A phone call home to Gaza

I called my family in Khan Younis recently. The power was off when we talked, but flickered back on just as I was finishing the call. Or so they said.  The majority of their day is now spent without electricity.

Children in some neighborhoods are currently wading through sewage to get to school.  Wednesday night's rain worsened the situation because it led to flooding. Polio, long eradicated, could become a problem. If so, Israel would have Gazans blame Hamas. That seems unlikely.  We are not fools. We have not forgotten Israel is responsible for the siege – and now is aided and abetted in it by the Sisi coup regime to our south.  And, of course, no refugee in Gaza – some 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million people – could ever forget that just a few miles outside of Gaza are the homes and agricultural fields from which we were expelled 65 years ago. 

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I, for one, have never been able to take my children to see our demolished village. To do so requires rights that Israel is unwilling to extend to those it ethnically cleansed in 1948.  Israel, the occupying power, however, remains responsible for what happens here and one day will be called to account for the injustice of that dispossession.  I have little confidence of legal justice any time soon, but I do believe Israeli officials fear the likelihood that one day they will be called to account for Israel’s actions in an international court of law.  Perhaps that day will be 10-20 years from now, perhaps sooner if the Palestinian Authority displays the kind of moxie that has seemingly always eluded it.

There is no way out for most from Gaza.  Too many stultify as a consequence of having few or no positive outlets.  

My own sister in Gaza City, who is well educated and has been outside Gaza’s narrow confines, feels suffocated.  She lives in a fifth-floor apartment with no power, no fuel, and limited transportation service from the flat. Israel, she says, wants Gazans to feel a deep pressure and humiliation every hour of their lives in the hope that they rebel against the Gaza government. 

Israel, notwithstanding the vaunted intelligence services that recent Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren touts, is ignorant of the deep longing for freedom that has long animated us and of the ubiquitous Palestinian understanding that Israel is the major impediment to that freedom.  Better our own bad government than the “good” colonial government of Israel or some lackey it helps put in place. It is conceivable Palestinians will turn on governments in Ramallah or Gaza, but it will not be at Israel’s spoken or unspoken behest.  Magical Israeli thinking will not make us embrace collaboration with the evil of occupation and a seemingly permanent subjugation. 

My cousin Khalid (who had failure in the liver) paid with his life in 2008 when he rejected an Israeli offer to collaborate in return for a permit to leave Gaza for treatment in an Israeli hospital.  According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Abdullah Abu Athera (age 24), from Rafah, was arrested last month at Erez checkpoint during an interview in which he was trying to secure passage for a November 15 medical procedure to repair his hearing.  There is concern that he, too, may have been asked to spy on his own people.  Most Palestinians would prefer to die in dignity than submit to Israel’s unjust dictates.

Wishing something, as Israeli leaders do regarding Palestinian blame-placing on Hamas, does not make it true.  Yes, Gazans smolder. Yet for the most part the anger does not turn inward, but rather is directed outward – and at worst usually manifests as a pox on all their houses: Israeli, Egyptian, Hamas, Fatah, Arab, American, European, United Nations. There are many to blame and our own leaders do not go without recrimination.  Most Palestinians, however, continue to put the blame squarely on our Israeli besiegers and those living on our confiscated land.

But if our children continue to sift through the filth and feces flooding too many of our streets, the international community can be certain that we will not forget.  In our hours of need, indeed hours passing into decades, what powers will say enough is enough and that putting Palestinians on a “diet” (as Dov Weisglass cruelly put it) and relentlessly pushing Palestinians into a corner represent failed policies?  If the moral obtuseness of imprisoning people in a spit of land is at last acknowledged, will the current American Secretary of State, who once visited here – and had the decency to tell Ehud Barak that preventing the export of pasta to Gaza was wrongheaded – publicly urge the walking back of our siege?

Or will business as usual be easier?  Nobody ever got ahead in American politics by speaking up for Palestinians enduring siege and occupation in Gaza.  But in phone calls from Canada to Khan Younis, I know better than most what decency still exists in Gaza and has not yet been snuffed out even as the lights are extinguished and children’s educational aspirations are shut down by lack of light by which to study. 

As the world watches wars and problems not easily rectified around the world, what excuse does it offer for depraved policies keeping Palestinian children in the dark and wading through excrement?

Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) and a member of Faculty for Palestine, Alberta.