Walking the sandy lane through the As Samouni district of Zeitoun it was obvious that little had changed, nothing had improved, half a year after the Israeli attacks on Gaza which killed 48 from the Samouni family in a series of Israeli targeted shooting and shelling of the civilians.
A bulldozer had just begun the work of pushing aside the piles of broken homes, sifting, dumping, clearing away memories of life and death. But the latter remain, present in every demolished building, in the paths between homes, in the razed farmland, in the absence of family members.
In Mousa Samouni’s house the memories of death are stronger. The Israeli soldier graffiti hasn’t been washed off or painted over, instead lingering on the walls, taunting everyone who passes through the stairwell and rooms. Some of the rocket-attack holes have been patched, others still gape.
Two of Mousa’s aunts live with the he and his orphaned siblings now; their homes were among the destroyed.
Mousa was away, at university, when I arrived in the afternoon. But young Mona, a cousin who became a media spotlight for her poise and maturity beyond her young years, was visiting. She speaks and knows of realities that no child should. And she’s not alone in this in Palestine.
His grandmother was now staying with the family. Um Talal, mother of Talal, had three martyrs in her direct family. She continually relives the days of terror, describing in detail what ensued, who was covered in blood, who was crying for help, how old the child martyrs were….It was into Talal’s 3 level home that about 50 of the family had crowded, enduring a missile strike and fire before being moved at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers to a building Wael Samouni. This was the building which was later shelled repeatedly, killing and injuring tens more.
After visiting with Mousa’s family, I left, walking towards the al Helo home to visit. Along the way, the clatter of hammers on cement became loud. A group of 5 young boys, most 12 years and under, were busy chipping off old pieces of mortar from cement blocks, readying them for re-use for their destroyed home. They worked cheerfully, calling out to me as I passed.
“Daali, ashrub ahua,” come drink coffee, one said, smiling. While Ahmed was the most gregarious, all the boys were friendly, welcoming, and seemed glad to be working on something like improving their living situation.
They began to chat about a journalist who had stayed in the area and a photographer who visited, happily recalling getting to know these visitors, then asking me to return often.
I left them to their prep-work and moved on to Shireen al Helo. Her house is easy to find even when in a quickly moving taxi: the burnt remainder of a delivery van sits next to their missile-scarred cement house.
Shireen and her three kids were sitting in the ground level courtyard below their house, a pleasant breeze defying the afternoon heat. She glowed, and soon revealed a reason for her beauty: she is newly pregnant. The announcement came with a wide smile, and the words “it’s a gift from God, because we lost our last baby.”
Shireen and Amer’s infant girl, Fara, was shot point-blank by Israeli soldiers invading the Zeitoun area. This came after Amer’s father had been likewise shot point-blank, killing him, and the terrified family had been ordered to walk down a back lane. It was along this lane, and in Shireen’s arms, that Fara was targeted.
Their youngest surviving child still displays psychological stresses, veering from giggling and happy to angry and confused looking in an instant.
In February, when I first met Amer and Shireen, Amer was newly-heartbroken by his daughter’s murder. At the time he’d said they would never have more children, the anguish too great, the thought of losing another too painful. But Shireen’s unplanned pregnancy has brought joy to them both, despite their overwhelming sorrow.
Later, I read that the 1, 505th victim of the December/January Israeli massacre of Gaza has been found, a young man in his 20s, buried until now under rubble near Gaza’s Islamic University.
Rubble is only now slowly, slowly being moved. The same report cites a UNDP program to clear the rubble, and a representative calling for the opening of Gaza’s borders, to re-build Gaza, to recover.
Recover, from what exactly? The 23 days of attacks? The years of siege? The decades of occupation, of being in the world’s blind spot?
The latest convoy, Viva Palestina2, an American delegation, waits on the Egyptian side, trying first to pass Egypt’s many roadblocks in order to reach Rafah, and then to pass through the border crossing which has denied so many thousands of Palestinians the right to life, liberty, dignity. For no clear reason other than complicity in Israel’s siege against the Palestinians of Gaza, Egypt has been blocking the 200 strong delegation’s entry to Gaza.
This comes just weeks after the latest Free Gaza boat was stopped at gunpoint by a number of Israeli naval boats, boarded by Israeli special forces, and all 21 humanitarian aid workers and crew were abducted to an Israeli prison, then deported without charge. [see video]
The international movement to open the Rafah border (IMORB) remains resolute in their campaign to contest the siege, draw attention to the closed borders, highlight the human cases of people being denied entry to Gaza, and put pressure on the Mubarak regime to open the borders.
Near the Gaza city port, in the early morning hours, the arrival of horse and donkey carts herald the awakening of Gaza’s fish market, once a thriving market in a thriving industry, now a testament to the resilience of the fishermen and of Palestinians under siege: despite all odds, despite meagre catches, the fishermen continue to face Israeli brutality on Gaza’s seas in order to provide a livelihood for their families, to exist. They resist.
*Israah and Islam