Creating people's geographies
Alison Glenesk is an engaging American woman and student from California who recently was in Gaza with a CodePink delegation. This is a selection from her interesting blog diaries telling of her experiences. Visit her blog, Ali G in Egypt, for more (thanks Chris). Also check out recent US diplomatic protests about israel’s refusal to let in chickpeas and other foodstuffs in its criminal blockade.
I just got back from Gaza. I was part of a delegation of women of about 60 under the supervision of the United National Relief and Works Agency. Mom and Dad, I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I didn’t tell you before because I thought you’d worry…. I felt safe there the whole time, and I went with the full support of the director of the California Education Abroad Program, the Director of the Arabic Language Institute, and all my teachers. […]
It is all a lot to digest right now, for me it was one of the biggest experiences of my life, emotional, intense, amazing. There are no words, yet now I have to write about what I saw, I have to write about it, do something, because it is beyond inexcusable that some part of our American politics has become more important than our values and respect for human life and international law. What I’ll try to do then, is first give a summary of what we did and saw.
Day 3, Sunday March 8, International Women’s Day:
In the morning I awoke refreshed and Iman made us an AMAZING breakfast. Falafel and Hommus and Khobz (bread) and all this other stuff I forget the name of now. With that, we were off to start the day.
Just driving through the streets of Gaza is an experience in itself. Jadaria (graffiti and murals) is everywhere, commemorating the name of someone who died, celebrating the names of a recently married couple, or pushing a political parties agenda.
Shops are boarded up, turn the corner and a building is in rubble, the next and children are playing on the sidewalk, and old man selling vegetables. The group met at Al Quds Hotel in Gaza City, before splitting up to go to different CBOS (UNRWA’s community based organizations) to celebrate international women’s day.
I boarded a van to Rafah and went to an amazing organization called Banat Al-Mustaqbul with three other delegates (the name means something like women/daughters of independence/freedom).
The road to Rafah went along the beach, the beautiful, beautiful topaz coast- you could have been in California.
Except if you try to swim, fish, paddle a boat, anything… anything that takes you more than 100 metres off the beach, you will be shot in cold blood by Israelis enforcing the seige.
Even just to swim close to shore in that beautiful water is difficult- there is white phosphorus in it.
It almost seems ironic how Gaza has some of the most beautiful geography and people I have ever met in my entire life, yet the worst human rights violations are happening there, unimaginable violence. It is beyond what any of us can imagine, being privileged by some sick randomness of our birth.
Even now after seeing everything, experiencing, I know I cannot even begin to comprehend the violence of which I witnessed only remnants.
With these thoughts in mind, we arrived at Banat Al-Mustaqbul. We entered the room and little girls handed us flowers. They were all dressed up for our arrival. Then almost fifty women were waiting seated. Others were cooking, they’d hung banners too.
We kissed almost everyone. I quickly learned that instead of one on each cheek like in Egypt, you should do one on the first cheek and then two on the next.
I was just so moved, so honored, embarrassed even to be greeted with such reverence and thanks and pomp and circumstance. We were showed to the garden and fed delicious turkey kebabs off the spit and fresh flat bread hot off the stones from the fire.
Then we were shown back to where everyone was assembled. We had discussion and the Arabic was moving so fast, so many stories. Everyone wanted to touch me or talk to me, some were shy but still suddenly all the eyes were on me.
“How do you celebrate Women’s Day in America? What do you think of Fatah? Where is your family? Do you have any brothers? Do you have any sisters? What do you think of our celebration here? What do you think of Palestine? What do you think about what you see here? Do you need any more tea? Want to hear about our unemployment here? Will you promise to come back next year to celebrate Women’s Day again with us? Can we get you anything? Can we help you”!?!
Let me tell you, I am not one of those people who is easily moved. I was moved. Can you imagine all those questions? Me just in awe, trying to find some way to respond, and in Arabic! And can you imagine, they were asking how they could help me!!!
These women, who lose their sons in the tunnels who go there since there is no work. Who got married at 16 and 18 even though they didn’t want to, but they needed the money. Who work and work for their families, to lose them to bullets, to poverty. They served me tea that day.
Then they put on a play. The acting was amazing and the audience just watched me to see if I enjoyed it. “Did you like the play? How did you find the play?” Of course it was amazing, I couldn’t believe the acting talent first of all.. The play was about a family who was trying to marry off their daughter but then she ended up going for university. It was fast Arabic so I didn’t get all the details, but I got the idea, the heart. It was so funny… they played the men characters too! So amazing.
After the play we ate again, this huge lunch! And then it was over. Everyone when home, whatever that might mean, and we boarded the bus, and I just want to go back, I don’t know.
