Sunday, April 30, 2006

A conversation in Jabaliya souk

Yesterday, Yousuf and I, along with my mother and her friend, went to the Jabaliya refugee camp's market to do some shopping and search for old Palestinian tobes (embroidered dresses) which I collect. Given the economic strangulation of Gaza, the souk was less lively than usual, but as colorful as ever. Here is an excerpt:

Mom's friend: How much for the Mulukhiya?

Vendor: 3 shekels a kilo

Mom's friend: 3 shekels!! The man next to you sells il arba3a bmiyya..four kilos for ten shekels!

Vendor: Life is expensive these days lady

Me: wil bani adam rkhees...and human beings are cheap.

[approving nods]

Vendor: Besides, his Molokhiya tastes like grass. I know what I grow-none of those crap chemicals go into it. And its first of the season. I challenge you to find any Mulukhiya as tasty as this in all of Gaza!

[shelling in the distance]

sh*t! there they go again

[everyone briefly ducks for cover]

Mom's friend: fine fine, bag it.

Further along...

Me: Do you have any askadinya baladiya?

Another Vendor: forget the baladiya...try the Israeli ones, they are the best! But I'm all out today, Karni closed again

Me: The Israeli ones taste like water. And they are unnaturally large. That's not how askadinya should look or taste. I'll stick to the baladiya thank you.

Vendor: Well the baladiya is still sour. You might as well go buy lemons. Here-want some lemons?

Yousuf: Khiyar! Khiyar!

Vendor: No khiyar, but we have fa2oos, come over here sunglasses lady...

[a young boy shoves a bunch of mint in my face]..."na3na3 baladi...want some?"

[more shelling, getting closer]

Me: I'll pass thanks [Yousuf helps himself to a fa2oosa as entire pile plummets to the ground...]

Note: Seven Palestinians were injured in the shelling. Two of them were children.

molokhia soup with rabbits (the man was right, it was fabulous) eaten Gaza-style, with dagga salad and hot chilies.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

That terrible feeling inside

Ok I admit I've been a little lazy this week. Part of that is has to do with the fact that, wrapped up in my pre-travel anxiety as it were, and my mad rush to tie up as many loose ends as possible and write as much as possible, I think I burnt myself out.

That and being here can be overwhelming at times; this week has been one of those times. Sometimes I'm too caught up to notice, but then on a "down" week, it catches up to me. I feel powerless, even crushed, in the face of an ugly, foreboding, larger than life force that seems to grow and mutate with every passing day. It is everywhere and nowhere at once. And try as you might, you cannot hide from it.

It squeezes you tighter and tighter, instilling within you a feeling of helplessness and dejection and isolation, until you begin to feel you are alone, even among 1.5 million others. And there is nothing you can do about it.

Sometimes I don’t want to do anything about it. I just want to run away, somewhere I hope it can’t reach me. Sit on the beach, listen to the troubled stories that the Gaza’s lonely Mediterranean is desperately trying to tell. “Take me to the beach at sunset, so I may listen what the beach says…when it returns to itself, calmly, calmly.”

Yousuf frolicked about in the sand, building and destroying his imaginary creations, pleased with his new-found prowess. He glanced over at me, sensed something of sadness in my eyes, and patted me on the shoulder-“ma3lsh, mama, ma3lish” he said… “It’s ok”…and suddenly, just like that, everything was.

He makes it all better

Sunday, April 23, 2006

تداعيات قضية الزعتر فلسطين 2007

Got this as a forward from a friend here...hehe...since it is very much "local humor" and politics, here's some background: it has to do with the "explosive issue" of Zaatar in Palestine in 2007! It is of course in reference to the speech/sermon of Palestinian PM Ismail Haniya last week in which he said "we will eat Zaatar and Zayt if we have to, they cannot starve us!", zaatar and zayt of course traditionally being a basic Palestinian staple that no house is without, and commonly a staple of the poor. Zaatar consists of crushed thyme leaves rubbed in olive oil, sumac, salt, and sesame seeds, eaten with olive oil and bread, for those non-Arab readers.

Hanya's speech, though well-intentioned and admirable, elicited a slew of comments, most in good humor like that below, others not so well-intentioned by Fateh's kabab-eaters, who mocked Hamas. People were also quick to point out that at 25 shekels a kilo (around $5.5) olive oil is pretty expensive here (because it has become a scarce commodity with so many trees having been razed) and cannot sustain an impoverished people.

Anyhow no matter what, this was just hilarious and had me laughing out loud. Rough translation follows below.

• اسرائيل ترفض ادخال شاحنتين من الزعتر الفارسي الغير مخصب الى مناطق السلطة.
• الملك عبدالله يعرض على الفلسطينين تخصيب الزعتر بالسمسم البلدي في الاراضي الاردنية.
• ديوان رئيس الوزراء الفلسطيني: نستخدم الزعتر المخصب لأغراض سلمية محضة.
• الرئيس عباس يعرب عن عدم نية الفلسطينين تزييت قنابل زعترية مسمسمة.

جيش الدفاع يقصف 8 طوابين يقول انها كانت تستخدم لتصنيع المناقيش الخفيفة.
هنية يبدي قلقه من قضية فوضى المناقيش في مدينة رام الله،
!! وعباس يقول: "لا لزعترة المجتمع الفلسطيني.

• لجنة الحوار الوطني الفلسطيني:
§ حماس: لا بديل عن الزعتر الاخضر
§ فتح: تغيير لون الزعتر شرط اساسي لاستئناف الحوار

الشبيبة تطلق مبادرة تدعو فيها لاستخدام الدقة الغزاوية بدلا من الزعتر لرأب
الصدع بين فتح و حماس.

وزير التموين الفلسطيني يمثل اليوم امام النيابة العامة لتورطه
في صفقة السمسم الفاسد

!!!في رسالة بعثها هنية الى الامم المتحدة: "لا تسقطوا عرق الزعتر من يدي".

• Israel blocks the entry of two trucks carrying non-enriched Iranian Zaatar (Thyme) to PA areas.
• Kind Abdullah of Jordan offers Palestinians the option of enriching Zaatar with sumsum baladi (organic/farm grown sesame seeds) on Jordanian soil
• The Palestinian Prime Minister’s office: “We will only use enriched Zaatar for peaceful purposes.”
• President Abbas says Palestinians will not be “oiling” sesame seeded Zaatar bombs.

