‘I am frightened and confused.’
So begins my most recent conversation with Anees, a young man from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. I spoke to Anees two weeks ago while rival militants from Hamas and Fatah battled on the streets outside his house. The violent clap of bullets could be heard in the background as Anees, curtains drawn in his room, continued to speak.
‘I am scared that if I even look outside my window, I will be shot at there have been reports that civilians have been shot [in the crossfire].’
I first met Anees in September 2005 when I visited Gaza a week after Israel had removed its settlements from the Strip. Since that first meeting we have remained in almost weekly contact. As our friendship has developed I have found myself witnessing the torment of a once optimistic young man whose conscience and spirit is challenged on a daily basis.
Rafah, the southern most city in the Gaza Strip, sits immediately on the border with Egypt. The border between Gaza and Egypt itself is controlled by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). It is a strategic location, one that the IDF often uses to commence raids into Gaza. In more recent times it has been one of the many battlegrounds in the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.
Anees and his family live on the edge of town across from a giant iron wall which acts to contain the Palestinians within Gaza’s border. Between this wall and the edge of the city where many like Anees and his family live there is a thin strip of vacant land created by the IDF as a buffer zone for its routine invasions. Because it sits in this precarious region, Anee’s home is often caught in the crossfire between clashing armies.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Anees tells me the streets have been more peaceful. The civil strife has effectively ended and there is no longer the sound of gunfire outside his window.
‘But people are so sad because of what happened between Fatah and Hamas.’ Because of the fighting between the two groups they have ‘lost their credibility’ in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians, and there is ‘increased hatred for them.’
Hanging over the clash between Hamas and Fatah like a dark shadow is Israel’s continued occupation and an international embargo that has plunged most of Gaza’s population into poverty.
‘People are also afraid of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, for example, here in Rafah no one has money to buy materials to ensure the supply of daily living. There are many people grieving because they cannot bring their family the needed material; fuel, food.’
Such is the extent of Israel’s control that it has turned Gaza with its population of 1.4 million living in an area measuring approximately 42 kilometres by 10 kilometres into the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel maintains total control of the borders, airspace and all waters beyond the coast. With this control comes economic and humanitarian strangulation and, following Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s only power plant in 2006, total reliance on Israel for energy supplies.
According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs 79 per cent of Gazans live in poverty (less than $US2 a day) and the unemployment rate for 2007 is 35 per cent. The Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics indicates that 13.2% of children suffer from stunted growth.
What is lost in this blur of information are the voices of ordinary Gazans like Anees. In the light of this, and with Anee’s permission, reproduced below is a letter he sent me just before the most recent clashes between Hamas and Fatah. The letter was meant to be a private communication. However, as the year has progressed, and the violence and depravity of Gaza has continued to spiral further and further out of control, I felt his message deserved a wider audience.
There is much to be told, but where should I start?
The situation we Palestinians are in, whether economically due to the recurrent closures, lack of payments for the public sector employees, shortage of medicines in hospital, or socially and politically, all make life harsh and the conditions bad. Our people are losing hope in life as the days go by. Since the beginning of the current Intifada [in September 2000], our people haven’t been able to live a safe or dignified life because of the Israeli occupation. Many Palestinians today are asking questions and getting no answers.
Why the blockade on the Palestinian people?
Why the killing of women and children, house demolitions, trees being uprooted?
Why can’t we live like other nations?
Why can’t the world tell Israel to stop killing our children?
Why can’t the Israelis just leave us be?
There are many questions but no one could provide the answers. The world’s attitudes and policies of blockade, starvation are creating resentment and hatred amongst Palestinians.
The Palestinians are simple people searching for freedom and happiness, they extend a hand for peace, but there are some who aim to cut those hands. The Israeli Government has shed the blood of far too many Palestinian women and children, even the trees and buildings have not been spared by the Zionist occupation.
As for myself, Anees is fed up with life. I have always talked in favour of peace and have refused violence but the policies of this occupation are designed to make us think only of revenge and not of peace. But I will always be in favour of peace, a defender of freedom and justice. All that is left for me is to write more and more about my personal suffering and the suffering of the people through the Intifada.
I have endured many hardships. I didn’t get what I was looking for in terms of education, marriage, and work; especially work. I live in the family house with 18 other family members. I suffer psychological and social problems because, with so little private space and with everything that is happening in Gaza, the whole atmosphere in the house is not healthy.
The only reason for these problems is the Israeli occupation. Some will ask what the occupation has got to do with family problems. And I will answer that the occupation has everything to do with it. It is responsible for demolishing part of my house. Each time they demolish our house we rebuild it. Each time our house is rebuilt, it is demolished again. But rebuilding a house costs money, and money is not easy to come by in Gaza.
Under the occupation the Israelis have blocked the transfer of funds to pay for the public sector. There is no money, so my brothers and I have to look for resources elsewhere to rebuild our homes and pay for our family needs. As for my brothers some of them are unemployed others are waiting for their wages to be paid. My mother and father are elderly. My sister has a serious illness. All of this creates problems.
Many times I have looked for someone who could offer help; maybe even ‘adopt’ me. I am ashamed to be young and capable and willing to work but still needing the help of others because of the lack of work opportunities.
There are constantly new problems for our family. Now I am helping my brother repair the damage caused to his house by the Israeli Defence Force when it invaded Gaza in October 2003. My brother is not a member of any militant group. He is a simple man with a wife and 4 children. Will the Israelis pay for the damage to
my brother’s house? How would I even get an opportunity to ask?
Finally I would like to say that no words can really describe our situation adequately. Nothing will convey our suffering properly except to see the facts on the ground for your self. I thank people like you Mustafa for your support. Now you can begin to imagine my reality.
18 April 2007
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