Letter from Rafah

Today I went to the community center in my town of Rafah, here in the southern Gaza Strip, only to find people frantic with worry. Israeli tanks have closed off our town and there are reports, even now, of more tanks being moved in to the border area between Gaza and Egypt. Several of us in the community took it upon ourselves to try to calm the residents, many of whom were packing their things and abandoning their houses in fear that Israel would fulfill its threats to demolish them.

You must stay, we told them. We cannot have a third catastrophe. We have lived two wars and left two homes. We have no option but to stay.

Rafah has had more than 1,100 homes demolished over the course of the last three years. Those who have been made homeless are now renting in other parts of the town, but there are no more homes to rent. Outside this very community center, there are families living in the soccer field. Some are staying in schools at night, and still others are living in tents in the street.

We told them that there are contacts between the Palestinian Authority and the United States, between Egypt and Israel. But who can say what will happen to these people in the coming hours? Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to finish off Rafah, and if he wants to level the whole place, he will.

I heard what Secretary Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said about the Palestinians after their meetings with the Palestinian Authority. And I have to say that they are fooling no one. While the Americans want to appease the Arab world by showing that they are meeting with our leadership, the truth will be written in my town, perhaps tonight. The common denominator between this American administration and Israel is their mutual wielding of power and violence. Together, Israel and the United States have chosen to isolate the Palestinian Authority. Now we will see if the United States will sanction more bloodletting of innocents. Rafah is surrounded by Israeli checkpoints and settlements and our people have no escape.

And I believe it will be a massacre if the Israeli military enters Rafah in order to demolish those homes along the Gaza border. People here are preparing themselves. They will not surrender to the bulldozers in silence. The Israelis will come with many weapons, and the Palestinians will use what they can.

Two nights ago, two missiles were fired from a helicopter at two in the morning into the offices of my newspaper, al Risala. The computers, the furniture lie in smithereens. That office sits in the middle of a residential area in Gaza City. Israel is trying to smother even our ability to speak.

Mr. Bush, you have the power of the presidency in your hands. I believe that you know the truth. You know that the Palestinian people are living under a terrible occupation. You know that our days and nights are haunted by screeching missiles flung from the sky. You know that the day that we do not see death is a rare day in our lives.

How then do you, as a man committed to democracy, agree with Sharon’s practices? I am asking you now to live in our tragedy, to listen to the crying of our frightened children, to hear the frantic voices of my people. Listen very well, and then decide.