There Has to Be a Just Solution
Othman, Deanna, Islamic Horizons
The Gazans' nightmare existence continues, as the world once again turns away. BY DEANNA OTHMAN
When I told people that my family was going to Gaza this past summer, reactions ranged from envy to disbelief. Some people longed to visit this elusive yet admired society; others believed we must be out of our minds to subject ourselves and our three children to such a perilous and uncertain journey. We might as well have said we were blasting off into outer space. Realizing the potential difficulties (e.g., we might be turned away at the border) and dangers, we decided to risk it because my husband had not seen his family for almost eleven years. He was returning to his home; I was venturing into unknown territory.
Gaza is one of the most politically and materially isolated places on earth. Physically small and densely populated, it is located dangerously close to its occupier; yet within its confines people are safe. Strangled by the Israeli-imposed siege (Operation Cast Lead), its marketplaces neverdieless buzz with activity and its demolished buildings are filled with life. Its people are called "terrorists," although they are the ones who have been terrorized. In Gaza, one witnesses what is perhaps humanity's most jarring paradox - evidence of man's capacity to destroy and the indestructibility of the human spirit.
As soon as we entered the airport in Cairo, I realized that our journey had only just begun. Having traveled abroad only to Canada, I saw how truly American I am. After loading our twelve suitcases onto a cart, we walked through the airport to find the appropriate place to have our passports stamped. Dozens of old women who must have been in their 70s began ramming us with their carts, pushing us out of the way. I felt a litde like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." We certainly were not in Kansas anymore.
After a six-hour taxi ride primarily through the Sinai Desert, a land of blistering heat, without air-conditioning or any stops for food or water, I tried to imagine what we would encounter at the border crossing. Being an American citizen does not guarantee entry into Gaza, even after obtaining a letter from the American embassy in Cairo saying I was travelling there at my own risk. The Egyptian authorities may allow or deny entry, according to the American consulate, "based on the attitude of the guy who happens to be there that day." Being used to rules, laws, and regulations, such a fickle approach to regulating a tense situation did not strike me as wise or fair. But as we pulled up to the border - exhausted, hot, parched, and hungry - only to be informed that they had closed the crossing for the day, I realized just how true the consulate's words had been, for there were no posted hours. After being told to return the next day at 9:00 a.m., we found a place to sleep, unloaded our luggage, and hired a driver to take us back to the border crossing the next morning. We presented ourselves again at the specified time; however, the Egyptian soldier told us they would open the gate after prayer, since it was Friday. We waited in Une on the black gravel lot and in the sweltering heat for eight grueling hours; eight hours without chairs, water, or food.
We stood with other families longing to visit loved ones they had not seen for years and waited with Gazans who were carrying back home much-needed washing machines, refrigerators, bicycles, and televisions. We held our crying babies, comforted young children, and marveled at the chaos unfolding before our eyes as people resorted to bribery, fist-fights and curses to speed up the line that was arbitrarily held up by guards who were not yet quite in the mood to allow people to cross. As we lingered for what seemed like an eternity, we spoke with a family who had come from Germany. The man, whom my husband quickly recognized, used to harvest corn with him during his teenage years. After seventeen years abroad, he was returning to visit his family. Due to the blockade and border closures, he was prevented from seeing his father and brothers and sisters. He would not be seeing his mother; she was killed in 2008 when Israel bombed the UNRWA school.
Admittedly, I was definitely worried about visiting Gaza. I had no idea what to expect. But after undergoing a three-day ordeal just to enter, once we arrived I experienced both a sense of relief followed by utter shock. The aura of devastation is ubiquitous: rubble and garbage line the streets, storefronts and buildings are boarded up due to the bombings, and heaps of crumbled cement lie in front of ruined structures. Restaurants closed. Windows shattered. Lives lost.
The cement maze-like blocks, the refugee camps that house thousands of Palestinians, only emphasize the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation. The only color in sight comes from the graffiti that covers nearly every empty space - a local attempt to infuse life and character onto an otherwise blank slate. From Che Guevara to Mickey Mouse, graffiti serves both as decor and an expression of resistance. But despite the depressing condition of the unfixed, unfinished, and uninhabited structures, the bright blue sky and breathtaking Mediterranean shoreline remind the Palestinians of the world and the hope that exist beyond the confines of their embattled homeland.
The remnants left behind by Israel's Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) have emblazoned the dark side of human nature into the Palestinians' hearts and minds. And yet their continued refusal to allow this injustice to dictate the course of their lives is staggering. Actually witnessing their resolve to thrive despite their horrific circumstances is truly a testament to their unwavering faith and vigorous spirit. While expecting to see people suffering from a lack of food, supplies, or even access to education, I met people eager to share whatever they had, studying and working to excel and support their families, and living and laughing - in short, people who refused to give way to despair despite their current reality.
I met middle-aged women who, having lost husbands or sons, had committed themselves to studying Islam and had memorized the Qur'an. I met children who left for school at 5:30 a.m., since schools have been divided into two sessions due to overcrowding. Lmet twentyyear-old widows raising children because their husbands had been killed during Israeli incursions. I met families eager to welcome visitors from America, interested to know what people abroad think of them. I met teenagers who dreamed of being able to go abroad just to know what life is like elsewhere.
Nearly everywhere I went it was clear that I was an American. People marveled at my digital camera and infant car seat. They asked me whatever they wanted to, for they scarcely, or never, have had the chance to speak face-to-face with someone from the outside world: "Do you have your own car?", "Do you still dress in hijab and abaya in America?", "Do you like Obama? Is he nice to you?", and "Do you really live in individual houses with triangular roofs?"
Perhaps the most difficult question to answer was the one I was asked most often: "Where is it better, here or in America?" How could I answer such a question without being insulting? Are you kidding me, I thought? America, with its clean streets, constant supply of clean water and electricity, mansions, SUVs - the land of get-whatever-you-wantwhenever-you-want-it? How could such a place compare with Gaza: a land and a people stifled by occupation, totally besieged, living in a pressurized and highly volatile situation that exerts both physical and mental stress on everyone?
It was impossible to answer that particular question - not because of the material disparity between the two lands, but because of the unparalleled nature of the Gazan spirit, which transcends the trivial, the material, and the ephemeral. Yes, life there is difficult, almost unbearable for someone accustomed to an American lifestyle. I expected them to complain about material constraints. But amazingly, people eventually adjust to their own situation. They learn how to live with and manage its symptoms: intermittent electricity, limited water, and damaged homes. But just as medicine enables people to manage the symptoms of their disease for so long, eventually the underlying ailment must be eradicated if the body is to thrive. For Gazans, this underlying ailment is the Israeli occupation. While they have found ways to five with its harsher symptoms, there has to be a cure if they are ever to move forward.
Young children gather to work on homework in the street near the marketplace in the Jebaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza
"In Gaza, one witnesses what is perhaps humanity's most jarring paradox - evidence of man's capacity to destroy and the indestructibility of the human spirit."
Young girls return from their early morning school shift in the Jebaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza; (top) Children peer out of the door of their home in the Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza
"Just as medicine enables people to manage the symptoms of their disease for so long, eventually the underlying ailment must be eradicated if the body is to thrive. For Gazans, this underlying ailment is the Israeli occupation. ... there has to be a cure if they are ever to move forward."
Deanna Othman is the assistant editor of "Islamic Horizons."…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: There Has to Be a Just Solution. Contributors: Othman, Deanna - Author. Magazine title: Islamic Horizons. Volume: 40. Issue: 1 Publication date: January/February 2011. Page number: 38+. © Islamic Society of North America Mar/Apr 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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