Tag Archives: Gaza

The War is Over (maybe)!

Tessa posted this on Facebook yesterday, summing up our experience of the last few days: “Last night the city was hushed and I watched army jeeps take over the streets as arrests occurred throughout the West Bank. Tonight there are celebrations and fireworks in honour of the Gaza ceasefire. What a difference a day makes.” After 50 days of warfare in the Gaza Strip, Cairo has finally brokered terms that both Hamas and Israel can agree upon. We’re (tentatively) celebrating the headway made for the Palestinians, because for the first time in seven years, Egypt and Israel will open a few of their border-crossings with Gaza, easing the blockade and allowing in humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials.

But both sides are claiming victory, with varying reactions from their people. Hamas has been holding victory rallies and celebrating the fact that they were able to force real negotiation efforts with Israel. And I think here it’s worth mentioning again that Hamas is a legitimate political party, democratically elected by its people to represent the Gaza Strip, and that they attempted peaceful negotiations, with little or response from Israel (Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed on the dangers of demonizing Hamas that explains the situation better than I ever could). Before this last bout of fighting, 1.8 million Gazans have been suffocating under a seven-year blockade, leaving them isolated and in utter economic crisis. I will never condone violence as a means of negotiation, but I do understand the desperation of the Gazans and why they believed that fighting back was their only option.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also called the outcome victorious for his people, but rather than organizing victory rallies, many Israelis are criticizing his leadership. “‘After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organisation killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine [and] placed the country in a state of economic distress … we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire,’ Reuters reported analyst Shimon Shiffer as writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper.”

So it’s unclear who “won” the war. Even though the ceasefire terms sound progressive at first, The Guardian makes the important observation that “the terms of the deal – brokered by the Egyptian government, and reached on the 50th day of the conflict – appeared to be almost identical to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago.” And Al Jazeera follows, reporting that “The war today is an echo of the war of 2012, and that is a reminder of the war of 2009 and before that the war of 2008 and still before the war of 1967, 1956 and 1948. The war of today, therefore, is an echo of the 1948 Nakba, and the 1967 Naksa and Sabra and Shatila in 1983.”

But I’m a little more optimistic about the outcome, and particularly the effects this war has had on public opinion of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Despite the fact that you can still be fired for simply criticizing the Israeli government (and each of those highlighted words links to a different case), the issue is finally beginning to be discussed by celebrities and politicians, as well as on social media sites, in a more open and critical manner than ever before (looking at you, Jon Stewart). And this excerpt best explains the general feeling of optimism from the ground: “From the perspective of a straight score-sheet, the number of deaths and the amount of destruction during the war was incomparably greater in Gaza than in Israel, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar university. ‘But in Gaza we measure things in a different way. The Palestinian resistance with modest military capabilities was able to fight one of the strongest armies in the region for 50 days. The resistance and the people were not broken. The Palestinians showed resilience and steadfastness. You don’t look at victory and defeat only from a military perspective.'”

As I type, I can hear car horns and fireworks outside, celebrating for Gaza. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of the conflict, but for now everyone’s taking the time to acknowledge that the fighting’s over and some progress has been made. More importantly, we’re happy that the civilians in Gaza will have some tenuous peace and the chance to rebuild.

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***My last few posts have been more politically charged than usual, and I want to get back to writing about music and Nablus. If you want to keep up with what’s going on Palestine and Israel, please please please make sure to check several different news sources for each story; this issue tends to garner more bias than others, especially in Western media. I usually check in with Al Jazeera, CNN, The Guardian, BBC, and Haaretz before posting about something happening here. And after that I check The Onion, because by then, I just really need to laugh about something.

August 7th, 2014 (The World’s Gone Mad)

Before I talk about what’s going on in Nablus, I feel the need to quickly comment on the state foreign affairs, because frankly, the world’s gone mad. ISIL (or ISIS, depending on whether or not you’re an Archer fan) is killing and taking over cities in Syria and Iraq, with the threat of spreading to Tunisia, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Lest we forget, these are the guys that AL-QAEDA disowned for being too extremist. Ebola is spreading through West Africa like wildfire, and Boko Haram is still hanging around nearby, killing and raping in the name of Islam. Then, of course, there’s Ukraine in open warfare, with the whole annexation-of-Crimea business. And then, most pertinent to myself at the moment, there’s the fact that Israel is bombing Gaza to smithereens as we speak (or type) and has been for the past month. Add to that the plane shot down over Ukraine, the one downed in Mali due to a storm, and the complete magic-trick that was Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (all passenger planes), 2014 is looking like a crazy-as-all-hell kind of year. And we still have five months to go.

