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Lama Hourani, Palestine
July 15, 2006
July 4, 2006
An hour ago I was listening to the radio and the moderator was reading Tawfiq Zayyad’s (Palestinian poet) famous poem "Like Twenty Impossible". I felt like crying! We are really impossible. I don't know how we can really still live, laugh, love, and heat, eat, sleep, etc. under the circumstances we live in.
Normal people think and plan their future but we cannot. I wake up in the morning and the first thing in my mind is “Do we have electricity? Is the water still running? Is the fridge still working? Is the TV still working? Can I have a shower before going to work? Can I dry my hair after the shower? Will I be able to buy yogurt and cheese in the supermarket today? Will I find fuel for the car today? Will we have electricity to watch the semifinal match in the Mondial today?” So many questions the minute you open your eyes in the morning. It sounds silly but since last week we all awaken with the same questions every morning.
Then Luai wakes up. He will be four years old on the 21st of August. He still says “Good morning,” but immediately asks: “Do we have electricity? Can I take a shower, Mommy?” Today he added: “When will we go to the sea, I haven't been there for a long time, Mommy. I want to swim, I miss the sea.” “We won’t go to the sea these days,” I answer. “But why, Mommy? I saw yesterday from the car it's still there.” “Well it's not safe to go to the sea, I will fill in the bath for you and you can swim in it.” “But Mommy, you said that we can't do that because we don't have electricity and it means we don't have water, you told me that I must only have quick showers these days.” I remembered that I told him that he has to take care when he opens the water and explained to him the problem of water and electricity earlier. I could not answer him, I don't want him to know that the seashore might be bombed by the Israelis the way they bombed the electric power station (he doesn't know anything about what happened to the Ghalia family a couple of weeks ago). I just try to run away to work as quickly as I can to escape from his questions.
At work, we are lucky we have electricity because we have an electric generator. I even brought my hair dryer to work so that we can fix our hair. Well we are still human, females, and we still want to look nice in spite of the circumstances. Still, the only subjects are: how many hours of electricity each one had the day before in her area? How many shellings did they count? Did you wake up because of the Apaches over our building? Did you hear the bombing of the Islamic University? etc.
I read Samia's piece, "June 1982, Beirut, June 2006 Gaza." I was in Beirut, too. So many similarities. But I was 16 years of age. I had no responsibilities, no worries, Dad was the one who worried about me and my sisters. And Mama was in Damascus. I knew that I had to do something so I volunteered in the civil defense and the hospitals for the whole period of the war. Now I'm 41 years old, I have a child and no other members of the family with me, all of them are outside, distributed in three countries: Syria, Austria and the United States.
In Beirut I didn't know what fear is. Now! Oh, my God! I know what my parents felt at that time. I'm always afraid, mainly to lose my only child, either by being directly killed by the Israelis or because he becomes ill and I have no medication for him.
It is the most difficult responsibility in our world.
Write, write, write...!
Everybody is asking me to write about our life in Gaza under the current situation, so this is what I thought I would write today.
I hope I didn't make you desperate, because I'm not. Believe me, today I reserved a table in a fancy restaurant so that I can watch the semifinal between Germany and Italy. I'm for Italy.
July 6, 2006
I began an hour ago to write something to explain why my previous piece seemed as if everything were normal. Then the news came one by one.
Today you will read about the horror.
Hanan, a field educator in our organization, lives in the northern area of Gaza City. A beautiful, happy, funny lady, who loves to imitate people, which she does very well. A lady, who makes you laugh in the most terrible times. Hanan is a lady with great pride. She is a refugee from Al Khisas, a village in Al Majdal, which is now in the southern part of Israel. Her parents, like many other Palestinians, fled in 1948 to the Gaza Strip. Hanan was born in Gaza in 1967, married Ali in 1985, after his liberation from an Israeli jail, in which he spent 14 years (he was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in an exchange of prisoners for the bodies of Israelis between a PLO fraction and Israel). They have now four beautiful kids: Maisa, 20, Rima, 18, Muhammed, 16, and Wisam, 12.
