An emotional home coming to the Gaza Strip after three years and my reversion to Islam

Image may contain: 10 people, people standingThe delegation on the bus that draws into the Rafah Crossing full of the usual hopes and anxieties at reaching the Egyptian crossing into Gaza, were from Bradford and Derry. One of the group, comes originally from Palestine but his family, ethnically cleansed by the Zionists, spent years in Saudi Arabia, before the brother, Abdul Rouf AlHaddad moved to the UK. Abdul, as a holder of ‘travel documents’ since his birth in exile, was never able to return to the land of his fathers. Now, as a British passport holder of five years, he can return, as a British tourist. Not, according to the papers ceded to him by Her Majesty, as a Palestinian. But as one of her subjects. However, Palestinian in his blood and his heart, he certainly is.

And tears form as passports are stamped at Rafah and our coach passes the legendary sign that tells all visitors to Gaza they are home – ‘Welcome to Palestine.’ For me, the homecoming, for that is how it feels, is poignant, not for my shared history of this land – for the love of the people here. And the great gift of faith that, by the will of God, their patience and generosity, kindled within me, during the month I was blockaded here in 2008. I have come to make documentaries on the experiences of Al Nakba survivors and to hear testimonies from former prisoners, captured and held by the Zionist regime. I have also come to say ‘Thank you Gaza’.

In Rafah, we pass into the town of Masabh. Where, our delegation of some twenty students and politicians, are welcomed into the home of Walid Hassan Al Modallal. The temperature suddenly drops, its unseasonably cold today. We gather in the large, main living room for coffee that will keep me awake for a week, homegrown dates, and boxed take away schwarma – a feast! I can’t wait to get out onto the streets to walk around. So, accompanied by a sweet 20 year old student Maphaz, we walk into the Magrib/dusk. Now, the generator sound – the only electricity in the area at this time, come into their own. The mounrful, throbbing drone, drowining out the birds bedtime chorus. The streets are dusty – as I remember. The boys out pushing eachother or kicking around stones instead of footballs, as cheeky. Yet something is amiss. I smell the air for that warm, sweet smell I remember. My nostrils have instead invited raw sewage as their guest. No electricity, no sewage management. The main road is El Hidaye street and it is nearly deserted. And I begin to realise what is missing from my memory of this place from before; loud laughter, shouts of enthusiasm as strangers pass by. A feeling that night is a continuation of the friendships of the day just gone. For now, at barely 7pm Rafah is preparing to sleep instead. What had I expected in a black out? I suppose I had imagined that families would, well, stock up on candles and sit around them bravely carrying on. Why should they? Without a hot evening meal (thus the take away) to prepare for family and guests, the noisy washing up of the women and the chatter, all the evening life is gone here. A few young men, cold and sullen, hands shoved deep in pockets walk past without a cheery ‘Marhabar’ heading back to cold, damp, dark rooms for a night of quiet, but not peaceful, thought.

Da-da-da-dadadaaada – I look at Maphaz with a ‘What was that?’ Question on my face.

”Israeli gunfire’ she smiles ‘They are telling us what they want to do to us tomorrow at the march.’ She shrugs and walks on. So what. We will march anyway says her straight back.

Later our coach drives through Khan Younis en route to a hostel in Gaza city. On my previous visits here the evening has been abuzz for visitors and locals alike. Now the streets are virtually empty. Our route a long, silent, cavern of despair as area after area passes unseen in the electricity black out caused by the siege.

In Khan Younis there is noise – at last! Just the noise of car horns and the shouts of frustrated drivers. Some two perhaps three hundred cars are queuing for petrol at the only station open and still with fuel. The crisis here is severe. FAthers, taxi drivers, all workers, are desparate to have some petrol so they can work on Monday, just a few hours away. The men at the end of the queue may still here at fajr then have to go straight about their daily business with just an hour or so rest. The Israeli effort to break morale here is bearing fruit.

