November 12, 2020
Only Palestinians live inside the Gaza Strip, a skinny stretch of flat coastal plain on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, sandwiched between Egypt and Israel. Gaza is only 25 miles long, and an average of four miles wide. Yet, 1.85 million Palestinians call it home.
It is densely populated. It is impoverished. It suffers from 44% unemployment. Electrical power is now down to four hours per day. It is on, then it is off, a daily reminder that the Israeli’s control the flow of diesel fuel into Gaza that powers the often-bombed electrical power plants.
In 2005, the Israeli government dismantled their settlements inside the Strip, marched its military out, and then built a wall around the Gaza Strip’s perimeter. The Israeli Defense Force soldiers shoot at anyone who dares to step inside the buffer zone, or who sails their boats more than three nautical miles from shore.
If a Palestinian happens to escape Gaza, the Israeli government may not let him or her return.
For example, last summer, a Palestinian named Nidel sold his coffee shop in Berlin, Germany, because he wanted to visit his family in Gaza. When he arrived at the border at Erez, the Israeli authorities refused to assure him that he could leave once he crossed the border and entered into Gaza.
Nidel would not take the risk. He gave up trying to see his family, and returned to Europe.
Unlike the Palestinians on the West Bank, those inside Gaza see no Israeli settlements atop the hills, see no soldiers, experience no daily humiliations at numerous checkpoints, but one author, Mario Di Cintio, who visited the Gaza Strip, said, “Gaza is less under an occupation, than under a siege.”
In more blunt terms, the Palestinian people say, “We live in a prison.” Most cannot leave.
“Gaza is a place where people measure time in terms of wars rather than in years.” There was a First Intifada 35 years ago, a Second Intifada 20 years ago, and then, in 2007, two Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Fatah, clashed in a bloody war over who would control Gaza.
Once Hamas won the war, its leaders declared war on Israel. Again and again, they have launched rockets and flaming balloons over the wall, across the border, to inflict death and injury upon the Israeli’s. As a result, the Israeli Defense Forces have launched attacks upon Hamas, deep into Gaza.
There was Operation Cast Lead in December of 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in November of 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in July of 2014. In this latter Operation, Israeli forces crushed 20,000 houses, killing 500 children, caught in the crossfire or buried under concrete rubble.
And now coronavirus has gained a foothold among this most crowded people.
And yet, for all the horrible news, people are people. Children are children. They adapt.
Abdel-Rahman Al-Shantti sings rap songs in a rapid-fire, flawless American form of English that has gained worldwide attention online. He sings, “Some things will never change. Some things will stay the same, but when it’s said and done, Palestine will still remain.” He is 11 years old.
Gaza children participate in the Tamer Institute for Community Education, a non-profit organization that citizens began in 1989, during the First Intifada. Tamer sponsors literacy programs, writing workshops, public art projects, storytelling events, and an annual reading campaign each April.
Another Tamer program, called “Baba Read to Me,” encourages “parents, especially fathers, to read to their children.”
In addition, Tamer asks children and youth to knock on doors to collect used books from their neighbors. Marcello Di Cintio says, “It is a sort of literary Halloween.” Tamer then sends the books to poorer neighborhoods to begin or augment a library.
The children also ask their adult neighbors if they have ever visited Jerusalem. If they have, they ask them to tell of their memories of the city. Di Cintio says, “The children write the stories down, so they can have a record of the city they love, but might never reach.”
Tamer also sponsors the “My First Book” program. One child writes a story. Another illustrates it. From the hundreds of stories received each year, judges select the 15 or so best stories, and publish them in an annual edition of “My First Book.”
Di Cintio says, “Taken together, the books offer a sort of child’s history of Palestine, as seen through the eyes of children.” They write of dinosaurs, lions, crocodiles, turtles, and olive trees.
“Sharouq writes of the day the sky over his village rained red mulberries.”
Di Cintio expresses some hope for Gaza’s next generation. He says, “songs, stories, art, and poems will bring more change than bullets, bombs, or politics. A people who read their stories and poems, who sing and dance their songs, cannot be defeated. They write themselves a continued existence.”