Feb 10: Storm over Gaza

Dial 101 for a Red Crescent Ambulance in Gaza

Dial 101 for a Red Crescent Ambulance in Gaza

On Tuesday night I went to smoke shisha with the Red Crescent volunteers for S’s 29th birthday. There were the usual accusative cries of “wen inti?” – where have you been? These folks got used to me being round the hospital 24 hours; Palestinians tend to start missing you about an hour after you left them anyway, and if a week passes without a visit their feelings are quite hurt. The frequent deafening crack of thunder outside the cafe made us all smile just because it wasn’t rockets or shells. “No attack – but still shisha!” said Sh happily, referring to the all the times I’d spent with them, smoking in the smashed up buildings as explosions rocked us.

I am so glad they are all alive. I tell them that when I come back here after my degree, in three years time, they will all be married with children. Beautiful young nurse R is sitting next to me, I tell her about where I was today when this storm began. We’d had a quiet morning parsley picking in Faraheen, with no shooting, but as we were travelling back, we had a call from Beit Hanoun, asking us to come be an international presence for a search for a shaheed. So ISM West Bank contacted the army in advance and got a verbal assurance from the DCO that as long as we were unarmed (I’ll leave my M16 at home then…) they would not shoot.

He was a 21 year old resistance fighter; his neighbourhood knew he had been shot from an Apache near the border in the last days, but they couldn’t find his body. About 100 men and women, including the Red Crescent, had been looking all day, except for in an area right beside the barbed wire fence, below some Israeli watchtowers, which they felt was too dangerous to go near, so they saved it for us. We found ourselves walking the same track as we took to Manwar’s house, this time continuing on beyond all the empty flattened houses, past shepherds grazing their sheep, into the empty land beside the border.

As we walked, the sky darkened increasingly, and rain began to pelt down, creating a strangely apocolyptic atmosphere. Tension heightened amongst the people we were with, who began to hurriedly try to cover the uneven ground. The internationals split into groups to accompany them; E and I went to walk the stretch beside the barbed wire border in our flourescent vests, persuading the young men to stay further away, for our own safety as well as theirs. I’ve never been this close to the border. A jeep loomed above us, and we stopped so I could call out to its occupants that we were here to look for a body and then we would leave.

The wind was howling, and I wondered if they could hear us. As I was wondering this, there was a shout – the body of the young man had been found. At the same time a warning shot was fired. Hands in the air we backed away from the border towards the group gathered around the body, trying to ease it onto a makeshift stretcher. An Israeli soldier began to announce something unintelligible repeatedly and we called back -“we can’t hear you.”

Then suddenly I could hear better (it was the usual “closed military zone – leave right now or we will open fire” thing – not that it’s their land to close) and turning round, I realised two of the soldiers had walked out of their shelter and come down nearer to the fence to call out, demonstrating an understanding that we were no threat to them. It was a strange moment, because it felt like they might just have made that extra effort to establish communication. EJ says she also heard them say – “what are you doing?” so the DCO’s official notification didn’t seem to have got far.

Several of our group took turns with the megaphone, EJ is particularly good at being polite: “Please don’t shoot! We’re just collecting this body and we’ll be leaving. Please don’t shoot!” Then we followed the Beit Hanoun folks carrying the body through the mud, past the broken houses, to the waiting Red Crescent ambulance. It seemed a long way. I was expecting the crack of shooting every step. But it never came. Later, as we left the Beit Hanoun hospital, I caught a glimpse of a young boy’s face, crumpled into tears. A younger brother, maybe.

In response to this story, R tells me about her brother, who was 19 when he died, having joined the Palestinian resistance with his 2 best friends, from whom he had always been inseparable. They died together as the result of an informer’s tip-off.

About the “closed military zone” that Israel keeps declaring inside the Gaza border: as I understand it (I’ve been looking for weblinks to get more specific details on this, but haven’t found any yet) not only is this illegal under international law to do, but I believe the Israeli high court itself ruled that it was only ok to create a closed military zone for a specific purpose, for the shortest possible time, in the smallest possible space, and that Palestinians’ work such as harvesting must be allowed to finish, however many days it takes. A permanently closed area – as they seem to be trying to enforce inside most of the Gaza border – for no specific purpose and including attacks on farmers, breaches even Israel’s laws.

You can read more here about “Legal Armed Resistance“.

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