Friday, December 30, 2005

Under seige

Its 10:40pm now...northeastern Gaza is under serious bombardment. We can hear powerful thuds every few seconds here from Gaza City, which are rattlnig our windows. The shelling is very close to civlian homes, according to local correspondents located in the region. more later, I hope.

There's your solution!

I don't usually highlight highly idiotic statements that politicians or people make for one reason or another, dismissing an entire people or race, but this time, I felt compelled to. Yesterday, the mayor of Sderot, speaking to YNET, said that Israel should "wipe Beit Hanoun off the map". To quote the seagull in Finding Nemo, "Niiiice." That suggestion should definitely bring about a lasting peace.

It goes hand in hand with a "humane occupation" I guess.

For more, see Amira Hass's "Humanitarian is a Lie".

Fall bounty

An elderly Palestinian woman farmer from Beit Hanu sells her fall crops (pumpkin and bell peppers) in a vegetable market near Gaza City, with Israeli helicopter gunships looming overhead Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hand me those earplugs

Well, it seems that after a minor lull, the Israeli Air Force has decided to officially step up its use of the terrorising sonic attacks today and the next few days, according to Yediot Newspaper. I figured as much when last night we were shocked awake four times throughout the night, from shortly after midnight all the way to 6am. The sonic attacks continued with ferocity over gaza city, each larger and louder than the previous. The last one had my ears ringing, and was particuarly terrifying in its strengh-I could feel the waves. I'm trying to figure out if there some pattern to it all-some method in this madness. So far, I gather not.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

I got very little sleep last night. Yes, the Empire struck back. Funny, because yesterday was the first night in a week I decided not to cover Yousuf’s crib with a sheet, in case-Heaven forbid- the window were to shatter on him from the force of a sonic boom. I also closed all the windows because it’s been particularly cold in our usually temperate little Gaza this week. Wouldn’t you know it, Murphy does it again.

I had just finished a midnight call with my husband, when around 1am-BOOM, rattle, and shake. Thank God no windows broke. Interestingly, this time I was relatively well-composed. My heart was racing, yes, but I think I have finally confronted the fear of the attacks (on which I wrote an article here for aljazeera). Or maybe I was too tired or dazed to fully comprehend them. Or maybe the suggesions of my dentist helped (he said i was grinding my teeth at night, causing migranes, because of the stress, and suggested I engage in stress-relieving exercises)

The same cannot be said for my mother, who I called out to frantically 4 times before eliciting a response. She was literally scared stiff. I ran to check on Yousuf, who woke up, and decided to put him to sleep with me. The aerial assault on northern Gaza continued all night, and we could hear Israeli aircraft pounding streets and buildings in the distance. Around 6:30am, my windows rattled once again from another sonic boom. Yousuf seemed ok in the morning-as I said to my friend, how little toddlers comprehend of men and war.

I then scanned Haaretz, which reported that the Israeli Army will begin enforcing their 5km buffer zone tonight (which covers 2 major northern gaza towns), and advise Palestinian residents to either “shut themselves up in their homes” or flee before they strike. “The army will warn residents that leaving their homes will mean putting themselves in danger.” The warnings will be given through thousands of flyers dropped by Israeli aircraft.

Well, at least they are being humane about all this. I wonder what the flyers will say. “Hi there! We’re going to destroy your neighborhood today, possibly your house. Just a head’s up. Have a great day!”

I was then greeted by the hammering of Kaleshnikovs a few streets over-courtesy of your friendly neighborhood “disgruntled” gunmen (there seem to be a lot of “disgruntled” gunmen these days. I should talk to the Reuters fella who popularized the phase about thinking up a new one. Maybe ‘opportunistic gunmen’. ‘daft gunmen’.) Yet again, armed al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade’s members took over government buildings, “demanding jobs” (for me, that translates into “we want payoffs”), and yet again, it is somehow quickly resolved.

The frequency of these events is making me doubt more and more the futureof the Fateh party, and of Mahmud Abbas’s grip on Gaza. I do not think either will last after elections. Meanwhile, more and more, I hear people-including Christian friends-talk about how Hamas is gaining respect, and popularity, with every passing idiotic Fateh incident. As one guest put it today, “At least they can control their members, at least they can provide some calm.” And sometimes, that’s all people really want.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Rainy days in Gaza mean...

