Live from Gaza, Eoin Murray, Trócaire

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Haifa and home

"We Arabs in Haifa are used by the Israeli government - in the last war we were used as human shields." I am standing atop of Haifa staring down at the magnificently perfect Bahi International Centre and below it the city and port area. Talking to me is Amir Makhoul, from Ittijah Association. The street we are standing on is the one you would have seen in the news broadcasts - this time a week ago it was an international news centre.

Upon arrival in Haifa I knew very little about the city: that it was the teaching home of persecuted Israeli Professor Ilan Pape, that it was a city of co-existence between Arabs and Jews, and that it had more then a few of Hizb Allah's rockets reign on it during the most recent conflict.

"Well, yes it is true that Pape teaches here" laughs Amir, pushing aside the fact that shortly before hand we had been examining destroyed shell of a building less then two minutes from his office. [The destroyed building, ironically, belonged to the newspaper of the Communist party. In Lebanon their counterparts were among the first to support Hizb Allah in the conflict with Israel.]

"But the Tourism Board present this as a city where Arabs and Jews live in harmony together - in fact there are substantial ethnic and class divisions and widespread discrimination against us."

Our panorama of Haifa is magnificent - one can see the old downtown area, where the Palestinians live, as well as some of the more modern buildings which adorn it. "Why I say we were used as human shields? is because all of the strategic military targets - the port, the military bases - are all around the Palestinian areas, so this is where the rockets were being fired at."

Around 11% of Haifa's population are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, approximately 30,000 people. Half of them are Christians, half Muslims. The city is renowned for its artistic and cultural capital, from both Jews and Arabs. However, the recent war has exacerbated unresolved tensions which have existed in the area since 1948.

For example, Jewish homes, because they are generally newer, tend to comply with Israel's law that each home should have a bomb shelter. Arab homes, elegant stone homes carved in the Ottomon or British era, generally do not. Consequently bomb shelters are provided in the locality.

"It was taking a rocket from south Lebanon from 30 seconds to 1 minute to land in Haifa - how are we supposed to get from our homes or offices and run to a bomb shelter five minutes away in this time?" Amir asks, his long arms stretched out, providing a human frame for the city below.

"In Nazereth, the largest Palestinian town in Israel, they do not even have an early warning system as they do in every other town. This is just one example of the institutionalised discrimination against Arabs inside Israel."

Over the course of the war in Lebanon numerous Israeli casualties - Arabs or Jews - were civilians. This is a direct result of Hizb Allah's policy of indiscriminately firing rockets into northern Israel, in contravention of International Humanitarian Law. In Lebanon they overwhelming number of casualties were civilians. Now, on all sides, most people expect a return to war.

The Hebrew news this morning vox-popped Israelis in Tel Aviv who all expect another war - "Olmert's government is weak; we lost the war [opinion polls state that a vast majority feel the war was lost]; the army didn't prepare properly." These are the kind of comments being made by those Israelis who supported the war [generally, Jewish-Israelis].

On the other side Arabs often supported Hizb Allah's attacks, even though they were equally under target. This apparently confused stance has escalated tensions and divisions in towns such as Haifa. Of course many observers perceive that years of discrimination are simply coming to the surface.

...Today is my last day in this part of the world. A more difficult and more troubled period then I, or most others, have ever seen.

The difficulty of Gaza, where in the two days before the Qana massacre happened in Lebanon, the same number were killed in Gaza; Gaza, where the EU ensures that Palestinians are unable to move by preventing the opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt; Gaza, where the humanitarian situation, combined with the ongoing arrests of Government ministers, is producing a collapsed entity which is bursting at the seams with negative, angry, attitudes.

The fact that I barely made it to the West Bank, where Israel continues to construct its Wall and expand its illegal settlements is an illustration of how deep the troubles are in this region and that, in turn, illustrates how urgent is the need for substantial action.

The time for talking tough is over.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hope, under threat of demoloition.

When I left Gaza yesterday I was so angry. Not just because we sat for, waited for, almost three hours before finally passing through the checkpoint complex. Not just because as we waited we waited with sick people who were travelling to Jerusalem for hospital treatment - one of whom was a ten year old boy who had his left leg amputated from the thigh down (I need not explain the details how.)

Simply, I was angry because of what I had seen, what had boiled up inside over the course of just a handful of days there. The frustration got the better of me. I lost my temper at one of the soldiers who attempted a gesture of "what can we do?" I shouted at him as if somehow it was his fault that at 18 he had to serve for 3 years in the army - otherwise his own prospects for life would be extremely limited. If he ever reads this, I apologise to him for losing my temper - even if what I said (unpublishable here) was completely true.

I was emotionally boiling, so, when I left. Gaza. Convinced that no light existed at the end of any tunnel. No prospect for change, justice, an end to occupation and peace exist.

I almost cancelled my meeting in Jerusalem - it was my first time to meet with Rabbis for Human Rights - I thought I would make an appalling first impression if my frustration boiled over again.

But I went ahead with it all the same.

I never expected that a point would come in my life where I walked through a part in Occupied Palestinian Territory - Silwan, in east Jerusalem, - with two Rabbis and a Palestinian, each talking and laughing together. It was remarkable.

Silwan is an area of Jerusalem which has been subjected to house demolitions by the Israeli army. It sits aside the archaeological site of the city of David, an area of historical and holy significance to Jews. It also suffers, despite the fact that local Palestinians pay taxes, from the appalling municipal services offered by Jerusalem council.

Palestinians rejected the idea of participating in the local municipality because they reject Israel's occupation and annexation of east Jerusalem. So does the rest of the world, with the exception of Israel.

The Rabbis, kippahs [skull-caps] and all, explain to me how Silwan has become a victim of the policies of discriminatory un-development employed in Jerusalem (which Ehud Olmert was once Mayor of] since 1967.

They are working in partnership with a local organisation called al Bustan. Al Bustan in Arabic is an area in the middle of the desert where there is a spring. It is fenced off to protect the luxurious fruits growing on the trees - but anyone may enter and enjoy unlimited hospitality. All are welcome.

Al Bustan in Silwan, occupied east Jerusalem, is a community centre, a meeting place, a service provider, a place where residents can organise their legal battles against the occupation's attempt to demolish their homes.

It was built after the Rabbis began to organise the local community, ultimately through an election, in order to fight the house demolition orders. To date the Centre has had considerable success in building networks of supporters and keeping the encroachment of further illegal Israeli settlement activity.

It is a radical proposition - a place constructed by religious Jews and local Palestinians to fight the occupation, to become a symbol of the potential for hope.

At first Palestinians, naturally, viewed the Rabbis with considerable suspicion. Usually in these parts of Jerusalem religious Jews are there for one purpose only - to expand their settlement activities and implement the process of "silent transfer" designed to move Palestinians out of their homes and in to the West Bank. After a time, however, the presence of Kippah wearing Jews became a powerful symbol in the struggle for human rights of the local Palestinians. A force and symbol which could help prevent radicalisation of the youth who see that Jews are not just the ones knocking on their doors with demolition orders but also those who stand shoulder to shoulder with them to rebuild lives, communities and homes.

Of course the terrible irony of al Bustan Centre is that its actions to prevent house demolitions are under threat - the building the Centre is housed in has had a demolition order imposed on it.
Despite the misery of the Gaza Strip, the continued construction of the Wall deep inside the West Bank, and all the other human rights violations across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) there is some glimmer of hope for a better future.

Yesterday evening I sat for dinner with two Israeli friends and their new innocent twins - he a human rights lawyer with [Trocaire partner] Hamoked and she a religious Jew who, among other things, is a member of an organisation which tries to speak out to religious Jews to get them to stop building settlements and to focus on social and justice issues.

We spoke much about Gaza, the war in Lebanon and northern Israel and the future.

Once again, after spending time with them, I can conclude there is indeed some limited hope.
Unfortunately, Israeli occupation has imposed a demolition order on it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pet hates

Having no electricity becomes a form of censorship, I'm discovering, as it means that it is difficult to access the internet. Consequently I couldn't post anything yesterday, apologies to anyone who is actually reading these!

Censorship, naturally, is more then a pet hate - it is a violation of fundamental human rights. But such grand concepts shouldn't keep us from reflecting on the fact that it is the small things in life that make all the difference.

Everyone has, I suppose, their pet hates. Probably my greatest pet hate is toilet paper which pulls down clockwise instead of anti-clockwise. If I go to the toilet in other people's homes I often spend a few minutes correcting this widely-supported deficiency. Yes, it is odd. But, as I say, we all have our quirks and pet hates.

Other pet hates include the sound of clocks ticking, and, the process of getting out of bed in the morning. So, you can imagine my disgust this morning when I was ripped out of bed by the loudest 'tick-tocking' I ever experienced.

