When people ask me why I go to Gaza I usually joke that it's my vacation. Gaza is on the Mediterranean and someday I hope it will be beautiful, especially for the people who live there and have survived decades of hell on earth. But sometimes I feel like I really am on vacation.
Even in the worst circumstances there are moments when everything is quiet and you can close your eyes and hear the sea. I took a walk last Saturday with a friend. It was the first walk for me in Gaza. Ever. We went to the beach and collected sea shells. We even put our feet in the warm water.
On my last night in Gaza, we were driving home from dinner with friends. There was no electricity in most of the towns and neighborhoods we drove through so we had a beautiful view of the night sky. Looking up you could almost forget that you were in one of the most densely populated places in the world.
I know these brief moments are not available to everyone in Gaza and that they come easier to me since I'm only in Palestine for a visit. I know most people in Gaza (and in the West Bank) are too consumed with the safety of their children and families, figuring out where the next meal is coming from, and wondering what is next. But even in the midst of this, there are festivals, sports matches, and dark nights that let people take a deep breath. I think this is some of the most important work our partners are doing in Palestine - creating spaces for children and the local community to leave behind the burdens of daily life for a few minutes or a few hours.
Of course, the Israeli occupation is still there and drags people back to reality. When the Al-Assria organized a festival in Gaza City a few months ago, 600 people came to watch the debka dancing and celebrate Palestinian culture. But at the end, they all went back to homes without reliable electricity or clean water. When the Ibdaa basketball team won the West Bank championship last summer there were bus loads of fans from three generations. But then we traveled back from Ramallah through Israeli checkpoints, getting stopped for hours. And in the midst of a dark, tranquil night last week there was a loud boom from Israeli warplanes bombing a car.
Since I left Gaza on Tuesday morning, 30 people have been killed in Gaza. This is a huge number and it becomes even larger when you think about how small Gaza is. It's equivalent to 60 people being killed in Los Angeles or 165 in New York City. But more frightening than the numbers is how "normal" these almost daily killings have become for the international community and also for people in Palestine.