I asked Emad to talk about sabr, patience, as the cactus and the noun are essential to life in Gaza.

He replied, somewhat cheekily and with the usual Palestinian dry humour:

Illi bedo e3esh fi Falesteen o buzzpt fi Gaza lazem yspoor o yokel saber min Gaza. Gher hek, ma begder y3esh fe Gaza.

If you want to live in Palestine, especially Gaza, you must be patient (yspoor) and eat Gazan cactus fruit (sabr) If not, you won’t make it in Gaza.

Arabic expressions never quite translate into English as the original. Being told to eat cactus fruit actually isn’t as painful or insulting as one might think.  Although stoney and not overly sweet, the fruit is pleasant in its own way, once peeled of its spines.
Gaza abounds with cactus plants, many varieties, but the most common is the broad, flat-stemmed plant that lines roads and is traditionally used as a natural wall between plots.
When I visited Abu Taima land in southeastern Gaza three years ago, Mohammed, a teen, told me the cacti take five years to mature. Like Zionist-bulldozed olive and citrus trees, cacti are sorely missed for the years it takes them to re-grow.
A month later I re-visited after the village elder from the same Abu Taima family called me to tell me the Zionists had just bulldozed his land, once again plowing his crops, including cacti, under the earth.


I wrote:

We start our walk of remorse, documenting the wake of the military machines on freshly-till and sowed land.  More crushed and severed irrigation pipes, scarce and highly expensive…

We stumble of mounds of bulldozer tracks, heaving the land upwards.  We eye the sabr, that resilient cactus plant that grows roadside and re-emerges after each invasion, taking years to re-gain its former glory and fruit-bearing fertility. It lies flattened, smudged between bulldozer treads.  It will possibly make good fire fuel, but its more important value is roadside and thriving, a home for the small birds that flit to and fro singing of life in the most impossible places: the cactus itself and the border regions of Gaza under occupation.



Every day in Gaza requires sabr, the noun.

When the power cuts. When cooking gas has run out Strip-wide. When Zionist warplanes are flying over, terrorizing. When Zionist warplanes, warships, drones and tanks are bombing. When Zionist soldiers are firing live ammunition on Palestinian men, women and children trying to farm or be on their border region land or trying to fish.  When bank ATMs have no cash to dispense. When the taxi you share is circling, circling, to fill all the seats because this is the only way the driver will eek a living. When the blasting music of one happy family’s wedding celebration never seems to stop. When educated young and old women and men day after week after month after year cannot find jobs.

You learn a lot about patience living in Gaza, though not everyone practises it, and even those who do have their final straw, well beyond my own point of exasperation.

I still can’t grasp it: over 6 decades of violent expulsion, occupation and Zionist crimes, and while Palestinians have rightfully struggled for what is theirs, they have shown such a patience with the world systems that allow Zionism to flourish and their own lives the wither.

Samer al-Issawi, 238 days hunger striking for justice and freedom from the Zionist jail he has been held without charge or trial in… knows patience, as do his fellow Palestinian political prisoners.

Uspoor, they say. Be patient.

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