Much has been made of the ongoing campaign by Palestinian militants, including HAMAS, who are indiscriminately firing home-made rockets into civilian areas in Israel. Deaths and injuries have been caused and people in certain areas to the north of Gaza live in a constant state of uncomfortable tension wondering when the next rocket may arrive.

On the other side of the fence surrounding Gaza little has been made of the [also indiscriminate] bombardment by the Israeli military of the northern Gaza Strip. Perhaps little has been made of it because when media reports come from Gaza there are a hundred other issues - freedom of movement; economic, social, cultural, political and civil suffocation; F-16 and Helicopter gunship attacks against civilians etc. - which take priority.

Human Rights watch said, in June, [as part of their investigation into the Gaza beach-bombing on June 9th] that the Israeli military had fired over 4000 shells into the northern Gaza Strip in a nine month period or so. At times the shelling reached up to 3 a minute.

I never really understood what this shelling actually meant, until this morning.

It is a low, dull, thud which echoes across the sky of Gaza city (despite the fact that it is happening at least two or three kilometres away.) It seems to come from both above and below, as explosions often do. You hear the sound above you but feel a small tremor below.

It woke me sometime around 7.00 this morning. At first I wasn't sure what the sound was - sometimes it was far enough away that it couldn't be distinguished as an explosion.

But then, gradually, the pattern intensified, boom, and the sound came much closer, Boom. I get up in the bed. Boom. I begin to wonder what it is. Thirty seconds later, boom. Another thirty seconds and, you got it, BOOM. I get up, muttering to myself in half-sleep as people with silly pet-hates tend to do. I head for the shower, Boom, check the toilet paper, boom. A quasi-rhythmic Booming, a constant for the next hour of my life.

Up until the war in Lebanon this sound, and the accompanying tremors, were an almost constant feature in the daily lives of Gazans. BOOM.

Brushing my teeth and it is still there, boom. The Israeli military mostly fire shells to try to deter the Palestinian militants from entering the area to fire rockets in to Israel. To date this, alongside every other military technique tried [in either Gaza or Lebanon] has failed to prevent rocket fire. Boom.

Last night F-16s were flying overhead for some time. They fired at areas in eastern Khan Younis (an area where only the day before I had been sitting in meetings). As I listened to them flying over head I could feel my body tense in anticipation of a sonic boom or a dropped bomb. Tense for the forty minutes of waiting, until they disappear.

Had I been in Gaza only a few months ago - say, during early June, I am not sure I could have survived very long. Shells Boom, Sonic booms, missile attacks, not able to go anywhere, no electricity, no water, no food in the shops, because the checkpoint is closed [except for Israeli fruit which always manages to find a way in to the local markets.]

And topping it all off the feeling that since 1948 nothing has got better and everything has got worse. All the time the international community fiddles while Palestine booms.

Of course don't forget that there is almost no social life; the main source of socialising during the summer are the endless, noisy, wedding parties. But, now, no one can afford to get married - it costs a man 3000 Jordanian Dinars [US$5500] in a dowry to his new wife. Then he should rent a hall/hotel [around US$1500] and supply his hundreds of guests with soft-drinks; coffee and tea [for the men]; music [for the women.]

This extends, especially, to children. There are no parks, no football pitches, no playgrounds. Nothing. Space in Gaza is at premium and parks are not part of the plan to house the population. A population which will double every 18 years at the current rate - as the population doubles so will all of the problems in this part of the world, in Palestine and Israel.

I learnt yesterday that an increasing number of children are suffering from rickets as a result of sunlight deficiency. A bizarre fact when you consider that temperatures in Gaza's long sunny summer reach 35 degrees. It is a result of the fact that the buildings, especially those inside the refugee camps, are built so close together that even children playing on the street are not seeing enough sun.

Also, everyone is feeling the squeeze, economically. Hotels let their staff go because there are no weddings. DJ Waleed, who used to send out a team to do six or seven gigs a night during the summer is now lucky if he gets two a week. There is little or no construction going on, because, until two days ago, there was no concrete in Gaza - consequently, all the manual labourers and the professional staff were laid off.

Recession is a downward spiral: each act of contraction forces another contraction. Eventually, there will be nothing left to contract.

People don't know what to expect in the future. Mustupha, an animated friend, explained to me yesterday "we don't know what is coming next - I see in football houses [stadiums] in Europe they have roofs on top for the rain - maybe this is what Israel will do next, put a roof on top of Gaza."

