- A Palestinian Sunset
- "I never knew sunsets could be that long,"
my friend from Gaza said to me, exasperated as she described in painful
detail the day she thought would surely be her last. It started out like
any other "normal" day in Gaza. The electricity was out, the
water flow at home reduced to a trickle, roads were blocked and passages
that once were open were now shut.
- In order to get outside the confines of her town of Khan
Younis to a meeting in Gaza City, she was forced, along with thousands
of other Palestinians, to take the most circuitous and potholed routes
created for them by the Israeli Defense Forces under the pretext of "security".
Palestinians who endure those routes know that their purpose is to both
maintain Israel's oppressive grip on the imprisoned Palestinian society
and to re-affirm its dominance daily.
- Palestinian workers eking out a living in Gaza City guide
their pitiable cars or mule pulled carts over the "new" rocky
roads hoping to reach their meager paying jobs that sustain entire families.
Road closures and detours are a familiar occurrence under occupation. Palestinians
grudgingly accept it.
- It is the random road blocks, however, that Palestinians
despise. They are unexpected and they can spell big trouble - more so than
the "regular" and anticipated road blocks. Like their more established
counterparts, at random roadblocks Israeli Defense Forces soldiers require
cars to line up for hours in the heat and humidity of summer and the cold
dampness of winter. But unlike their established counterparts, the temporary,
road blocks often serve other purposes, above and beyond the usual humiliation
and delays. Just what those other purposes, are is anyone's guess because
the "reason" behind them is rarely disclosed.
- On this day, even though all the usual routes were blocked,
my friend did manage to make it to her meeting in Gaza. She was delayed
only by a few hours - business as usual under Israeli occupation. Her day
was relatively smooth - until her return at around 3:00 P.M. She was meandering
carefully along the same rugged pathway she had traveled several hours
earlier. Her car was in the middle of a long entourage of cars returning
to their homes, when they were all confronted by a horrifying sight. On
both sides of the uneven road came two Israeli tanks churning up the dirt
and heading right for them. The specially designed behemoths caused large
mounds of dirt to shift around them. The road ahead was being transformed
into a crater-filled obstacle course for the cars to literally drive down
into and maneuver precariously out of. Some drivers panicked. Some did
not know what to do. While others drove on. And as if that were not enough,
all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, a hail of bullets showered
forcefully down all around them.
- Just like experienced, occupied Palestinians, they all
got out of their cars and flung themselves, face down, into the dirt and
hoped that the barrage of bullets assaulting the ground around them would
somehow miraculously miss them. Time seemed to stand still.
- My friend watched a man beside her take a bullet to what
appeared to be his arm. In the frenzy of the moment, he did not seem to
notice that he was injured and laying in a quickly deepening pool of his
own blood. The volley of bullets kept coming.
- Amidst the burst of gunfire, my friend looked up from
the hot dust. She noticed the bleeding man still laying beside her. And
she also noticed that the sun was beginning to set, reddening the earth
around them. All she could do was hope that this was not her end. It was
not her first time caught in the all too common experience under this brutal
occupation of skirting death by inches or moments. Daily, Palestinians
are faced with the reality of Israel's abusive military might. Daily, they
have bullets, Apache missiles or Merkava tank shells shower down around
them. This is the sordid, cruel reality of living under occupation, alone
and unsupported by the "civilized" world.
- As she continued with her story, her usually strong voice
quivered under the merciless, weight of oppression and feelings of helplessness
most Palestinians live with. "It starts to add up," she stated
matter-of-fact. And as she speaks she remembers a recent incident and adds,
"Just the other day, my father pulled a bullet out of the small white
plastic table under the grape vine - the same one you sat under eating
figs. It had melted the plastic around it."
- After what seemed like an eternity of laying in the sun,
parched and hoping her life was not going to end face down in the sand,
my friend described peering up from the gravelly sand once again, only
to find that the sun had hardly moved. "The sun was still setting!"
she exclaimed to me, "I never thought sunsets were so long" she
- When finally the shooting stopped and the soldiers allowed
the people back into their cars, they all scrambled into their vehicles,
shaken. The sunset was over and darkness had set in. My friend had not
even noticed when the sunset finally came to an end. But she did notice
that she felt ill. The thought that they served as pawns in some target
practice drill for the Israeli army's amusement, as no other reason could
justify what happened, was nauseating. After about 4 hours in the sun under
the hail of bullets, she was also severely dehydrated and psychologically
battered. She does not know how she mustered the strength to drive home
or how exactly she got home.
- The man who had been shot was eventually rolled down
an embankment toward the sea and picked up by a mule drawn cart. My friend
assumed he was taken to a hospital. As to whether he was fatally injured
or not, she could not tell me. It is probably for the best that she did
- Days later, my friend could hardly get out of her bed.
Her emotional pain, coupled with a mild case of sunstroke, left her entire
body feeling as though it were old and brittle. She had dodged the kiss
of death once more.
- While my friend ponders how many lives she has left,
Israel's state-sanctioned terrorism against an entire society continues
unabated. And while Israel's vice-like grip tightens on the Palestinians,
U.S. congressional members compete to appease our only "ally"
in the Middle East at any cost - human and civil rights abuses and all.
- What this piece captures is a secret the Israelis have
yet to fathom: The accumulating will of the Palestinian people to survive.
- Daily Israeli tanks and planes attack. Daily Israeli
IDF forces intimidate. Daily members of the Mossad and its infrastructure
assassinate. Daily Israel's giant bulldozers, supplied by an American company,
as are many other weapons used by the Israelis, destroy more homes, orchards,
roads, and ancient structures.
- But what all of this encourages is a cold, increasingly
detached Palestinian realism. To get to the other side, one must survive
this eon of chaos.
- At one level, immediate anger is generated and it fights
back, now, with rockets, body bombs, and even sticks and stones. Those
are the reactors. They keep the Israelis off balance, but make unremitting
trouble for the Palestinian people.
- But at another level the cooler heads think of ways Palestinian
society can survive, until this passes. Those are the reflectors. They
have developed incredible coping skills, and these are the people the Israelis
cannot defeat. That is because, in a way that probably only God understands,
as humans the Israeli hardliners are not equal to them.
- Rana El-Khatib is an author living in Phoenix, Arizona.
She is the author of the collection of political poetry, BRANDED: The Poetry
of a So-Called "Terrorist", which, can be found at www.amazon.com.
A portion of the book's sale proceeds goes toward the non-profit organization
Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF). The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org