At first glance you might think everyone is in a hurry - heads down, no eye contact as people move from place to place - but these are the gestures of angry people who have been coerced, neglected, and oppressed. Thick, unrelenting oppression touches every single aspect of life in Gaza, from the graffiti on the walls of the cities and towns to the unsmiling elderly, the unemployed young men crowding the streets, and the children - that December day, my own - seeking relief in play at the beach.
This is my Gaza: Israeli gunships on the horizon, helicopters overhead, the airless smugglers' tunnels into Egypt, UN relief trucks on the roadways, smashed buildings, and corroding infrastructure. There is never enough - not enough cooking oil, not enough fresh fruit or water. Never, ever enough. So easily do allegiances switch inside Gaza that it is sometimes hard to know who is in charge, whom to hold responsible: Israel, the international community, Fatah, Hamas, the gangs, the religious fundamentalists. Most blame the Israelis, the United States, history.
Gaza is a human time bomb in the process of imploding. All through 2008 there were warning signs that the world ignored. The election of Hamas in January 2006 increased the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, as did the sporadic firing of Qassam rockets into Israel and the sanctions imposed on Palestinians by the international community, as a result.
The rockets, homemade, most often missing their targets, spoke the language of desperation. They invited overreaction by the Israeli army and retaliatory rocket attacks from helicopter gunships that rained down death and destruction on Palestinians, often defenseless children. That in turn set the stage for more Qassam rockets - and the cycle kept repeating itself.
As a physician, I would describe this cycle of taunting and bullying as a form of self-destructive behavior that arises when a situation is viewed as hopeless. Everything is denied to us in Gaza. The response to each of our desires and needs is "No." No gas, no electricity, no exit visa. No to your children, no to life. Even the well-educated can't cope; there are more postgraduates and university graduates per capita here in Gaza than in most places on earth, but their socioeconomic life does not match their educational level because of poverty, closed borders, unemployment, and substandard housing. People cannot survive, cannot live a normal life, and as a result, extremism has been on the rise. It is human nature to seek revenge in the face of relentless suffering. You can't expect an unhealthy person to think logically. Almost everyone here has psychiatric problems of one type or another; everyone needs rehabilitation. But no help is available to ease the tension. This parasuicidal behavior - the launching of rockets and the suicide bombings - invites counterattacks by the Israelis and then revenge from the Gazans, which leads to an even more disproportionate response from the Israelis. And the vicious cycle continues. More than half of the people in Gaza are under the age of eighteen; that's a lot of angry, disenfranchised young people. Teachers report behavior problems in schools - conduct that demonstrates outward frustration and a sense of helplessness in the face of war and violence. Violence against women has escalated in the last ten years, as it always does during conflict. Unemployment and the related feelings of futility and hopelessness create a breed of people who are ready to take action because they feel like outcasts - like they have nothing to lose, and worse, nothing to save.
They are trying to get the attention of the people outside our closed borders: those who make decisions about who is welcome and who is not. Their rallying cry is "Look over here, the level of suffering in this place has to stop." But how can Gazans attract the attention of the international community? Even humanitarian aid organizations depend on permission from Israel to enter and leave the Gaza Strip. There is a blatant abuse of power by people given the title of border patrol officer and a uniform, but who may not even understand the implications beyond a simple list of rules dictated by ego-driven leaders. They are disconnected from the common ground with others who are fellow human beings.
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.
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