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IHT: Light through the wall

By Fida Qishta
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Life in Rafah, Gaza’s southern-most city, has always been difficult. But the period since March 2006 has been the worst in my 25-year life. Israel placed Gaza under a siege after Hamas won the Palestinian elections and tightened the siege after Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier near Rafah in late June 2006. We have had little electricity, fuel, money, food or medicine since.

We felt some hope last week, however, when Palestinians knocked down the wall that Israel built along Rafah’s border with Egypt, allowing us to escape our prison and cross to Egypt to buy essential goods.

The Israeli Army has destroyed about 2,000 homes in Rafah in the last seven years. In January 2004 they demolished our home. My grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins had gathered in our house because their homes had just been demolished. Then an Israeli bulldozer started destroying our home. I helped my grandmother because she has trouble walking. My mother passed out, so I dragged her to a safer place. That day Israeli bulldozers destroyed 50 homes in our neighborhood.

When the siege intensified in late June 2006, my family and I were trapped for 14 days along with 4,000 Gazans at the Rafah border crossing trying to enter Gaza from Egypt, because Israel had closed the border. We had little food or water. Nine people died. Finally, armed men from Gaza broke the border wall, allowing us to return home.

But the last months have been the hardest, with the borders sealed, growing poverty, dwindling supplies of food, medicine and other goods, and parts of Gaza without electricity due to lack of fuel. Israel’s military kills Palestinian fighters and civilians almost daily.

We are waiting for our destiny. Slow death or fast death, it’s the same result. Last week eight-year-old Huda from Rafah told me, “I have kidney problems and need to visit the hospital three times a week, and now the Israelis are threatening to shut off the electricity. That means I will die.”

Many times, I’ve said my heart must be stronger. I stopped every voice that told me that I can’t write, that said people will not understand me; I’ve stopped every fear that says things will never change, because there are always ways to live and to change. My people have a great deal of courage, but what is happening is very hard.

I am no longer the person I was before these experiences. When the Israelis kill innocent people, they turn the children of those killed into different people. It is not hard to guess whether these will become kind children, or sad children ready for revenge.

Still, when I look at our children, I somehow feel everything will change for the better someday. Every one of us can change things in small ways and make the sun shine, even in a dark box like Gaza.

Three a.m. on Jan. 23rd was a moment of victory. Rafah’s wall on the border with Egypt was gone. I could barely wait to see it. I wanted to see the smile on every Palestinian face that has been missing for a long time.

Yes, my children, now you can see Egypt. The wall is gone, and one day all the walls will be gone.

Nine-year-old Amal and 11-year-old Yasmine told me, “Remember when we told you it’s our dream to see Egyptian children, play with them and see Egypt? We went there and bought sweets and chips, but we didn’t see children.”

Mohammed, 22, from Rafah, explained, “It doesn’t matter who destroyed the wall, Hamas or Fatah. It was rubbish the Israeli army left behind. I hope the crossing will be opened to movement in a legal way, not like this.”

When I visited the United States in 2006, people asked why Palestinians voted for Hamas. Some in the Palestinian Authority were corrupt. They lost people’s trust. The U.S. government sent observers to monitor our elections and accepted Hamas’s participation. Hamas won democratically. For years Hamas built social infrastructure and improved people’s daily lives. Hamas needed to be given a chance. Instead, the world punished us.

I think that if ordinary people in the U.S. and Europe knew what was happening to ordinary Palestinians, they would be more compassionate. We need food, water, homes, work and access to the world. We need justice. And when ordinary Palestinians have justice, there will be peace.

Fida Qishta, an educator and journalist, is the founder and manager of the Lifemakers Center, which serves 70 children aged 6-18 in Rafah.