In the evening we had a huge dinner and met some members of ISM. They told us about white phosphorus, which will eat all the way to the bone, and cannot be washed off with water- people have to dig it out of their skin with spoons.
They told us stories about medical workers in the last conflict which ended January 2009. These are people who just went straight into total war zones, pulling bodies out, arms torn off, legs eaten up by white phosphorus, children shot in the back.
They thought maybe they had some measure of protection, but then Medical workers, ambulances and hospitals started to be targeted. But they kept on working. I met these people, and I was speechless.
They told stories of a little boy who was killed, then his funeral was bombed. A family was eating chocolate at a storefront to celebrate a birthday, and they found them there, their limbs shredded off.
After dinner we went back to Iman’s house for the night. Her beautiful house and beautiful families, but no windows- it would shatter in the bombings. No electricity oftentimes- Israel just shuts it off whenever they feel like it.
I didn’t fall asleep quickly that night.
Tents set up on rubble. Mosques blackened, in shambles. This area had been behind the Israeli line. People were trapped there for over 20 days, trapped in bullets and bombings..hell.
We drove up to the American International School in Gaza. Looking at it, the sheer destruction, many of our group just started crying.
We picked up childrens toys, binders and school workbooks amongst the rubble. Their charred stationery: The American International School in Gaza, Candidate for accreditation by the Middle States Association for colleges and schools.
It is on high ground, the beautiful mediterranean in the distance. Shattered glass covered the ground. A piece of rocket here and there. Of course it was made in America. America provides all the weapons to Israel that come down on these people, on the AMERICAN international school!
This type of destruction, there are just some things that are just wrong… destroying schools and hospitals, shooting children in the back as they are running away, targeting civilians, bombing the homes of people who already have nearly nothing.
While we were staring into the rubble, a Palestinian who was with us said, “No one in your administration has said this is wrong?” And it’s true. All the utter destruction, and not one person from our American government has yet said this is wrong, No one has spoken against this, Obama has said nothing!
Yet there is no doubt that this is wrong. You know what Hillary Clinton said about the settlements in West Bank on her recent visit there?! She said they were “unhelpful”. UNHELPFUL!?!?!?! We all have blood on our hands. Right now.
There are people in tents, packed in tents, with beautiful eyes, children whose beautiful eyes saw their entire family murdered, people who are just trying to hold on to some dignity. Who are trapped in an occupied land. We simply cannot sit still and be silent while this continues.
From the school we could see Israel in the distance, the town just as perfect as could be. The power plant on their land was smoking, the one that provides all the electricity to Gaza, that they control.
And yet he was planting again, little saplings in brown earth, not defeated and hopeful. Yet it will be four or five years before they will even bear fruit again.
We left the school and drove up to a village of tents. I was welcomed inside one with a couple others from our group. The women told us their story. How leaflets were dropped from the sky warning them to leave their houses, then they ran from the house but then instead of bombing the houses the planes aimed for the running people instead.
They told us about hot balloons dropped, filled with some type of hot poison. They lost everything. They live in a tent that says Rotary International outside sleeping with ten other people.
One of the women is just sticking in my mind still, she was so beautiful and holding her baby and she just seemed so peaceful while telling us how they were running amongst the bodies of their family dead on the ground, about how her daughter can’t sleep at night and is scared now whenever she sees anyone with a gun.
They all thanked us, asking if us to please please go back to our countries and let the world know the truth.
Some of Galloway‘s crew, which had finally gotten in the night before, arrived while we were there to distribute some aid. We gave some blankets which is of course not enough, it’s pittance, it’s nothing, and left.
In the afternoon we met with a group from PARC, an agricultural organization. They talked a lot about problems in the agricultural sector, including the dead zones and how if farmers try and go there to plow their fields, they are shot dead.
We met a woman from the Simboni family, a big family but not so much anymore.. 29 people her family died, and 60 were injured. They all were trapped in a big house, for 17 days, family members dying before their eyes. The woman was holding a little girl on her lap. One of our group asked, “So we are to understand that this girl saw everything?” And the reply was yes. This little girl who was before our eyes, had seen family after family member murdered before her eyes.
After that a small group of us, just four or so, went to a meeting with woman journalists. We met the only woman photojournalist in Gaza, who was just amazing, so young and brave and dreaming big, pushing her way into field, taking pictures of things that no human being should even have to witness.
When our delegation eventually drove off into the desert, away from the border crossing, that is when I cried for the first time. We drove through the night and back into Cairo, a bustling city, and here I am now just six hours away from it all. It seems further. Even you all in America, don’t think you are so far away. We cannot be silent.