Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The right of return

Just when ya think you've seen the last of those whiny settlers, they're baaaack. At least back to Gaza. I'm reminded of a taxi driver I struck up a random conversation with two weeks ago who said he was sure the settlers would never leave. "Even if they leave, they'll come back at some point. You wait and see." :)

I got a call from a Palestinian I'm in touch with-a resident of the fenced in area of Ma'ani adjacent to the isolated and hardline colony of Kfar Darom in the Palestinian town of Dair Balah in central Gaza on Monday. He told me he'd seen the settlers-all 150 of them-return earlier that morning in "new air-conditioned" buses, to dismantle their greenhouses and pack up their things (what, they didn't think to do this in the 6 months advance notice they were given BEFORE disengagement??).

"The same people we have seen in the past are back, in great numbers, packing their things up," Abdullah Maani told me.

"Nearly all the settlers are back - even the settlement leader. They seem to be dismantling their greenhouses. Each settler came with a busload of workers to help them."

"If you don't believe me here, talk to someone else" said Maani, passing the phone to another man.

"At about 10am this morning, we were surprised to see military vehicles and buses transporting Israeli civilians towards Kfar Darom," said Kamal Abo Msaddir, an assistant to a team of paramedics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society who were allowed inside the closed off Palestinian enclave on Monday.

"They are still here, in groups guarded by tanks. There are about 150 of them alongside new buses and next to their hothouses. I am looking at them as I speak," he told me, adding that water, food and medicine were in short supply in the Palestinian community.

"It takes about 48 hours for us to coordinate a humanitarian visit to al-Ma'ani with the Israeli army," said Abo Msaddir.

An Israeli Army spokesperson I talked to said the settlers had indeed returned; that they were "allowed to enter to take their belongings". She did not mention an exact date for their (second) departure.

The community of Ma'ani has been under an Israeli-imposed lockdown for nearly three weeks now, since the start of the disengagement plan. Residents have only been only allowed out for four hours on Saturdays to buy food.

Ma'ani has been fenced in by the Israeli army since July 2002, when it was declared a closed military zone. All vehicles are prevented from moving in and out of the area.

Access for residents and international organisations has also been extremely restricted.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

My top ten list

As the Israeli disengagement from Gaza draws to a close (we still got those pesky soldiers watching over us like guardian angels), I’ve reflected on my time here, Yousuf in hand (and in womb at one point) as I covered every aspect of Gaza (and I mean that….from rowing refugees to Gazan rappers to archeological digs to assassinations to home demolitions to artifical insemination). I’ve come up with a *tentative* list of my top ten most memorable moments of the past two years, in no particular order:

1. Having to spend the night in Rafah in a stranger’s home during an Israeli seige of the area, while 5 months pregnant with shells flying over my head and sniper fire all around, because Israeli forces had sealed it off and I unable to return to Gaza (at least not the same way I came in...sneaking through someone's farm under a rain of fire).

2. Chasing down Sheikh Ahmed Yasin (before he was assassinated) amidst throngs of Hamas supporters in a rally of 10, 000 people down Gaza city’s streets, while 8 months pregnant, in my maternity jeans and sneakers. When I finally caught up with him, heaving, sweaty, and ready to fall over, I was invited into his simple home, given a seat and an open-ended interivew. Yasin was extremely nice, and answered my questions, oddly enough, with verses of poetry. “Aren’t you afraid of being assassinated,” I asked forbodingly. “A swimmer is never afraid of drowning,” he replied.

3. Being lifted up into the air on a rooftop by an enthusiastic resident of Jabaliya during Operation Days of Penitence, who, while trying to be helpful, put my life in danger, so he could show me an Israeli helicopter gunship that appeared out of no where and began firing at his neighbors a few meters away from us. Over 120 Palestinians were killed during the brutal operation, nearly 1/3 of them children.

4. Riding a donkey cart down rocky slope and across the beach with a then four-month-old
Yousuf strapped to my side in a baby carrier to make it to Rafah crossing on our way to the
US, in a trip that would stretch out to over 48 hours. Israeli forces had sectioned Gaza into
three parts, closing off the coastal road in front of Netzarim to all traffic.

Then, Waiting four more hours in the August heat for a very fickle Israeli soldier to open the
Abo Holi crossing. Letting Yousuf run loose in the nude because it was so hot.

5. Seeing my mother lose her sanity at the fence at Rafah crossing separating us from the Israelis, threatening to walk out in front of the Israei watchtower with her hands raised in the air if we weren’t allowed through. Seeing the expression of the palestinain officers-who seemed more scared of my mother than of the Israeli soldiers.

6. Despite all this, seeing Yousuf giggle at Israeli troops stamping our passports in Rafah
crossing, and my mother's joking response: "no no Yousuf dear, don't giggle, that's the enemy."

7. Spending 55 day’s of imposed exile in Cairo with a jet-lagged, crawl-crazy Yousuf, in an unfurnished, cold apartment (that managed to grow on me) after Israel closed down Rafah crossing, the night we arrived back from a trip to the US.

8. After the Crossing finally opened, yelling at an Israeli soldier after waiting 5 hours in that stinkin’ border bus with my face smashed against a window and having to change Yousuf’s poop-bomb on the ground in a no-man’s land with tanks in front of us, and recieving no response when I asked why the delay if the terminal was practically empty. Then, being told by a superior officer that my behaviour was “not proper”.

