First Published By Eva Bartlett
In Um al Nasser, I meet 17-year old Saleh Ahmed al Madani who was injured in three places from Israeli ‘flechette’ shelling. The small, razor-sharp darts pierced and remain lodged in his neck, shoulder, and calf muscle.
A demonstration is being held on the road leading to Erez crossing. It is led by women, civil society groups, the disabled, and joined by international supporters. The visuals are impressive; an array of beautifully-crafted posters, flags, and stage prop reminders: two men in medics uniforms carry a wheelchair-laden stretcher, highlighting the need, not only for Erez to open, but for all the crossings to open for the ill, the disabled, and those seeking treatment unavailable within Gaza. Over 330 medical patients have died from being denied treatment due to the siege-closed crossings.
I stop by the beach camp home of Rafiq, a fishermen we know. He was severely injured while fishing in his small hassaka, a non-threatening boat barely larger than a surfboard, when Israeli soldiers opened fire on him with exploding ‘dum-dum’ bullets.
“I plunged deep into the water after I was shot. My brother just managed to fish me out,” said Rafiq.
His health is finally improving, though he still has multiple shrapnel shards from the two exploding bullets which blasted him.
‘Abu Adham stops by, to talk about his larger fishing trawler, which was stolen by the Israeli navy on Monday. His son and five others were kidnapped, beaten, interrogated, and finally released without charge in the late evening that day. This is not the first time ‘Abu Adham’s boat has been stolen; he, and over three thousand fishermen are braving it and facing unjust collective punishment for trying to eek out a living well-within Palestinian fishing waters.
At the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) office I spoke with Mohamed Ahmed, director of Water Control, about the situation of Gaza’s water. He updates me on the post-war destruction. From, the Coastal Water Municipalities and Utilities meeting the other day, I have learned about Israel’s targeting of water and waste-water treatment and storage facilities during the war on Gaza. Despite having the coordinates of such plants, Israeli soldiers bombed and bulldozed plants and piping, wreaking more havoc on an already dilapidated sewage and treatment system on the verge of another overflow.
I leave the PWA not wanting to enjoy the fresh sea air: as tons of sewage are pumped into the sea, in need of treatment. Surely bacteria must be in that fine sea mist one breathes; certainly it is in the water, and the fish.
It is Friday and I need to catch up with my friends in Ezbet Abed Rabbo. Walking past the hollowed houses, some with curtains feebly attempting to serve as walls, others with random blocks and stones providing privacy, others still gaping, I pass the bombed masjid, and turn onto the sandy path leading to my friends’ home. This walk will always carry the memories of the massacre; walking here before nightfall to stay with these friends, walking from here after checking out the night’s bombing, the new craters that formed, and running here to search for the elderly patriarch who refused to leave his neighborhood.
It has only been just over five months since Israel’s large-scale bombings (I refuse to use the term ‘cease-fire’, when Israel is still shelling tunnels, border areas, the sea, shooting farmers, fishermen and civilians). But, while five months should be enough time to see some changes in the destroyed landscape –if cement were allowed in by the controlling Israeli authorities –it is not enough time to forget the pain and fear.
I learn that Besam is getting some psychological help in the summer camps. She, the 14-year-old, is still afraid to walk in her own stairwell at night, and will not go near her martyred mother’s room.
My friends cover their pain and welcome me back, chiding me for taking so long in between visits, as we settle down for coffee on their shell-scarred veranda.
Unabashed revelry, a party for a Gaza NGO. Arms flailing, hips shaking, and these are the men!
I never see this gay abandon outside of Palestine, not with the same intensity, an intensity (friends tell me) induced by an urgent desire to celebrate life, to find some joy in a miserable situation. All this is induced by the flick of a switch and the start of a song.
It is beautiful, humbling, inspiring, comical, and defiant.
We go to the east of Beit Hanoun, in Gaza’s north, to search for a teenager missing nearly two months. Since April 21, the family of Ahmed Abu Hashish have believed him to be dead, likely shot by Israeli soldiers stationed along the Green Line. The family suspect the worst as it is well-known, and well-documented that Israeli soldiers shoot at anyone moving in the Israeli-imposed “buffer zone”.
After searching – under Israeli fire – for roughly 20 minutes, we find the youth’s body, 54 days decayed. Ahmed’s father, Abu Ayesh, is searching with us; he is not spared the agonizing truth of his son’s murder, nor of his post-death decomposition. Moreover, he is not spared the Israeli gunfire.
Such is life in Gaza; the borders, the economy, the sea, and life is militarily controlled by Israel.
ISM-Gaza Strip video of the recovery of Ahmed Abu Hashish: