my newly made Gazan friends that indeed the bombing and related carnage have escalated.

The Canadian (and most other Western countries') Government's unethical and uncritical support of Israeli policy is in significant measure responsible for this renewed violence. Standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the Netanyahu administration emboldens that country to act above international law in complete disregard for life. Tacit support of the Harper Government encourages these miserable air strikes and contributes to the escalating cycle of violence. The hyperbole of the one-sided narrative needs to be exposed. "Security, existential threat, terrorists, Middle East's only democracy, measured response" - all these phrases do is intentionally obscure the fact that a massive military arsenal is enforcing a racist, colonial expansionist doctrine that has no place in the 21st century.

This photo courtesy of Mohammed El Majdalawi

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hamed, 12 Year-old Communications Specialist

Why is my friend not calling me, as he said he would to make plans for the day, I wonder? I look at my new mobile phone - tho one I picked up from the dusty little store on Remel Street the other day, and a message pops up, "insert SIM card". Must mean that it's time to find a shop where I can top-up my Jawal cell phone account. As it's the holiday Friday afternoon in Gaza, I'm hoping I can find someplace which is now open. At 3PM, the shutters on all the shops along the main commercial street in Gaza City were still all closed. Walking aimlessly, I noticed one grocery store was slowly opening for business. He points to the computer and then points to the unlit ceiling lights, and shakes his head. By now I am familiar enough with the erratic power supply that I know he is telling me that there is another power outage and he thus can't power up his laptop to in turn reload my cell phone. I nod understandingly, walk out the door and flag down a cab to take me back to my room.

I ask the taxi driver if he might know where to find a shop to recharge my mobile phone. He takes me to a small market. A few boys seem to run the establishment. The chief executive officer is a savvy 12 year old sitting at the front desk with a lap top. As the power has not been restored to boot up his computer, he cannot readily transfer 20 shekels worth of time to my phone.

The little CEO will not be stymied by this fuel crisis, and within moments the entire neighborhood has jumped into action. It's time to do what all Gazans who can afford it do in such circumstances: turn on their own generator to provide electricity to power the computer, which then digitally tops up my phone. The whole process is a somewhat odd, but remarkably effective blend of old and new technology - a small, noisy diesel powered generator powers a computer that wirelessly transfers funds to my mobile phone. This innovative Rube Goldberg contraption works brilliantly.

In face of the catastrophic blockade that's responsible for the humanitarian crisis here - 12 Palestinians were killed in air strikes today - the irrepressible Palestinian spirit again finds a way to resist the occupation. The electricity may be cut off, but their resilience is merely emboldened by inventiveness fueled by an enduring quest for justice and self-determination.

Friday in Gaza

Friday in Gaza.

Sitting under a large yellow umbrella and next to a lovely olive tree in the courtyard of Marna House, it is easy to temporarily forget the daily hardship of life under longstanding military occupation and punitive blockade.

In 2005, the illegal settlements were dismantled and their Jewish-only residents were forcibly removed under Israeli military orders. This was a cynical manoeuver, for in reality the Gaza Strip became a land, sea and air-enclosed cage. Palestinians residing here suffer continual human rights violations including no freedom of movement, and a socially engineered, militarily enforced profound poverty.

With the ongoing blockade, reconstruction efforts following the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead massacre have been seriously undermined. Factories are either in ruins, or those that are intact, remain idle as fuel is restricted and exports are not permitted by Israel. Land theft robs Gazans of their farmland and navy patrols have destroyed the local fishing industry. Moreover, the no-go land and sea zones are strictly, and at times, lethally enforced by the Israeli occupation forces.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Besieged Shores of the Other Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea. Your mind may wander to France's fabled cote d'azur, Monaco's glittering Monte Carlo, or perhaps the old world glamour of the Italian riviera. I have travelled to the other Mediterranean and am writing from the besieged shoreline of Gaza. Carl Jung might have referred to this forgotten piece of the region's geography as the Mediterranean's shadow side.

Instead of traditional folk music streaming out of the cantina or techno music pounding the dance floor, the soundtrack here is the rough and ugly noise of an overhead Israeli helicopter gunship firing a sound bomb to - well, to what end actually? Is it an attempt to try out foreign taxpayer funded new munitions on the civilian population below? Is it to assert social control and political dominance? Is it to re-traumatize those who were brutalized in earlier, more lethal military strikes? What I do know for certainty is that the hotel shook violently as I was having my breakfast. I ran outside, and for a moment I thought the noise was associated with the mosque that was being constructed on the water's edge. Hand held tools don't shake the ground, so I was convinced the source of the bang was far more sinister.

Later on that day I asked people in the street about the loud blast, and the worrying thing was a complete disregard to it. The people of Gaza have years of experience with military incursions, such as the brutal atrocities that took place in the 2009 Operation Cast Lead massacre.

Everyone experiences daily reminders of the colonial subjugation that goes hand in hand with military occupation. Rocket fire is one recurring strand in the soundtrack of the blockade of Gaza. "I like it when they bomb us", said the taxi driver. " I would rather die, and rest in peace, then live like this." As it has become somewhat customary for me in such instances, I am suddenly stunned into a disturbing silence that mirrors his own hopelessness. What does one say to counter his learned helplessness? Can a pithy, psychologically informed comment provide any comfort or measure of hopeful optimism in an attempt to possibly shift his thinking - just ever so slightly?

I pay my fare. He thanks me for visiting Gaza. "I'm glad to be here", and I walk out into the street.