• The Israeli Army shells 8 clay ovens and says they were being used to produce light/homemade manaqeesh (baked bread pastries with zaatar and oil)

• Haniya expresses his concern about the issue of “manaqeesh chaos” and lawlessness in Ramallah and Abbas says: “No to zaatarit (making it full of zaatar) Palestinian society”

• The National Palestinian Dialogue Committee

-Hamas: “There is no substitute for green Zaatar”
-Fateh: “Changing the colour of Zaatar is an essential condition for continuing dialogue

• Fateh’s Shabeeba starts a new initiative calling for the use of Gazan dagga (a famous Gaza salad of chilis, tomatoes, garlic, dill, and olive oil) instead of Zaatar to bridge the gap between Fateh and Hamas.

Gaza's famous dagga salad

• The Palestinian Minister of Supplies appears today in front of the Attorney General for his involvement in the corrupt sesame seed case.

• In a letter addressed to the United Nations, Haniya says: “Do not remove the Zaatar branch from my hand!”

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hamas v. Fateh : round 1 (or as my friend says, "Beirut, baby"

I’m writing this and in pitch darkness. Not due to artillery shells, from which we’ve been spared for a whole of 24 hours. But because the friendly folks of al-Aqsa Martrys (or as I like to call them, my friendly neighborhood gunmen) shot our neighborhood’s electricity cables by accident this evening, after hoisting their flag on the now Hamas-dominated Legislative Council in front of my house in protest of recent Hamas statements (someone needs target practice. Then again, better the cable than me.

Last night, they also decide to hold a pre-dawn bash, smack dab in the middle of the city (deciding to "avoid areas populated by Hamas), which continued until the wee hours of the morning.

Of course the protests were dumb, but even dumber perhaps were Khalid Mishal’s statements-no matter how true they rang- to which the “protests” were a response.

The Hamas political head in Syria, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, made verbal jabs at Fateh and Mahmud Abbas, blaming them for the state of financial ruin that the PA is currently in, among other things, and said Hamas would not stand for Abbas’s decisions to annul the new security branch created by the Ministry of Interior yesterday.

Meshal said, roughly:

“We can understand Israel and America persecuting us, and seeking ways to besiege and starve us, but not the sons of our people who are plotting against us, who are following a carefully laid out plan to make us fail. Today is not the time to expose them, but the day will come soon when we will reveal to all the truth in detail about all they have done.”

Meshal also noted that is was not long ago when Abbas himself resigned over this very issue-when Arafat would not cede his control over the most important security branches to a then PM Abbas.

As he was speaking on Aljazeera, and as people cheered him on in the audience, Mahmud Zahar, who was in attendance, remained quiet, as if to say-“no, no Meshal! Not the time or place!”

Fateh of course wouldn’t have it, immediately issuing a condemnatory statement through their revolutionary council accusing Meshal of “igniting a civil war” by calling Abbas a traitor (Meshal never mentioned Abbas by name, but made veiled references. He later apologized and said he was misunderstood, calling for dialogue).

But it wasn’t long before young Fateh cadres, Fateh shabeeba as they are called here-hardcore supporters of Mohammad Dahalan (who helped found the movement as in 1981) took to the streets in wild protest, along with hooligans looking for “fun” and any chance to lash out at Hamas, shooting belt after belt with automatic weapons, and keeping me awake a good part of the night (not to mention disrupting a really good chapter in the book I was reading).

As my cousin noted, “young people here are so bored, you have no idea. These are a bunch of young shabab with nothing better to do. They are a small contingent of Fateh looking for any opportunity to lash out at Hamas” -whom they hate more, some have confessed to me, “more than the Israeli occupation itself”.

Today, the clashes spilled over into the rival universities of Al-Azhar (Fateh run) and al-Islamiya (Islamic University, run by Hamas). Apparently, the Fateh student council in al-Islamiya, and later, Al-Azhar students, both plastered the pristine walls of al-Islamiya with condemnatory and accusatory flyers. Push came to shove (quite literally), and though it did not get fatal and weapons were not involved, around 15 people were injured in fistfights, stone throwing, and firebombs.

Amidst the madness, a lone vendor roamed around the angry crowds selling licorice juice to thirsty stone-throwers (honestly, only in Palestine...). All that was missing, joked my cousin, was a kiosk selling souvenirs-perhaps t-shirts and hats stating “anti-Hamas protests 2006-I was there!” I’m sure the local PLO flag shop could make some big bucks.

According to my cousin, it’s not all bad. The university (she attends al-Azhar, the only university at the time of her enrollment that taught IT) is now on strike for 3 days-which means time-off to study for exam. “Catastrophes for some, benefit for others” she smiled.

We argued about where this could lead to, theoretically

“They would never be able to plan a civil war, they aren’t up to it.” She says we’ve gotten accustomed to living without law and order-that we don’t like anyone to rule us, whether its Israel, Mahmud Abbas or Hamas. “People take it very personally, they just don’t like anyone telling them what to do. Everybody wants to rule themselves.” She thinks a third-party needs to intervene to keep the order at this time, like the Egyptians.

I tend to agree that this would not spill over into civil war for a variety of reasons-(though sometimes it’s not difficult to how it could when there is as much negative energy as I saw today, with so much anger and emotion in such a confined space...think: hamsters crowded in a cage.) I think the one thing stopping this from happening is even when Hamas-supporters do engage Fateh shabeeba, thing usually are stopped from escalating by the higher echelons of Hamas-who instruct their supporters to stay quiet and indoors and not all prey to “Fateh provocations”, as they have tonight. As they say, it takes two to tango.

For now, the streets are calm once again, Yousuf is sound asleep....and looks like the electricty just came back on. So I think I'll continue reading my book while its quiet...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hamas forms new security branch

Something strange is happening in Gaza.

Municipality workers are actually working.

The streets seem a bit cleaner.

And for once, I actually saw a policeman arresting a criminal in a dramatic pick-up the other day, much to the chagrin of his gang, who stoned and shot at the police car (futilely), and the "oohs" and "aahs" of onlookers (including myself).

In Gaza, we have become accustomed to the rule of law-lessness. And people are sick of it-in fact 84% according to a recent poll, place internal security as their number priority.

This is not to say that gangs and armed gunmen somehow roam the streets as in some bad Western, as the mainstream media would make it seem. But for sure, it is brawn and bullets that win the day, and decide everything from family disputes to basic criminal proceedings.

Last week, there was a “reverse honor crime” or sorts. A man was found murdered in Gaza City after being accused of molesting a young girl (reverse, I say, because usually it works the other way around). The crime was immediately decried by local human rights organizations and people alike.

