By Fida Qishtais, a 23 year old community activist and educator from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She founded Lifemakers Center which serves 300 children in Rafah.
After two weeks of waiting with my parents and brother at the Egyptian border crossing, I returned home to Rafah, Gaza from a trip. We waited because the Israelis didn’t allow us to cross the border. We spent two days outside the border terminal in Egypt and 12 days inside the border terminal. 4,000 Palestinians waited like this, some for three weeks.
Sometimes we got food and water, sometimes not. I don’t remember if I really slept or not during twelve days inside the terminal. I didn’t eat a lot because really I didn’t want to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t a bathroom actually – four walls and a piece of plastic for the door. Nine Palestinians died there. I could have been one of them. I was more scared for my dad and mum because even young people died. From the border, we could see the Israeli helicopters shooting rockets into Rafah in Gaza, and destroying the nearby Palestinian airport. We heard that the crossing would open, but the Israelis didn’t agree.
We ended up stuck in the arrival hall instead. The Israelis said just 250 people could cross, though 570 people were stuck in the hall. Then we became 800 people, with thousands waiting outside. The people said, we suffer together, we leave together. Sometimes we slept without dinner and without blankets and woke up without breakfast, until the last five days when the Red Cross came. One mother learned that her son was killed by the Israeli army. She couldn’t get home for the funeral, though we were a kilometre from Gaza. A mother is a mother according to all laws. I watched when another mother got the news that her three sons were arrested by Israeli solders. She passed out for five minutes. I thought she had died. Sick people were stuck there and not allowed to go back to the hospitals. They said, “We don’t want food or blankets. We need to go home.”
Nobody helped, until some people called the Palestinian armed resistance. The resistance called the Egyptians and gave them three days to open the crossing. The Egyptians said the Israelis threatened that if Palestinians were allowed to cross the border, they would shoot and kill them. Finally, men from the Palestinian resistance broke the Israeli-built separation wall. They entered the Egyptian side and helped the people to get out. We got home through the hole they opened. Thank God I’m finally home. I feel my body is broken. No shower for two weeks, can you imagine? But let me share with you how life is at home. The people in Gaza live in a big prison, for 1.4 million people, the biggest prison in the world.
After I got home, I took a shower. But before I did, my sister told me we don’t have too much water, because the Israeli army destroyed the water and electricity lines. We have water once for two hours every four days, and electricity six hours a day. This is how the people live these days: no water, no food and no money from salaries. We always say when somebody visits us, go home and tell your people about life here. Now people need to be educated about Lebanon too. It’s awful to think about what’s going on there. Sometimes I close my eyes and say war, it’s just a dream, a nightmare. Why is this war happening? The Hizbollah militia arrested two Israelis solders. They tried to help us, as Palestinians.
At that time, in the Gaza Strip, in two weeks, the Israeli army killed 94 people. The war in Lebanon is not a war to defend Israeli rights. It’s a war to create a second Palestine by displacing more people, and creating more suffering. Everybody hopes to have a good life and future. We love our kids, mothers, and fathers. We love our families like you, and we feel sad when somebody is killed. We are humans, of flesh and blood. Think of that for a minute please. Hearts can tell what information is accurate and guide people to the truth. Truth can tell us how to reach justice and peace.
I finished my work and went home at 11:30 pm. There were many people in the street. This is how the people spend their time at night in Rafah because its really too hot to be in their homes. On another part of our street was our neighbour’s wedding. The people there stayed really late. I got home and tried to have fun with my sisters and brother. We watched a TV program. I could hear the Israeli helicopters and planes. I knew in my heart something going to happen, but I didn’t know what! Suddenly we heard the loud sound of a bomb.
Everybody ran to see what had happened. It’s not possible to stop yourself when people are in need of you. My mum cried and asked my brother to stop and to get home after we heard people shouting, especially kids. I recognized their voices. Everybody was running. We opened the door to allow people to enter our house in order to be safe. My mum asked our neighbour who was sitting on his balcony, where was this bombing? It was very close and we really felt as if the house would collapse. He said it was the house of Sami our other neighbour. An Israeli F16 fighter plane bombed it.
Some people were injured who were walking in the street. Soon we heard that a child was injured too. I couldn’t walk. The bombing was really close to us, just 30 or 40 metres away. The bricks and stones flew everywhere. That’s how people got injured. I imagined myself walking, or the taxi just ten minutes late, because I always cross that same street when I get home. I could have been one of them. I was most scared for the kids and their families who left the wedding and ran everywhere.
The sounds of the scared children made me cry. I wanted to help, but I couldn’t. I went to the hospital and found that everybody was alright. Now, last night on our street the Israelis called and warned three families to leave their houses, saying they would bomb them. The Israelis did the same in other camps in Rafah, warning a total of ten families. The next day I felt I needed to do something different. I called my friend and asked her to meet at a restaurant because I will be busy next week at work. It was the first day I planned to rest. I took a taxi and went to the nearby city of Khan Yunis. In the taxi there was a big discussion about the war in Lebanon, what’s going on in the Gaza Strip now, and why all of this happened. I always appreciate what old people say. An old man said to the driver, my son, what’s happening in Lebanon is the same as Gaza.
And the Israelis who kill here kill there. They tell the other people that they are defending themselves. Son this trouble can be ended by negotiation, not war. War for two Israeli soldiers? He said, son, I left my house when I was ten years old. I remember everything that happened. My father said we will return soon after a few days, but we are not back still, 50 years later. And now I see myself in Lebanon, among these thousands who leave. They don’t even look back because they don’t want to see the sad image of a friend killed or a house destroyed. I found myself asking the old man, do you think we will live like this for long?
He responded, I think people here, in Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur, Vietnam and other poor countries will have a good life, if the world sees the true picture of what is happening here, and if we work good to educate the other countries in the world. That made me feel a little bit better because part of my work is to educate people. The next day as always we were watching TV to follow the news from Lebanon. In the middle of that, I was shocked that they start to talk about Gaza, the northern Gaza Strip. Nothing was happening there, but suddenly the Israeli army entered the north of Gaza.
They killed 19 people, and injured many. I tried to make myself feel better by visiting friends I met when I was stuck for two weeks at the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt trying to return home. It was hard to visit them before because the Israeli army invaded El Maghazi where these friends live. The Israeli army killed 18 and injured more than 40. When I got out of Rafah in the taxi we heard the news that the Israelis invaded Rafah, and they were in the Elshoka area. One person was injured. My mum looked at me, and I said we will not go back. We will see if my friends are doing well and will leave in 10 minutes. We get home after an hour, but in Rafah the Israeli attack had a high cost. Many families moved to schools to be safe, and that made me feel badly.
The Israeli army demolished my family’s home in 2004. That’s my family’s story again with a new family. It’s the same city, the same people, and the passage of time has not made a difference, even in 2006. We were there three years ago. And they were there an hour ago. It’s the same story, the same. In Rafah, we have water once for two hours every four days, and electricity now twelve hours a day. This is how people live these days: no water, no food and no money from salaries. Everybody hopes to have a good life and future. We love our kids, mothers, and fathers. We love our families like you, and we feel sad when somebody is killed. We are humans, of flesh and blood. Think of that for a minute please. Never rely just on information from the stronger side. Hearts can tell what information is accurate and guide people to the truth. Truth can tell us how to reach justice and peace.