by Flora Nicoletta

Photo by Kelly VanPelt

“Neocolonialism is a new form of slavery”, a Gazan citizen.

The walls of Gaza are the unofficial Gazette of the Strip. On them one can follow what is going on. The walls are covered by scores of posters, pictures of martyrs, murals, slogans, calls, giant portraits of Yasser Arafat by the young artist Mohammad Ed-Derry, announcements…

At the end of the year the external wall of the Esh-Shifa hospital – months ago refreshed with coats of paint color rusty – was covered with more than twenty paintings depicting the Israeli war and the suffering of the people.

In Mustafa Hafez St, a superb mosaic was composed on the wall of the UNRWA HQ, near the main entrance. The mosaic is around 5 m. long and 4 m. large. It represents a group of Palestinians looking toward the sky. At the bottom is written “Gaza Freedom March 31.12.2009”. The master piece is made of bits of stone irregularly cut. With the reflect of the lights in the night, the mosaic become a firework and the small stones shine like thousands of stars or thousands of diamonds.

In Tal El-Hawa, the most elegant district of Gaza City, the compound of ministries, although heavily damages during the Israeli war last winter, is still standing. For a period of time the employees worked in the rubble in large beige tents crowned with small Palestinian flags. Sometime, someone wrote on an external wall: Why??!!…” One year after the Israeli offensive more graffiti have been added on a wall: “Gaza Free, No one can do for me, Only I can change my life”, “Sorry… Gaza”, “T’aime Palestine”, “Coming free Gaza”, “Gaza will not go down”, “27.12.2008”, i.e. the day the “Cast Lead” operation started.

Despite the suffocating siege imposes on the Gaza Strip, the coming of the New Year was celebrated as usual, but only in a few restaurants. On an eatery’s window in Tal El-Hawa is written with cotton wool: “Happy New Year 2010”. Exactly one year ago the Gazans were under smart Israeli bombardments.

On New Year’s Eve a group of 84 foreigners were taken to a cafeteria, The Gallery, where they attended a concert of hip-hop and ‘oud. After immense difficulties the activists were authorized to cross into Gaza, out of a group of more 1.400 stuck in Cairo. They arrived in the Strip late on Wednesday 30 December. Among them were four rabbis from Neturei Karta International, many Jews as well as Palestinians living abroad.

The 24-hour visit permit given by the Egyptians was extended in order to respect the Shabbat of the rabbis. However, the whole visit was spoiled due to a very unusual tight security and a fire which broke out on Shabbat day in the kitchen of the small and practically unknown El-Jazeera cafeteria. For a while there was panic in the hotel. The cafeteria is located on the seashore, just a few meters from the Commodore Gaza Hotel where the internationals were hosted, but also just a few steps from the firemen station. Nevertheless, the foreign activists said new words should be coined because they were unable to express their feelings for being in Gaza. The locals as well couldn’t contain their emotions.

A young American lady from the Freedom March For Gaza had collected around $19.000 in the USA, were telling us her mates. The money was spent in Egypt to buy goods for the besieged Gazans. All the goods were stored in a large hall in the Commodore Hotel and the hall was full. Many packs were still closed. On a table, at the back, there were what seemed to be medicines. Toward the end of the visit the last foreigners still in Gaza finished to fill Egyptian schoolbags with all sorts of stationery, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toys, etc. In addition, were brought from Egypt an amount of orange soda and potato ships.

In the end, the situation turned nasty and the American girl lost her temper because she couldn’t personally give the goods to the recipients of her choice. But really there was no time left. The rabbis said they would be ready to depart at 20:00 on Saturday. All the remaining foreigners should leave by that time. The Government was under heavy pressures from the Egyptian side. The Palestinian security tried all the possible gentile ways to convince the foreigners to leave. It was hard and we understood the desire of the foreigners to remain more in Gaza and their frustrations.