But when there is no one around to enforce the law-or rather, no one ABLE to enforce the law, other than verbal condemnations, there is little else that can be done. If the accused was jailed, his family would have inevitably intervened, hiring gunmen to break him out or taking it out against another member of his family. It’s a vicious cycle. Citizens don't feel accountable and law enforcers are impotent.

This is where Hamas’s power of moral suasion comes into play. I’ve seen it at work in areas such as Dair al-balah, which was spared the bloody clan disputes that areas of such as Khan Yunis and Beit Lahiya suffered when the Hamas-elected Municipality leader intervened.

Of course, they have no magic wand, but they seem very effective at what they do-and their networks and ability to “talk” to people as “one of the people” resonates well.

The bigger problem is what do you do when the law enforcers themselves are the ones breaking the law?

Last week 50 masked gunmen belonging to the preventive security forces blockaded off the main street between northern and southern Gaza demanding their wages, as they have been accustomed to doing over the past few years (though the mass media would have us assume otherwise, citing the incident as “the first sign” of frustration with the new government.)

They are the same old group that has always made trouble, whether for Mahmud Abbas or Ismail Haniya, and are effectively supported by Mohammad Dahalan, which he fondly refers to in his inner circles as “little army”. Hamas and others accuse them of being a “minority” stirring trouble to attempt and speed the downfall of the new government and “score political points”.

Many of them belong to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (AMB), Fateh’s rogue offshoot.

As I’ve mentioned before, this group poses one of the biggest security challenges to Hamas. They are loyal to Fateh but seemingly answerable to no one, and a contingent of them are supported by very strong figures who want nothing else but to see this new government fail.

So what is Hamas to do? For one, form their own security force.

Yesterday, the new Minister of the Interior, Saeed Siyam, held a press conference in Gaza’s Omari Mosque in the old city (an interesting choice-the oldest mosque in Gaza, and a place for the "masses"), in which he announced the formation of a new armed "operational force" headed by Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) leader Jamal Samhadana-a brawny, bearded fellow constantly surrounded by a posse of heavily armed body guards (whom I met once), and wanted by Israel for masterminding several of the highest-profile bombings of the intifada.

The all-volunteer Force would also consist of a police arm with thousands of members of armed groups such as the AMB, PRC, and Izz-i-deen al-Qassam brigades direcly subordinate to him. As if this isn’t confusing enough, this move was meant to counter Mahmud Abbas’s recent presidential order appointing Rashid Abu Shbak, former chief of preventive security in the Strip, as head of "Internal Security" which is a new entity that unites the interior ministry's security agencies and ensures they remain under Abbas’s rule.

Have I lost you yet?

The Israeli press was quick to condemn the move ala “wanted militant to head PA police”.

However, this is probably one of the smartest moves Hamas could make during this stage.

Why? For one, the Samhadana family is one of the most powerful clans of southern Gaza. By appointing one of their own (who also happens of course to be the leader of the PRC) as director general of the police forces in the Interior Ministry, and absorbing members of the PRC and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades-who account for two of the most volatile factions in Gaza, into the new force, Hamas is effectively ensuring their allegiance and making them "keepers of the Street" rather than "keepers of the clan". They all pledged to fight (the word was more like "crush") lawlessness and crime.

What about the money for wages? Well, simple. There ARE no wages. The new force is an all volunteer one, so the members are working for status and ideals rather that money (of course, at some point, there will be mouths to feed).

Of course, things could always backfire-and its not hard to see how, especially since Abbas does not recognize the new force, and factions have pledged to make a similar such force unsuccessfully in the past. But I think for the time being, it is a very interesting "think outside the box" move by Hamas, especially since it was official.

As usual, time will tell whether it will truly succeed in ensuring safety and security for Palestinian citizens or not.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I don't exist!

...well, at least not according to British Airways. I was attempting to enter in my "passenger details" and country of citizenship and residence on their website for a flight I have booked next month (from Cairo, 8 hours and a border crossing away, since the Gaza airport is incapacitated-much like Sharon, and the Tel Aviv airport is off limits to Palestinians), but guess what...I don't exist!

Palestine/Palestinian Territories (territories, what territories?..maybe "Palestinian bantustans")/OPT/Gaza Strip/Palestinian Authority..well, none of the above mentioned options are present, and since I am the holder of a Palestinian Authority passport (which one can only get based on having an Israeli-issued ID card, or hawia...) I am a non-category.

Needless to say, I was distrought. Where in the world is Laila El-Haddad (maybe with Carmen Sandiego, hee hee) if not in Palestine, I thought? Certainly not in Israel (as one of many customer relations reps suggested). I immediately sent an email of complaint to BA, humbly suggesting that BA add Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Territories, or Palestine to their list of countries, "since there are several million Palestinians who live here and unfortunately they do not have a category in your list."

and several days later the reply I received was: "I am sorry, we are unable to assist you with your query via email...For further assistance, please call your general enquiries department on then SELECT YOUR COUNTRY from the drop down list."

Um, ok, I realize you don't need a phd to work in one of these posts, but i assumed it was farily self-evident from my first email that MY COUNTRY IS NOT LISTED in the drop down list. I explained this to "Diana" in a subsequent email, and was told to contact my "nearest general enquiries department" (if I was to take that literally, that would be Tel Aviv).

Instead I opted for customer relations in the UK. My "inquiry" was pushed from one phone operator to the next until I was finally patched through to web support, who, surprise, surprise, "forwarded my request".

"When can I get a definite answer?" I asked earnestly. "Well, that could be one week or one month, we don't really know. To be honest we may not get a definite answer".

"And why not? What is so complicated or conroversial about adding my country or territory or even geographic location to your list?"

"I honestly don't know" came the reply.

Well, I do. As my friend joked this morning, "there's no definite answer, because we aren't definite people."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Palestinians commemorate Prisoners Day, as all hell breaks loose

I'm very tired so instead of posting something on how all hells break loose here between one second and the next, and how just when you say to yourself-well how about that, only 20 shells today! and no gunbattles between bickering testosterone charged gunmen with nothing better to do! and no suicide bombings!...well..needless to say, things have a way of turning very bad, very quickly here. 9 killed in Tel Aviv, another Palestinian boy killed in Beit Lahiya by Israeli shelling (that makes 16 since the start of the year)... and I just heard an explosion near my house...


instead, I'm going to talk about commemorations of Palestinian Prisoners Day (yes, we have so many "days"), and then go to sleep, because God knows we ALL need sleep

Thousands of Palestinians-mothers, sisters, daughters, sons-from all different factions filled the streets of Gaza City today to commemorate Palestinian Prisoner's Day-April 17.

