Read Carla’s first journal from Mawasi here.
The next day we did accompany Palestinians down the road that used to lead into Mawasi (that now stops at a checkpoint guarding the new settlements) carrying medical supplies. At least one hundred rounds of warning shots hit the ground around us as we slowly made our way forward. A very long walk of only a quarter mile. One reporter, a Palestinian, was shot in the head (he was taken to the hospital and survived as the wound was superficial), but the group decided to continue forward. The task of those of us who were internationals was to protect the Palestinians (the reporter had been taking pictures to the side – very exposed). We walked in front and on the outer edge of their group, with them in the center, using the privilege of our international status (we hoped) to shield them. I had moved to the back of the group on the same side as the guntower in order to shield the women and I have not ever paid so much attention to absolutely every step I took. I was hearing sharp cracks of bullets on the ground next to me. A lot of them. Sprays of dirt kicked up by the bullets hit my cheeks. Each step became a shear act of will. The Palestinian women next to me must have been living the same struggle, but they were here to try to go home after two years, and I was here to accompany them as far as they were willing to go.
Carrying a cardboard box of medical supplies (everyone else had see-through plastic bags) I was acutely aware of how they would have the excuse of saying they couldn’t see what was in the box –”there could have been a bomb”– if I were to be hit. I opened the top, carrying it at an angle to demonstrate there was nothing to hide. Palestinians from Mawasi had not walked this road in two years without being shot at. This obviously was no different, however we made it close enough to the guntower to be able to negotiate with the soldiers, closer than anyone had done previously. Encouraged by the negotiations, we took a few more steps forward, eliciting more bullets, this time silent bullets. That was truly eerie – the only sign we had that we were still being fired on was seeing (and feeling) dirt kicked up by the impact of the bullets. Unheard bullets were more terrifying – and luckily only a few were fired – those who had more experience with soldiers in Gaza announced that it was time to retreat, as the use of silent bullets meant serious business. We did not make it past the checkpoint that day, but two days later a group of Palestinians and internationals did go those last few feet to the checkpoint and negotiated getting the medical supplies into Mawasi. A small victory.
Amazing to me was how quickly I got used to gunfire. The first day I was in Rafah I went with Molly to see the family she had been staying with. Their home had been demolished that morning and the family was gathering what it could salvage. We had to run for cover as a tank fired on what was left of the house. By the time I went to the Mawasi checkpoint I had been staying in Gaza in Palestinian homes for a week. Every day and almost every night I experienced shooting from the tanks that rolled by the edge of town, into the neighborhoods where the houses were located. Gunfire was (is) a daily reality on the southern perimeter of town bordering Egypt. Here Israel has plans for a “security” wall designed to keep Palestinians from leaving Gaza. The goal was (is) to wear down the resolve of families to stay in their homes that are on the periphery of town near the future wall.
Neighborhoods are repeatedly assaulted by gunfire from tanks until families leave. Sometimes a tank will target a house with mortar fire, as was the inhabited house next to where my friend Molly was staying. (Let me make it clear these are unarmed civilians, families, non-combatants). Once homes are abandoned, Israeli soldiers will first dynamite, then bulldoze the houses, and begin to assault the homes of families that are newly exposed, homes that had laid behind the now demolished ones. Slowly they are eating away at the edges of Rafah.
That is all I have to share for now, except to add that my experience of Palestinians is of a people to whom family and land mean everything. I will hold in my heart forever the smiles, the eyes full of kindness, the humor, and the generosity of each person who has contributed to my first memories of Palestine.
In Solidarity, with Love,