Hanan has been working in NGOs since 1999. Ali was working in UNRWA after his release from prison until the foundation of the Palestinian Authority, after which he started working in one of its security forces. They were living in a small house in the Twam area at the north of Gaza City. They could save some funds from their work, added to the pension Ali took from UNRWA when he left it and were able to buy the house. Then, with some savings and loans, they could buy a plot of land more to the north. Later, they decided to sell the house they lived in and build a two story house on the land they had bought. They left half of the land to be planted with different kinds of fruit trees. Figs, grapes, Jummase (a special Palestinian tree) and some vegetables and olive trees. Ali and Hanan had to take loans to build this house and furnish it and they are still paying. During that the children grew up and Maisa is now in the university.
After finishing the building we had two nice parties in their house. We went twice for a barbecue in the garden. It is a very nice garden, which Ali spends most of his time taking care of. Since the international sanctions imposed on the Authority, Ali does not get a salary, but Hanan is working and they are trying to manage all the expenses, the loans and the bills with one salary. Ali could receive $300 from the Authority last week. Hanan's sister in Amman sent her 300 Jordanian dinars two days ago. She was very happy yesterday that this month they have enough money made up of three currencies: Israeli shekels, Jordanian dinars and US dollars to make the kids enjoy the summer holidays. She was making jokes all the day, as usual, about the bank she has in her pocket.
When I woke up in this morning I heard that the Israeli tanks were near her house, so I called her and told her not to come to work. She said, “I am getting dressed. Don’t worry, Lama. They are one kilometer from our house. We are all O.K. I will come. Besides, Maisa has an examination at the university so she has already left and I don’t want her to be alone in Gaza so I will come and wait for her to finish the exam and take her back home.”
When I came to work half an hour later Hanan called and said, “The Israeli tanks are near my house. I can't come.”
Around 9 ö‚clock Hanan called and said, „The tanks are destroying our garden, all of the trees and everything. We are all sitting in the basement.” We could hear the sound of the tanks and the shooting. She asked us to call Maisa when she finished the exam and tell her to go to her uncle's house. The line was interrupted.
Four days ago, Hanan came with two acinuses of green grapes. She said, “You always ask me about them, Lama. I know you cook them with grape leaves and Raghda (a volunteer in our work) likes to eat them with salt. When she was talking on the phone about their garden I immediately told her: “Don't worry. I still have my acinus. I will give them to you to plant after they leave.”
Now the mobiles of both Hanan and Ali are closed for some reason. Maybe they didn’t have electricity yesterday in order to charge them.
At 11 o‚clock Maisa called, crying, “Aunty Lama, what happened to my family? The land phone is not working and the mobiles are closed.” We calmed her down as much as we could and asked her to come to the office. She came and until now she doesn't know that their garden has been ruined.
All of this is going on while the funeral of yesterday's martyrs was passing by our office with all the shooting. The Apaches were shooting from their machine guns with a loud voice, the F16s are flying, and the no pilot planes, too. The electricity was going and coming. Still I had to take care of a volunteer in our office to make sure that she got home safely, in the south of Gaza City. I had to make sure where my husband is, like everybody in the office was making sure about the position of each member of the family. I asked the employees who live in the north to go to their families and stay with them.
I'm worried about Hanan and her family and I'm worried about everybody else living there now. Especially when I hear the news about the ambulances that are not allowed to go into the area, and that they are shooting at them and not allowing them to enter.
I hear also in the radio the people asking the ambulances to come and pick up a girl that was shot by the Israelis while she was filling water for her family. They don't know if she's alive or not. She's 15 years old. Her name is Muna. People are calling the radio stations, saying, “What is going on? They have arrested all of the men. They took their mobiles and are shooting at anything moving.”
But still I'm working; I have to draft an appeal to the international community about the situation here. I have to write my quarterly report to my supervisor.
Today is Thursday. Tomorrow our weekend begins and I will plan something to do outside the house with my friends.
Yes, don't be surprised! No matter what they do to us: bomb, destroy, kill, wound, cut electricity or water, whatever. We will not forget that we are still human beings and have the right to live normally under normal conditions. We have the right to love, make love, work, sleep, hate, eat, dance and enjoy our lives. And all of this is proof that we are still here, living.