Palestinians marched through the streets of Gaza to the Palestinian Legislative Council, carrying pictures of their imprisoned family members and in some cases symbolically tying their hands together with chains. They called on Palestinian parliament members and ministers, human rights organizations and the world community to make the release of the prisoners a top priority.

The parliament convened a special session to address the plight of the prisoners today.

One of the demonstrators, 27-year-old Leila Dabbagh, had not seen her fiancé who is being held in an Israeli jail, for 5 years. They got legally married, but had not yet consumated the marriage, at the time of his imprisonment.

Others are able to see their detained loved ones through the Red Cross, only by glass partitions. Extended family members cannot go however. One women wept as she told me she had not seen her only nephew in 18 years. Most of those detained are very young. Children grow up without ever really knowing their fathers.

The issue of the prisoners is a uniting factor, a common denominator amongst Palestinians.

Some 8000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons or detention centers by the Israeli army, including 370 minors and 103 Palestinian women, according to the Palestinian prisoner's rights and support group, Addammeer.

Over 750 are held without charge or trial.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinian prisoners are regarded as political captives who have been arbitrarily imprisoned or detained under the broad banner of "security", according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.

"If these same standards were applied inside Israel, half of the Likud party would be in administrative detention," noted the group in a report.

Palestinians have been subjected to the highest rate of incarceration in the world-since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel-constituting some 20% of the total Palestinian population, and 40% of all Palestinian men.

According to Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and Btselem, their conditions of detention are extremely poor, with many prisoners suffering from medical negligence, routine beatings, position torture and strip searches.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

On breastfeeding and weaning under occupation

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume my audience is mature enough to stomach a breastfeeding post, so if I haven't already lost you, here goes:

Its official (ok, semi-official): Save for a minor post-nursery, pre-and-post nap relapse, after 2 years, one month, 6 days, I have officially weaned Yousuf (hey don't look at me funny, Alaskan Eskimos breastfeed for 5 years!).

For those who don't know, I am an ardent, some would say zealous, breastfeeding advocate. Simpy put, it is one of the most amazing abilities God granted women, everything from the way it is produced, to the way the content changes based on your your child's nutritional needs (c'mon-can Nestle do THAT?): It is the perfect infant food.

I always planned to breastfeed Yousuf until he was around 2 years old, the age recommended in the Quran (though that is not to say one cannot breastfeed for longer than this), and because we both enjoyed it and benefited from it (hey, when you shed 500 calories a day producing breast milk, who needs a gym?).

Unfortunately, that turned out to be easier said than done. Everytime I would get up and say to myself-"this is the day to reclaim my..." I would grow weak in the face of his pathetic blubbering and heart-wrenching cries..."looolooooo!!" (my nickname)... (see short VIDEO of Yousuf in withdrawal here...)

It was as if I was depriving him from the one certainty in his life, the one constant. And now I was telling him that it is no longer available for his use and abuse, whenever and however frequently he wanted. During the difficult times we live in, it was a step I was always afraid to take. It was his comfort zone, and I was taking it away.

My little babe is all grown up

For Yousuf and I, the past two years have been an interesting journey, to put it mildly, wrought with the obvious hurdles of living under occupation, and nursing him has helped us both get through it. It was our moment together-our special time that, though time-consuming and difficult at time, we both equally enjoyed, that no one could interfere with-no matter the time or circumstance (save for an hour when I was interrogated by the Shin Bet in Rafah, and a then two-month-old Yousuf was howling in the other room with a female soldier because they forbid me from taking him in the interrogation with me).

It was something no one else could provide him, something that I will always relish (though I have to admit at times in the early days, I began to feel biologically equivalent in life purpose to a cow...).

Further, my ability to breastfeed him-to be a portable milk machine-has gotten us through some rough times, especially during travel. I think back to those terrible times and shiver, only to comforted by the fact that it was the nursing that sometimes got Yousuf past the hours-long waits in the painful heat of August or bone-numbing cold of winter at checkpoints or at Rafah Crossing, waiting for the Israeli "uber-wardens" to let us through, bellowing out orders to the thousands of desperate travelers including ourselves.

And knowing that our chances of making it through on any given day were contingent upon the mood of the soldier manning the checkpoint. When a young, heat-exhausted Yousuf was on his final crying breath, hysterical, hungry, and confused, I would nurse him quietly in the taxi as we waited and waited and waited, and *bam*, like magic he would calm down and sleep. And that meant, so could I.

So now, here we are. Its hard enough weaning my litte babe and dealing with his mommy-milk withdrawal, but to try doing so under the continuous barrage of Israeli artillery shells..well. After a brief lull (and I use lull cautionously here..meaning a few hours), the shelling resumed last night full throttle following a rocket that landed in an Ashkelon sports stadium (kind of ironic, given the Israeli attack on Gaza's stadium a few weeks ago).

The explosions were more frequent and powerful than before. At one point, I counted 10 shells falling per minute, some from different locations at once, whose whose shock waves we could literally feel penetrating the house, rattling its windows and leaving the walls trembling.

Needless to say, we got minimal sleep (from that and the constant ringing of my Orange cellphone from who turned out to be an Israeli caller looking for a "Tsedek" and then "Isabel"...and me futiely explaining to him in broken Hebrew that it was the wrong number-while leaving out the detail that he had actually called a Palestinian in Gaza).

Usually if Yousuf wakes up, I can nurse him back to sleep, but now we no longer have that to fall back on. He is taking it all like a champ, especially after I "explained" to him that breastfeeding..."azza" as he calls it, is for babies-and that he was now a big boy. After a few initial "Yeah right!" episodes, he seemed to understand. Sometimes he looks at me if he is tempted to lift my shirt, and says- "lal baby?" (for baby?), looking for confirmation.

My friend recommended pumping my milk and donating it to a local hospital. I explained something I assumed most people knew (ok I was wrong)-that actually in Islam, any children who breast-feed or drink from the same breastmilk under the age of two "five times" become "milk siblings", meaning they cannot intermarry etc.

This is not to say that it doesn't happen or is discouraged (in pre-Islamic Arabia, babies were sent off to be nursed by a wet-maid because it was thought that nursing from more than one mother gives the child greater strength and immunity, and the Prophet himself had a milk brother), but it has to happen with the permission of both families, and also means you have to keep track of who you've breastfed. So anonymous breast-milk donation is not an option*

Here's to another milestone in raising Yousuf, and hoping we go on to bigger and better things and find new sources of comfort for both us...