Tea and sweet potatoes on the grill (equivalent of "chestnuts roasting on an open flame" :)) Posted by Picasa

Food, food, and food! My father (L) relaxs after an evening with friends (that means dinner with a table full of mezze, following by tea, fruit, and roasted sweet potatoes) Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 23, 2005

Its raining men...

Well, not really. But it is raining. And what do you do on a rainy day in Gaza with a 21 month old stir-crazy boy? NOTHING. People are too scared to go anywhere after dark here, and they get lazy in the winter ("winter" meaning a very temperate 17 degrees) even lazier when its raining, so we were stuck indoors.

I tried and tried of thinking of interesting things to do (climbing on mommy's desk and destroying her cd-drive is not one of them), and exhausted what little creative cells I had left in my brain. We danced, we fingerpainted, we coloured (the couches, inadvertantly) with crayons, we watched Finding Nemo (in Arabic, Egyptian dialect) 5 times ( If I see that little wide-eyed clown fish one more time today I think I'll fry him for dinner), we made castles out of the couch cushions, we took pictures, we even watched a Hamas rally go by (well, its hard to avoid, living on the main street and all can be very strategic for a journalist, and somewhat annoying for a family), and of course, we drank coffee. Needless to say, Yousuf was bouncing of the walls for a good 2 hours (quite literally).

Here's to more rainy days alone with Yousuf.

Yousuf's addiction to coffee begins

This looks good, I think I'll try it Posted by Picasa

First a sip...

" that hits the spot" Posted by Picasa

One cup just wouldn't it... Posted by Picasa

Good till the last drop.

"Mama that was good stuff, why didn't you introduce it to me earlier?" Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dumb and Dumber

Today, Haaretz announced that the Israeli Army intends to cut off the Gaza Strip's electricity supply if the Qassam rockets keep coming (I guess that sonic boom thing isn't really working).

Apparently, this was supposed to happen yesterday but " implementation was indefinitely postponed to give the main Palestinian hospital in Gaza time to purchase emergency generators." I see. It is a sort of humane collective punishment. Reeeal smart move, exposing the entire population to deafening shock waves in absolute darkness is sure to improve security.

This idiotic (but not surprising) suggestion on part of Mofaz has tied for this week's Dumb Move of the Day award (DMD) with the kidnapping of Gaza schoolteachers by armed gunmen. Its not clear why they kidnapped the Belgian and Australian teachers from the American International School, but reports indicate they are either disgruntled gunmen who want "in" on the fringe benefits of the Fateh party.

Cuting off electriciy from 1.5 million civlians, or kidnapping schoolteachers for political ends? Who wins this week's DMD? The verdict's in: Dumb, and dumber.

Now excuse me while I go get my flashlights and earplugs ready.

I'm dreaming of a Gaza Christmas...

A Palestinian man (actually, he happens to be my neighbour who runs a small flower shop) sets up a (rather sickly...) Christmas tree in a Gaza seaside hotel. Air raids or not, life-and Christmas-go on in Gaza. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The banshees strike again

I have come to learn to fear the night. I am a grown adult. I am a mother. But yesterday, I am not ashamed to say, I had my mother sleep with me in bed, and we clung to each other like frightened children as Israeli F-16s once again shook the earth we live on.

Exactly 1 second before the dawn call to prayer, it began. My head hurts thinking about them now, so I'm going to make this brief. I have severe migranes now that won't go away. Yesterday night I developed cramps and nausea. If there was ever a way to expose an entire civlian population to torture, this is it.

These shock waves-these bomb simulations-come out of no where. At night before we slept, i heard the swoops of F-16s in the distance, but I knew that meant there would be no immediate sonic booms, since you cannot hear the planes before they bomb (they are going faster than the speed of sound). That is what is frightening. There is deafening silence, especially in the middle of the night, then BOOOM, your entire house shakes like a mega ton bomb was dropped on it.