(Lama wrote after sending this article that she called Hanan's neighbour, who said that there were two tanks in Hanan's garden and that the soldiers had entered their house and that was why we could not reach them. While Lama wrote this, two were shot dead in the area.)
July 15, 2006
Returning home from the restaurant where we watched the final game between Italy and France. My son, Luai, asked me: "Mommy, where are Marwan and Isam (his friends). I miss them." I said, "Marwan is in France and Isam is in Amman." "How did they get there when the borders are closed?" "Well, they left before they were closed and they are now stuck outside Gaza." Luai answered, "You know, I will get a real gun and go to Rafah and shoot and kill the Israeli army there so that Isam and Marwan and Jiddo (grandpa) Fayssal can come here. Then I will go to Damascus to Teta (grandma) Rawda and celebrate my birthday there.- Don't worry, they won't kill me, I will kill them."
I didn't know what to tell him. He is not even four and talks this way. I don't let him watch the news but he still feels the occupation.
This morning we woke up with the electricity working. Luai went to the refrigerator and opened it widely, saying very happily: "Mommy, there is electricity, you see, I can open the refrigerator as wide and as long as I want to. He opened it and stood in front of it for minutes without taking anything from it. Then he went to the television set and turned on to watch "Tom & Jerry". He was so happy. He hasn't watched it for a long time now. But this lasted only for 10 minutes and then the electricity was cut off.
I'm glad that Luai does not wake up in the middle of the night during the bombing and the shelling. He sleeps deeply. He is experiencing a lot of new things now: Seeing the helicopters very low and hearing their loud noise from the yard of our building. Watching them even while they are shooting and bombing. Getting stuck in the elevator with other kids because the electricity is cut suddenly and not crying. Changing his entire routine (sleeping time, visiting times, not swimming in the sea, having dinner by candlelight, not having a daily bath, not reading a bedtime story but reading it in the afternoons. Getting to know a new game "Jews and Arabs" with the kids in the building. Getting to learn new words like death, bomb, and kill, etc.
Knowing the difference between the Jews, Israelis and the Israeli Army is what occupies his mind now.
The new problem with him is that he's afraid to sleep alone in his bedroom when the electricity is off. He's sleeping in our bedroom now. Since he was 4 months old I put him in a separate room.
Having these personal problems in my mind always, I still share the worries of everybody here, how long will this situation stay like this, actually how long will we, the people living in Gaza and the West Bank be the hostages of the terrorist, racist Government of Israel.
We still go to work, follow as much as we can our programmes and activities with the different groups of women.
We are also concerned about Hanan and her family. They are all right physically. The Israeli soldiers left their house on Saturday morning. Amira Hass wrote in detail in the Ha'aretz about the family's suffering during the occupation of their house. It is obvious that Hanan is not like before. She's more tense, less comic about the issues and always worried about her husband and children. The children themselves are traumatized and still in shock.
I went to visit her in the house with other colleagues from work. When we approached the house and saw the garden I felt like crying. I was happy to see all of them alive and healthy. But the destruction we saw in the garden is unbelievable. I cannot even find words to describe it.
Life continues with the same problems. We have less and less electricity every day. Now we have only a few hours during the day, and about 4-6 hours during the night while we are sleeping and we can't do anything at home.
It has its advantages though, we sleep earlier, have more time for socializing with the neighbors, and we have the privilege not to watch the brutality of the Israeli attacks on us directly on television.
Still, we can hear the news on the radio. We still live under the continuous sound of the no-pilot planes that are over our heads twenty four hours a day. They have a very loud and disturbing sound like a constant buzzing. Added to that the sound of the F16s and the Apaches. Also the cannon shelling all the time at different areas around us.
The sonic bombs have stopped since the Israeli soldiers entered the north. It seems that they don't want to disturb their people with them. I would like to believe that there was international pressure on the Israelis to stop these bombs but somehow, I really don't think so.
Lama Hourani is coordinator of the Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development. This diary was written for the e-list of the international network, Women in Black, and posted July 4, 7, and 15.