Update: Since the time of this post, I've discovered that actually Milk Bank donation is permissible, "as long as there is an apparent necessity to do so". A fatwa was made to this end in Europe:

But really the question is whether I want to continue pumping and donating (because its even more exhausting thatn breastfeeding) and the answer is a resounding "no!" (besides your milk supply decreases over time-no where near the amount it was two years ago).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Israel's uber-wardens and the story of my friend B.

A friend and neighbour of mine, B, recently got accepted to get her masters in engineering in Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. She is around 30 years old. After numerous attempts, B had to withdraw her standing (after paying one semester's tuition) because Israel kept denying her permit based on ... you guessed it..."security reasons".

B has also not seen her sister who lives in Ramallah for 5 years now because of the travel ban. The most they can do is exchange photos through her personal family blog and talk on the phone-even thouh they are only one hour apart, the moon may as well be closer! This is the case for almost all Gazans.

B. She came with her family during the "Oslo Days" with many other Palestinains who lived outside, in her case, from Syria. After years and years of exile, they were able to obtain permits and eventually ID cards (issued by Israel) in a deal that allowed many Palestinians to return to Gaza. Now, says B, she went from being in one prison on the outside, unable to live in her homeland, to another internal prison, unable to move, study, or visit her family.

B also had to drop all her dreams in one fell swoop of her continuing education there because of Israel's..."uber-wardens".

"The soldier at the checkpoint or behind the Civil Administration counter...the Israeli uber-wardens... is the last, least important, link in the thicket of restrictions and limitations...implanting the jailor mentality in thousands of Israeli young people, soldiers, clerks and policemen - an intoxicating mentality of those who treat those weaker than they with impunity," explains Amira Hass, in another gripping article where she describes every so eloquently the matrix of Israeli control over Palestinians.

"a thicket of physical, corporeal barriers of all types and sizes (checkpoints, roadblocks, blockades, fences, walls, steel gates, roads prohibited to traffic, dirt embankments, concrete cubes) and by way of a frequently updated assortment of bans and limitations."

Periodic bans supplement permanent wants, and in the end, none of it is "news", Hass says, because the asphyxiation of Palestinians, the rupture of everyday Palestinian life has become so routine.

Erez Crossing into Israel, Gaza Strip.

Gazans, such as myself and millions of others, cannot enter the West Bank. Palestinians, including residents of Jericho, are not permitted to be in the Jordan Valley. Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem cannot enter West Bank cities (except for Ramallah). Citizens of Arab states, like my husband, (not jus refugees, and any state really, since Israel controls family-reunification permits) married to Palestinians are prohibited from entering the West Bank and Gaza.

In Gaza's case, the West Bank is a mere 70 kilometres away. But hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have family in the West BAnk have been unable to visit them in YEARS, and many many others who have been accepted to study in universities there cannot, because, to quote a recent (January) Israeli high-court ruling, made in response to the appeal of 10 Gaza students to study Occupational Therapy (there is only once licensed Occupational Therapist in all of Gaza, and 25, 000 injured people) in Bethlehem, "West Bank Universities are breeding grounds for terrorism"...and "Gaza is a foreign entity for which the state of Israel is no longer responsible"

...control without responsiblity, the true formula of disengagement, the recipe for ultimate disaster.

Occupation? What occupation?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And suddenly, the seams of childhood disappeared

Hadil Ghabin, 9 years old, was killed last night after an Israeli shell struck her family's home. 13 other members of her family were injured, including her pregnant mother, several toddlers, and her 15-year-old brother Ahmed, who lost his eye sight.

Hadil's mother was baking bread when the shells began to fall around them. She gathered her children and they huddled inside the house for safety.

According to her aunts, Hadil loved reading, writing stories, and playing "make-believe". "She would always gather all the neighbourhood children and tell them all sorts of wild stories," told me her Aunt.

And why not, for sometimes imagination is the only refuge we have here, the only realm that cannot be invaded. May she live the fairy tales she could only imagine during her short life. Photos and videos of the sad event (all mine):

Say to her, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

Overcome with emotion, Hadil's mother collapsed when the body of her daughter, limp and expressionless, was brought to the house for a final farewell.

Hadil's 10-year-old brother Ahmed lost his sight in the attack.

"And suddenly, the seams of childhood

And the stories and dreams
flew away
like a kite"

Neighbours tried to comfort the grieving family, as they wept alongside them and threw fragrant basil flowers on her lifeless body before the burial.

One-year old Rawan comforts her other sister, Rana

Even as Hadil was being carried away, shells continued to pound the area, leaving billows of white smoke in the distance and an acrid smell lingering in the air.

The Israeli Army asserted today that despite the civlian deaths, which resulted from narrowing their range of attack, the shelling will continue.

The Ghabin household. The mother was baking bread when the shelling began, and gathered her children together in the living room when their house was hit.


Video one: A village mourns

Video two: the shelling of northern Gaza, not far from the Ghabin household and the farming village of Fa'dos, continues.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Earth is Closing in on Us

The shells keep falling. They’ve gotten inside my head, so that its not just my house shaking but but my brain throbbing. It’s like someone is banging a gong next to my ear every few minutes; sometimes 5 times a minute, like last night. And just when I savor a few moments of silence, it starts again as if to say “you're not going to get away that easily.”

We went to sleep to the rattling of our windows and invasive pounding and after-echo of the shells. We sleep as they fall. We pray fajir, and they fall again. We wake, and they are still falling. When they are closer, when they fall in Shija'iya east of Gaza City, they make my stomach drop. And I want to hide, but I don't know where.

The Earth is Closing in on Us.

That's the thing about occupation-it invades even your most private of spaces. And while the shells were falling inside my head, they also killed little Hadil Ghabin today.

A shell landed on her home in Beit Lahiya, shattering her helpless body and injuring 5 members of her family, including Hadil's pregnant mother, Safia, and her 19-year-old sister.

My headeaches seem inconsequential when I think of little Hadil. Sometimes people here say they prefer death to this existence; you’ll frequently here at funerals: “Irta7at”…she’s more comfortable now anyhow-what was there to live for here?”

The Earth is squeezing us
I wish we were its wheat
so we could die and live again.

That has become our sad reality. Death provides relief.

Sometimes it feels like we are all in some collective torture room; who is playing God with us this night, I wonder? When I look up into the sky, and hear the shells, or see the faceless helicopter gunships cruising intently through the moonlit sky, I wonder, do they see me?

And when the shells start falling again, I can’t help but imagine some beside-himself with boredom 18-year-old on the border, lighting a cig or SMSing his girlfriend back in Tel Aviv “just a few more rounds to go hon.….give it another whirl, Ron, its been 2 minutes already.”

