Monday, February 27, 2006

Normality? It's just an illusion

"This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," said Condoleezza Rice, confidently speaking about a deal she helped broker, with much fanfare, between Israel and the Palestinians after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza last August, writes Laila El-Haddad.

Now, maybe, it's just me, but six months on I wouldn't say my life was "ordinary" by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think it's quite outside the entire realm of the ordinary.

Just ask my two-year-old son, Yousuf. He often mistakes Israeli helicopter gunships for birds, dances to the revolutionary songs blasted out during the political rallies that march past our house and has learned to distinguish between the Israeli tank shells that pound Gaza daily and the nightly machine-gun banter.

When not making our own yoghurt at home owing to shortages in the market, which is heavily dependent on Israeli-controlled crossings, we scavenge Gaza City to find him size-five Pampers because Israel has again closed down the only commercial crossing to Gaza in peak harvest, despite promises not to do so.

As one Palestinian woman, observing the new, democratically elected, Hamas-led
parliament convene last week, noted on being asked her thoughts about possible Israeli sanctions: "Our lives are incomprehensible."

I live in a territory that is neither a state, nor fully autonomous, nor even fully occupied, by military standards, with a parliament that has to convene via video conference. And I, along with the vast majority of Gazans, cannot even travel to the other, non-contiguous half of my non-state (even though the Golden Globes - but not necessarily the Oscars - appears to recognise it as an entity.

You see, I am barred by Israel from traveling to the West Bank, for "security reasons".

It might have something to do with Yousuf's chili incident. My son found an atomically, nauseatingly hot Gaza chili pepper lying around my kitchen counter, tore it open and, inevitably, rubbed his eyes, resulting
in an hour of agonising wails and a mild, subconjunctival haemorrhage.

I would later learn that chili - or capsicum extract, to be exact - is listed as a chemical weapon, right up there with mustard gas and nerve gas in a manual distributed to healthcare providers in Los Angeles.

So it is not difficult to see how I, a Harvard-educated Palestinian mother and journalist, can be considered a security threat by Israel.

But hey, we've always got Rafah crossing, right? I mean, the battle is done, after all, and we kind of won. And, to quote the flag from the Chairman Arafat Shop down the street, we now have a "free Gaza" and a "democratic Gaza".

Unfortunately, control over the crossing, as brokered by Condoleezza Rice after Ariel Sharon's much-lauded unilateral disengagement, like the end of Israel's occupation of Gaza, is completely fictitious.
My own friends and family can't even visit me here in my lonely little open-air prison.

Two US peace activist friends of mine, one a Harvard colleague (who would have thought they could graduate so many threats to security?) and two French aid workers were last week denied entry by Israel from entering Gaza via the supposedly Palestinian-controlled Rafah crossing, which is the only outlet to the outside world for 1.5 million Palestinians.

The reasons cited: "affiliations with groups that are considered terrorist groups". Pat helped Palestinian villagers plant olive trees and non-violently resist the encroachment of the Israeli wall on their land in the West Bank last
year. He was coming to Gaza to volunteer with a local agricultural NGO.

This is not to mention my own husband, who cannot visit me because, along with 50,000 other Palestinians, he lacks an Israeli-issued ID card and, as a refugee, cannot visit Gaza except perhaps under extenuating circumstances rendering him "a humanitarian case". Even then, there is always the chance that he may be denied. After all, his son handled a chemical weapon.

Ordinary? Hardly. As one senior Palestinian official put it to me: "It's all a masterful illusion."

Freelance journalist and blogger Laila El-Haddad lives in Gaza City. Laila's blog, Raising Yousuf, is named after her two-year-old son


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