But back to Gaza. It’s the weekend here in Palestine (Thursday/Friday, because Islam), and we were chilling with the neighbors upstairs, watching the news, when a spokesman for Hamas appeared on the screen. Today is the third and final day of the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, and the mood is tense in Gaza as night falls. Hamas is demanding that the blockade on Gaza be lifted, and Israel is refusing to respond. Nobody knows what might happen tomorrow.

The one thing that is dependable, however, is the resilience of the people of Gaza. On TV we watched in Gaza City as its citizens paraded by the thousands, showing they are still together and that they’re spirit is not broken. I have to admit, there is a special kind of bravery in that. These people are supporting their community after having been bombed for an entire month. After losing nearly 2000 people to Israeli rockets. After displacing 500,000 civilians. They still want to fight for change. They don’t want it all to have been in vain.

But that means Nablus will host protests tomorrow, on Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam. Which means I’ll be staying in after the noon prayers, waiting out the IDF arrests and gunshots.

August 3rd, 2014

Today is Sunday, and classes start tomorrow. We’ve only been here a day, but hey, no pressure.

Project Hope sent me, my flatmates, and three other volunteers to Balata and Askar, two of the refugee camps adjoining Nablus. As the taxi neared Balata, I began preparing myself for — well, I don’t know what I was expecting. Tents? Campfires with families huddled around? Sadness and Ruin, everywhere you look? But no. In reality, Tel Balata looks like a small section of any other crowded city. White skyscrapers are huddled together, lining both sides of a main street where all the street vendors gather.

Not that Balata doesn’t have its differences. It is, after all, a refugee camp. 30,000 people are jam-packed into the one squared kilometer that the camp is allowed to reside on. The people can’t expand horizontally, so they build vertically. The result is a forest of huge, looming skyscrapers, built so close together that you’d have to squeeze to get through the alleys. We were only allowed to wander these alleyways with a guide. To some people here, there is no distinction between foreigners; if you’re not Palestinian, you’re Israeli, and that can cause trouble.

But as we wandered Balata camp, we saw no signs of hostility whatsoever. In fact, we mostly saw children: tons of them, running through the alleys, riding their bikes down the main street, playing soccer in the few open spaces. They ran up to us and yelled in English, “Hi! How are you! What is your name!” I don’t think they could understand a word of our response, but they giggled like mad when they realized they were successful in making themselves understood to foreigners.

At the next camp, Askar, we met the director of an arts center,  who invited us in for black ginger tea. After introducing himself and discussing the volunteer projects with us, he steered the conversation towards Palestine. “What do you think of this country?” he asked us.
“It’s nice,” one volunteer said.
“Beautiful, even.”
“Everyone is so hospitable.”
He listened and nodded. Then he leaned back into his chair and said, “I don’t like it here. I don’t like the situation. But I don’t want to leave. Palestine is mine but it’s not mine. We have this land, but we don’t have Gaza, we don’t have Haifa or Jerusalem, we don’t have freedom. We have to claim it, even if we don’t really have it.”

He told us then of some of the horrors happening in Gaza. One man was found stumbling in the streets with a bag full of meat. It was his son. He had been “shredded” by a brand new type of Israeli missile. They pack tiny shards of metal tight around an explosive and send it over into overcrowded Gaza. When it hits, the missile explodes and the fragments rip through the flesh of anyone within an 80 m radius. I’ve heard kinder descriptions of hell. I don’t think anything I ever read in a book will measure up to the atrocities committed by really human beings.

The rest of the evening was much lighter. We did a little shopping for dinner: three huge eggplants for one shekel, mangoes for two, tomatoes and mint and onions for four. That’s, like, two and a half US dollars in total. The broke college student in me almost cried.

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With these ingredients, we made a really delicious pasta with some fruit on the side, and three English teachers from Project Hope joined us for dinner. One is from Toronto, the other Montreal, and the last is from London. That makes three Canadians so far, one Londoner, one Italian, and me. More volunteers are set to arrive tomorrow.