Sometimes, when I’m on edge, I might just yell out and wave my arms at them.

Do they hear me?

We decided to escape this evening to my father’s farm in central Gaza, where we roasted potatoes and warmed tea on a small mangal, as we listened to thikr about the Prophet on the occasion of his mawlid from a nearby mosque, under the ominous roars of fighter jets, patrolling the otherwise lonely skies above.

“Where are you heading off to?” asked Osama, the shopkeeper downstairs. “Off to the farm. We’re suffocating,” I replied, Yousuf tugging at my arm… “mama…Yallah! Yallah!”

Wallah Laila, we’re not just suffocating…we’re asphyxiating. I feel I can’t breathe anymore. And my head is pounding and pounding. All I hear is BOOM boom now.”

The Earth is Closing in on Us.

And little Hadil is dead.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The real humanitarian disaster

Yet another amazing piece by Gideon Levy of Haaretz:

"The real humanitarian disaster in the territories began a long time ago, and it is not hunger...the thought that if they only have enough food, their needs will be satisfied and our conscience can be clear, is outrageous," writes Levy, explaining in his latest column that it is not simply about the hunger-and the fact that aid agencies have had to exaggerate how bad the situation is just shows how..well, bad it is.

Some excerpts:

"The world and people of conscience in Israel do not need to wait for the first Palestinian child to die of hunger to raise the hue and cry.

But those who regard the Palestinians as only requiring basic food should remember that even in the zoos, where the animals presumably don't lack for a thing, people are often shocked by the conditions of their imprisonment. "

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Just another Gaza Friday

I’ve always loved Fridays in Gaza. In the mornings, save for the lone garbage collector futilely sweeping the abandoned streets and Municipality park, littered with plastic cups, watermelon seeds, and mangled straws from the night before, the hustle and bustle of the city comes to a standstill.

It is a serene if lethargic time, an escape from the sea of chaos, uncertainty and violence that grips our lives each waking day and night. For a few hours, things seem ordinary in a place where ordinary is an illusion. And it doesn’t seem like anything can disrupt those moments, as if some force is saying to the madness that envelopes us: “come back another hour!”

Slowly, the streets come to life again as evening takes hold. This is Yousuf’s favorite time. He likes to go out to the balcony, as we did yesterday, and “people watch”-just take in the incongruent and cacophonous sites and sounds of another Friday in Gaza.

In the park in front of us, children boisterously played football, women licked ice cream cones and chatted, and wedding motorcades ( “zaffit sayyarat”), which, no matter what the season or situation, you can always except to hear on Thursday and Friday evenings like clockwork-made their way to beachside hotels and lounges. They tirelessly honked their horns in sync with live wedding dabke music, blaring out from portable speakers or played by live for-hire bands seated in the back of rented pick-up trucks decorated with carnations.

Boys and relatives clamored for a standing space in the back of the trucks, dancing and clapping feverishly along with the music. Young children chase them down the street to join in the fun. If the wind is just right, the sky becomes a showcase of homemade kites, dancing and flirting with each other, challenging the physical bounds imposed upon this battered area’s residents, reaching to places they can only dream about, allowing them to navigate freedom, no matter how purposeless, for just a little bit.

In the distance, the ubiquitous double-thuds of artillery fire could be heard exploding a few kilometers away, increasing in number and intensity, it seemed, as the evening progressed, only to be drowned out ever-so-slightly by the cacophonous symphony of Friday blitheness, as if to say-“not today! Today, you will not steal our moment.”

The evening passes, the clock strikes midnight, and suddenly, the carriage tranforms into a pumpkin again. The magic dissipates. The missiles strike. And 6 people are dead.

Just another Gaza Friday.

Friday, April 07, 2006

6 killed in new Israeli strikes, shelling continues

AT least six Palestinians are reported to have been killed in Israeli air strikes in the teeming southern Gaza refugee camp of Rafah, including a 5-year-old boy who was dismembered. The attack was targetting members of the Popular Resistance Committees. At least 15 injuries have been reported-two serious, according to medics, who have are having a difficult time identifying the bodies, which they say are arriving in pieces.

Meanwhile, Israeli shelling continues in eastern and northern Gaza. At one point, I counted 1 shell every 10 seconds. Haaretz reported that the Israeli army fired 300 shells within the past 24 hours.

UPDATE: Its after 11pm here in Gaza, and the shelling has increasing dramatically. I can here artillery being fired from two different locations at once, spaced about 5 seconds apart. The lights are shaking above me from the force of the explostions as I write this. I've moved Yousuf's bed away from the window in case the glass shatters. The shelling has been going nonstop for going on two days now. Its getting inside our heads. Several people I've spoken to today have complained of lack of sleep and irritablity because the shelling continues throughout the night.

FIFA on Gaza air strikes

Last week I wrote about a series of powerful Israeli F-16 airstrikes against Gaza City that shocked us awake, rattling our windows and leaving our ears ringing. One of these attacks was against a soccer field in the middle of Gaza City just two streets down from where I live. The bomb left an enormous crater in the middle of the stadium (one of Gaza's best and only stadiums), which is located in the middle of a denseley populated residential neighborhood.

Now, FIFA-the world's football association, is effectively condemning the attack, saying it was "without reason".

"[T]he field was not being used by Palestinians as a missile launching pad, as Israel's ambassador to Switzerland had claimed," said Jerome Champagne, FIFA deputy general secretary in charge of political issues

"FIFA has been fighting for more than a century to make this game universal. To hit a football field is really the wrong signal....[F]ootball should remain outside of politics..."

The Israeli army had said the air strike-the first by a fighter jet in Gaza City in several years-was part of an effort "to deter possible attacks after an increase in rocket launches from Gaza" (So let me see if I got this straight-since the whole starving Palestinians thing isn't working, now the Israeli army turns to destroying football stadiums? So Palestinians, enraged at finding it difficult to play a proper football match with a gaping hole in the ground, plead with armed groups to stop firing rockets, and they politely oblige? yes, likely scenario, "let's get them where it hurts". who thinks this stuff up anyway?).

Champagne has taken the matter up with FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the two will anounce a "decision" next week.

Not that it will have much consequence, but at least someone (FIFA of them all) is taking notice of an increasingly ignored situation in Gaza, and the disproportionality and immorality of Israeli "reprisals" against the civilian population.

