When your baby’s first word is ‘Shooting’

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In Gaza City a Palestinian father, Amjad Shawa of the PNGO, tells me that his son’s first word was tahk, not baba. Tahk is shooting, baba is dad. He is devastated when he says that he cannot protect his children. The Gaza Strip, effectively a prison with 1,250,000 Palestinians who have not been allowed to enter or exit for the past month, is divided into three parts by Israeli soldiers. The 43 km trip from the north end to the south, can sometimes take two days. Thousands of Palestinians and I were lucky yesterday and made it through a checkpoint in only five hours. It is forbidden by the Israeli soldiers for a Palestinian to walk through the checkpoint. I was crammed in the back of a truck filled with macaroni along side six Palestinians who jumped in for the ride. I was told that to walk within 100 meters of the checkpoint is to be shot and killed. There were hundreds of cars waiting for a soldier to put the light on green, signaling the okay to pass. The light turned green just for a second once, and quickly back to red, seemingly as some sort of a joke. I heard many stories of families spending the night outside, waiting to go through a checkpoint. A mother named her baby after the checkpoint Hajes where she was forced to give birth while waiting. Israeli settler cars are allowed to pass freely, while Palestinians live and die in the humiliating position of waiting for the simple right to move throughout the Gaza Strip.

A group of seven young women, students at Al-Azher University in Gaza City, live above Khalil Abu Shammala from the human rights organization Al Dameer in Gaza City. They cannot live with their families in the south of Gaza. It is impossible to attend classes, hold a job, or be on any schedule, if one must pass through the checkpoints. The young women come from Khan-Younis, both the city and the camp, and Rafah. In Khan-Younis, two neighbors were killed just this morning. Inside the camp many buildings are rubble and bullet holes litter homes both inside and out. While a friend’s three year old daughter was playing in her grandmother’s living room, an Israeli sniper fired in through the window. The bullet hole is just above an overstuffed chair.

The area of Rafah that borders with Egypt, but is blocked by an Israeli sniper tower is shot full of bullets and heavily bombed. The soldiers threw a grenade as I took photographs. Wafa Mousa, a mother who works at PNGO, has not seen her parents or siblings since October. She tells me that she cannot take the risk of being unable to return to Gaza City where she lives with her husband and young children. She cries as she tries to talk about the fear she feels for the safety of her family in Rafah, and her children growing up under the Occupation. I was told by Ben Granby, a worker at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City, that the Israeli incursions are so frequent in places like Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia, Khan-Younis and Rafah, his organization has essentially given up documenting them. He also tells me that his research proves there is no international coverage of Palestinians killed in Rafah or anywhere in South Gaza.

Another father who lives in Khan-Younis Refugee Camp, says he would not be surprised if his 17 year old son blows himself up considering the constant threat of death. The camp is surrounded by sand, fences, sniper towers, gates, Israeli soldiers and settlements. Just beyond is the Mediteranean Sea, which Palestinians can catch a glimpse of, but will be shot if they get too close. A young man was shot and killed this morning in a spot where I saw a glimpse of blue over a gate and a tank. I am told that the Israeli soldiers taunt the young Palestinian boys and shoot them, beginning in the late afternoon and early evening. This is after school gets out.

Described by Amjad Shawa as “Area C, 200 percent,” the town of Malwasi has been completely isolated since before the beginning of the current Intifada. Area C signifies complete Israeli control under which Palestinians are not allowed to create infrastructure and Israelis refuse to. The foot-only checkpoint is referred to as the Death Gate. He says that Palestinians do not require material possessions, but what they need is freedom and dignity, suggesting the addendum to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 4th Geneva Convention is “does not apply to Palestinians.” Even Oslo allows Palestinians 15 miles of Sea from the coast, but instead they are only are allowed three. Palestinians in the south of Gaza are restricted from getting near it, and some Israeli settlements, I am told, dump their sewage into the Palestinian are. Palestinians cannot dig wells deep enough to find clean water. This is reserved only for settlers. Settlements such as Fardarum and Netzarim are populated only part time and are flanked by tanks. Upwards of 50 tanks are used to guard just 14 families in some areas. There are 4,000 settlers in the Gaza Strip. Settlements are illegal, as is the Occupation of Palestine and the detention of Palestinians are political prisoners without charge. I was told by a 35 year old man in Khan-Younis that he suffers from back problems after spending two months in Israeli interrogation before serving eight years in Israeli prison. As I sit in the early evening with Khalil Shammala’s family, the lights go out, reminding us all who controls the prison that is Gaza.

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