Over and over again. Then it stops, and you think that's the end of it. There are no air raid sirens to signal the beginning or end of the raid, as there was in Lebanon, as there is in Sderot, as there was in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I lived during the Gulf War.

It is like a million sledge-hammer carrying banshees hanging over your shoulder, ready to strike anytime.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Israel's terror tactics in Gaza continue

After my last post, I tried in vain to go to sleep after taking a benadryl. I brought Yousuf to sleep with me (who now, if asked what sound a plane makes, says "BOOM!"). Exactly at fajir call to prayer, it started again. Two more insane sonic booms. I cry now when I think of them. I can't get the near windows, I'm too afraid to be alone...

I have been face to face with Israeli helicopter gunships on rooftops in Jabaliya; I have been fired at by sniper towers in Rafah and Dair al-Balah; I have been tear gassed and even exposed to stun grenades in Ramallah protests; I lived through the daily and constant shelling of Beit Hanun and Jabaliya, the daily thuds which could be heard clearly from the main road where we live. But none of those things compares to what I heard yesterday. IT wasn't just "bombing"-I've been under bombing before, many many times. These "shock waves" generated from supersonic flights are disorienting and nervewracking and torturous. ITs like being in the middle of an earthquake and a being under heavy bombardment all at once. ITs like being shaken in simulator; like being slammed against a wall.

As I searched online today for more information on sonic booms-to make sure I wasn't crazy, I wasn' overeacting, I found this description by someone who has also experienced them: "You never get used to it if you're not prepared for the flypast. It's the scream of a thousand banshees which come immediately before the crash that unnerves. If you believe the aircraft is gonna attack, you're completely disorientated."

In fact, last month, miscarriages increased sharply and children were driven to panic by Israeli jets systematically breaking the sound barrier over Gaza, according to a petition filed in the High Court by the Palestinain Centre for Human Rights and Israel's PHysicians for Human Rights, with a medical opinion from renowned psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj.

Would the Israeli Army have ever dared to use such tactics when their precious settlers occupying Gaza? I don't think so. Which makes me afraid for what the future mind hold.

I also found that Israel is the ONLY country to have used sonic booms, deliberately, as a weapon of war against a civlian population. When I spoke to the Israeli Army's spokesperson today for an investigative piece I have decided to write on the matter, he explained that the intent is to harm the Palestinain population in Gaza, so they may put pressure on the fighters to stop firing rockets. Asked whether this wasn't collecive punishment, he bluntly said "we don't consider it so."

Article 33 of the Geneva Convention: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited... Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fear and terrorism: the Israeli war on Gaza continues

I am writing this entry as my heart is pounding, my fingers trembling, my eyes in tears. . . so forgive me if I sound irrational. I thought it was over, I really did. Was I naive? Perhaps. But hopeful. Always hopeful. Now I simply feel stupid; and very, VERY afraid.

I was in the kitchen tonigh at around 11pm Gaza time, putting away a late dinner I had with my mother after filing a story for Pacifica Radio on a law suit filed against former Israeli army Chief of Staff Moshe Ayalon for war crimes. The suit came a week after a similar complaint was filed against Avi Dichter for bombing a civilian neighbourhood in Gaza with F-16s. How ironic that I file a story about F-16s bombing Gaza, thinking to myself-even arguing to dinner guests we had over-that that was an era long gone. International pressure would never allow Israel to use such diproportionate force again in such a densely populated area. "True" argued a guest, "now they are simply focussing on resistance leaders as targets."

The guests left, and just as my mother and I were chatting nonchalanatly, putting away the small plates of za'tar, olive oil, goat cheese, and persimmons, an enourmous explosion erupted following by the loud swoops of fighter jets-unlike ANYTHING I had ever heard- shaking our kitchen windows off the their hinges...the sound of Israeli fighter jets breaking the sound barrier over Gaza in a psychological war of terror.

I cannot begin to describe the sound except to say it penetrates into your very heart. Our whole building shook. I rand outside of the kitchen, fell down to the ground crying in hysterics, then screaming. My father woke up and held me tight, "its ok its ok", as my mother trying to calm me down. "what's happening, what's happening" I remember repeating hyserically. "We are being bombed, we are being bombed!"