Well, at least this way, if we starve, we'll always have football.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On Hamas and recognition

Food for thought; a piece written by Alistair Crooke, a former mi6 officer who did a lot of the back-channel diplomacy for the eu in israel/palestine during this intifada, for Propsect Magazine (it is by subscription only so I took the liberty of pasting the entire article below)

Back to 1967 'Hamas' failure to recognise Israel will not be an issue if Palestine itself is recognised'


On the face of it, the Hamas refusal to recognise Israel seems singularly
perverse; plainly Israel “exists”! Tel Aviv is a large modern city that
shows no sign of any imminent slide into the sea. To us in the west, this
posture has the taint of ideological backwardness which we often associate
with Islamist movements whom we find curiously at odds with modern
reality. Hamas, however, is neither stuck in the past nor unable “to do
politics” – as the Americans might say. What they are doing in dramatic
fashion is to put a finger on a key failure of the Israeli – Palestinian
political process since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 – which is
the singular omission of any clear outline of Palestinian rights. Hamas is
correct: the starting point for any next steps, whether political or in
terms of an extended armistice, needs this prior commitment.

What Hamas is saying in refusing to recognise Israel is that whilst the
West understands, and indeed feels, the narrative of the Jews; there has
been no concomitant recognition of the Palestinian narrative of injustice
that they feel in respect to the events of 1948 when villages and houses
were destroyed, many were killed and thousands fled to the refugee camps
where those who survive still remain. I met one of those in Sabra and
Shatila camp in Lebanon at the end of last month. This proud woman still
retained her father’s seal of office as mayor of his village from the time
of the founding of Israel and an unredeemed account owed by the British
mandate authorities for £68 – a considerable debt at that time. Hamas are
suggesting that recognition of this Palestinian narrative should take the
form of an affirmation of the Palestinian rights to a State that should
indicate its basis as Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands conquered
in 1967.

It may surprise readers that this is not already the case: We recognise
and repeat frequently the right of Israel to a State within secure
borders, and it might seem obvious that we have outlined Palestinian
rights to a State shaped on the basis of the lines of ’67 or the armistice
lines of ’49 which are almost identical in the Palestinian context. In
fact we have not. UN resolution 242 refers to withdrawal from lands
conquered in ’67. Israel put much effort into lobbying to have the word
“the” dropped from the sentence “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from
(the) territories occupied in the recent conflict”. Israel interprets this
to mean that the amount of land from which they withdraw is for them to
decide in any negotiations with the Palestinians.

Bill Clinton, at the time of the last Camp David talks in 2000 came close
to setting out signposts for the destination of talks when he outlined his
10 point plan. His initiative however never took substance. Similarly,
when Clinton asked Senator Mitchell to report on the causes of the
Intifada, we (I was a staff member) were forbidden by the incoming US
Administration to signpost the likely shape of a Palestinian State. Over
simplified, the Mitchell Report outlined three components to a solution:
de-escalate the violence, build confidence and start talking.

The fourth chapter, “..and talk about what?” which was the obvious sequel,
was denied to us. I recall the US official, Flynt Leverett who drafted the
“Roadmap” before it was adopted by the international Quartet of the US,
the UN, the EU and Russia told me that he had made explicit reference in
the first drafts to a Palestinian State on the basis of the lands occupied
in ’67 with Jerusalem as its capital; but twice this reference was removed
on instructions from above. Leverett has emphasised that the widely held
view that the Roadmap would lead to a Palestinian State on the lines of
‘67 has no basis in terms of the wording of the document. None of these
efforts, of course, were intended to go beyond setting broad parameters of
a State, whilst leaving the details to be settled between the parties.

Hamas is asking for this omission to be rectified. In asymmetrical
negotiations between parties of such different political weight and
military strength, it is not surprising that the party with almost no
cards to play wants to know what is on the table before they begin to show
their hand. If this is done, Hamas has said that it is able to deal with
reality of Israel in the course of this process. Indeed reality would be
hard to ignore given that Hamas wants an armistice to be fully negotiated
to include, borders, customs, passage and overflights inter alia!

Is “recognising reality” then a short-changing of Israel’s longstanding
quest for legitimacy? In one sense it is: It is unlikely that Hamas would
ever undertake to say that what happened to Palestinians in ’48 as a
result of events that happened earlier in Europe was in some way right or
legitimate. They cannot; but the wording does suggest the solution: No
observant Jew can deny God’s gift of all the Promised Land to the Jewish
people. Jews manage this by dividing time into redeemed time and
unredeemed time. In redeemed time, God’s promise will be fulfilled. In
unredeemed time, we have to deal with reality, and make compromises.
Similarly no observant Muslim can deny the Waqf, the endowment of Arab
lands dedicated to Islam, of which Palestine is a part. Thus Hamas can
accept reality, but it cannot say that Israel, and the way in which it
came into being is somehow “legitimate”.

The solution to resolving the recognition issue, and, incidentally, to
putting the political process on the sound footing that it never had, is –
as Hamas says – an affirmation of the parameters of the State to which
Palestinians have the right to aspire. This should not be impossible
obstacle to anyone with the courage to give a lead. President Bush in his
speech of 26 May 2005 in the Rose Garden at the White House said that the
Armistice line of ’49 should be the basis of talks, and that any change to
it can only come about by mutual agreement between the parties. He also
explicitly indicated that Jerusalem was to be a part of any arrangement.

Of course the Administration as usual muddied the waters of this statement
by providing side letters in a contrary vein to Mr Sharon on settlements,
and by repeated references to the Roadmap which provides for a Palestinian
State initially on provisional borders. But why not pocket Bush’s
statement? Why should Europe not take the lead on this issue? It is Europe
that recently has been bearing the brunt of Muslim anger in the Region. It
is Europe that has 20 million Muslims living here. It is our
neighbourhood: someone needs to break the mould – Hamas is right not to
recognise reality - until Europe recognises the reality too of needing to
correct this omission by outlining what is a future Palestinian State.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Palestinian Child Day

In the face of an every-deteriorating situation, including food shortages in Gaza, bantustanization of the West Bank, and scores of children's detention and deaths in both areas in recent weeks, Palestinians commemorated Palestine Child's Day today with actvities and events. Here is a statement by the Palestinian Network for Children's Rights (headed by Defence for Children International/Palestine Section) on Palestinian Child Day:

For the past few years, this day – Palestinian Child Day – has become synonymous with grief and pain. On the 5 April each year, Palestinian children have searched for their childhood and sought to renew their broken dreams. The event revives memories of their suffering and the suffering of their colleagues at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Since April 2002, when Israeli troops launched the largest military campaign against Palestinian civilians across the West Bank, the level of suffering increased. The campaign resulted in the killing, arrest, injury and bereavement of scores of children; and in the months and years that have followed, these atrocities have been repeated time and again across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

This year, the circumstances surrounding Palestinian Child Day are no different – our children continue to feel the pain of occupation. Israeli forces continue to deprive children of their right to life – since the start of this year alone, 12 children have been killed, bringing to 740 the total number of children fatalities since the start of the intifada. In the same period, around 4,000 minors have been arrested, of whom some 400 are still in prison.

