Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hell and Hope in Gaza

Mona and I had a busy day together in Gaza. Last night, she took me to Anonymous Soldier Square in central Gaza City. There is a protest tent there with people speaking out against the internal violence and calling for a united movement in Palestine. There are about 15 people fasting at the tent and people coming and going all day to show their support.

Then this morning we drove by the apartment that was home to the three boys killed by gunmen in December. They were 3, 6 and 9. Their photos were pasted on the walls in the entryway. It was hard for me to look at their smiling faces so I can't imagine what it must be like for their family and friends.

We made our way through Gaza City to Jabalia Refugee Camp which is home to over 100,000 Palestinian refugees. The population density in Jabalia makes Manhattan look positively spacious. We visited with staff and volunteers at Al-Assria Center which runs art, dance, drama, music, media, and educational programs for children and youth from Jabalia. They have really carved out a space for creativity in the camp and have developed some amazing young leaders that now run many of their programs. The center was mostly empty because students are having mid-term exams right now but I saw some of their artwork on the walls and heard from them about some new program ideas for the center.

The strangulation of Gaza as a whole has meant they cannot get the technology they need for their youth media project so we dropped off a video camera that I brought in from the U.S. Their young people have created a few beatiful pieces already of a Ghassan Kanafani play and a documentary called Yom fe Jabalia (A Day in Jabalia). I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the new camera.

We drove by Karni Crossing (the commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel) today and it was the first time I've been to that area. The road that runs along the eastern edge of Gaza has been ripped up in many places by Israeli tanks so it was a bumpy ride. Most of the areas we drove through were flattened, no more orchards, vineyards, or homes. The few buildings that were still standing were pockmarked from bullets and tank shelling. Right now, Karni Crossing is only allowing 14 trucks a day into Gaza instead of the pre-sanction 300 trucks. Of course technology is absent when there are so few chances even for food, medical supplies, building materials, etc.

Then we visited New Horizons Center in Nuseirat Refugee Camp in central Gaza. They welcomed us with a song from their marching band which came as a real surprise to me. It seemed somehow out of place with no football team but they were very enthusiastic and happy so that's what counts. The center is getting ready for a 10 day winter camp with 100 youth that MECA is funding. I got to meet some of the leaders and participants who were planning the camp together and see their facilities. Though they've been around for eight years, we've only known about them and been working with them for a few months so it was good to see what Mona the work and the people that Mona has been telling me so much about.

Though Nuseirat is mostly a conservative community, the center has programs for boys and girls. They are community-based so can challenge some social norms without jeopordizing their relationships with families in the camp.

And now we are back at Mona's flat where the electricity was off for several hours. It's been nearly seven months since Israel bombed Gaza's only power plant and still the electricity is patchy at best. I know it gets said often, but people here are remarkably resilience. I'm sure I could not endure continuous violence, electricity outages, food shortages, and general isolation. But people continue to live and find ways to support and meet the needs of the young people, preparing them for the better future that they deserve.

In any case, we are going back to the tent now but I will download some photos from the day later and add them to the blog.

1 comment:

Deacon Jackson said...

Have you been able to meet with Laila or Fida?