The streets are completely renewed with energy, filled with life and people no longer fasting. The sense of vitality, exuberance, is strangely similar to that of immediately post-massacre.
[That day, 19 January, the streets blossomed with throngs of people who’d been cooped up in homes, feeling death was imminent. The realization that the mass-Israeli-bombing (but not all!) had stopped was enough to send people onto the streets: to look, to find friends, to appraise the devastation of the massacre and see the new streetscape.
While my colleagues and I were mobile –going from Red Crescent shifts in Jabaliya to Ramattan news in Gaza to our seaside apartment –and thus saw and heard most of the bombing or the immediate aftermath, many Palestinians had kept holed up in their homes, feeling whereas no where was safe, they might as well live and die together, as so many did.]
On the first of three days of Eid, children are the most prominent sight, glittering and colourful in flash new clothes (even though in the end they are the poor-quality items that come through the tunnels… they are new, at least).
I walk up Shuhada street (martyrs street, found in many Palestinian cities and towns), first coming across a happy kid on a horse ride, horse itself decked out in coloured tassles. This kind of thing is usually reserved for the beaches, but I recall seeing horse rides in Nablus during Eid 2007, at the time also a seriously encaged and cut off city, surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints.
The main street Rimal area is packed, packed with children. Gone are the quieter, Ramadan- exhausted streets. It’s chaotic revelry, making due with the littlest possible, and somehow having immense fun.
A vacant lot usually strewn with rubbish and debris has throngs of kids waiting their turn to jump on the inflatable castles, those universally-loved jumping areas. Music blasts, squeals of joy blast out.
The hand-pumped ferris wheels, minature but still doing the trick, are out in various parts of the city.
I chat with the kids, as they’ve surrounded me and are begging to have their photos taken. I’m charmed by young Ibrahim, a kid with a bowl-cut hairstyle and huge grin. He utters the Gaza ‘cluck’ (accompanied by an upward chin-thrust and equally-upward eyebrows) sounding somewhat like a disdainful ‘tsk, tsk’ but really just a means of saying ‘no’) when I ask if he’s gotten a shekel today. During Eid, relatives visit and hand out shekels to the kids, meaning with such large families kids can bring in 40 or 50 shekels for themselves, no small amount for a kid.
But Ibrahim hasn’t received any, not from uncles or other.
He and his two friends walk with me as I escape the noise of the street party, walking east towards upper Rimal. I’m keeping my eyes out for a phone card and sweets; I want to go visit families and don’t want to be empty-handed.
They banter with me as we walk, eventually parting ways. I give them 5 shekels each, which they initially refuse, but I tell them I don’t have family here and they are like my brothers. Not sure if they get the idea, but it’s Eid and today every kid should get some shekels.
The taxis are few today, but I catch one going to Zaytoun. I want to visit Mousa Samouni and siblings and see how things are.
When I walk up the sandy, rubble-framed Samouni lane, I’m accosted by smiling, excited Mohammed, a youth I’d met a month or so earlier [kids always amaze me that they can remember my name, after 1 month, several months. Mohammed is no exception]. He and his friends had been busy chipping pieces of cement mortar off of cement blocks from their destroyed home. Cement being such a rarity in Gaza, people re-use whatever possible.
Since I’ve visited, the youths have cleaned off the bricks and (presumably with the help of some adults) re-formed a smaller version of their home. No cement enters Gaza, people here say halas, we aren’t going to wait for the world to dispense justice, we’ll rebuild how we can.
Mohammed is proud to show off their work, and insists I come meet his family. We enter via a corrugated tin door to the small yard behind their cement home. His mother and sisters are all grace, welcome me. A younger brother appears, big smiles…he’s been given a new jacket by a visiting solidarity delegation. Mohammed’s mother talks a bit of the destruction of their home, their trees, their agricultural land by the invading Israeli forces during the massacre of Gaza. They replanted a bit: mint, peppers, eggplant, but that’s more for their own consumption and small sales at the market. We drink tea bursting with mint, from their patch.
One of Mohammed’s sisters walks me round the back of the house towards Mousa’s home. We pass a huddle of men lounging by a tent where a home was. They call out, “tfuddli,” come join us, but I have to thank them and keep walking. We pass through the eggplant patches and beyond more house skeletons.
Outside Mousa’s home, a funeral tent has been erected to remember the martyred (48 in the Samouni clan) during the Israeli massacre. A man tends a small fire, keeping coffee boiling and ready to serve to guests.
I visit with Mousa and his siblings, we pass over Eid talk –they have nothing to celebrate, parentless, lives destroyed –and move on to speaking of their destroyed chicken farm and trees. Mousa is stoic, although only in first year university, has the bearing of a man far beyond his years, not uncommon in Gaza.
We survey the land behind his house, once holding about 3,000 chickens and 1.5 dunams of fruit and olive trees.
“I remember exactly where every tree was. I used to water them every day,” Mousa says as we walk amongst the stumps of former olive, lemon, Clementine and pomegranate trees. Few remain standing. Some of the bulldozed trees are re-surfacing, vying for life anew. “They will need at least 4 years before they are large enough to produce fruit,” says Mousa.
“It was a beautiful place. You could sleep here,” he recalls. “On Fridays we would come here, all my family. We’d sit amongst the trees with our lunch and relax.”
“Now, there’s nothing left,” he says, reality invading his memories.
He’s lost his parents, two siblings, their livelihoods, their history.
As I leave, Amal Samouni, a 10 year old survivor, pulls me to her family. Her widowed mother, Zeinat, welcomes me, bids me a happy Eid, and begins to share her story [see this article]. The region has been visited by enough journalists that it is assumed foreigners who visit just want the story.
I let them talk, re-visit their tragedy, learn more first-hand of their terror. For me, it’s more to share with people outside Gaza. For them, it’s therapy of a sort: while Attiyeh, her husband, is dead, along with their 4 year old, Ahmed, both shot point-blank at close range by Israeli soldiers, telling their story is dealing with it, facing it. In addition to their grief, they worry about the 15 or so pieces of shrapnel in Amal’s head that Zeinat says have yet to be surgically removed.