It is that feeling of uncertainty, of vulnerability and fear in the face of an unseen, seemingly formiddible force, of feeling that death is at your doorstep, that gets to you...that strikes morbid fear in your heart and soul.

"It's nothing, it's an F-16 sound bomb, please calm down" said my father. Nothing but a sound bomb. It sounds so harmles, what is sound afterall compared to munition? In Arabic, they even call them "fake bombings." That is what I always thought to myself. Having experienced both, I think I can safely say the former has the possiblity to inflict far more intense psychological damage in a shorter period of time.

I ran like a crazy woman to check on Yousuf-last time this happened, while we were in the US, far far away, enjoying fall leaves and pumpkin patches, the windows shattered. So today, I immediately moved his crib away from the window and cracked the window open to relieve the vaccum, then called my cousins and turned the radio on. They assured me while this is the loudest sound bomb every fired by an F-16 (which means the F-16 was the lowest lying every) it happened with far more frequency last month. The bombings were decried by the international community.

But now, they have continued. THe planes are still overheard. They are swooping low.

My question is: why? Why PUNISH all of Gaza's Palestinians? Is it to make us all so afraid we can't close our eyes? To beg for mercy? To make it want to stop at any expense? IT is cruel. It is inhumane. It is collective punishment. It is psychological terror and torture in its rawest most disturbing form. And so the war on Gaza continues.terror and torture.

Yousuf enjoyed feeding the goats at a local petting zoo (yeah I know I travelled half way across the world from a place where goats are herded in the city so I can take my son to a "petting zoo" for $3 a head...) Posted by Picasa

Yousuf in the pumpkin patch at a local farm in Maryland. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


So, I am officially back from the dead (the same cannot be said for Yousuf’s stroller, which was mangled at the hands of British Airways baggage handlers on my way to Egypt). It has been a long and much called for hiatus, which involved among other things tropical islands complete with virgin coconut draped beaches, pina coladas, mofungo, and singing tree frogs; fall pumpkin festivals, leaf picking, petting zoos, children’s museums, Eid and Ramadan festivities and so on.

And I think ( I hope) I am ready to get writing, and blogging again-though I likely need a vacation from my vacation.

As an aside-why on earth is it that Iraqis the world over being allowed to vote in their parliamentary elections, but the same allowance was not made for Palestinians-even those with residency permits who were stuck outside because of the then border closure, like myself-in presidential elections last year? Hmm…I wonder if this has anything to do with refugees and the right of return…

Anyway, now that I am back, I can officially report on the “new” Rafah Crossing, which I just passed through two day ago (minus my stroller. Note to self: never cross into Gaza via Rafah without stroller). To backtrack, when I left Gaza in late September, it was amidst throngs of Palestinians clamoring to get out within a 30 hour period, after which the crossing was closed again until last week. A somewhat murky deal was reached whereby the crossing would be Palestinian-Egyptian run, European observed, and Israeli monitored. I’m not quite sure if that’s through cameras or a joint control room or a list of all people who pass through that is handed to the Israelis.

Either way, if one ignores this notable blemish on the arguable sovereignty of the crossing (not Gaza), as well as the blue-bereted somewhat clumsily-clothed European observers trying desperately, but futilely, not to stand out, the crossing is a drastic improvement (on a side note, it was quite amusing to see the limited interaction between the Palestinians and the Europeans, who barely mutter a word to each other, let alone communicate with the Palestinians staffing the crossing.) The Egyptians have also officially opened a brand-spanking new terminal on their side, complete with marble flooring and-*gasp*-computers instead of thick, dusty folders. Now maybe someone can convince them to chance those decrepit buses.

Overall, I was pleased-because for the first time in my life crossing Rafah, I felt like a human being. And in the end, I believe that if you treat people like human beings-if you respect them, they will act in kind, and they will respect themselves and their surroundings. If you treat them like animals, their behavior will begin to deteriorate.

I don’t want this to get too long. There is much to say, as usual. From Fateh pre-election infighting, to Israeli missile strikes in northern Gaza, to the continuing military and economic strangulation of the West Bank. So I’ll stop here.