March 12: When a 2nd home isn’t due to wealth
In the taxi on the way back from Al Fukhary tonight, E is on the phone checking if we can visit Abd tomorrow in Al Wafa hospital to deliver the chess set. “Fil asr.” she finishes.
“Is ‘asr‘ arabic for afternoon?” I ask.
“Well, maybe. Unless it’s the word for honey.” she says thoughtfully.
“No, that’s asal.” I say.
“And as long as it’s not the word for juice.”
“No, that’s asir.”
“Then if I didn’t say we’d meet him in the honey or in the juice, I probably said we’d meet him in the afternoon.”
As we are leaving we pass several houses totally destroyed, in amongst houses still standing. Why these houses? Nobody knows. A kindergarten is also destroyed, and there is no logic in that either. We notice that all the road ways are planted with dense cactuses, and speculate if they are deliberately planted to obstruct border-originating bullets. They look fierce enough to do it. At S’s family land, near the border, Israeli tanks have destroyed the roadside cactuses, so maybe the soldiers have the same theory about them as us.
Earlier in the afternoon we were with J and L and their six kids (the youngest is 3) in Al Faraheen. You’ll remember before I referred to the fact that they stay in a house in the middle of the village now, because their regular home at the edge, about 500m from the border, feels too dangerous. Before the attacks, J and his oldest son at least were sleeping at their farmhouse, now, no-one does.
Before the war when ISMers were visiting, the Israeli army seemed to be trying to enforce (by shooting) a 300m no-go zone on the Palestinian side of the border. At the time, J was saying he was afraid it would shortly turn into a 500m no-go zone. After the Dec/Jan attacks, when E rang the Canadian embassy to tell them she was with Palestinians being fired on while picking parsley, the Canadian officials said something along the lines of “well Israel says you are in the 1km no-go zone.” The what? And who made them the boss of the world? as we used to say as kids. And does this remind anyone of how the government in the novel 1984 rewrites “facts” regularly and then everyone colludes to say those were always the facts?
What I didn’t realise til today, is that J and L are paying $100 a month rent for the village house, out of their small farming income. In the hope some compensation money might be available from UNWRA, J asks us to take photos of the damage to their house and help them make contact with the appropriate authorities.
A few minutes later, at the farmhouse, J points out the “donkey radar” – consisting of a donkey in the field on the border side, nose pointing towards Israel – insisting that the donkey’s ears will go up if jeeps arrive. It is easy to tell J’s heart and soul are in farming and he loves his land. He practices crop rotation on the remaining 4 denems, close to the house, that it seems worth risking his life to access. In the past he shared 300 denems (A denem is about 1000 square metres) with his brothers and neighbours – 3 denems were olives, 6 were fruit trees, 50 were wheat, 50 were peas… Israel totally destroyed the fruit trees in previous incursions and since the rest of the land goes all the way up to the border, he has given up on it.
Before the army incursion in May 2008, he also had 3000 chickens, but the army killed 2,500 of them then, also destroying 30 pieces (each 1m X 2.5m) of shed roofing, breaking his tractor and his wheat picker (worth about $12,000), breaking the pump for his well, and shooting up his kitchen fridge, water tank, solar water heater, self-designed solar dryer, as well as the walls of the house.
The remaining 500 chickens died in January 09 after eating plants poisoned by phosphorous bombs, and another 30 pieces of shed roofing went the way of the first lot. J had to destroy a crop of radishes still in the field when he realised they’d been similarly poisoned. What this will do long term to his land, no-one knows. The family’s TV and computer were destroyed in the Dec/Jan attacks as well when shelling caused part of the roof to fall in on top of them. More photos of attack evidence follow at the end of this.
Now I am writing from a few hours on ambulance shift. There is a new ambulance, a present from Germany. I notice its siren can be set to “wail” or “yelp”. (This reminds me of my friend’s washing machine, that can be set to “very dirty”, “medium dirty”, or “little dirty”, which makes so much more sense to me than the “light coloureds non fast” nonsense on machines in the UK.) I also notice that, like all ambulance radios here, the radio seems only to play the theme song from Titanic, a big Arabic favourite.
I was here Tuesday, and it was quiet, so I practised inserting a cannula in the arm of 10 years ambulance veteran A, making the classic yet entertaining mistake of removing the cannula needle before taking the tourniquet off instead of after – this results in blood spurting everywhere. I didn’t feel too bad as the last person I saw make that mistake was someone with a year’s nursing training behind her. Upon asking where the medical waste disposal was, I was told – out the window. During the war since no medical waste collection was possible, it turns out it simply went out into the enclosed Red Crescent compound, and no collection service has yet been available. A has written something about his experience of the war, you can see it under Gaza Voices.
VivaPalestina are in town, after an epic journey and having battled their way through Rafah, the day after the Code Pink folks were able to do the same. Not being a sane rational person, but someone who isn’t happy in crowds or round cameras, I’ve not actually gone to say hello. But tomorrow I will meet up with some to help introduce them to whatever medics are on ambulance shift so their stories can be heard. C and EJ, who have been doing great work pointing them towards good contacts here and helping with translation, have said the convoy has a large proportion of down-to-earth working class folks, Muslim and otherwise, which makes a good change from us burnt-out activist types.
And in Egypt, Fatah and Hamas are talking their way towards a Unity government again, we hope…