Therefore, the departure of the third bus at around 20:15, on Saturday 2 January, turned into a drama. The departure of the second bus shortly after 15:00 was already problematic: eleven foreigners were missing and those present refused to board the bus. Furthermore, on the bus a lovely Palestinian girl living in the States was weeping and repeating: “This is my country!!”.

When the US girl lost her temper in the Commodore hall, she shouted: “No to Hamas!’, meaning she didn’t want the goods to be taken by the Government; she also shouted to the stoic security men: “Your people is dying from hunger!”.

First of all, we presumed everything was done in good faith by the visiting group. But I was astonished by two facts: why the $19.000 or so were spent in Egypt? The cash money is necessary in Gaza, not in Egypt, and the shopkeepers need to sell. On top of that, why to buy in Egypt what is available in Gaza?

After a few days, on Wednesday 6 January, 482 internationals and 130 vehicles of humanitarian aid arrived from Egypt. The Viva Palestina convoy led by the British MP George Galloway included also Jews and Palestinians living abroad. The first British lady I met gave me the answer to my questions: “In Great Britain, it is said the Gazans are dying from starvation and almost eat rats. Thus you can understand why the goods were brought in Egypt by the previous solidarity group.”

Here, when such international rumors are repeated to the Gazans they are hurt, but they also laugh. Ahed assures that he eats better than in Great Britain… Sometimes, when we read articles and international reports about the Strip we don’t recognize it. There are in fact two different Gazas: one real on the ground and another one fabricated by the enemy propaganda or by inaccurate international reports. In the early 2000s, for instance. Christian Aid, a UK NGO, titled a report: “Gaza like Zimbabwe”. So far Gaza is not yet like Zimbabwe.

There was indeed a period of acute shortages in Gaza. It lasted for several months and was the peak of the crisis. Were lacking cash money, food, candles, small batteries, flour, cigarettes, paper for printing and photocopying, glue, shoes, cardboard boxes, nylon bags and everything one can imagine. But this period is over. It ended at the beginning of 2008 when one night militants demolished the iron wall left by the Israeli master at the border with Egypt, high 8 m. and long several kms. All the population of the besieged Strip invaded peacefully Egypt for around ten days – including newborns and elderly, entrepreneurs and businessmen – and brought home everything they could buy.

They are reports that are objective and depict accurately the real situation on the ground, like those of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Without exaggeration the situation is tragic and is deteriorating day after day. Life is impossible. However, the locals resist, are resilient and innovative, find new ways to remain alive under this form of modern slavery. On the other hand, international and local crocks are interested in making the situation more black than it is for their own benefits and for getting more funds.

For sure they are plenty of poor, jobless, miserable, disabled people and for sure not all of them receive sufficient aid. However, these people keep their dignity and don’t approach the foreigners lying and begging for help. Moreover, some local NGOs which are supposed to help them are well known for sucking the blood of the Palestinian people like vampires, in addition to other entities which are supposed to rescue them. The locals are fed up with all these crocks.

In Gaza nowadays nobody is dying from hunger. Despite the international embargo and the Israeli-imposed siege that has become routine now everything is available: biscuits, chocolate, clothing, toys, cigarettes, mobile phones, lab-tops, lingerie, cosmetics, perfumes, motorcycles, generators, refrigerators, washing machines… Furthermore, a good number of people eat red meat, chicken, turkey, pigeon, fish. The youth say they are doing miracles. The old militants say the Gazan people cannot be defeated. Paradoxically, absolutely everything is lacking in Gaza.

When asked what they need, the Gazans will never tell you they need a WFP bag of flour or USAID Refined Vegetable Oil Vitamin A Fortified. The Gazans will tell you they are hungry indeed, very hungry, but hungry for justice, democracy, freedom, independence. It’s all and it’s enough.

– Flora Nicoletta is an independent French journalist who lives in Gaza. She is currently working on her fourth book on the Palestinian question.


1 Comment

  1. January 28, 2010 at 00:06

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