Our friend Hani has told us that Vittorio Arrigoni used to like to come to this cemetery on his own, and he would spend time here and meditate and talk to the dead soldiers. (This is a 1st WW cemetery.) Here is a video of Vittoro at the cemetery. We visited the cemetery, a beautiful place to spend some moments. A few children were playing there.
Here in Gaza Vittorio is a hero. Tonight we met an eight year old girl who knew Vittorio (he worked with her father and he was a great friend of hers). The murals below are right beside the building, Abu Galioon, where the flat is that we are renting. Steph finds out later that Vittorio had in fact also stayed in this building!
Eid Al-adhar is comparable to our Christmas in importance. People have been fasting for the last few days, and the fast was broken last night after sundown. The sheep below, photographed yesterday on the market, are dead by now, their blood running in the streets (apparently, — haven’t been out on the streets yet). Most of the meat, that which cannot be eaten on the day of Eid, will go to charity. Here is a video link: Gazans prepare for Eid amid Israeli attacks
There was supposed to be a cease fire in Syria lasting through the Eid fest, but it has been broken.
Every time we walk the streets, or most times, we see and hear small generators in front of store fronts. As I posted before, Gazan suffer eight hours of blackouts every day! Who can afford it has a generator to back up. Some people use car batteries to at least have light. Some use candles (which create fire hazards, and in the past people have died in such fires.)
The generators raise the noise level in the streets to something that to my ears is unacceptable. Impossible to walk in peace and have a normal conversation. This is just another thing that people have to live with here on a daily basis. The power cuts are of course a consequence of the power plants having been destroyed during the 2008-2009 bombing (what many here refer to as massacre, which it was, as one cannot speak of a war if one side has so little to defend themselves, and the other side has a US sponsored and equipped army of F16 and tanks) and lack of parts being allowed in to repair them (in other words, the blockade). (We have also heard of requests by civil society groups for more accountability from the Hamas government regarding the length and schedule of these blackouts, which apparently is missing.) One of the many personal benefits of my visiting Gaza is that I will no longer be so noise sensitive to various sounds produced in my neighbourhood back in Montreal.
Before I came, I knew of course that one of the problems in Palestine is a lack of unity with the split between Hamas and Fatah. What we experience coming here is how much this division is not geographically split between Gaza and the Westbank, but is very palpable within Gaza. In fact, we felt a whiff of the divisiveness in this society right from the second day on, as there were some events organised by IUG in the morning (Khan Yunis, …) and a secular event organised by the Gaza Mental Health Center and the DiWan Gaza. In fact, Chomsky, and by extension we, were caught in between IUG, not terribly secular, and the secular parts of society that wanted to meet with Chomsky, and that he wanted to meet with too. The unfortunate lack of communication between all these sectors was one reason why Chomsky had next to no time to get a breathing space somewehre inbetween events. It occurs to me that people were probably worried that if they left him a reasonble two-hour break in the afternoon, this would immediately be snapped up by the competition.
The division is not merely Hamas versus Fatah. It’s more broadly between Islamic and secular society, and it includes many civil society groups that are trying to get ahead in this war of political leadership. In other words, what you find everywhere where people are struggling for and exercising democracy, but here it is exacerbated through the occupation and the blockade.
After the concert Haidar Eid takes us to meet with Amjad Y. Shawa, Mohsen Abu Ramdan, and Hamdi Shaqqura, the deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Amjad and Mohsen are the director and chair person, respectively of PNGO, which stands for Palestinian Non-Governmental Organisation Networks. We sit in a neon lit room around a table. This looks more like grassroots organising than what we’ve seen so far. It turns out to be a very interesting and informative meeting. Too much detail to tell it all here. A few points and quotes that stick out in my notes (with a bit of help from the others to refresh my memory):
- The blockade exacerbates unemployment, poverty, and isolation, which add up to a recipe for extremism.
- Those who really suffer from the division in Palestinian society are the civil society, not the political leadership.
- Gaza is full of chocolate and chips, thanks to Tony Blair’s initiative to loosen the blockade.
- Breaking the siege is needed, but the ultimate goal is to achieve full autonomy for the Palestinian people.
- Palestinians don’t want aid so much as they want justice and political autonomy.
- The media and activists have increasingly started focusing on Gaza. It is important to emphasize that the issue is Palestinian right to statehood, right to return, right to basic human rights… (Should I change the title of this blog?)
