Sami Abdel-ShafiGuardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
On Sunday morning, I hurried up to the rooftop of my home to catch a glimpse of the sun rising. Columns of black smoke stretched sideways over Gaza’s horizon, eerily symbolising how Israel’s ground assault has already inflicted more indiscriminate suffering on ordinary people.
I reflected how the fireball resulting from utter political failure among Palestinians, within Israel and, to an extent, internationally, has landed in the laps of Gaza’s civilians. Within seconds, the deep and breathtaking sound of shelling from the sea forced me back downstairs.
By mid-morning on Sunday, about 12 hours into the incursion, Israeli troops were said to have reached the outskirts of Jabalia - a city and a refugee camp with a combined population of 200,000 — with Apache helicopters firing high-calibre rounds into the camp alongside the incoming artillery fire. But Gaza City, where I live, is no safe haven either, being only about 8km from Jabalia, and three km from fighting in the east.
Nine days into the war, and after 800 reported raids over Gaza, it often seemed as though Israeli air force hangars must have been empty as its aircraft hammered Gaza, knocking even the lucky survivors out of their senses.
But the resilience of Gazans is truly remarkable. The middle-aged man who assists me at home showed up at noon yesterday. He brought bad news. As he left his home under sporadic fire in the Jabalia camp, he witnessed a 10-year-old girl taking a high-calibre round from an Apache helicopter hovering above. Her father was wailing: he had tried to keep all his children indoors, but she had wanted to get some sun.
At the moment, my Gazan neighbours are thinking first and foremost about their personal survival: how do I get food; how can I cross the street; how can I check on close family members a few hundred metres away; how can I get some cash to buy basic provisions; will I wake up to find a soldier at my doorstep; will I ever be able to live a normal life? In terms of politics, they are not thinking about internal disputes between Fatah and Hamas — they have put any party allegiances to one side. They are only thinking about the inhumanity inflicted on us by Israel.
We don’t know how much longer lines feeding Gaza’s internet communications will survive. The possible loss of the last lines of communication to the outside world is extremely disturbing, particularly as most news agencies and diplomats have been barred from witnessing the onslaught. Thousands have perished or have been injured. But the spirit of the survivors will not die, for if it did so would the truth of their tragedy.
I, like others, have no cash left to buy anything, even if I dared to step out. I ration my bread, vegetables and bits of cheese. A few Snickers bars help me stay alert and stave off my hunger. In this, I am far luckier than many other residents, who are so impoverished that they have no food reserves at all. The grocer tells me that the chocolate was brought in through the tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip, the subterranean world Gazans have been pushed into to find ways to circumvent Israel’s long drawn-out siege. For many months, Israel seemed to turn a blind eye to the tunnels, because they reduced the pressure on its policy of sealing Gaza’s crossing points on most days. At the same time, some in Gaza became addicted to the black market economy. But many of these tunnels have now been destroyed by Israel’s bombardment.
The aftermath of this war remains difficult to foresee. Had the U.N. Security Council pressed Israel to clearly spell out its intentions, we may have had a ceasefire by now.
(Note: Sami Abdel-Shafi is a senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City .)