Last night I was playing chess in the shisha cafe across from Al Quds Red Crescent, where I am sure to find a familiar face and where they seem to have got over me being a girl in amongst the shebab, when I got a text from the south. “Our friends J and L were trying to fix the asbestos sheeting on their farmhouse roof in Faraheen today…” it began.
I knew immediately that this message wasn’t going to end well, and it didn’t. Apparently at 12 midday, 3 jeeps stopped, and soldiers opened fire from one on J and L up on the roof of their own home, firing about ten bullets. J and L tried to escape quickly down the stairs; and L, who has a bad right leg, fell, breaking one of the metatarsal bones in her left foot. Now she has a heavy plaster cast all the way from her toes to her knee.
When E and I visited them this morning in the rented house in the village, L was looking immobilised but determinedly cheerful, and sent us off to check on J, working at the farmhouse (being a farmer, he has little choice)having already been under fire again today. Assuming the Israeli soldiers cared enough about who they are shooting at to bother checking, they would be able to confirm that J worked for years as an engineer (in fact as an inventor if we understand correctly) half of every week in Israel. He is no threat to them, unless by his mere existence as a nonviolent Palestinian who loves his land.
I asked J something I’d always meant to – how L’s right leg was injured. It is twisted in a way that gives her an extremely pronounced limp, and I’d guessed it had been that way since birth. I was wrong.
During the First Intifada (Resistance to Israeli occupation), there had been a nonviolent demonstration in L’s village, beside her school, and the schoolchildren took part. L was 15. When Israeli soldiers started shooting tear gas into the crowd, L apparently decided they clearly couldn’t be trusted with weapons. She and her friend Asan walked up to the nearest soldier, confiscated his M16 and threw it to the ground. A second soldier immediately killed her friend and shot L in the leg. Considering how I finished my second last blog post, this story really had me looking at L with new respect. I thought about it; at half my age, she actually did it.
J insisted on driving us back to the village house, with his two little daughters, in the rickety trailer of a tiny tractor, one of the few working pieces of machinery recent attacks have left him. I kept being convinced I was about to tumble out.
“I’m too old for this sort of thing,” I said.
“I only got in because he winked!” replied E.
“As the actress said to the bishop,” I muttered, clinging on.
We drank tea, fielded the usual plans to get us married off to the locals to keep us firmly in the country, and then left for our next appointment, determined also to find L some crutches, because she can’t stand on either leg alone. Initial enquiries suggest this is something else there is a shortage of, especially since the war. The only option might be to buy her a pair, if we can even find any.
After visiting medic Hassan and family in Khan Younis for lunch, E went back north to hunt for crutches, and I went south to join my ISM colleagues to attend a commemorative football game in the memory of Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head while rescuing a Palestinian child, on this day in 2003. We were all a bit tired and unenthusiastic, which I didn’t feel too bad about, because I figure Tom would have known just how we felt, after the same kind of long day of trying to solve all Gaza’s problems that he would have known.
“If I die, I don’t want any commemorative anything,” I decided. “You can just think nice thoughts about me. In fact, I require you to think nice thoughts about me. And you can eat some chocolate in my memory.”
Actually, the game, held in the dust a few hundred yards from where Tom was shot, was really enjoyable despite strangely cold weather and a smattering of rain. In Tom’s name, Gaza ISM had provided a football, and a team’s worth of T-shirts – sort of, and the Rafah locals were a lot of fun to watch. I especially enjoyed the small children wandering in a wobbly manner into the fray, heading delightedly for their fathers, uncles, and brothers; they would be swept up and deposited to the side, only to repeat the attempt.
“Do you know why there are only seven on the team?” said G.
“I don’t know anything about football. Isn’t that normal?” I replied.
“No, but we couldn’t afford 12 T-shirts!” he said.
I spoke to a West Bank colleague the other day and asked about Tristan. They do think now that he will probably live. There isn’t really any more news; he is conscious again, and he has some movement on his right side, but none on his left, and it’s very possible he never will. The Anarchists Against the Wall have rotored themselves to provide care and support for his family and girlfriend. S said it helps everyone a lot, that Tristan’s mum and dad totally understand and support his work in the West Bank.
When Tom was shot in the head, J said it felt to her like he was gone from that moment, though physically he lived another year, in a coma, before his death. Of ISM’s injured over the years, we’ve not had to face the reality of brain damage leading to serious disability; the severest longterm injury not leading to death that I am aware of was Brian Avery’s. Two of the group here in Gaza now have been shot with live ammunition, and both injuries were potentially life-threatening at the time, but the long term affects have been minimal in comparison.
Tomorrow morning I am on ambulance training shift with our teacher A, and most of the others are farming at Khoza’a. I hope I don’t get to practice anything on anyone there. One of my blog readers commented that I sound like I am becoming more edgy about danger, as I get closer to leaving and it occurs to me I might come out of here alive after all, but actually, while we try to be practically prepared for our own injury, the edginess for all of us is much more for our Palestinian friends, like J and L, and the farmers for whom we can offer nothing but our presence, as they daily work in fear.
During the war, I remember saying to someone that my feeling for Gaza was what you might feel for an orphaned child, bewildered at finding herself alone, without protection, for no reason she can understand. It will feel terribly wrong to walk away.
On a bright note…J tells us Mohammed who was shot in the foot has been able to get back out on his motorbike. On a not so bright note, don’t forget – April 12 is the beginning of an international week of solidarity with the over 10,000 Palestinian men, women, and children held in Israeli prison, many without charge…for more, see the newly created International Campaign of Solidarity with Palestinian Prisoners…to give you and your local group information to join in the fight for freedom. I was telling another friend today the story of L confiscating the soldier’s gun. He told me his aunt had done the same thing during the first Intifada – only her soldier had been an Israeli general, and she actually broke the gun. In response, the army arrested her husband and sent him to prison for eight months.