9. Forgetting my role as a journalist for a moment and crying alongside the grieving parents of 10-year-old Noran Deeb, whose life was taken by an Israeli sniper as she stood waiting in line, singing with her classmates, waiting to to enter her classroom in the besieged town of Rafah.

10. Thinking of my own son every minute of every day. Knowing he was always there at the end of the day to give me his little koala hug and wet smooches, no matter how many terrible things have been. Being unable to imagine my life without him. Knowing, how wonderful life, now that he’s in the world....

Friday, August 26, 2005

Fun in the Sun

Young Palestinian girls enjoying a beautiful Friday morning on Gaza city's beach. nbsp;Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Dinner and a kidnapping

Forget about snafued radio programs (see my live Open Source Radio Interview in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, where the phone line kept geting disconnected), let's talk about snafued dinner parties.

I had invited a few friends of mine, along with two officials I had the pleasure of meeting through some work-related interviews, to dinner at my place. The dinner invitation was the result of a visit I made to the EU fella's office for an article I was writing on the economy and the future of Gaza. I saw a "zibdiah" on his desk-a small clay pot used to make a famous Gazan hot tomato dill salad in (called "dagga"), and used to bake a spicy shrimp dish in. He got it as a gift and did'nt know what it was used for (he made a pencil holder out of it) so I promised him dinner, along with his colleague, to show them.

So we wrapped our grape leaves, stuffed our squash, clay-potted our dagga, and set the table. Only to receive a phone-call from Antoine informing us that he had "good and bad news".

"We just received a warning from the security forces for all foreigners not to move from their locations, there are armed groups prouncing around the city looking to kidnap someone."

The warning was repeated every 5 minutes, until finally, there was an attempted kidnapping by two gunmen of a foreign woman in front of her beach-side hotel, but she got away safely (as did the gunmen).

I wasn't so mad about all the hard work we put into the dinner party, but at the fact that some moron who thinks this is the way to address his greivanances-mainly because no one is telling him othewrise or doing anything to stop it-threatened the safety of my friends and continued to propogate this image of Gaza as a lawless, free-for-all place.

The interesting thing to note is these people, while not identified this time, have in the past been disgruntled members of the security forces themselves, not "armed groups" threatening Abbas's authority. Its his own party threatening his authority, which is why it doesn't get much publicity.

My first reaction was "yeah right, this can't be happening in Gaza, Antoine can't come over because someone potentially wants to kidnap him?!" What we have to remember is Gaza is very small-its like a small city with a village mentality. Everybody knows everybody so it hard to conceal something like a kidnapping.

But I think its becoming a sad reality that many people-including the PA-are not coming to grips with. To their credit, this was the first time they put out a "warning" like this, and actually PREVENTED a kidnapping. That's a good first step-although the conspiracy theorist in me thinks the whole event may have been staged to bolster the appearance of a competent Palestinain security force. Tonight, there is a Palestinian vigil protesting the incident (also sponsored by the PA), and the continued lawlessness in Gaza. I suppose they are trying to project the image that this is a taboo, not a norm, in our society.

The good news is, we wrapped up the food-and the yummy dessert I made-, put it all in a basket, took the guests, and drove to Antoine's place. We got to have dinner after all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Settlement semantics

A dear (and brilliant I might add) friend of mine, who is also a human rights activist and worker, rightly pointed out to me in an email that the correct word to use is Disengagement, not withdrawal, and for good reason:

"Please don't use the word withdrawal to describe disengagement. i know it sounds nitpicky, but 'withdrawal' has political/legal implications of ending the occupation (and israel's repsonsibility) for gaza; the one and only correct term is 'disengagement' and that's why the israelis use it amongst themselves."

I stand corrected. Of course, I knew this, but I supposed I tired of saying the D word one too many times last week and the implication slipped my mind.

He also had this to say on the origin of settlements:

I believe the israelis began construction of a settlement in/near kfar darom even during the six-seven months of occupation in 1956/1957. I remember seeing a ref to it in avi shlaim's 'iron wall'.

The main problem is the of the fundamental issue of EQUALITY. If Jews, whether escaping persecution or not, whether in the 1900s,1950s, or 1990s, had come to live on the land _alongside_ Palestinians asequals, they would have been like the Armenians (which is why there is no great 'Arab-Armenian conflict'); what distinguishes the enterprise of Zionist settlement, whether in the pre-state period or after 1967, is the desire to establish a state for all Jews and for Jews only -- and that can't be square with equality.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The origin of settlements

Someone pointed out to me in the comment section that Kfar Darom was actually built in 1946 (according to the Jewish Virtual Library, "to prevent the British from separating the Negev from the Jewish state") , abandoned in 1948, and re-established (again, the JVL says "reformed", that it was never abandoned) some time after that as the Kfar Darom of the recent past.

"just a comment about kfar darom: it was a zionist kibutz built in 1946. Abandoned in 1948 after it was besieged by the Egyptian army. A settlment carrying the same name was built in 1989, but as far as i know, they had no connection to the pre-48 settlers. "

Of course residents of Dair al-Balah say many of the inhabitants remained well through the '50s, even under Egyptian rule.

Brings up the interesting debate about the origins of the settlement movement. Essentially, Israel itself was founded on settlements. Many settlers I've spoken to consider themselves "pioneers" establishing "villages" or Kibbutzim and tell me that they have gotten a bad rep in the media as "agressors and occupiers". Does that exhonerate them? I think not.

It seems that a thin red line was drawn somewhere at some point, and suddenly some kind of status quo was reached where it was no longer acceptable, at least in the eyes of the international community, to used this method of "pioneering" on other people's land to expand the borders and claim to your state (See: native americans. Also see: facts on the ground.).

