FARMING WITH AN ARMY ON YOUR BACK

Hmada sent this story on the 1st May. We’re coming to the end of Ramadan and ordinary life carries on. Ordinary life is itself an act of resistance. At the same time in another part of occupied Palestine, in Jerusalem, Israeli tactics differ, as courts and police and mobs put huge pressure on four families of Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood to quit, but large numbers of peaceful protestors resist.

In other news, Islam has admitted exaggerating a claim for the cost of her son’s eye operation and has apologized. So, if warily, I’ve accepted her apology. She needed to clear some debts she said I I believe her. Life is tough for so many.

In April I attended a fascinating webinar with Gaza artist Mahamed Al Hawajiri who showed his paintings and sculptures. They’re brilliant, funny, both political and vibrantly colourful. He’s also successful and ships his works out to Paris art markets! How surreal. It shows something of the potential of this great nation and place if only the Israeli stranglehold was lifted. He’s on facebook and well worth looking up. Ed

Bulldozers ‘clearing’ away crops well beyond their self-proclaimed 100 metre zone to the Israeli border on Gaza’s east side. Hmada’s picture.

Hmada S Abo Rada Farmers on the borders of the Gaza Strip suffer from the continuous incursion of military bulldozers of the Israeli occupation army.

Either they sweep the lands planted with vegetables and simple seasonal plants that they feed their families with and sell in the Palestinian markets, or they shoot and attack farmers, or throw bombs and tear gas or other chemicals harmful to plants and crops.

The most recent encroachment was the massive and deliberate levelling of the lands of the border area, cutting off the livelihood of once-affluent families. Those lands had witnessed many violations in years past and had only been put back into use recently with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross which worked to provide irrigation pipes, greenhouse repairs, composting, and more.

Today anew tragedy has struck. Farmer Ismail Abu Taima , his father and his two brothers woke up to a calamity. Instead of getting up as usual after dawn to take care of their lands and its cultivation, land that is the lifeline for the family, which supports them all, even university studies for some children, they go and pick up the bits and pieces that are left of their land.

Abu Taima said to me “20 dunums of land had been bulldozed less than a month ago before we replanted it again, and today we’re shocked that the occupation army has bulldozed them again! The leaflets dropped by the occupation drones informed us of the bulldozing order stating that “agricultural crops that are less than 100 meters from the security wall will be swept away” . But our family lands are about 150 meters away, meaning that they are not within the remit of the order”

But the occupier does not know the meaning of any treaty, rights or decision, and knows no mercy, so nothing has prevented him from depriving farmers of their livelihood.

What is the security threat that the occupation army fears from those agricultural lands in which only simple seasonal crops are allowed to grow, vegetables that lie on the ground, where it is forbidden to plant trees under the pretext of they might hide terrorists whilst occupation forces’ reconnaissance flights never leave the Gaza Strip’s airspace?

Adham Al-Bassiouni, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that “the border strip alone represents 25% of the national production in that region. It is a large part of the food basket, and also constitutes a large part of the Palestinian economy. The occupier continues his attacks on farmers in the eastern Gaza Strip. These assaults vary between direct attacks on farmers and sometimes flooding the lands with regular and wastewater water, and sometimes by spraying them with pesticides that are harmful to crops”.

Farms in the Gaza Strip border area contains the most fertile types of soil of the whole Strip, its freshest water, and the richest of various agricultural crops, which makes it a constant target for the fires and bulldozers of the Israeli occupation forces that seek to besiege the citizens of the Gaza Strip in every possible way, indifferent that these lands are the livelihood of thousands of ordinary citizens, peaceful people who are just waiting for the harvest of their crops in order to satisfy the hunger of their children and some of their simple and natural needs of clothing, food and education.

Although the Red Cross was the one who helped these farmers to resume their work on their border lands and kept it informed of the Israeli violations of the territory of the Strip and its many appeals to protect farmers, this did not prevent the occupation from continuing to attack farmers and their crops.

Amira Shaath, a specialist in international law, emphasized the strength of the case for the legal status of farmers going about their daily business and the need to take urgent measures against Israeli practices in international courts. International law has guaranteed every human being the right to work in order to provide livelihoods with a decent life and provide supplies.

GROWING ROSES in KHAN YUNIS

By Hmada S Abo Rada This is a success story of a couple from Gaza, in the south of the Gaza Strip, from Khan Yunis, who run their own nursery called “Mashtal”

Palestinian women have always played an important, pioneering role in the life of the besieged Gaza Strip. We are witnessing many honourable stories of girls and women revolutionizing the difficult economic situation, inventing projects to support their families in the light of widespread unemployment, and others who stood with their husbands and participated in work to support them.

In bearing the burdens of life citizen Hanin Abu Salah, one of many women who have proven their worth, helped her husband Ramy in their own agricultural nursery in Khuza’a containing roses and various other seedlings. Abu Salah says: “I used to help my husband in many works related to caring for seedlings, planting and watering them, until I mastered this work and started doing it myself.” . Abu Salah explained that she and her husband grow many types of roses and flowers in addition to many seasonal and citrus trees, as well as many fruit and ornamental trees.

In turn, Ramy said: “The nursery was established after the 2014 war. There’s just our family working in this nursery.” He goes out to the market every day to sell what he grows from seedlings, while Hanin works in the nursery and takes care of the seedlings and tracks them. She has learned to grow the seedlings, and he now greatly depends on her caring for them during his absence from the nursery. He stresses that she has excellent experience in knows all the different names of the seedlings.

