Warplanes zoom overhead daily. In Rafah they've been breaking
the sound barrier. At night you can watch flares light up the
sky so that the Israeli soldiers in their fortified bunkers all
along the perimeter of the Gaza Strip and surrounding the illegal
Jewish settlements on the interior can survey the area. The staccato
sound of gunshots in the distance is so familiar I pay no attention.
Up close it's something different.
boy has been shot in the back beneath the shoulder. He is crying
and lying on his stomach on a stretcher as medical personnel attend
to him. A reporter from Palestine Space TV is filming him now
instead of the cloud of thick brown dust rushing upwards from
the tunnel between Rafah and Egypt that the Israelis have just
blown up. Illegal weapons smuggling, you know: can't have
this sort of thing. The logic is perverse but accepted. The military
superpower mini-state can test its state of the art technology
on anyone and anything. Palestinians are not allowed to arm themselves
even with homemade fireworks.
boy is sweating and breathing heavily now. The attempt to keep
him alive is failing. His body goes limp on the stretcher and
we watch him die. "What do you mean by filming this!"
An indignant soldier shouted at the cameraman. Bad P.R. for Israel
you know, Israel the innocent victim of the poverty-stricken,
unemployed multitudes of the Gaza Strip. Shoot the TV bastard.
They do, but miss, and the cameraman gets to go home another day.
an incident of heavy fighting in the Rafah refugee camp Iyad peers
out from behind a wall to see what he can see. Two people lie
dead on the ground nearby. Someone fires at him and the bullet
grazes his ear as he ducks away. The sound rushes through his
head and he runs for his life, trying to reach the relative safety
of his home in the Yibne block of the camp but his shock is such
that, after 20 years of living in this prison, he can't find
his home. He is dazed with fear. Twice he passes his home before
being able to recognize it, and when he finally does he walks
in, sits down where his family is eating their dinner, and eats
in silence until all the food is gone. He has no recollection
of this. His brother tells him about it later about the blank,
crazy look on his face, and about how he recognized nobody there.
Iyad has seen many people die. His own life is the gift of Fortune.
we are sitting in Iyad's home eating hot stuffed grape leaves.
Flies settle on the food, on our faces, hands, and feet. It does
no good to brush them away. Sweat drips down our faces as we sit
on the floor around the food. The children are dusty and hot.
All of Rafah is without electricity today the hottest day
of the summer so far. The door is open so that a stale breeze
can drift in now and then. It carries with it an overpowering
smell of sewage. A huge, flying cockroach zooms in, hits the wall,
and drops to the ground near our dinner. It is the sixth one this
evening. Samira shrieks and someone smashes it with a shoe and
sweeps it back outside. The quiet, stagnant evening engulfs us
again. The temperature will drop to 85 degrees Fahrenheit tonight.
Iyad lights the kerosene lamp when it's too dark to see.
How do you bear it? I ask. It's an embarrassingly stupid question.
choice do they have?
did he bear the bullet in his leg, and the prison sentence for
passing out PFLP flyers on campus? How did he bear the interrogation?
Or the smell of the sack cloth placed over his head in the interrogation
room, the cloth with the vomit, spit, and urine of thousands of
others? But it didn't make him talk. Neither did the beatings
or the insults or the chains around his hands and feet. Neither
did the kicks to his chest and testicles. Neither did sleep deprivation
for 18 days. He was released in two months. Got off easy.
have yet to meet an adult male in Occupied Palestine who hasn't
been to prison or seen a brother or father sent there. The crime?
Being Palestinian, of course; wanting to live on their own land
are rumors again that Gaza will soon be invaded; hot, weary Gaza,
the Palestinian Alcatraz. People are too tired to be tense this
time. In the office, Leila wonders aloud what will happen to the
people like her who are living in Gaza illegally Palestinians
who came here or to the West Bank on three month visitors' visas
and stayed because they had no other place to go. What will happen
to the people who are living in this God-forsaken prison without
permission? The ironies are endless.
the checkpoint an ambulance with its red lights flashing waits
for permission to pass. Two hours later, when the traffic is finally
allowed to move, it inches forward with the other vehicles. I
never found out whether its sick or wounded passenger lived or
Loewenstein lives in Gaza City, and works for the Mezan
Center for Human Rights.