This Palestinian Child Day, we remember with particular concern the Israeli practices and pressure against our children in the Gaza Strip. Despite the physical Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza last August – much hailed by the international media and politicians – the area remains a big prison with Israeli forces controlling all exit and entry points. The Israeli authorities have kept sealed for most of this year the only cargo crossing point into Gaza, and at the risk of triggering a humanitarian catastrophe have prevented food and medicine supplies from entering the strip. It is unacceptable that the Israeli authorities use the lives and rights of Palestinian children as a political bargaining card and we call on the UN and international community to exert pressure on the Israeli government to stop these cynical practices.

In the West Bank, Israeli actions impinge on all those fields of Palestinian children's rights which are supposed to be protected by international human rights standards. The repeated incursions to areas in the West Bank and the continued construction of the separation wall undermine Palestinian children's rights – including their rights to education, adequate standard of living, healthcare and in some cases their most basic right – the right to life.

As such the Palestinian Network for Children's Rights urges the international community and the States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to abide by their obligations to protect children's rights without discrimination. We also ask the international community to practice pressure on the Israeli government to abide by the international law through ceasing at once all violations against Palestinian children and implementing immediately the concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the applicability of the CRC on the OPT.

On the internal level, as members of the Palestinian community, we too must act to protect, respect and implement Palestinian children's rights. One year ago, the Palestinian Child Law entered into force. We must now join together to push for the law to be activated, and for bylaws to be issued specifying the scope and responsibility of each ministry in fulfilling its part in relation to this law.

Moreover, we call on the Palestinian Legislative Council to accelerate the enactment of the Juvenile Justice law. This must be a priority, for without this children in conflict with the law will continue to suffer due to an of absence legislation guaranteeing their protection and taking into consideration their best interests.

Childhood should not be regarded as a preparatory stage for adulthood. It is an independent developmental stage which all children should experience. Today, we, as members of the Palestinian community, should work to transform this Palestinian Child Day into an occasion of fun and hope through enforcing respect for our children and their rights.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Israeli warplanes attack Gaza presidential compound, as the Gaza 'diet' continues

Israeli fighter jets have been roaring forbodingly, and with great intensity, over Gaza's skies all morning. So we figured it was only a matter of time before an aerial attack ensued. Predictably, we soon heard two consecutive powerful explosions that rocked the city-again we wondered, sonic boom or bomb attack? Since we could hear the jets roaring beforehand we could only assume it was a real attack.

The local radio stations and Palestine TV confirmed this: Mahmud Abbas's presidential compound was under attack. Israeli F-16s bombarded Abbas's helicopter launchpad/runway which is located near his office in the presidential compound in Gaza City, and another location in northern Gaza that security forces use to train.

Hospitals reported two injuries.

So the question becomes, why would they attack the presidential compound? Most certainly, there are no Qassam rockets being launched from there.

One explanation is simply because they can. It is a demonstration that no one is immune-not even the president or his security forces.

Another explanation I have heard is that the Israeli administration wants to give Hamas a "small taste" of what is to come if they absorb the National Security forces into the the Ministry of the Interior (currently under the President's control) as they proclaimed they might do this morning.

No matter what the reason, this attack represents a serious escalation on part of Israel that can be likened to the attacks and eventual isolation and "irreleventaization" of Yasir Arafat and his Muqatta compound in Ramallah.

Because obviously that was a successful strategy, so why not repeat it. *sigh*.

All this is happening as Israeli forces once again shut down the al-Mintar commercial crossing, in line with Dov Weisglas's "diet but don't kill" policy (let in just enough food to sustain them until the next round of shortages) despite UN please and warnings that Gaza could face a humanitarian disaster as bad as the one in Kosovo.

According to the World Bank, if there is no dramatic change, 75 percent of Palestinians will be below the poverty line within two years (there is already that amount at or just above the poverty line). The current rate is 56 percent, compared to 22 percent in 2000.

UPDATE: Following the aerial attack, Israel resumed pounding areas of northern Gaza with tank artillery shells, killing a Palestinian man and injuring and several members of his family, including a mother and her 6-month old baby, after Israeli tanks shelled civilian areas in northern Gaza.

Has Gaza now become the new Ramallah Muqata? Is it perhaps the entire Strip, rather than just the compound, that is being confined to "irrelevancy"?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Springtime in Gaza

(Interesting to note the mixture of bright colours such as lilac, fuschia, and red are often reflected in traditional Palesinian embroidery originating from Beer il-Sabi3, Isdud, and other areas in and around the historical Gaza district.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Voices from Gaza

I'm working on a post about the internal security situation, but in the meantime I'm attempting to incorporate some audio (and possibly video) into the blog and do a series of voices from Gaza-ordinary Gazans speaking about their hopes and fears. Because I dont' have paid subscriptions to audio hosting sites, I'm using this pathetically cheap way of doing it where the uploading/downloading takes a little longer.

This is the voice of Maha al-Banna, a Gaza City schoolteacher.

Unfortunately, you have to download the file (though it only takes 1 minute, plus 30 seconds waiting time, so its not so bad), but until I figure out a better system of doing this that doesn't involve high fees(or until I actually stop being cheap and pay for my own site or audio hosting) you'll have to bear with me!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Gaza under attack...

Its 1am. Gaza city is under heavy aerial and sea bombardment, unlike anything the city has seen in recent years. As I write this, F-16 warplanes-not Apaches or tanks-are bombarding Gaza City, where I live, just a few roads away from my house. The entire house is shaking and the windows have cracked. The explosions are so powerful my ears are ringing...they are like sonic booms, but they are real, and they are terrorizing and causing panic. There are several casualities reported by local radio, but other than that we know little else....I'm going to take cover now.

Update: We passed through the night safely, and for now, the F-16 attacks have stopped. This morning, navy gunships (which can be seen off Gaza's coast) have been pounding Jabaliya and other areas of northern Gaza. Internally, the security situation has calmed down as well-after a bloody day of factional infighting, the gunmen are now off the streets (and Mr. Dahalan is far away from the accusations being thrown at him, in the U.A.E.). More on this matter later.