Laila El-Haddad, Excerpts from Gaza Mom (2013)
The Story of the Year Gaza City, Palestine, December 18 2006 The Middle East has made its fair share of headlines this year – from the stunning victory of Hamas in January’s Palestinian elections to the sudden death of Ariel “the butcher” Sharon to Israel’s blitzkrieg of Lebanon. But perhaps the most harrowing – and sidelined – story of the year has been the story of Gaza and its gradual abandonment. During the past nine months, Israel, backed by the United States and Europe, has methodically laid waste to a society of 1.5 million people, hermetically seeling in its residents, impoverishing it to unprecedented levels on par with Africa, besieging its land and people like never before – punishing them where no crime existed. Is it the first time in history, according to John Dugard at the United Nations, that an occupied people have been subject to international sanctions, especially sanctions of this magnitude and rigor. Before our very eyes, local powers have clouded together to create a strip of land more isolated than North Korea itself, sentencing Gaza’s residents to a living death in the world’s largest internment camp, largely to the acquiescence of lobal powers. The result has been Gaza’s gradual decline into anarchy and the unravelling of its entire social, political, and economic fabric. The moral of the story is: Beware of whom you vote for. And it will serve as potent reminder from here on in of the consequences of elect in the wrong party. And that, to me, is the story of the year. _ _ _ _ The Honey’s Just Better over There Gaza City, Palestine, May 6, 2007 We went to my father’s farm on Friday. Spring is here. The flowers are in full bloom. Gaza ha a little more colour to it, and, for just a few weeks, the gritty, grey horizon of unfinished cinderblocks is disrupted. Purple Jacaranda flowers burst into full blossom on the city streets, and the Jundi Park’s hibiscus bushes are enflamed in vibrant reds. It’s also the best time to get some local honey – the good stuff, not the ones where the bees’ diet is supplemented with sugar. As things go here, honey is expensive – at least 50 to 70 shekels per kilo ($12 to $17 per pound), depending on quality. So my mother’s friend and I strike up a conversation about honey. She tells me about her friend who lost everything and is now in debt after her bees gathered pollen from their neighbour’s farm, newly treated with pesticides for the spring. They dropped like, well, bees, and half her hive was gone, just like that. “The poor thing was crying on the phone. It was a project she’d started with a microloan from the Ministry of Agriculture. “But anyway, the honey is better near the border,” she adds. “Near the border?” I inquire. “Yes, you know the Imsaddar household. Their farms are near the border with Israel in eastern Gaza… Their bees fly across the border and gather pollen from the eucalyptus trees and orange groves in their farms. So the honey is just better.” How is it that honey from bees gathering pollen from trees across the border is better? Is it because the flowers are freer? Less empty, or trapped, or sad? Less occupied, perhaps? “I think they just have more trees and flowers there. After all, most of our groves were razed during the Intifada,” another friend explained. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ There is No “Safe” Durham, North Carolina, December 31, 2008 My father just called. I have learned to expect that the 9pm call is not a jovial one: It is usually to alert me of some awful thing transpiring around them. It helps, in whatever way, to broadcast this event that has yet to be broadcast to the world, to whomever you can. In this case, that person is me. I see the number on my caller identification; my heart races. I answer my cell phone. “We… are under… heavy bombardment. Heavy bombardment,” says my father in terrified, articulated syllables. “They are bombing the Legislative Council building next to our house. They are bombing just down our street.” “Baba… are you safe, are you both safe?” I ask, not knowing what else to say. “I have to go now… I have to go… I just wanted to tell you that… but I have to go,” he stammers. And the line goes dead. We have figured out a system. When the electricity is back o in Gaza – which has happened for house hour during the past 48 – my parents get on Skype immediately. If I am not around, they give me a quick call from their landline to let me know they are back online; they have two to three hours of back-up generator time after this. They stocked up on fuel during the past few weeks. Then, it is dark again. When the bombs are dropped around them, they send me a quick note to inform me of what happened before running to safety. I am still not sure where “safety” is; neither, I think, do they. I tis perhaps more a mental state and place than a physical one. In any other situation, people flee to what they perceive as safer locations. In Gaza, there is no “safe”. And there is nowhere to flee to, with the borders closed and the sky and sea under siege. This afternoon, I received these instant messages from them on Skype: [1:56:04 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: F-16 and Apaches are in the sky of Gaza now. [1:56:16 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: Five new explosions. [1:57:58 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: One near Al-Nasr hospital, two behind our house. Money exchangers (Al-Bar’asy and Hirzallah); two other explosions a little bit far away. Yesterday, my uncle’s neighbour’s home was levelled. Luckily, no one was hurt. But all 50 occupants were made homeless. They were out on the streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs Each had to find shelter with a different relative. This morning, my father and I appeared together on NPR-WUBR’s Here and Now. There was a surreal quality to it. And for a few moments, we were in that “safe” place together, on some distat, sterile airwaves. It is windy and cold today in Durham. I shier when the shutters shake. And I think of Gaza. I think of home. _ _ _ _ To read about Laila El-Haddad’s visit to Melbourne in April 2017, go here. Read more from Just Voices #13, June 2017 – Israel/Palestine.