Sunday, 15 March 2009

A story and other things

Mr Hamad Abu Shmell

The old man sat in the light of a kerosene lamp and looked bleakly ahead. His wife sat in the opposite corner, crying loudly "They soiled our sheets, haram, haram, they broke our bed, fired guns in our bed'. 

'And', the old man said'they took all our money. The day after they left we found a 100shekel note in the garden, that's all'

He was talking about the Israeli occupation of his house to a foreign photographer who had come to film the destruction in North Gaza. Hamad Abu Shmell lived in a line of houses along a high ridge overlooking Gaza city in Atatra district. It was the part of Gaza nearest the Israeli border, and it also commanded long views of Gaza city, so it was bombed repeatedly in the first few days, and most of the houses were destroyed. Then the Apaches fired rockets at what was left and machine gunned anything that moved. Mr Abu Shmell stayed home with his family, even when machine gun fire came through the window and sprayed the wall behind them. The foreign Journalist put his fingers in the big holes in the plaster, but to him they were just dents in the wall; to Mr Abu Shmell they represented fear and salvation at the same time. But there was an even closer miss in the next dark room, where there were no lights. A row of smaller bullet holes at a lower level.

"We were eating our meal on the floor when these came. If we were sitting on a chair they would have gone through our heads. I am lucky that I cannot afford to put chairs in both my rooms" said Mr Abu Shmell.

What happened next? "The Israelis came and pointed their guns at us. They told us to get into the back room, where the shots had been fired, and to stay there, and they went on to the roof. They told us that if we moved, they would shoot us. They went upstairs, they stole my money, soiled the beds, left condoms everywhere. They fired holes in the bed - for what? While people were dying they were making love with each other in our bed, and then they destroyed it. All our money was in the mattress, everything for the whole family, and they took it all. Then after 3 days, they left. Just left"

His family of seven children and his wife listened in the gloomy light. "There is no glass in the windows, and we cannot afford even to buy plastic sheets", said Mrs Abu Shmell. "The UN gave us some blankets, but we have no money to repair anything and no one helps us. No one. And it is cold, even our clothes they cut up and soiled - look, look at these cuts, why, why they do this, why?"

They drank their tea in silence, the foreign photographer left, and the light slowly went out.

This story was written for my Gazan Translator, who asked for it, but, apart from the name, it is all true. I was taken to film the massive destruction around this area, with people living in tent fields wedged in between the shattered buildings. I was taken there by a rich man, who also showed me the destruction of his land in the same area, but he had the resources to bring in trucks and machinery, to level the ground, re-plant the willfully destroyed palm and olive trees - $150 each tree, even they come through the tunnels. He promised his family that they would have their pool back by the summer, although he privately told me that that was optimistic. But he said: what use can it be to destroy a poor man's home, what has he done to deserve this?

The old man, Abu Shmell, actually said that he had worked for years and years on the neighbouring Israeli settlement, and he appreciated the regular wage, more than he could reliably earn as an unskilled labourer anywhere else, and certainly more than he feared he would get in Egypt, if Gaza was incorporated into that country. He seemed to me to be a man without prospects, a man for whom the struggle to provide for his family would always occupy his life full time. He was a man who had been brought up to respect those in authority above him - so what matter whether those lording it over him were Jews or Moslems? He would be happy with peace at any price. Or would have been. He said that he was disgusted by the behaviour of the Jews (By the way, when the Israeli army comes to call, it says Open up, Yehuda (the Jews), and everyone uses that term. It suits the Israelis to confuse the term Jew and Israeli)

He could not now imagine any peace. "There will be rivers of Blood" he said, and then he cried.

No-one expects Hamas to help them re-build. Everyone knows that they haven't got any money. There are Vat and Customs type duties on many things, but these are collected at the border by the Israelis, and given to the Government in the West Bank. Some salaries are paid by the West Bank Government in Gaza, but all Hamas appointments are unrecognised. There are small municipal taxes on the tunnels, and a small amount of tax on companies, but it is well short of what is required to even keep the streets clean. Yet Hamas is universally acknowledged to have brought a small amount of civic responsibility back, and the system of clan ownership of everything, and the corruption that flows from that has definitely ended. No gunshots are heard in Gaza, unless from an Apache, or the Israeli Sea Patrol Boats. My contact told me that in the later years of the Arafat administration, he paid $900 dollars to have a container of goods shipped from Italy to the Israeli port of Ashdod, and  further $15000 to have it shipped the last 40 kilometres to Gaza. Bribes. Now there is no industry hardly at all, and he has goods in Ashdod which no amount of bribery can move, but which cost him $'000s a month in storage charges. No Industry, no tax, no public services, so how does Hamas keep its forces paid and the streets fairly clean?

Donations from abroad. Incredible that private individuals should donate enough each month, by tortuous and illegal channels, to keep an entire government afloat. While the UN and others keep the food flowing to the poor, the government is supported by individuals.

Jewish Settlement in Israel started by Russian émigrés in the 1870s, and onwards, being funded by the unbelievably rich Rothschild, the man to whom the Balfour declaration was addressed. Without Rothschild the settlements would have collapsed, as many did, and the Zionist project would have remained a pipe dream. Now Hamas and the integrity of Gaza rely on the same precarious method. And what's the betting that they will become just as strong?


rudey said...

hi rod this is little bear 11/9 how are u ?? are you still in gaza

Rod Cox said...

Terrific to hear from you little bear, and to see that you're not wasting your time, but reading my Blog. I'll be in Gaza until the weekend, probably, and then I have to get my shipment of Children's art to Brussels, in time to protest against the renewal of the Euro-Israel preferential trade agreement. I'm desperately hoping that someone will organise the exhibition space there, like magic.

rudey said...

fantastic work rod i hope your in good health for the long road ahead.
as we say inshallah may your journey be made easier for you.
take it easy fella , i take it your trusty camcorder hasnt worn it self out, oh p.s you will need to save $15 to get out from cairo THE EGYTIANS TOOK MONEY FROM US AT RAFAH STAMPED OUR PASSPORTS BUT DID NOT GIVE VISA so save some money because if u get to cairo they will try to rob you again !!!