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 Meanwhile...from Lama in Gaza
 Lama Hourani, Palestine
 July 25, 2006
 

"Mommy, they don't like the trees," said Rana (10). Her sister, Unoud (8) replied. "They don't like anything green."

This conversation took place a few days ago, very early in the morning, when the two girls with 11 other children and 10 adults were stuck in the grandmother's house, watching the Caterpillar bulldozers dig up the land surrounding it, uprooting the trees. The house is a three-story one, built in the middle of a very nice, green city in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, Beit Hanoun. The family is not a refugee family. The house belongs to the mother, Um Qassem, the divorced daughter, Azza, and the eldest son, Qassem (who is now with his family in Egypt).

Azza is a very beautiful, strong woman who was active in the first Intifada. After the Palestinian Authority was founded she became primarily a women's rights activist. She decided to separate from her husband and after a few years she could obtain the custody of her children (two girls and two boys) and, from her savings and with the help of her brothers, she could build a floor in her mother's house.

That night, Azza and the wives of her brothers and cousins decided to separate, the women and children staying in Azza's house, and the men in the uncle's house nearby. At 6 o'clock in the morning everyone awakened to the sounds of the bulldozers and the guns.

All of the women and children were frightened, seeing that the soldiers had surrounded the uncle's house, thinking that the men had been killed. They began to scream. Azza felt suddenly that she was responsible for all of these women and children. She ordered them firmly to go to the back room and locked them inside. Suddenly, she found herself standing in front of the bulldozer, which had almost entered the basement of the house. She started shouting, "We are only women and children," holding up her hands.

The bulldozer stopped and the soldiers entered the house and began to search her. Then they asked her to open the other room and to ask each person to come out alone and they were also searched. The women were still worried that the men in the other house had been killed so Azza told them, lying, of course, that the soldiers had told her that the men were all right and alive.

"Please, God, give me a magic wand like a fairy. I will use it to either kill the Jews (Israelis) or make them withdraw." "God, I am a child, don't you like children?" Onoud was talking to herself during the search. Susan, the mother, asked her to pray to God. "I am asking him but it seems he is not listening," Onoud answered. Azza did not know how she could pull herself together enough to stand in front of the soldiers. They used her as a human shield to search the other parts of the house, room by room.

She started negotiating with the soldiers to let her and the others out. They decided to keep as human shields her two sons, Qussai (17) and Hazem (14), and another cousin, Khaled (22), and would let all of the others leave. At first, Azza refused to leave her children alone with the soldiers but when she looked at the other women and children, who were screaming and telling her that they would not leave without her she decided to go. The decision was taken but how to implement it? All these events were taking place with a continuous battle outside between the Palestinian resistance and the occupying army. Bombing, shelling and bullets were flying everywhere. The soldiers said that they could co-ordinate with their troops to stop shooting but they could not guarantee the "Arabs".

During this debate, the children were so frightened that one of the soldiers decided to offer them chocolate. The kids refused to even touch it, leaving it on the floor. Then the soldier found a lot of sweets, chocolates and baklawa. The day before the attack the results of the state high school exams had been announced and Azza's daughter had succeeded with very high marks (92.9%) so all the friends and relatives came the night before to congratulate her. That was why the house was full of sweets. The soldier offered the sweets, saying "You can eat it, it's yours."

Meanwhile, Azza decided to risk it and allowed everyone to leave the house. This was an adventure in itself. They had to leave by crawling on the sand around the house to reach the neighbour's place, one by one. Azza was the only one accompanying each. "I really did not know who reached the other house safely and who did not. None of the women was able to count the children and I had to go inside our house to check that I had left no one behind. Of course, the boys and cousin were held as hostages."

Everyone stayed with the neighbours without knowing what had happened to the men in the other house or to the children who had been kept with the soldiers. There was a fierce battle going on, during which the Israelis surrounded the nearby health centre; they did not let the ambulances in or out. One man, driving his car past their new refuge, shouted, "Help, help somebody, help me!" The car stopped suddenly in front of them. The man's son had been shot dead and he was trying to take him to the health centre. The car had broken down and he could not carry him. The women decided to risk the shooting and help the man to carry his son to the centre, returning afterwards to the refuge, crawling under fire. Finally, the Israelis withdrew and allowed the ambulances to come and take everyone out.

This took place about five days ago. I have been trying to write about it but could not succeed. All the news, horror and killing around us, in Beit Hanoun, in Gaza City, in the Maghazi Refugee Camp, in Rafah, everywhere, and now in Lebanon. All of it the same, civilians are being killed, Israelis are attacking and destroying and the world watches, blaming us, accusing us of being the terrorists.

Am I really supposed to believe in a peaceful future for my son with such an aggressive state as a neighbour?

I really don't know.

Lama Hourani is coordinator of the Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development. This article was posted on the Women in Black listserve on July 25, 2006.