Picking up the pieces

Um Muneer Tawashi and her grandchildren. For 5 years, the children could not go out to play for fear of getting shot at by a nearby Israeli sniper guarding the Kfar Darom Settlement. The family has lived here for 70 years, and saw the first settlers come (in the 1950s) and go, a few days ago. Posted by Picasa

Seeing is believing

The disengagement from Gaza will spell relief for all of the Strip’s 1.5 million Palestinians. But it will be especially meaningful for the communities living closest to the settlements, many of whose homes were demolished and even occupied for periods of time.

I spoke with families living in the central Gaza Strip town of Dair al Balah, only a few metres away from the now-evacuated hard-line settlement of Kfar Darom, about their experiences of during the past few years.

All around them are signs of the havoc wreaked by the Israeli army in recent years: pockmarked houses; burned out buildings; demolished homes; razed greenhouses and farms; even a destroyed water well-one of three that served this refugee town of 60, 000.

One man's house, Khalil Basheer (along with his family of 9), is still occupied and guarded closely by an Israeli sniper. Basheer cannot acess the top floor, and I was not allowed anywhere near it by Israeli forces.

Another family-the Taleeni's- told me how Israeli troops who raided their house some months back in a seige of the area opted against entering it through the front door. Instead, they broke down the entire back wall of the house with their tank, running over their goats and chickens in the process.

Kfar Darom was the first settlement to be established in Gaza, sometime in the early 1950s.
An elderly man I spoke with-Hajj Ali Tawaysha- recalls when the first Jewish settlers came to Gaza, a stone's throw away from his house. He says he treated them as neighbours-serving them tea and even eating dinner together.

“We never imagined it would turn out this way. We were nothing but nice to them, treated them with kindness and hospitality, and this is how they repay us?”

Slowly, Hajj Ali said, more and more settlers came. And along with them, military fortifications. Sniper towers. Tanks. Apaches. And his 80 donoms of land surrounding the settlement became off-limits to him and his family.

During the past four years of the Intifada, Hajj Ali and his wife, along with their daughter Subhia, whose family who lives nearby, suffered greatly at the hands of the Israeli occupation.

Israeli troops would often raid and occupy their house for days at a time, kicking them out of the bedrooms, which the soldiers slept in instead, and forcing them to sleep on the downstairs ceramic tiles. The rooms were left defecated in. And when the soldiers went back to the settlement, they would take one of Hajj Ali’s boy’s with them as a human shield, pointing a rifle at his head the entire way.

“We have seen some horrible, horrible days,” recalled his wife.

Hajj Ali’s daughter, Sobhia, clearly still traumatized from years gone, told me how the washing machine on her roof was inaccessible to her. How she actually had to get “military clearance” and a "permit" to wash her clothes. She resorted to buying a new washing machine instead.

Eventually, she left her house for a few months, after one of her 13-year-old twin sons began to have severe psychological health problems-involuntarily urination, fits of crying, trouble speaking and sleeping-from the constant shelling around them. Neighbours convinced her to move back for fear that her house (a villa really, which they spent their life savings on) would be demolished.

She says she won’t believe the withdrawal is for real until she actually sees the sniper tower that still stands directly across her kitchen window, which rendered that side of the house inaccessible at night for 5 years, dismantled.

“For five years we were scared to even get near that window. The sniper was directly in our face, and a tank was standing at the door. We would bring our dinner to the living room, and wouldn’t dare go out at night. I peered through the window to see the settlers go. We were so happy.”

Subhia told me she resents the foreign media who descended upon gaza to cover the Disengagement, only to focus on the perceived suffering of the settlers leaving their homes.

“What about us? Where were they when we were being shelled? When we were placed under complete lock-down with a tank in our backyard? What about our tears?”

The evacuation of the settlers, says Sobhia, means she can finally sleep at night, "without fear, without crying.”

As we spoke, for the first time in years, her sons played football in an empty lot of razed farmland outside of the house-without the fear of being shot at.

“I want security; I want a new life; a government to care for us; I want the ability to live with dignity to raise my children. We’ve had enough.”

The Sharon song

An addendum to the Hamas victory rally I attended (and covered) yesterday. (Besides the fact that it brought back memories of another Hamas rally I once attended two years ago. I was quite a site- heavily pregnant, running down Gaza’s streets in my maternity jeans amidst throngs of Hamas supports to chase down Ahmed Yassin for an interview.)

At the celebration yesterday, an elderly man sang a song he had composed about the Israeli withdrawal. It was really quite funny- you can only appreciate it if you spoke Arabic. I recorded it for a radio piece I did that is playing on Pacifica headlines but I can’ figure out how to link it here.

Basically the man used an Arabic singing technique called “Inshad” (like a ballad) and “Mawal”, which is the prelude to the song (kind of Arabic scales in which the singer expresses his emotion almost through wails) which is often used to evoke the emotions of the crowd. They can be quite beautiful and are used in classical Arabic music.

The funny thing is the subject of the Mawal in this case was Sharon. To hear Sharon’s name in a Mawal…I mean… that was the most bizarre and incongruent thing ever and made me laugh out loud…forget about red-roofed villas across from a decaying refugee camp.

The song went something like “Sharooooooooooooon…withdraw your troops from Gaza…Sharoooooooooon….and tell those who don’t run away that the Qassam [rocket] awaits them”. Then after the initial prelude /mawal is over, the man erupts into full-fledged song-ballad, where he sang “Today is your wedding Gaza, and tomorrow will be your wedding West Bank,” alluding to the fact that the battle, for Hamas, is for from over.