At the hostel in Gaza city I try to visit a friends house, Yassir and his wife have waited, as I have, three long years, for us to meet again. But Hamas police, ever conscious of infiltrators threat to the well being of visitors here, do not let me leave. We try to get permission for a bit. But then with Palestinian shrugs of ‘Allah wills it so’ – not be confused with – we don’t care, for that’s not the case – I head to my room.

Time for sleep but first the night time prayer – Isha. I make my ablutions, cleaning, mouth, face, forearms, head, ears and feet. But as the tap water hits my tongues I spit it out ‘Egghhhhh!’ The salty taste is a surprise even when you expect it. 90 per cent of the water in GAza now falls well below World Health organisation standards on safety. This contributes to the terrible rotten teeth of children which I have already seen tonight and the stunting of growth perhaps also evident in the small size of youngsters here for their ages.

The hostel has light when we arrive. As I put the prayer mat (well bath towel) away on a shelf, the lights go off plunging us all into profound darkness.

‘okay’ I say to myself having only a vague idea where the bed is that I must now find. They come on again. Go off again. On and off three more times. Then whatever power source they were running off, gives up the ghost and darkness reigns. Good night Gaza. It’s still good to be home.

4am; Just come across this news alert that is worth sharing as in just a few hours the Land Day and Global March to Jerusalem is due to take place

FOX NEWS 30 MARCH 2012′ Israel on Thursday stepped up preparations a day before a series of planned Arab protests, deploying thousands of troops and police across the country and along its borders in anticipation of possible violence.

On Friday, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are marking Land Day, an annual protest against what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies. Supporters in neighboring Arab countries planned marches near the Israeli borders in a solidarity event they call a “Global March to Jerusalem.”

While organizers said the events would be nonviolent, Israel’s army and police were girding for trouble after similar protests last year turned deadly.’

Note the phrase ‘turned deadly’. The only reason they ‘turned deadly’ was because Israel opened fire on the entirely unarmed Palestinian protestors.

‘At least 15 people were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers when they tried to cross the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel in a May protest marking Palestinian sorrow over Israel’s creation in 1948.’ Note the word ‘clashes’. Used to give the false impression that two equally armed sides met and decided to fight. What happened, to just make this quite clear again is – Israel opened fire on unarmed Palestinians.

‘A month later, Israeli troops killed 23 demonstrators who crossed into the no-man’s land between Israel and Syria in a demonstration against Israeli control of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who oversees the national police force, said officers would be spread out in potentially explosive areas Friday but would not enter Arab villages unless needed.’ Note the phrase – ‘potentially explosive areas’. Used to remind Fox’s idiotic audience about Muslims being ‘explosive’ and ‘The Hamas’ having explosives. And, that Palestinians bring death on themselves with their ‘explosive’ tempers.

“The guidelines are to allow everyone to mark Land Day quietly … We will keep a low profile,” he told Israel Radio.’ Well that comment is somewhat belied by the gunfire I heard last night in Rafah from their side.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said thousands of officers were on the move throughout the country Thursday in preparation for Land Day. He said the biggest deployments were near Arab towns in northern Israel and in Jerusalem.

He said police were in touch with leaders of Arab communities in Israel in an attempt to keep protests peaceful.

“We’re hoping there won’t be any major incidents,” he said. “If there are … obviously the police will respond and deal with them.”

Mahmoud Aloul, a Palestinian leader in the West Bank involved in preparations, said demonstrations were to be held in Jerusalem, the Qalandiya checkpoint — a frequent flashpoint of violence on the outskirts of Jerusalem — and in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Other events were planned in Arab towns in northern Israel.’

The Israeli military was also preparing for possible trouble along the borders with Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan to the east, and Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the south.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it was “prepared for any eventuality and will do whatever is necessary to protect Israeli borders and residents.” I shall grab another hours sleep now. More from Gaza this afternoon as we mark Land DAy and the Global March to Jerusalem.

Posted by Lauren Booth


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