Live from Gaza, Eoin Murray, Trócaire

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?


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