An estimated 30, 000 Palestinians rallied through the streets in a "victory" celebration held by Hamas Monday night. Posted by Picasa

Bye bye bye...

So, after 38 years of occupation (more, in the case of Kfar Darom in the middle of the Palestinain town of Dair al-Balah, whose surrounding Palestinain families I visited today, the subject of tommorow's entry I hope), the settlement era has finally come to an end in Gaza.

To think, the isolated and vulnerable settlement that Sharon once famously declared was as important to him as Tel Aviv-the once towering symbol of strength of the Israeli settler movement in Gaza, is gone.

For Palestinians, of course, it was one of the most hated and visible symbols of the occupation-a combat boot that stood on the neck of Gaza, tearing the Strip apart into two strategic halves.

It is also the site where 12-year-old Muhammed Dura, the central icon of the Palestinian uprising, was killed by an Israeli sniper cowering in his father's arms in front of a television camera at the beginning of the Intifada.

As the Israeli army declared the end of the evacuation, 30, 000 Palestinians waving green Hamas flags rallied through Gaza city Monday night in the largest celebration so far since the beginning of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The rally also marked the anniversary of the attempted burning of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 1969 and the assassination of moderate Hamas leader Ismail Abo-Shanab.

During the rally, the Islamic Resistance Movement's political leader, Ismail Hanieh gave a speech, declaring five main "priorities" of the movement following the withdrawal from Gaza - the right to retain arms and continue the resistance, preserving national unity, participation in politics and state-building, and defending and protecting the Palestinian issue.

Hanieh also spoke to fears of many Palestinians that some corrupt government officials may try to claim some of the liberated land as their own.

"We wants to emphasize that the land that is liberated is the property of all the Palestinian people, not just Ziad or Amr," continued Hanieh, sending a clear message to the Palestinian Authority.

"This is the beginning of the end of the settlement enterprise for Israel ," he concluded.

Monday, August 22, 2005


A map published by the Palestinian Negotiation Affairs Department showing how the Gaza "disengagement" translates into a West Bank "engagement". While the focus of the WSS-infected media this past week has been on the "historic" withdrawal from Gaza, we forget that settlement expansion this year alone in the West Bank has created room for 30, 000 more illegal settlers. Bravo, Sharon, for the greatest theatrical performance pulled off by a head of state since, well, I'm tempted to say since Bush's Iraq, But really since ever. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Closed in, again

I've had a long week. In between covering the "other side" of withdrawal, combatting a mystery stomach illness (I'm convinced the psycho-somatic effects of this craziness have manifested themselves in my stomach somehow), and trying to potty train Yousuf (unsucessfully. See: poopy stain on persian rug), I thought I needed a break yesterday seeing as how it was Friday.

Instead, I decided to head down to Rafah and Khan Yunis. I felt obligated to revisit the issue of house demolitions, to speak again with the thousands of Palestinain who lost their homes in Rafah all in the name of security for the settlers. But just as I was about to head out the door, I decided to check if Abo Holi was open or not. "I heard you opening all of Friday and Saturday" I asked the Palestinian police officer near the Israeli-controlled checkpoin over the phone.

"You mean closing all of Friday" he replied. Apprently, Israeli forces reneged on their promises to keep Abo Holi open on Friday, the Muslim holy day, during disengagement (its been closed the rest of the week, with the exception of about two hours in the middle of the night). Israeli forces also began digging an 8-metre deep trench aroudn Gush Qatif "to keep Palestinians out for premature celebrations" an army spokesperson told me. What are these, some kind of sick parting gifts?

A day earlier, Gaza settlers continued to disrupt Palestinian life as they attacked villagers near Kfar Darom and burned down their storage sheds (these very villagers warned me a day earlier that settlers might attack them, but their calls fell on deaf ears. The media thought it more apt to write about surfer settlers having to find new shores instead).

I decided to take my father's advice and take a break. We went to the beach and had tea as we watched the sunset over a freer, more beautiful Gaza, and bought fragrant Zanbaq flowers from young boys for a shekel, which grow in the wild near the enclosed area of Mawasi in Khan Yunis. I'm always found something so stark yet beautiful about flowers that grow in an area subject to the some of the darkest manifestations of human behaviour.

Young Palestinian artists transform a Gaza city wall, paintin gover political grafiti with a series of illustrative murals Posted by Picasa

The Palestinian media publicity team's background logo for disenagement press conferences. Again with the white and blue! (Besides, doesn't it look like its some kind of annual sporting event..."disengagement 2005"..maybe that's playing on the fact that this is not the first and last withdrawal, hopefully..). Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 18, 2005

WSS: Weepy Settler Syndrome

I’ve had it. I think I’ve seen one too many images of weepy settler theatrics (and weepy settler questions on radio interviews) for my own sanity. I mean, I don’t know even know where to start with this. 2000 (by some estimates, 6000..and shame on every one of them) journalists from around the world, and the image dominating this entire period is that of weepy settlers (not, I might add, of wacko settlers shooting to death four Palestinian workers in the West Bank.)

The story is NOT about settler surfers having to leave the beautiful seashore they crave; or dismantling prized organic orchids or whatever the hell it is the settlers grow; or weeping over the agony of leaving their paradise on earth that God, according to them, said was theirs and theirs alone.