- David points out that although the new campaign around building a ship in Gaza to sail out of Gaza, is called Gaza Arc, the organizers always emphasize that the idea is sailing from Palestine and giving the right of trade to Palestinians at large.
- The issue of tunnel trade comes up again, which financially and unequally benefits Hamas.
Thanks to Haidar Eid for having arranged this meeting!
This blog is called “Music 4 Gaza”, as it all started with a benefit concert for the Music School in Gaza. I have not yet visited the school, but Antoine was invited by Mr. Ibrahim El-Najjar, the director of the school, to practice piano for his recital there. He also handed over the items we were able to purchase and bring, due to the funds and donations collected during the concert. This consisted of sheet music of various types (as requested by the school), strings for violin, cello, and guitar, and a bunch of recorder flutes (donated by M. D’amour in Montreal). Tonight Antoine gives the concert. We are lucky that it can happen, as the day before he was sick and spent the day in his room close to the bathroom. The third (or fourth?) victim of a bug among our group. I seem to have been spared so far (fingers crossed). The hazards of traveling and eating in regions to which one’s immune system is not accustomed.
The concert is an informal but jolly affair, where Antoine, characteristically, recounts anecdotes and gives explanations in-between pieces of piano and a song adaptation of Woody Guthrie’s ‘I’ve Got No Home In This World Anymore’. A local group takes the stage afterward and gets the hall swinging with Palestinian folk music. The singer and oud player, Mohammed Akila, has a stunningly beautiful voice that can start very deep and rise to higher registers characteristic of Arabic singing. The event is organised by Haidar Eid, a professor of cultural studies at Al Aqsa and a BDS activist, with help from Ayah (and perhaps others I am not aware of). Most of the audience are young, mixed, and there seem to be no “beards”. Some of the young women I met at IUG have come. I greet them but as there is little time before the concert I say to them we’ll speak later. But at some point I notice that they have all left. Apparently, I am told, women, unaccompanied, and especially young women, must be off the streets and at home by sundown. We now understand why the concert has been scheduled for 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
Maya and Hani pick us up at the hotel. They’ve brought two cars with drivers. Before leaving there is a heated discussion about whether or not the border would be open tomorrow. It turns out that there is a doubt, because the Emir of Qatar is visiting. (And later it turns out that it did not open. Four of our group therefore get stuck here and have to delay their departure by 24 hours. This unannounced closure is endemic of the volatile nature of this border – the only ‘port’ to the outside world – an a small taste of what is business as usual for those few privileged who can sometimes leave.)
We drive through the streets to the old town. We’ve met a lot of people since we arrived, but they were either university officials, faculty, students, or municipal officials. But we have not actually yet walked down a normal street, believe it or not! Now finally we get to walk them. We visit a very nice little museum in a palace from the Mamluk period.
We walk through the ‘gold market’ an arcade of one gold shop after another. Then we get to the main street which has the biggest hustle and bustle. I watch people sew things with very old fashioned mechanical sewing machines right on the street. All kinds of huge plates with different types of nuts and sweets are offered.
(Photos above: Philippe Prévost)
We enter the biggest Mosque in Gaza. Shoes come off, scarves go on (at least for us sisters). The court yard of the mosque is the nicest. It’s such a calm and peaceful place. A couple of children play around and let us photograph them. When I return a couple of days later, there are even more, and they perform acrobatics for us so I can photograph them. They all can say “Hello”. And when I say things in English to them, they repeat them.
October 22, 2012
Things are happening in Gaza while we are here. Here are two examples:
Last night we heard much machine gun firing over the sea. In the morning it was reported that four fishermen were arrested about two miles off the coast. (See Ma’an news). Again, it is quite different to hear of such news while actually being here and having heard the gunshots. David says that the most likely thing to follow is that the fishermen will be released, but their boat will remain confiscated. Israel’s blockade forbids Palestinians from fishing outside of a range of three nautical miles from the coast. (Hardly far enough for any serious fishing and in contrast to the 20 nautical miles that had been agreed on in the Oslo negotiations.) Local rights groups say that often fishermen are targeted even if they are within this range. For more on this read here.
This morning a strike in northern Gaza has killed two people, a third one died of his wounds later in the day. Such incidents close to the border are not that unusual. Israel claims they are militants. But we have been told that sometimes farmers who get to close to the border are targeted and shot. There don’t seem to be many references on the web reporting this killing. I found an item in the Washington Post.
Strangely I don’t feel too scared. I know Gaza city wouldn’t be targeted. But it’s quite an experience. Pretty awful to be able to hear the Israeli war planes flying above.