conversations with Jabaliyans

The guy I chatted with, from Jabaliya, was brimming with the same phenomenal exuberance as when I’d met him two weeks ago in one of Cairo’s Hospitals. That was just a week or two after he and his brother had been allowed to exit Gaza for medical care. His brother, 7 years older, was identical in warmth and spirit, although both legs had just been amputated above the knees.

At that first encounter, they welcomed us with merrimea (wild herb) tea and ahlan wa sahlans (welcome!), and with a grace the shouldn’t be possible given the circumstances from which they’d come and to which they’d eventually return. How, I wonder again and again, can a people so ravaged as Gazans, in a densely-packed area like Jabaliya camp which seemingly sees no end to tanks and air invasions, be so forward-looking and gracious?

Earlier yesterday, I had gone back to the hospital to see what other patients from Gaza remained, what new ones had arrived. The 16 year old from Jabaliya was still there, still almost completely paralysed from the sniper bullet which shattered his vertebrae. Gaunt and with a sickly tint, he lies day after in day in his bed, waiting for a possible operation which may or may not have a beneficial outcome. There is a very good chance he will be paralysed for life. He is one of the many “injuries” from Gaza that become numbers and disappear into statistics.

As I chatted with H last night, he did not lament their conditions (I had to ask him: “how is the drinking water there? I read that it is contaminated and the purification plant is not working,” to which he replied affirmatively) or play the victim (which he, they, would certainly be entitled to). He asked about me, us, how we were. Eventually, after more probing questions from me, the conversation came to a refrain I had heard many times before in the occupied West Bank: “this is our life. What can we do? How can we change this situation.”

My answer began, as many times before: “I don’t know.”

But I continued by saying that what he and A had done so far was to impress three complete strangers with their grace, hospitality, and civility, as respectable ambassadors of their besieged country. That their perseverance was part of the struggle. That it was still up to them to continue to resist devastation, however impossible a request that is. And that it was up to us, the international community, to do more to change things at home, to stop allowing our government to support the strangulation of Gaza, to speak out on the side of justice and not allow an entire population to be cast aside with the smear of a label and flick of a switch. That we had to fight in our countries for the human rights we take for granted which Gazans don’t have.

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