All it will take for the lid to be lifted off? Less parks, less opportunities, less jobs, less hope.
And then?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Les Damnes de la Terre

When Franz Fanon published his groundbreaking work on the Algerian experience one of the things he was able to highlight was the chaos that erupted accross many levels throughout Algerian society - the violent relationship with the French settlers, the intense violence which, later, consumed Algerian society itself - the comprehensive breakdown of social cohesian.

Fanon's book was also interpreted by many as a call to arms - if that is the case then I can, once again, testify, after today's events, why such violence is nothing other then repugnant and tragic for all the victims.

Almost at the same time as I was posting this morning a Home-made rocket was fired from northern Gaza into southern Israel - injuring 1 Israeli civilian. Shortly after, I find myself with Dr. Bandali Siar, Director of [Trocaire partner] Caritas Jerusalem's Gaza operation.

We are in a mobile medical clinic going to visit the victims of Israel's incursion into al Maghazi camp in the middle area of Gaza. En route the car buzzes with information and chatter. He tells me that al Jazeera is reporting that 4800 rockets were fired from inside south Lebanon, indiscriminately into civilian areas in northern Israel.

Just as I am asking the Dr. if he believes that there will be an escalation in Israeli violence in Gaza - his phone rings and he hears news of an extra-judicial execution by the Israeli military in northern Gaza. I later hear that three were killed.

Throughout the day the Caritas team - a doctor, a medical technician and two volunteer nurses - talk constantly of the renewed closure imposed at the Rafah crossing point. It is, literally, an inescapable feature of life in the largest prison in the world. Everyone has family members stuck outside - running out of money, wondering when they will get back to their homes.

We hear stories that of the 1600 people who passed in the two-day opening of the crossing around 1000 of them were business men connected to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Whether or not such reports are true - what is clear is that many hundreds of urgent humanitarian cases trying to cross in and out were not given prioirty, a shameful volation of international law which priviliges humanitarian access.

We arrive in al Mughazi Camp - during a three day incursion, three weeks ago, there were 20 killed and 200 injured.[Over 160 have been killed in the last month in Gaza. Hundreds of the injuries resulted in amputations. Caritas is conducting visits as part of a new project in the impoverished, isolated area. We visit the homes of six families who suffered from a scabies outbreak in a tight-knit series of streets. Then we move onto the harder cases - the direct victims of violence from the incursion.

Let us call him Ismail. Sixteen. He limps into the room, his doting mother close behind him. He sits and lifts his jalabiya (a long dress-like pajama worn commonly by people in the Arab and Muslim world). His legs are pockmarked by hundreds of small cuts and bandaged heavily around the thighs. One of the nurses cuts open the bandages on his left leg. Two gaping gashes appear – each an inch and a half long and at least a quarter of an inch deep. Ismail says "after I last went to the hospital it began to burn and turned a strange colour."

Dr. Bandali explains that the wounds were infected in the hospital as a result of not being cleaned properly. He cleans the wound, Ismail barely winces as the brown disinfectant runs deep into his legs.

I suppose he has known greater pain than this – the moment the shrapnel from the rocket peppered his lower and upper body.

His other thigh is now exposed but the flesh that glares out at me is a strong red. Dr. Bandali is happy – "it is healthy" he tells me, withouta hint of irony that such a wound could be "healthy."

Over the course of the morning we visit many other of the walking - hobbling, blinded - wounded. Children and adults alike - victims of terrible violence.

There is, occasionally, relief from the violence of Gaza. I sat in the early evening with friends - smoking a Shisha pipe (a traditional Arabic/Turkish instrument which billows sweet apple flavoured tabacco; likened by a journalist friend here to a "cigarette with a hoover attached") From feet away I can feel the warm strength of the sea - but despite this the beach is almost empty.

The relief from violence is, ultimately, a false sense of security - two Israeli gunboats sail rapidly up and down the horizon. Their stated aim is to stop gun-running from Israel or the transportation of those who want to attack Israeli civilians in their cafes or bars.

But their presence forms part of the policy of collective punishment imposed on Palestinians - at the moment no fisherman are allowed into any part of the sea. As we sit and watch, the sand fills our shoes, we see one or two brave fishermen pushng tiny rafts into the sea; they are risking their lives for a few Shekels. Their choice is between this or being unable to feed their families.

The red sun pours into the horizon as we head to our car.

As we drive along the sea road towards Gaza my phone begins to ring and buzz. Two people have been kidnapped. The report was, initially, that one of them was Irish. The BBC's Alan Johnston is now reporting that it is two FOX news journalists, from New Zealand and the USA.

