Under siege the sun still shines and the guns still fire
By Eva Bartlett
I was recently forwarded an email with numerous photos of Gaza, most of them old, pre-siege, late 90s even. A few photos included Palestinians at the sea, as if to say since they are under siege they should not take advantage of the one resource left to them, albeit massively polluted by their own sewage.
The point of the photo email was to accuse Palestinians in Gaza of lying: “you are not under siege, you have 3, 4, even 10 storey buildings, there are hotels and nice cafes… how dare you lie to us and pretend you are suffering”.
I’m sitting now at one of the cafes the general public attend, a palm-thatch-roofed, barebones beachside cafe serving Arabic coffee, tea, juices, sodas smuggled in via the tunnels, and shisha (aromatic tobacco water pipe). My coffee costs me 5 shekels (about $1.5) but I can afford it.
The 80% of Palestinians surviving on food aid (oil, flour, sugar, rice, pasta) and subsequently eating a vegetable, fruit and protein absent diet (relying highly on carbohydrates and oil) could not afford the coffee I’m drinking.
Above this humble cafe wealthier customers perch on the Deira balcony. The Deira, a sandstone-coloured hotel, is a Gaza classic. Foreign journalist and aid workers (the only thing Gaza has an abundance of) frequent the Deira, along with that minute percentage of Gaza’s Palestinians who have the money to spend there (and not outside Gaza since most cannot exit without study visas or for medical reasons…and even with the paperwork, it’s been over 3 years of near-complete closure, said students and medical patients routinely turned back by the Mubarek regime as well as the Israelis).
The strip of sand between the old Gaza port and the current Gaza port is maybe 1 kilometer, or less, and is packed every metre with families passing the sweltering Friday afternoon by the cooling sea. Kids squeal, dive and play in the water as kids do everywhere. Families bring thermoses of coffee, tea, their own snacks and their own shisha pipes and make an inexpensive day of it.
Around me in the thatched-roof cafe, families open plastic bags from home to break out seeds, drinking water from home, and snacks, cutting down on their expenses at this cafe.
Many of them will return to very modest homes, others to absolute barebones cement-walled, asbestos-rooved, war-damaged homes, which more like than not will be without electricity due to the regular power cuts.
My annoyance at the photo email is only slightly dulled by the knowledge that this is what Zionists do: send out stupid, accusatory, ill-informed emails in their efforts to whitewash the ugly truths of Zionism and Israel’s occupation.
Somewhere out on the sea –but surely not more than 3 miles, as Israel has taken upon itself to again unilaterally down-size the Palestinian fishing limits, from 20 nautical miles under Oslo to the current less than 3 miles–the rapid thud of Israeli machine gun fire mars the tranquility and false sense of peace here. The firing stutters, breaks, stutters again, the Israeli gunboat attacking some hapless fishermen trying to eek a living, or at the least bring home fish for their meals.
It is near sunset and the crowds haven’t diminished, all soaking up as much sea time as they can and many waiting for the magnificent hues of a Gazan sunset.
But it’s not all relaxation on the beach. Young boys circulate selling salted beans, corn and 1 shekel packs of gum. Kids like these walk Gaza’s main streets hitting up drivers and passengers at stop signs, selling bundles of mint and lettuce in addition to the gum. These kids work year round, adding a trifle to their families’ trifling income.
Zionists not only like to out-right lie about the reality in Gaza under siege or the rest of occupied Palestine, they also like to simplify the realities.
There is food in Gaza, therefore there is no siege.
Wrong. There is food –much of it smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt–which that vast majority (80%) of severely impoverished food-aid dependent population could never afford.
Egypt opened Rafah therefore there is no siege.
Wrong. The Rafah crossing is for people only, not imports, not exports. Even with respect to people, men ages 18-40 are not allowed to cross without a visa (consider yourselves: if you want to leave your country for vacation, to visit family, for the sake of seeing something new… do you need a visa to leave Canada, America, Europe? No. Can you imagine what it is like to be dependent on a visa, which is largely unattainable, in order to leave your country?). Aside from that, Rafah has been closed, re-opened, closed… there is yet no stability. Most of the 4000 items which entered the Gaza Strip prior to 2006 and the beginning of the siege are banned, save roughly 80 household items. Livestock, fertilizers, construction materials, and most other things people depend on in their daily lives are banned under the siege. Exports are null, though Gaza was famous for its flowers, oranges, and strawberries, among other exports.
More gunfire…Gaza’s sea is all but off-limits to Palestinian fishermen. That remaining source of protein and livelihood is cut-off. Rafah means nothing to Gaza’s fishermen, nor to the Palestinian families dependent on sea catches for their food sources.
Gaza’s water is horrifically-contaminated, with over 95% undrinkable according to WHO standards. The stench of raw sewage chokes when driving along Gaza’s coast. The coastal aquifer is seriously depleted and with the contaminated water and lack of water which formerly ran from the West Bank through Gaza and to the sea (but no longer does so), is in danger of collapse from depletion. Sanitation projects and desalination projects have been on hold for years for want of construction materials.
The Health Ministry, which continually reports shortages of vital medicines and equipment, now reports all surgeries have been cancelled because these shortages have become critical.
These include “children’s operations, cardiac catheterization, laparoscopic surgery and bone and nerve operations”, as well as the closure of dental clinics and general practice clinics soon.
The Ministry reports that “over 178 types of medicine and that over 190 surgical items had either run out or were in short supply.”
But at the sea, we all try to forget these things, for the half hour or half day we spend seaside. The reality is everywhere.