It is about 30, 000 Palestinians who lost their homes (and many times, their lives), sometimes with less than two minutes notice, sometimes with no notice at all, to armoured Israeli bulldozers-all for the sake of these “weepy settlers” who are being “forcefully evicted” from the “only homes some every knew”, to quote a recent article in the LA Times.

Sharon talks about the pain he feels upon seeing these images. I wonder if he felt any pain when he destroyed the lives of those refugees in Rafah. Or when his soldiers shot to death Iman al-Hims 17 times; or Noran Deeb while she was lining up for school; or when they ran over Rachel Corrie with their bulldozers.

The settler enterprise is unlawful, cruel, racist, perverse, and violent to name a few.

It is wrong. It must end. In their name, millions of Palestinians lives’ have been crippled, roads torn apart and sealed off; thousands of homes destroyed; hundreds of innocent lives lost; acres up on acres of fertile farm land, of trees that had been hundreds of years growing in this land, razed to the now scorched earth.

Yes, I see a lot of things to weep about in Gaza. Settlers being “evicted” from their “homes” are not one of them.

Throwing away the key

An excellent op-ed published by former UNRWA spokesperson, Paul Mccan, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with and meeting on a number of occasions. I guess leaving the UN finally allowed him to speak without prohibition. Some excerpts:
There is a Bedouin village — breeze-block shanties built on sand dunes — in the north of the Gaza Strip that has been overlooked by the army watchtowers of the Jewish settlement of Nisanit. On most nights during the intifada, soldiers in these watchtowers fired down into the alleys of the village, keeping everyone hemmed into their homes at night.

On occasion, children, disorientated and panicked by the firing, had been known to run out of their shacks and into the line of fire....

"[J]ust because the most visible and oppressive signs of the Israeli occupation will be gone, no one should be under the illusion that Gaza will cease to be the world's largest prison camp."

"[I]n the longer term, it seems Israel wants to lock up Gaza and throw away the key.


Save Our Sons

Grieving Palestinian mothers protest their son's imprisonment in Israeli jails yesterday after hijacking a scheduled press conference for the Palestinain foreign minister and lamenting the fact that the media's attention is "disengaged" from the truth. "A Separation Barrier, like the one in the West Bank, is being built around the issue of the 8000 Palestinian political prisoners" they cried.
. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


An interesting twist in d-developments. I'm sitting at a press conference in Gaza city, waiting for the Palestinian minister to show up, when suddenly, abou 15 Palestinian women come storming into the room, carrying up framed pictures of their sons who are rotting in Israeli jails, chanting in protest.

The women had been peacefully protesting the imprisonment of some 8000 Palestinians in Israeli jails-the majority without charges, including their sons, and the neglect of the issue amidst the smokescreen of disengagement and the impotence of the Palestinian authority in doing anything about it, for several days now at different junctions in Gaza, but to no end. They decided to come to the Rashad Shawwa center in Gaza city, which has become the new PA media headquarters during DE.

It was a great strategy on their part, I have to say. The room was loaded with camerman from every imaginable station, and dozens of journalists, local and foreign. We were all caught a bit of guard at first, and one of the event's organizers "demanded" they be "obedient" and seek remand for their greivances in a "civilized, lawful" way. This made them even angier of course. The punchline of it all is that the foreign minister, Nasir al-Qidwa, was a no-show (following the example of the settlers, he withdrew voluntarily before being forcfully evicted by the very distraught women).

Obviously he did not like being outstaged by these powerful, daring women to which he could likely give no answer about the status of their sons' Israeli jail terms. The PA of course said Qidwa decided to "yield" the stage to the women who are "too often marginalized from Palestinain society". Right. How opportune.

One of the women, who was clearly the leader, took the stage, and lambasted the PA officials one by one, ripping apart Mahmud Abbas and Nasir al-Qidwa in the process. "Shame on you, Shame on you Mahmud Abbas. And how sorry I am that I cast my vote for you" she yelled. You go girl.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Not the theme of the popular production company, for those familiar with the end of the X-files credits, but rather what's becoming the tiresome theme of political factions in Gaza city, jockeying for credit for the Israeli withdrawal and credibility amongst ordinary Palestinians ahead of January parliamentary elections.

First it was Dahalan and co. valiant attempts to "reclaim gaza" (and his popularity, I might add) through overpriced Fateh-only celebrations, complete with 20, 000 "Gaza first" t-shirts, mugs, stickers and other withdrawal memorabilia (why am I beginning to feel like this is one big month-long county fair?).

In a more positive development, today Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei launched a city-wide clean-up day under the banner of "A free, clean Gaza", as he began to paint over the city's walls, which are covered with graffiti and political slogans.

It sounds wonderful, maybe now they can launch a "clean-up your act" day for the government.

Meanwhile, more city street shooting, as Islamic Jihad joined al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades by marching through Gaza's streets, firing their rifles into the air, to "remind" people who was responsible for the withdrawal.

Hamas joined the festivies by hanging banners throughout the city today in attempt to counter the PA's publicity campaign. "Four Years of Sacrifice have beat 10 Years of Negotiation". Ouch.

To their credit, they are not spending millions of dollars better spent elsewhere on celebrations, as the PA is doing, nor are they wasting money and scaring residents by firing rifles into the air, as other factions are doing.

The real test is who will deliver tangible improvements to the lives of Palestinians here. So far, Hamas has won that battle in the local municipalities, though it seems the PA may be quickly catching up.

