My friends and the journalists and cameramen at Ramattan are so good-natured and selfless that I forget many of them have lost their houses, or family members.
Yousef is always impeccably-groomed, and somehow smiling, yet hasn’t had a working toilet since his home in the northwest was destroyed. “I can’t use the bathroom at home,” he mentioned. “I have to wash here at at work.” I guess compared to those displaced Palestinians still crammed into cold, bare classrooms in UN and other schools, without water and electricity, Yousef’s situation isn’t so bad. But can I really imagine my life tumbling out of control, from one day having a lovely home filled with years of memories and cherished belongings to another day suddenly being able to scavenge only a couple items of clothing from the wreckage of my home? How would I deal with that, with the injustice of it, with being homeless and having to carry on with work and life…? Undoubtedly, I’d be a lot less dignified and personable.
Saleh is always bringing tea and coffee around to those working away at the computer. Sure, it’s his job, but he doesn’t have to wear such a huge grin, nor be so considerate in remembering who likes what with how much sugar. In other places, he’d have the right to mope and be sour. But he’s not, and I catch myself forgetting his Beit Hanoun home is completely demolished, that when he leaves work he’s going back to his family at relatives homes, that he, like the other over 4,000 Gazans whose homes have been destroyed, doesn’t have any assurance that cement will be allowed in any time soon through the closed borders. He doesn’t have any assurance that re-building actually can and will occur.
Hamsa’s family was warm and gracious as to be expected. Not as expected by my own standards –how much of a host would I be if my brother/son/husband had been completely blown to pieces by a missile? But by Palestinian norms, in hard-hit Gaza, hospitality is still foremost, as is sumoud: resilience, steadfastness. Hamsa’s beautiful baby girl has his dark eyes and brooding expression, but also quick smile. His pretty wife stoicly spoke of him, of their love: “we loved eachother the moment we were introduced,” she said. They’d gotten married after just one month, and the year and two months they’d lived together “felt like ten years,” she said.
Ahmed has one of the greatest laughs in the world, and he uses it regularly. The other day when we were walking through the ruins of what was Ezbet Abed Rabbo, eastern Jabaliya, I forgot that he has shrapnel wounds on his back and legs, that walking was hard for him. He didn’t mention it until many crushed houses and burnt out staircases later. The shrapnel was from an Israeli army attack on he and a doctor on January 12, in which the doctor was killed by the missile’s explosion, decapitated. I didn’t know that Ahmed had also been attacked a later time (and I now suspect there have been other times and medics to ask about). The other attack I learned of by chance, watching a Youtube clip, a documentary made by a Palestinian journalist, Radjah abu Dagga, on the dangers inflicted on Palestinian medics as they try to do their work. I watched, coming to a scene where a medic is lying on the ground, shots firing at and around him. He gets up, runs toward the ambulance, and seconds later I see that he is Ahmed [at 2:00 minutes and on].
Saber continues with his friendliness, joking around even, though his house was hit and destroyed 2 weeks ago. He did crack a little and mention that he didn’t have money to buy milk for his baby, his salary not yet paid (possible right now?) and his needs great post-house-demolition.
Fatema signs off our phone call with an “I love you”. She’d been telling me about trying to clean their house –occupied for about 2 weeks by Israeli soldiers, who left it in a state of foul-smelling, shit-laden, disrepair –without running water. Whenever I’d visited before the war on Gaza, the house had been immaculate.