A Palestinian Sunset

By Rana El-Khatib
From Terry Arnold
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 breaks off.
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 not know.
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 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



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