Excerpt of I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish
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Sand and Sky
It was as close to heaven and as far from hell as I could get
that day, an isolated stretch of beach just two and a half miles
from the misery of Gaza City, where waves roll up on the shore
as if to wash away yesterday and leave a fresh start for tomorrow.
We probably looked like any other family at the beach -
my two sons and six daughters, a few cousins and uncles and
aunts - the kids frolicking in the water, writing their names in
the sand, calling to each other over the onshore winds. But like
most things in the Middle East, this picture-perfect gathering
was not what it seemed. I'd brought the family to the beach to
find some peace in the middle of our grief. It was December 12,
2008, just twelve short weeks since my wife, Nadia, had died
from acute leukemia, leaving our eight children motherless, the
youngest of them, our son Abdullah, only six years old. She'd
been diagnosed and then died in only two weeks. Her death
left us shocked, dazed, and wobbling with the sudden loss of
the equilibrium she had always provided. I had to bring the
family together, away from the noise and chaos of Jabalia City,
where we lived, to find privacy for all of us to remember and to
strengthen the ties that bind us one to the other.
The day was cool, the December sky whitewashed by a pale
winter sun, the Mediterranean a pure azure blue. But even as I
watched these sons and daughters of mine playing in the surf,
looking like joyful children playing anywhere, I was apprehensive
about our future and the future of our region. And even I did not
imagine how our personal tragedy was about to multiply many
times over. People were grumbling about impending military
action. For several years, the Israelis had been bombing the smugglers'
tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, but recently the
attacks had become more frequent. Ever since the Israeli soldier
Gilad Shalit had been captured by a group of Islamic militants
in June 2006, a blockade had been put in place, presumably to
punish the Palestinian people as a whole for the actions of a few.
But now the blockade was even tighter, and the tunnels were the
only way most items got into the Gaza Strip. Every time they
had been bombed, they had been rebuilt, and then Israel would
bomb them again. Adding to the isolation, the three crossings
from Israel and Egypt into Gaza had been closed to the media
for six months, a sign that the Israelis didn't want anyone to know
what was going on. You could feel the tension in the air.
Most of the world has heard of the Gaza Strip. But few know
what it's like to live here, blockaded and impoverished, year after
year, decade after decade, watching while promises are broken
and opportunities are lost. According to the United Nations,
the Gaza Strip has the highest population density in the world.
The majority of its approximately 1.5 million residents are
Palestinian refugees, many of whom have been living in refugee
camps for decades; it is estimated that 80 percent are living in
poverty. Our schools are overcrowded, and there isn't enough
money to pave the roads or supply the hospitals.
The eight refugee camps and the cities - Gaza City and
Jabalia City - that make up Gaza are noisy, crowded, dirty. One
refugee camp, the Beach Camp in western Gaza City, houses
more than eighty-one thousand people in less than one half of
a square mile. But still, if you listen hard enough, even in the
camps you can hear the heartbeat of the Palestinian nation.
People should understand that Palestinians don't live for themselves
alone. They live for and support each other. What I do
for myself and my children, I also do for my brothers and sisters
and their children. My salary is for all of my family. We are a
The spirit of Gaza is in the cafes where narghile-smoking
patrons discuss the latest political news; it's in the crowded
alleyways where children play; in the markets where women
shop then rush back to their families; in the words of the old
men shuffling along the broken streets to meet their friends,
fingering their worry beads and regretting the losses of the past.
Excerpted from I Shall Not Hate
by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Copyright © 2011 by Izzeldin Abuelaish.
Excerpted by permission of Walker & Company. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.