It is interesting of course to see how all of this will evolve. These are very uncertain times for Gazans, no one really knows what the future will hold for us. Calling us "free" is a grand overstatement. We still have no state, no economic, political, or geographic viability, and no freedom of movement. I'm just wondering what's going to happen to our Israeli ID cards after withdrawal.

Not everyone is celebrating quite yet, however. Amidst all the fanfare, Palestinian communities living near Jewish settlements are bracing themselves for a month-long Israeli imposed closure effective tonight, as they stocked up on food and supplies yesterday.

Monday, August 15, 2005


I don't know how many times I've said that word today. What does that mean anyway...and have you ever though of how many sentenes you can use some derivative of it in...we no longer want to engage with you...you are not engaging enough for our company..er..occupation....sorry, but the line is engaged with protester's calls at the moment...and I got engaged to all this madness while covering disengagment.

I feel like my speech has a become a series of edited and re-edited sentences with all the same buzzwords,


Still, I return to what comes after diseng..oh you know. With word of a kidnapped French-Algerian reporter last night, we return once again to, yet another buzz word, "lawlessness and chaos" after withdrawal. Usually these terms are uttered in unision with Hamas (just as Gaza is teamed with "hotbed of terror", courtesy Sharon's speech tonight).

However, the trained observer will tell you its really a problem within the ranks of the ruling PA's Fateh party itself, with a corrupt system of patronage and payoffs, and hundreds of former guerillas to incorpate into the system. Tonight, we received yet another reminder of the problems that Abbas will have to at some point face: hundreds of fighters from the al-Aqsa martyrs Brigades marched through Gaza's city streets shooting their weapons, not in celebration, but to make a point: "We will never give up our weapons so long as a single Israeli soldier remains" they shouted. What's interesting is that they don't disassociate themselves from, or criticize the PA. They also shouted "Fateh...Fateh...Fateh."

Just another card to throw into the pile, to make things more fun. After all, we could all use a good laugh about now (and I could use a good night's sleep ... so off I go).

Leave my land

A young boy from the Siyafa village looks towards the soon-to-be evacuated settlement of Dugit Posted by Picasa

Zero hours

So D-Day has finally come. Its like a zoo here, what with thousands of journalists (2000 according to the Ministry of the Information) flown in from around the world, spread across every inch of Gaza, every settlement, refugee camp, border crossing, with sattelite link-up, internet, radio, you name it (aljazeera tv has a revolving 3-d model of the Gaza Strip, and have chosen THE weirdest '80s music for their special coverage theme). I can only imagine how different covering something like, say, the fall of the Berlin Wall was.

So far its been anti-climactic, but I'll admit, I couldn't help but stay up and watch the end of the Palestine Sattelie Channel ticker marking down the "days till liberation". Or the hoards of journalists and photographers that were massed at Kissufim crossing, waiting for the midnight, when the once golden settler-only gates would finally close for good (as my dad commented-its the first time a crossing has been closed for Israelis, as opposed to Palestinains..hah).

Of course I did my own reporting, but tried to steer clear of the news-hungry correspondents parachuted in for the occasion, all waiting in unison for the big moment, and for any observable moment at that.

I observd life around Gaza city, and also drove to the northern village of Siyafa, sandwiched between teh settlement triangle of Nisanit, Dugit, and Eli Sinai (Siyafa is Mawasi's lesser-known cousin so-to-speak).

Palestinians there prepared for what they were told would be a month long closure of their community, as they stockpiled food, water, and cooking gas, and waiting for Israeli approval to enter their fenced-in village. In the background, the soon-to-be evacuated red-roofed villas of Dugit were visible, amidst swathes of razed farmland. This area was once known for its lush strawberry fields. Looming overhead us was a tank and a camera operated by remote control, hooked to an observation room. Formerly this was a sniper tower that forbodingly overlooked the troubled village, which was dismanteled last week.

When I got too close to the gate of the village to take pictures and interview residents, a soldier shouted at me to back off or he would not let in any of the residents. They told me they dream of the the quickly approaching day when they will no longer have to wait in front of this gate, when they will be able to move freely in their own land. But still, they are anxious and uncertain what the future holds.

During the day in the rest of Gaza, life seemed normal, if not quieter than usual. Many Palestinians simply did not know what to expect, relying on satellite channels and radio stations to broadcast details of the withdrawal for them. This of course includes Palestinian Ministers (as Nabil Shaath said yesterday when asked by a fellow reporter about the D-gagement timeline-"I'm relying on Haaretz just like the rest of you").

In yet another (failed) attempt to boost PA popularity, Mohammad Dahalan and co. (withdrawal committee) organized a "street-cleaning" protest along the beach, though once again, he failed to show. It turned into more of a street-littering gathering, as roudy youth waving palestinian flags posed for the cameras.

At night, near midnight, sporadic protests erupted thoughout Gaza, and Palestinian mosques called on worshippers to come and pray a communal prayer of thanks.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Layers upon layers of ..

My dad went out sailing with an old college friend of his on Friday, who is big in Gaza's NGO circles. The friend, whom I am not at liberty to identify, but who I'll refer to as "E", is close with President Mahmud Abbas. Its interesting to hear, according to E, what Abbas had o say. In a recent conversation he had with him, Abbas explained his dilemma: "I want to change things in Gaza. But I look to the layer of Fateh and PA people surrounding me, and I see shi*. So I look to the layer beyond that, and again, all I see is shi*. And the layer beyond that, and yet more shi*. In all honestly, I just don't know what to do, and how to rid myself of these layers of shi* that I am surrounded by." E, who is as secular as they come, suggested his only way out is to ally himself with Hamas and co. in a strange bedpartners sort of way, since in the past they have been known for their finesse in ridding Gaza of its shi*. Talk about a deep dirty mess.

