Home Of The Strongest People
In The World
Gordon, writing from Rafah, Gaza
09 June 2003
It's past midnight
and the only sound is the ceiling fan pushing the muggy summer air around
and around, while no matter how hard I wash my skin still retains a
faint layer of dirt, dust, and sweat.
The fan drowns out the sound
of bullets, mostly, so you can sleep in our apartment now cloaked is
some illusion of normalcy. We got the fans a couple of weeks ago, when
the heat became unbearable and we were feeling rich.
The workers came and installed
them in one night, and suddenly the apartment was transformed into a
living space, which is an activity we've been prone to indulge in lately
as a group -- home furnishings and spring cleanings to give some sense
of normality to our environment because it really is the only refuge.
as soon as you step outside you are hit with a thousand realities, all
being shouted in disharmony.
Taxi drivers are shouting
destinations, children shouting "what's your name," men smoking
shisha on storefront steps, "ahlen wa'sahlen," a chorus of
voices all day calling for their basic daily needs, always weighted
with vital danger.
Transportation anywhere touches
the border, passes checkpoints, weaves around settlements. and in the
end, it may be nicer to stay at home, where at least, if you happen
to be lucky enough to live far from the border, you don't have to worry
about bullets and bulldozers.
And if you plug in a ceiling
fan, you might not even hear the sporadic fire all day, might not hear
(if you don't listen hard) the sounds of ambulances.
No one here asks, how was
your day, and when we do, the answer is shrugs and hamdou'l'allah, ("Praise
be to God"). Have faith God has something under control up in the
sky, since from the ground he looks like a malicious beast, twisting
basic humanity into something quite opposite.
A colleague of mine says she is jarred awake from time to time by the
awareness that Rafah is hell. The other night we went to throw out old
piles into the dumpster, and the trash was burning in the dark bright
orange container like a furnace, soda cans shrunk up, plastic melting
together, dividing the mundanity of the night into fumes.
Down the road a few men were
still out and their voices filled the air more than usual, but most
everyone had gone home to their families for the night. Our footsteps
echoed individually in the stillness.
In the daytime, no such emptiness.
One of the most heavily populated places on earth, Rafah is overflowing
with people. Children run through the streets, fearless and old from
their daily interactions with death. Old women with bad knees sitting
without cushions, hands calloused and strong from decades of peeling
vegetables and carrying children. They are veiled in white; they have
earned the name "Um" after pushing through childrearing, the
way men wear respect by being named "Abu" followed by their
first son's name.
They must be the strongest
people in the world, having battled endlessly to arrive to this stoop,
fought to retain personal dignity in the face of war, having grown up
in a culture that has been so badly distorted by decades of violent
imperialism that it has sought out cultural and religious conservatism
not even native, not even representative, brought on by increasing need
to show proof of faith, proof of God, in tangible things. Skewing ritual
The heaviness hangs in the
air. Before the first Intifada, you could find women smoking in the
streets, wearing miniskirts. you could find, somewhat illicitly, alcohol
or a nightlife. Now, they say, for every house demolished, the people
of Rafah build a mosque. For every house gone to dust there is a muezzin's
cry five times a day announcing God in desperation. Everywhere from
markets to hospital rooms qur'an is chanting over somebody's speaker,
the only thing that can really really heal when everything is so beyond
We passed by the United Nations
office building today on the way to visit a martyr's tent, they had
patched the UN building up after months of wearing a blanket of bullet
holes from Israeli shelling.
Not so the orphanage by the
well which still bears the evidence of nightly shootings from the Rafiah
Yam settlement across the way. Apparently the large congrete water tower
with graphics of children and S-O-S displayed in enormous letters is
not sufficient information for the soldiers in the military tower one-hundred
(Laura Gordon is a 20-year-old American Jew who came to Israel in December
2002 with the Birthright Israel program and proceeded, three months
later, to begin work with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah.
She moved to Rafah two days after Rachel Corrie was killed and has been
there since. She works primarily in media work and documentation; and
also to liase between the Rafah community and the international community
through summer camp projects, cooperative building projects, and English