Today: A story of demolition and a plea for help from Gaza
This email from Barbara details events on Tuesday, February 7 but due to electricity outages in Gaza, we were not able to post it right away.
I am writing this letter to you late at night and I am asking you to help me. Over the years I have asked for you to step up and reach out to the people here in Palestine because to be honest with you are the only people I know who have responded over and over again throughout the years. This is an emergency and people's lives are depending on all of us to help.
Sometimes I feel like I have seen it all and there is nothing left to surprise me in life and then there are days like TODAY.
I woke up early because ever since I arrived in Gaza I have been going to bed very early - sometimes as early as 6:00 P.M. This is because on our way here Dr. Mona El-Farra and I were in a horrible automobile accident somewhere between Cairo and Gaza. We were very lucky, just very bad bruises, much luckier than those in the other little mini car that crashed head on at a very fast speed into our car. All of them were taken away to the hospital bloody and screaming. I will never get over the images of the mother, father, grandmother and 3 children laying on the ground waiting to be taken to the hospital. So I have been going to bed early trying to recover from this and then getting up very early and spending the days going to visit MECA's projects here in the Gaza Strip.
This morning there was a lot of noise outside Dr. Mona's apartment building so I got out of bed to see what was happening. Dr. Mona lives on the 10th floor in an apartment building in Gaza City facing the beach. About a block down the road there was a group of very old homes on the beach where 61 families have lived since 1948. Some of them have lived there since the early days of the first intifada when Sharon [Ariel Sharon, an Israeli government minister during the first intifada] came to Gaza and demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes to make the roads wide enough for the Israeli tanks to enter the cities. These wide roads were called Sharon Highways. Imagine the shock of the Palestinians to see their own elected government behaving the same way as the Israelis did. They and their sons and daughters are fishermen and fisherwomen. I had met the families a few days ago when one of the daughters, Ibtisam, came to see Dr. Mona. Dr. Mona El-Farra is the person you go to in Gaza if you have a problem or need help. She knows everyone. Ibtisam was very upset and she asked Dr. Mona and me to come and speak with her father. So we walked down the street to where the she lived and went into her house where I met the whole family. The problem was that the government (not the Israeli Government, the government in Gaza) was demanding that all 61 families move out of their homes in 3 days but the families refused saying that they had lived next to the sea in their homes for 63 years. But they were willing to discuss this as long as the government found housing for all of them near to the sea.
This morning without any more discussion about 100 male and female police officers came to tell the families that they had 1 hour to get all their belongings out of their homes because they were going to demolish the houses. Dr. Mona and I ran down to the homes and pushed our way through the police and the onlookers and found our friend and her family. Everyone begged me to take pictures but the police made it clear that they would take away anyone's camera if they caught them taking photos.
I did get some pictures without being seen [the photos are too large to send via internet from Gaza but we will post them when Barbara returns to the US] and I called Dennis Bernstein at KPFA and talked to him which was pretty difficult because the police kept coming over and threatening Mona and me and all the men, women and children around us and shoving us with their bully clubs. People were screaming and crying. Everyone was going into their homes and carrying out whatever they could. An old man probably around my age (70) just sat in front of his candy store staring out in disbelief.
Mona and I stayed as long as we could unable to stop what was going on, begging the government stormtroopers to stop this nightmare and let us help with some kind of negotiation to deal with the situation, at least to figure out where the families were going to stay. But no all they did was push all of us around and give the peoples a few more minutes to get what they could out of their homes and then they started to threaten Mona and me with arrest and jail. As Mona and I ran from the scene I turned around only to see the enormous earth movers start leveling the homes and I became sick because all I could think about was beautiful, heroic Rachel [Corrie]’s last moments.
As soon as we got to Mona's apartment we opened the window in her living room on the 10th floor and watched the government of Gaza carry out it’s dastardly acts. I want to tell you that ever since I arrived in Gaza it has been cold and windy with rain storms like I have never seen. There are times during the day and night when you can't see 6 inches in front of you and the fact that there is only electricity in Gaza for 8 hours a day on and off makes if almost impossible live. This is the first time in 5 days that I have been able to use internet.
It is late, Mona and I are exhausted. We have just come home from the Mosque (one of about 15 enormous mosques that have recently been built, some right on the beach near the fishermen's homes) where the families are sitting women and children in one room and men in another. Some of the men have built a hugh bonfire outside and are sitting and standing in front of it trying to stay warm. There is only 1 tall building left and it is about to fall. At about 3:00A.M. Mona, Talal, Mohammed and I [Talal works with MECA's partner Afaq Jadeeda Association and Mohammed is a MECA volunteer] jump into cars and drive all around Gaza waking up merchants and getting them to come down to their stores and open them so we can buy 65 warm blankets and pillows for the people. And hundreds of dollars of food to tide them over tonight.
When we arrived with the trucks loaded with these supplies everyone came running to us, crying and thanking us. It is not easy finding merchants who will take VISA here in the Gaza Strip. I have been to the bank window taking as much money as I possibly can from my own account. This is where you come in. You must help me. We need to feed these families and help them get lodging today and we can't do it on our own. We called the Red Cross and they said they would try to get here today. Well that's not good enough. Please call them yourself and demand that they come and help right now and please, please make as large a contribution as you can to help me buy the necessary things to keep people here going. To feed the families and help them find shelter.
I am too tired to go on. I must sleep but knowing what the men, women and children in the Mosque face tomorrow and in the future will give me the strength I need to help them tomorrow but I can't do it without your financial help. I know you are thinking that you just gave donations to MECA at the end of the year but that money went to our projects. Now you must call everyone that you know and ask them to help because this project will save lives. We can't stand by without doing everything we can to help. We must show these Palestinian mothers, fathers and children that we as Americans can do more than provide f16 fighters, apache helicopters, tanks and all the other weapons that we have given to Israel that have been used to kill and injure them.
Good Night, Barbara