on survival

The other day I re-visited the family of martyred Mohammed al Attar, killed while net-fishing off the shores of Sudaniya, northern Gaza. They are poor, desperately-so, and have a string of martyrs in their family, including Mohammed’s mother and one brother.

I’d wanted to see them again and found the time a couple of days ago. I’d wondered how this Ramadan and ‘Eid were for them, with another martyr in their thoughts, and one less source of income for their extended family. But I didn’t need to ask, for it was fairly obvious: there was no celebration, no happiness. They were plodding on, surviving, living to die.

Mohammed’s father Nadi had said on an earlier visit that life had little point for him:

“They killed my wife and sons, I don’t care if they kill me or not. There’s nothing I can do, it’s not in my hands,” he’s said of the Israeli army attacks and life under a siege unimaginably brutal.

I was in Beit Lahia, visiting a friend, and it was a short taxi ride to the Attar family. I found Hani, one of Mohammed’s brothers and the only son without injury [two other brothers were injured by the Israeli army: one shot while fishing, another lost his legs to the ground-to-ground missile attack which killed their mother], sitting with neighbours and family.

At 4 pm, the day was cooling, a pleasant breeze helping matters. They sat on plastic chairs, surrounded by some low shrubbery and flowers, a surprisingly idyllic (by dry, bulldozed and bombed Gaza standards) setting.

Hani remembered me, as did some of the other men sitting with him, from when we had visited during the mourning period for Mohammed.

Hani was warm and welcoming, seemed very pleased for the re-visit. We chatted briefly, I stayed long enough for tea, and parted warmly.

Not even one month has passed since Mohammed’s death, yet as they must, the family has moved on, painfully remembering but pushing forward.

I was reluctant to mix the visit with donations from solidarity activists outside, but did so anyway, knowing their situation is hard, hard, hard, beyond just dealing with the loss of Mohammed.

Wanting to avoid a public show, I slipped the donation via the taxi driver, a friend of Hani’s. Soon, Hani appeared at the taxi window, and I explained that this wasn’t charity money, but was support from people outside of Palestine who understand just how thoroughly Israel’s attacks and siege on Gaza have destroyed the economy, and lives. Hani understood the message, but went on thanking, which I had to reply: there’s no need for thanks; we need more than simple financial support.

I went on thinking about it, wishing my Arabic could convey the depth of concern of people outside Palestine, that they know the UN and aid handouts are not the answer, nor this money I passed along.

What drives a person to fish in dangerous waters (although by nature they shouldn’t be dangerous; they are rendered so by the Israeli military occupation and annexation)? Or to work their farmland even remotely close to the Israeli shoot-to-kill zone (aka the “buffer zone”)? Or to go underground, digging and smuggling life’s necessities because they’ve been cut off by your oppressor (and approved by the world authorities), knowing that any day could be the day your tunnel caves in, is bombed, is gassed…?

Poverty, desperation, determination, pride, children, hopes for the future…

A friend echoes the words of many: “I don’t care about my life now, I’ve lived through the first and second Intifadas. I want things to be better for my children. How could I bring a child into this world, this life?”

Hamza continues to struggle. We found some work at a local cafe, I was thrilled. But after ‘Eid, the work fizzled out. He’s on call, will get piece work now and then. But with the meagre salary to begin with, random days aren’t going to cut it for Hamza’s new child and wife.

Tomorrow I’ll meet with the PARC [Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee] to discuss constructive ways of supporting families. Some of the ideas that have worked include helping families to buy rabbits, or chickens, or sheep, to raise. Rabbits multiply quickly and generate income; chickens grow quickly enough, produce eggs. Sheep produce milk but take longer and more space.

Whirling. Whirling. My head, Palestinians’ heads… My friend tells me he can’t turn it off, he’s always thinking how to survive, how to find work, whether the borders will ever open…

And despite all the goodwill, support, and good initiatives to enable Palestinians to survive during/after multiple Israeli massacres and the lock-down of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, it always comes down to the most obvious solution: stop supporting the Israeli/Egyptian/International siege –the collective punishment of a people–open the borders, enable a functioning economy, stop dealing with the Israeli settlement-expanding government until it actually, for once, complies with international standards.

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