As of yet no one knows who is responsible or how the HAMAS government will react. [though they have already condemned it strongly as "Un-Palestinian" and called for immediate release - in the past HAMAS have been heavily involved in negotiations to free people who were kidnapped; but this time the responsibility for law and order lies with them.] More violence. More victims.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A night's sleep

If you've ever been to an airshow, or lived in certain parts of Germany (during the Cold War), or lived in south Lebanon, or in the Gaza Strip, then you may have heard what a sonic boom actually sounds like.

It happens when a plane (in Gaza it is the Israeli F-16s) break the sound barrier. They create a kind of bubble into which the plane flies and as they travel along directly underneath the lane there is an enormous noise, shaking buildings, popping windows - it is like an earthquake. In the immediate aftermath of one your body shakes from the inside out - it takes more then a few minutes to calm down. The Israeli military have been using them in Gaza for over a year now - terrifying the entire population almost simultaneously. They were happening, over the past few months, at times designed to disrupt sleep patterns - at, for example, 2.15, 2.22, 2.43, 2.45, 3.10 - with just enough irregularity to destroy a night's sleep.

Now, thankfully, in the past ten days or so there have been none - and last night was no exception. In fact - to the best of my knowledge - barely a whistle was heard overnight in the Gaza Strip. No extra-judicial executions, no homemade rockets fired into Israel - it almost seems too quiet.

Two short-term predictions are being made about this relative 'paradise' of calm.

The first is that from the time the ceasefire happens in Lebanon the Israeli cabinet will want to focus again on Gaza. The second is that the cabinet and the military - shaken by their tough military experience in Lebanon will want a period of calm.

One way or another the people in Gaza will be sitting on the edge of their seats, clasped in tension, wondering which one it is going to be.

More then anything they are praying that it will not be a return to the collective punishment of the sonic booms.

When the lights go out in Gaza...

It seems, almost, too silly a point to speak about - but since last month, when Israel bombed the only power station in the Gaza Strip, one and a half million people have spent much of their time in the dark. In fact, it is a reality which permeates every aspect of life.

When I imagine what it must be like to live without power on a daily basis I am reminded of Al Pacino's famous line in Scent of a Woman "What life? I got no life. I'm in the dark here!" Pacino's line delivers so much truth that would resonate with the people of the Gaza Strip.

Sitting in darkened rooms, without television to watch [the news from Lebanon or the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem], without a kettle to make a cup of coffee, without the light to read a paper or a book, or the ability to press play on the battered tape machine - what life is there to be had?

Some families have taken to going to sitting through the night listening to the elegant ebb and flow of the Mediterranean - but many are fearful of even going to the beach since the June 9th bombing by Israel of the beach in north Gaza, which killed a family of seven. The conflict between Israel and Palestine and now Lebanon is a complex one, and there are many and varied opinions on the solutions as bombs and rockets fall in Israel and Lebanon and innocent people on both sides suffer - including too many civilians.

Some families, unable to sleep in the wet, thick, Gaza nights, sit: fanning themselves in darkened rooms - unable to see the whites of each others eyes, except by candlelight. Many families can not even afford candles so charitable organisations are providing them inside emergency food parcels distributed to the poorest of the poor - a growing constituency.

Even if the families have gas stoves on which they can boil water the rocketing gas prices (tripled in three months) and the shortage of clean water supplies (because the water plants can't pump water to be delivered to houses by the local councils) makes this an impossible or unpalatable prospect.

The various restrictions on cultural, social, political, economic and civil activities caused by the power shortages have wide ranging and unforeseen consequences. "The darkness of life aids the production of dark psychologies" Omar Shabban, Director of Catholic Relief Services in Gaza ,told me earlier today. "It seems the Israeli military is happy for people to turn away from peace - because it suits their agenda to paint us all as terrorists and animals. The weakness of the Israeli case is the many Palestinian voices for peace - so they try to marginalise us."

The Parish Priest in Gaza, Fr. Mousalem spoke vividly about his night-time experience of Gaza "We have no water for the children, nothing for them to do. As I walk around at night time I can hear the cries of the children from the darkness of the refugee camps."

Concrete political action is required to ensure human rights and justice for the Palestinian and the Israeli people - otherwise we sow the seeds for years of conflict in this already torn region.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Entry to Gaza - the land of forgotten people

Taxi journeys in Gaza are among the most illustrative and educational journeys possible. In a matter of minutes it is possible to assess the mood of the people (taxi drivers all over the world always encapsulate a montage of public opinion) and to witness the situation first hand.