My Little Man

He wont be little very long,
so hold him while you can...
In just a year or two or three,
He'll be your "Little Man".
With blocks to build and bugs to catch
And double-dares to try-
So much to see and feel and do
as days and months fly by...
So take the time to treasure
these precious baby years
As his first tooth...first word... first step
Become sweet souvenirs.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Yousuf and I pick Gaza staple red chili peppers together at our farm Posted by Picasa

The little things

Am I becoming a militant mother? First, I go around chasing down truck drivers throughout Gaza to secure some end-of-the-season oranges for Yousuf. Now, I argue my way into a hotel pool which didn't allow "males" in on women's day, issuing a few threats in the process.

I had been preparing to take Yousuf to one of two (clean) pools in Gaza for several weeks now, making sure I would have the whole off, nothing to disturb us. Women's only day is just once a week, and at 35 shekels a pop, not exactly cheap. Still, its not something we do often, so I figured its worth it.

So when I learned from the hotel receptionist that "no males are allowed in" (nevermind the fact that the "male" accompanying me was 17 months old), you can bet I was furious. Nothing, and i mean nothing, was going to spoil my special day with Yousuf. I had to, calmy, casually, relay this message to Osama, the receptionist. But all I got from him was an enthusiastic waving of the finger at a sign on his desk- "see-no males allowed! and this is NON-NEGOTIABLE."

Worse: "Unless you are from the Mortaja family, you can't take him in." Hello. The Mortaja family? "Wait, so this is pool only for Gaza's who's who? Am I not special enough for you to make exceptions?". I considered asking if he wanted a bribe, just to see if that's what he was getting at.

I later learned that the Mortajas are the hotel owners . But I also learned that families of Ministers actually can "reserve" the entire pool for themselves.

"So this pool is exclusive, despite the fact that we pay a hefty fee to get in" I asked. ..angry exchanges. More finger-pointing. "Can I please speak to your manager? Listen I don't want problems." That set him off. "NO please, make problems. Come on show me what you got lady!".

I though of all the smart things I could have said to him in restrospect but didn't. "No no, Yousuf, I dont' want him to let me in just because I'm Mr. Mortaga's estranged cousin, he should let me in because I paid him to." Unfortunately things went from bad to worse when my good-natured but hot-tempered mother began to do some finger-pointing of herself, accusing the man of discrimination and issuing a few verbal threats of herself ("I know people that can come here and teach you some manners!").

In the end, one of his superiors intervened and let me in, Yousuf in hand, though I couldn't help but feeling humiliated, like an unwelcome guest. I thought-this is something I would have never done for myself, even though we paid the full fee. But for Yousuf...I have learned to cross all the boundaries. Yet I couldn't help feeling miserable. Being yelled at is no fun.

Later that day, we went to the farm, and Yousuf, as usual, reminded me that its the little things that matter. Together, we watched ants crawling through the sand together. We tracked the stars. And we laughed till our sides ached playing hide and go seek. No matter what a miserable day I've had, how many mean hotel receptionists yell at me, or snobbish government officials snub me, I always have Yousuf there to remind of what really matters. His big goofy smile and wet smooches makes it all better. I love him. He is my world. And though it may make me selfish, having him around makes things all better. I think I need him just as much as he needs me. Or more.

Mystery explosions

I was awakened early this morning by a series of window-rattling explosions, interspersed with rapid machine-gun fire. It reminded me eerily of the days of the Jabaliya seige, when Israeli forces battered the northern Gaza Strip refugee camp. Though we live in the middle of Gaza City, on quiet mornings we could hear the merciless pounding of tank shells and Apache missiles. But today, there was obviously no seige on Jabaliya, thank God. Hopefully those days will soon end, at least for Gazans.

That leaves open the question of those mystery morning explosions. I learned later that Hamas held late-night training for its fighters in Jabliya. Since I see no reason why they need to train fighters right now, I interpreted this as a show of force to the PA's corrupt security forces-that they are not going anywhere, anytime soon. Still, the training did not take place in the morning, at least I don't think, and would defniitely not have caused such loud explosions. In the end, my guess is that structures were perhaps being demolished in the nearby Netzarim settlement. But for now it will remain a mystery.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Who exactly is in charge here?

Though the title may equally apply to Yousuf, who has yet to learn that crawling up on a table and scavenging for food with his hands if not normal human behaviour, I am referring to the Gaza judicial system, whose members are on strike for the third day in a row.

The strike is in protest over attacks against Gaza's Chief Justice and Attorney General, with judges threatening to suspend their work until the Palestinian Authority addresses the continuing state of lawlessness in Gaza.

Just to put things in perspective-imagine a country (well, or a semi-autonomous government ruling over a still-occupied series of bantustans) whose entire judicial system has been put on hold. The entire system comes to a standstill.

This all started when Zuhair Sourani, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority's Higher Judicial Council, announced his resignation on Saturday, days after a hand grenade was lobbed at his home by a group of masked gunmen. Talk about taking the law into your own hands.

The funny thing is, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior insists that the PA security apparatus has a "91% success rate" when it comes to resolving cases and apprehending criminals. Kind of reminds me of the 99% approval rating of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Where do they come up with these figures?

