enduring normality

Walking back from the Samouni neighbourhood in Zeitoun, eastern Gaza, a donkey and cart passed, bells jingling. Everything is normal. Except today the bells reminded me Christmas is tomorrow, and today the visit to Zeitoun was about remembering the Israeli massacre of Gaza last winter.

Still, everything was normal, perfectly normal.

Amal, the 10 year old with bits of shrapnel in her head, was astute and clever as the last time I’d seen her. She remembered my name, though I’d only briefly chatted with her once, on one visit.

She has dealt with the hoards of journalists coming to hear and re-tell their story, the story of her area, the story of her killed aunts, uncles, cousins…The story of her dead father and 4 year old brother, shot point blank by the Israeli soldiers occupying the area. And for her it has become normal, reciting with impressive clarity, the events of those hellish days.

*Amal’s martyred father, Atiyeh, and brother, Ahmed (4)

*roof of the single room Amal and 7 others share.  “We put the toys some people brought us up high, to make it nicer in here.”

Their house destroyed, they’re eight in one room, asbestos tiling roof not keeping rain out. The kitchen, better than those living in tents and cooking over a camp stove, is a cramped room with a tap in the wall and an empty gas canister.

“We cook over fire still,” says Zeinat, Amal’s widowed mother.

Their orchards destroyed with everything else, they’ve now replanted 2 handfuls of trees, and Amal names them all with ease.

“This is lemon, orange, olive, fig…,” she points out.

Without knowing the horror inflicted upon Amal, her mother, and the others in the extended Samouni family, one might think they were normal. Well, in Gaza, yes there are normal, for many. But their welcome and calm is deceptive, hides their history. They plod on, replanting, trying to move past the one-year anniversary mark…though every day is a reminder of their losses, the murders.

It’s always impossible to imagine living in the same area where my husband/son/brother/mother/infant… was murdered…let alone imagine the murder itself. But there they are, Amal and Zeinat, Helmi and the orphans, and the countless others in Palestine with stories to tell but stories which for them are normal.

Returning to Gaza from the central market, my driver is a man of 25, though he’s aged like 35. “I’m a radio technologist, but I’m out of work” I understand him to say, after our formalities are out of the way (who am I, where’m I from, how’d I get here, what do I think of Gaza…).

He’s calm, and there’s no bitterness in his voice (as there certainly would be in mine) when he says, “I long to travel outside of Gaza. I’ve never left Gaza in all my life.”

He drops me off and refuses my fare, which I insist and drop into his box. His questions, his fare refusal, his story, all normal.

The day started with a demonstration, commemorating the anniversary of Israel’s war on Gaza. From Sikka street in Beit Hanoun we marched –Local Initiative, Beit Hanoun women and men, and journalists –to just over 300 metres from the border fence. Perched on the ruins of a home and water well, we spoke of the massacre, of Palestinians’ resilience, of the innumerable Israeli crimes on the people of Gaza, of Palestine…

The youths, men, and women sang loudly, songs of resistance, defiance, smiling and dancing.  They haven’t forgotten their pain, but they also haven’t forgotten this is normal in Palestine, and life must push on.

The only abnormal thing today was that the Israeli soldiers didn’t shoot.

Since the ‘ceasefire’ on 18 January 2009, Israeli soldiers have continued to terrorize farmers and civilians in the border regions, well beyond the Israeli-imposed ‘buffer zone’ of 300m. Just last week we met some of the recent victims –17 year old youths gathering stones and steel for reconstruction, targeted by a deadly dart bomb; a volunteer medic, targeted with three of his friends as they went to the eastern cemetery to visit a friend martyred the year before, the four were spied by an Israeli UAV (drone) which dropped a missile next to them.

It’s Christmas Eve day. One year ago I reflected on how poorly Palestinians in Gaza had gone through the motions of both ‘Eid holidays and Christmas. I went to the catholic church in Gaza city, heard the sad, tired singing of celebrants who had perhaps more on their minds, and was treated to a Christmas feast by a Muslim family we know who just wanted to make us happy.  On Christmas day, I had chestnuts roasted on a shisha coal fire, strange but strangely lovely. Another kind gesture by another friend.

Two days later, Israel began a 23 day massacre, surpassing all expectations of some sort of attack.

Now, 4 pm, Christmas eve day, those Israeli war planes still roam the skies, still invade the thoughts, as do the UAV (drones, zenanas ) like those above the Samouni area today (“at night the helicopters come,” they said).

Surreality is also normal in Gaza, but yareyt, how I wish what is normal here could finally be recognized as abnormal, that the tables could turn, the life could have the chance to flourish in Gaza.

*destroyed in the 2008-2009 Israeli massacre of Gaza

*recently destroyed with earlier destroyed in the background…

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