The six of us, the WA/OR PSR health delegation, arrived in Gaza this afternoon. There are the details and there are the impressions.
One detail is that I am writing this in the very dimly lit hotel room--that is all the light there is (it's like candlelight--2 faint lightbulbs). Apparently the hotel has its own generator which is essential as most of Gaza has electricity only ~ 50% of the time. We overlook the Mediterranean Sea which presents interesting contrasts--the beautiful sea, its cool breeze, the familiar sound of the surf. Yet, the beach, like much of the Gaza streets is piled with trash, and out over the water, on the horizon is a row of lights. I am told they are Israeli surveillance boats--always present. It's quite disturbing. That Israel has the ability (which they exercise at will) to monitor and to attack at any moment is a fact of life here in Gaza. We were shown a building that was recently bombed (with "surgical precision") right in the middle of Gaza City, on a block of apartments, the street where children play. The "crime" for which this particular building was bombed, nobody knows. It's a way of life thing, they tell us.
Needless to say, we were all filled with a lot of excitement and strong desire to get to Gaza this morning. I had a lot of emotion as we herded our MANY heavy bags and ourselves onto the little bus that took us from Jerusalem to the Erez Crossing-- the only way into Gaza from Israel. You go from a nation that has obvious comforts, running water, espresso stands, intact buildings, landscaped areas, to a place that feels totally structurally the opposite. All in much less than 2 hours drive. Our driver, George, was a lovely Palestinian man with a reflective and sad look as he patiently answered all our questions about life in Palestine/Israel. There is so much grace and dignity in the matter-of fact way he deals with the long waits at the Bethlehem checkpoint which he must pass through numerous times on many days as he drives visiting groups. Imagine every time you go to and from work that you have to have your identity and whereabouts scrutinized by a soldier bearing a huge rifle over their shoulder. George's family was originally made refugees to East Jerusalem from north in Israel. EVERYBODY can tell you exactly where they or their parents or grandparents were driven away from. George often drives groups from Wi'Am-- http://www.alaslah.org/--the Palestine Conflict Resolution Center. Take a look at their website and the wonderful amazing work they do. The courtyard of Wi'Am where they meet with visiting groups looks right out onto the separation wall--it is their backdrop, their uninvited landscaping and reminder that if you are Palestinian, you do not leave Bethlehem to travel the few miles into Jerusalem unless you have permission to do so. It would be like, "No, you do not have an identity card, no going to Lloyd Center from SE Portland."
We had been delayed one day in entering Gaza as the border was closed due to a holiday in Israel. In a really small way this points to the fact, the constant reminder, of the 100% control that Israel exerts in every situation pertaining to Gaza and the West Bank. It is truly not a situation of 2 equal parties. There is NO WAY it is equal--not in military might and not in who has controls over every aspect of the structure of life. You can feel it in every moment. Rather, the situation is one where Israel, wielding all the brute power and has/uses that capability to torment, attack, marginalize and otherwise humiliate the Palestinians. It is truly hard to grasp the Palestinian experience--from the notion of denial of: the freedom to travel(checkpoints, sealed borders), to export your goods, to earn a livelihood, to have the guarantee of access to basic needs, to safety, clean water, electricity, to experiencing a sense of having some say in the future of your community, or to feel that you are recognized as an equal, cared about and autonomous people.
And yet, I am already seeing in some of today's images and experiences, that there is a certain kind of power and control that Israel really does not wield and can not claim to possess. It is the upper hand, if you will, of a proud determination for justice and an equal share of the land and resources that the Palestinians display. It is the incredible resilience we saw today in touring the "flovelo" of the land of the tunnels. If you cannot have access to cement and flour and medicines and the other things you need through your autonomous borders, well, you dig tunnels deep into the ground to get those things. What a dangerous but an amazing act of resistence and fortitude.
Here in Gaza, I am meeting kind, professional, committed, funny, warm people who are just like you and me. There is such a strong sense of purpose from our hosts--to provide the best health and mental health care, to get from us, trainings, materials, skills that they cannot get any other way as they are living their everyday lives (that could look like any of our ereryday lives) under such duress. They are so amazingly gracious and grateful towards us.
This afternoon was an overview with a drive through Gaza to see how it all is. We met one of the just released prisoners. A man who spent 26 years in Israeli prison. He talked of being committed to justice for his people. He was surrounded by friends and family--including his son, who was 8 months of age at the time this man was imprisoned, and is now a lawyer. There were some tears in his eyes as he told us of his imprisonment and he is just one of the people who thanked us for coming here and for paying attention to what the world seems to be largely ignoring--that the Palestinians are a people denied their rights and who want to just be allowed to live w/ justice and peace.
And, despite all the bombed buildings, the piles of untended trash on every corner and curb, the poverty, shortages, hours of darkness, not recalling ever being able to drink clean top water, I am asked to present at 8:30 AM tomorrow to nurses about Post-Partum Depression. Now if that's not incredible perseverence, I don't know what is.
My last point is that I cannot believe how totally different is the Palestinian narrative from the Israeli one. I know I have a bias, but I just can't say enough, how important it is to be able to see this total tragic mess through Palestinians' eyes. Of course, neither side is 100% right, but then again, the reality of life on the ground makes the Palestinians 100% "wrong." When you get up close, that is so totally not fair or correct.
Off now to make a powerpoint for the nurses.