One's thing's for certain, with withdrawal just days away,opposition groups jockeying for credit and power ahead of January elections, and lawlessness plaguing Gaza, Mahmud Abbas is one man I do not envy.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cowardice and scarves

The entertainment industry has reached a new low in its Israel wooing today. Latin pop star Ricky Martin, in effort to appease his Israeli critics (who undoubtedly would have forever labelled him an "anti-semite") over a Palestinian kaffiya incident in Jordan last week, has decided to "sing in Israel" next spring.

Martin apparently apologized Sunday to the Israeli consul in New York for wearing a headscarf reading "Jerusalem is ours" while attending an Arab youth conference in Amman, Jordan.

"The singer said he was taken advantage of and that as a special gesture he planned to play a concert in Israel on his next world tour that starts in spring."

Hey Ricky, would you come to Gaza if I told you I was offended by your backtracking cowardice?

I didn't think so.

But just in case you change you your mind, there's a nice cozy spot waiting for you somewhere between evacuated Netzarim and Eli Sinai.

And next time you visit Mr. Mekel in the NY consulate, you might want to remind him that East Jerusalem is illegally occupied.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Colour scheming

It came to my attention through Rafahpundits that there is some confusion about the orange flags being waved in the picture I posted of the Gaza "liberation festival". Those are actually the new (formerly black and white) flags of Fateh's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. They were redesigned apparently so they wouldn’t be confused with the black (and gold) of the Islamic Jihad flag. Even worse, now they are confused with the orange of Israeli anti-disengagement movement!

As Rafahpundit commented:
Just to be clear then, the residents of Gaza are going to celebrate disengagement dressed in the colours of the Israeli national flag, waving flags in the colur of the ANTI disengagement protestors. It is ironic right?! No wonder we call it Disneygagement™

I couldn't have said it better myself.

For more on the battle over credit amongst Palestinian factions, check out my article.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Palestinians celebrating at a Fateh "liberation festival" earlier today Posted by Picasa

Security forces watch over Palestinians gathering a in front of the Legislative Council for "Victory Festival", which marked the launch of the PA's withdrawal celebration campaign. Posted by Picasa

My encounter with Dahalan

The PA kicked off its (rather anti-climactic) "victory celebration" campaign today in front of the Legislative Council in Gaza City in a much advertised “withdrawal festival”. Hundreds of supporters donning Fateh memorabilia showed up to hear Mohammad Dahalan speak, Minister of Civil Affairs and head of the "withdrawal committee" in charge.

As usual at such events, he dissappointed (the crowd, and the hundreds of journalists gathered to hear who to the untrained eye you would think was the Pope), making only a momentary appearance before being whisked away by throngs of body guards, firing their rifles in the air to disperse the crowd.

Finding myself at a vantage point in a now empty balcony overlooking the crowd, I decided to stay on a bit longer and snap a few photos. As I headed towards the back entrance of the building when I was finished, I suddenly found myself face to face with his excellency Dahalan.

We stared at each other for a few seconds, then exchanged "Marhabas", as he looked on stern faced, smirky grin plastered to his face. Before I could think of any intelligent questions to ask, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a stampede of Kaleshnikov-toting body guards and security forces, who pushed me out of the way, almost breaking my arm.

Not exactly the way I envisioned my first official encounter with the ever-controversial future leader of Gaza.

Celebrate with white and blue

Ok-as of the last post, I've learned that those mystery "victory pants" will actually be blue jeans, to be worn with white t-shirts. Um...were the collective PA heads screwed on right when they thought this color scheme up?

"For the victory rallies, the government will give away to its supporters 128,000 pairs of blue jeans along with white T-shirts.."

Dahalan insists, in a PA press release, that this is a time for "all to join together under one banner-the Palestinian flag."

Meanwhile, Abbas has forbidden any factions from displaying their flags during the celebrations (except the yellow Fateh flags of course, which have covered the Legislative Council in anticpation of a big 'victory festival' today).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A gem of an idea

As the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza nears, so too do preparations for anticipated victory clebrations. The Palestinian withdrawal committee has begun to hang banners throughout Gaza city, proclaiming proudly "today Gaza, tommorow the West Bank and Jerusalem."

Now, according to the latest press release from the PA:

"With less than two weeks before Israel's evacuates it Gaza colonies, Palestinians are preparing to reclaim their land. Under the slogan, Gaza -Reclaiming Our Gem, Palestinians are distributing stickers and posters.

OK, so far so good. I have no problem with stickers (though I'm sure the poor blokes will have to sweep the streets the next morning may disagree).

'We plan to wave 20,000 Palestinian flags during the evacuation. This will be a time for Palestinians to join together under one banner - thePalestinian flag" the PA Minister of Civil Affairs, Muhammad Dahlancommented.

Thousands of t-shirts, pants and hats are also being made in factories allthroughout the Gaza Strip, employing 1,800 Palestinians. These clothing articles will be worn by thousands of Palestinians during the course of theevacuation. "

Ok , I"m going to pause here for a moment. Pants?! Did I just read the correctly? Is it just me, or is it difficult to imagine thousands of Palestinian men wearing pants that read something like...to suggest what the PA folks chose as their slogan..."reclaiming my gem." Yikes.

The shirts read, "Our land has returned to us - let's protect it" and call for Palestinians to rebuild the Gaza Strip following Israel's 38-year colonization of the area and depletion of natural resources.

Now that I agree with. Though we may only be aggravating the problem by mass-producing stickers that will likely end up on the city streets.

No word yet on what those pants will read, though.