I was excited to cross the border-line from Israel into the tiny, densely packed Gaza Strip [around 1.5 million people squeezed into an area around half the size of county Wexford]. But the Beit Hanoun/Erez [Arabic/Hebrew names] border crossing is always the first obstacle to any journey. It is not a checkpoint in the traditional sense, the way we might imagine it - with two or three soldiers standing idly by a barrier in the road. Instead it is a military complex; a sinister version of Hollyhead ferry terminal, surrounded by walls and imposing concrete watchtowers.

This terminal used to be the passage point for tens of thousands of Palestinian workers gaining a livelihood in Israel - now it is closed to all with the exception of the few foreign journalists and NGO workers who are still interested enough to pass.

Five of us, four journalists and myself, sit and wait for the wave of a gun that means we may approach, and if we have proper security coordination (arranged a week in advance) pass through. We wait for more than a few hours, from 7.00 AM, in the searing, sweaty Gaza heat. One of the journalists is from China - she laughs with a mild embarrassment when we raise issues such as China's oil-driven interest in the Middle East and Africa and the heavy arms trading China is involved in around the world. But she speaks with a remarkable confidence when she recounts her views that the people of Gaza are 'a forgotten people'.

Forgotten, indeed.

When we eventually pass through the series of offices, tunnels and electronic gates which lead us to the Palestinian side it is easy to see just how forgotten Gaza is. While I wait for my own taxi to arrive I talk to one of the regular drivers who sits at Beit Hanoun/Erez checkpoint each day waiting for people to cross. Usually, a brief Q&A session with Ahmed reveals little new - but today he seems truly defeated. For the first time his refrain to the traditional series of 'how are you?/what's the news?/how is your health?' is more than the usual series of polite platitudes and stoic resignation('Il Ham d'Allah'- thanks be to God). "The life' he tells me 'in Gaza, since your last visit (in February when the HAMAS government was elected) is different. Now, we have really nothing. No electricity, no water, no gas, no petrol, no bread.' His list of nothings continues almost endlessly and depresses me deeply. The lines in his face - usually carriers of hardship, defiance and even happiness - are broken, etched in seemingly permanent sadness.

My own taxi driver continues this sorry story as we drive into Gaza City, passing the Jabalya refugee camp on our right [Jabalya is the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, 120,000+ people in 2 sq km, half of them under eighteen] 'What they have not destroyed here is not worth destroying. And, yesterday, at Rafah crossing they opened it for three hours and fifteen thousand people turned up - only a few hundred passed through.' [Rafah crossing point is the only access point from tiny Gaza to the outside world, through Egypt, still controlled by the Israeli military and closed for almost two months now - meaning tens of thousands are trapped outside and 1.5m trapped in.

Over a very late brunch of Humous, Foul, Falafel [various types of beans mixed and mashed with spices in various tasty ways], and eaten with thin Arabic bread, in the offices of Trócaire partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR], the conversation is again tinged with sadness. 'I saw grown men crying yesterday when I went to Rafah crossing yesterday- sweating, fainting, crying, slowly dying' says Annwar, a friend whose own family have been victims of the 39 year old Israeli occupation in many ways, an occupation the UN declared to be illegal.

Around three years ago the Israeli air force dropped a one tonne bomb on a house in Gaza city, aimed at killing a HAMAS leader. 15 innocents, many of them children, died in their sleep - almost all of them from Annwar's family. Nieces and nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts. And this is only the part of his long history of loss. There have also been losses on the Israeli side as this conflict drags on.

Director of PCHR, Raji Sourani, is one of the few whose Blitz-spirit remains intact. As per usual he is full of analysis and strategies designed to place the Israeli occupation back at the centre of international discourse, because 'no one speaks now about the occupation, or international law or protecting civilians, no one at all.'

I press him on the unusually frank responses I received from the taxi drivers and he admits that life is not easy now for anybody, that people are in an unprecedented situation - even himself. I can see it, again, carved into his expressive face - a bewilderment at how bad things have to get before the world will act.

As I sit now it is evening. There are only two constants in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: that the sun will rise and fall; and that the musical prayers of the Mosques will echo back against the sky, calling for assistance from a God who doesn't appear to be listening.

As I absorb the simple events of the day - a taxi journey, a brunch, a meeting and conversation with old, dear friends - my worst fear is not that the Israeli occupation will destroy more of the roads, the bridges, the schools or the hospitals - rather that it will continue to undermine the resilience and the dignity of the population here, and in so doing destroy the already buckled spirit of the people.