On the challenges facing their work in the nursery, Ramy Al-Buraim explained that the unavailability of an abundant and continuous water supply is the biggest problem they face, but he indicated that this work brings them good income that helps them pay for what the family needs.

About two million citizens have suffered from difficult economic conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip for nearly 14 years. Official statistics indicate an increase in unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip to 50%. That’s about a quarter of a million unemployed, and amongst youth and graduates it reaches 72%.

March in Gaza, a suspected scam, and a taste of freedom.

The entry below was sent by Hmada S Abo Rada on 6/3/21. He interviewed a woman traveller who gave him this detailed account of what it’s like to cross into Egypt. Meanwhile here’s some other news. There are quite a few requests for funds. If you feel moved to contribute, send to my Gaza Bank account which is Cooperative Bank. Mr David Mowat sort code 08-90-66 account number 08446776. I’m trying to be more a friend and activist for the rights and freedom of Gaza, than a philanthropist, but inevitably compassion has a practical face as well.

Khaled’s eye injury UPDATE 11/3/21

Islam’s son Khaled suffered an eye injury in mid February whilst playing I think, and allegedly faces an operation to re-attach the retina in his eye at St John’s Eye Hospital which has a branch in Gaza. The letter and bill she showed me is hefty. I paid a down-payment confirming the operation. However, I was suspicious and got in touch with the Eye Hospital’s fundraisers in the UK partly also to try to find ways to make it work for Khaled quickly. The hospital must have their own funds as well I reasoned. Between my lack of Arabic, her lack of English and the strange grammar of google translator, communication is tricky. Luckily my Palestinian friends assisted with the research. Unfortunately there is no record of Khaled as a patient and other details are wrong in the letter. So I conclude it’s a fake and I and others who have given are being defrauded. Apparently this kind of scam is common.

Now I may be wrong, and Islam and Khaled may be in a fix, but I have to make a judgement call, and I’m ending my relationship with her. I wish Khaled a successful operation if it’s genuine. St John’s Eye Hospital is a venerable and reputable institution with its main branch in Jerusalem, of course inaccessible to Gazans this last 13 years due to the Israeli-imposed siege. Islam sent me this photo of the would-be operation or post operation room 9th March. Many Brits are aware of the value of having an NHS and we’re having to fight for it. Under the Palestinian Authority health care is patchy with a, to my mind, demeaning charity model largely run by international donors who operate in an unresolved political context. It’s weird having a state of the art medical service only for those who find money whilst children play in dangerous and dirty edge-of-urban rubbly conditions. The middle classes take out private insurance. Islam, a single parent without the kinship structure that traditionally gives social protection, is too poor to buy health care insurance. And feels she has to resort to a scam letter, it seems to me.

Samiha Mohamed is not going to re-start her front-room business selling cloth for village neighbours so they can make their own clothes. Readers of this blog and facebook raised money last July and August to help her buy stock, before Gaza went into lockdown. But since lockdown was lifted, there is no demand as people are so poor they just buy basic food items she tells me. So she wants to do something else, invest in a poly tunnel (like the one above) for growing tomatoes. She says they cost $1000 and she has raised $300 so far and requests funds for the rest.

Aseel Juber is a young enthusiastic skilled woman part of a company embroidering designs on clothes for export. I plan to buy 2 T shirts off her https://teechip.com/Palestinianembrodery . One of her facebook posts a while ago featured a short film about Gaza archaeology. She just asks people to show solidarity by buying from this company (pic below).

Twinning between Bristol and Gaza?

I am hoping to start up a Bristol-Gaza twinning group based on my experiences so far. I know it’s not a new idea. The Britain and Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network is an excellent friendly place to start and I attended part of their zoom conference last Saturday. It struck me it was full of early retired Brits, fresh out of the constraints of employment and raising kids, itching to express their love for justice for Palestine in many ways. If anyone from Bristol wants to join me in this venture, in which I shift from my somewhat individual witness to a more collective one, then please get in touch.

Travelling from Gaza to Egypt by Hmada S Abu Rada Note how demeaning it is to be a Palestinian without full international recognition. Israel is the worst culprit but many governments, beholden to USA’s financial and military clout follow suit. Though, be thankful for small mercies I suppose.

The reopening of the Rafah border crossing in the Gaza Strip on Feb 9th until further notice is a good sign. The opening of the Rafah crossing comes after nearly a year of intermittent operation, and exceptionally only for several days since the start of the pandemic. The Palestinian embassy in Cairo welcomed the fees to open the crossing as a result of the talks between the Palestinian and Egyptian leaderships to facilitate the travel and return of Palestinian citizens to and from the Gaza Strip.

What happens at the Rafah Crossing

Citizens wishing to travel head to register their names in Abu Khadra Hall, in Gaza. After that, the citizen heads to the crossing at six in the morning. Citizens enter the crossing first on the Palestinian side by car or bus. Then the passengers are seated in the waiting hall. Each person is called to check his passport, the country he wants to go to, and whether he has an entry permit such as foreign nationality, treatment or study permit. The passport is stamped on the Palestinian side. From there Palestinian buses transport passengers to the Egyptian terminal, which is about 500 meters away from the Palestinian terminal, then the Egyptian gate is opened to travellers. Passengers sit in the Egyptian waiting hall to hear their names until the passport is stamped and everything is correct . Upon signing the passport, money is paid for the stamps or the permit, which is approximately 300 Egyptian pounds equivalent to $ 20 . The bags were placed on a walk or on a cart, and the amount of this car was paid about $ 20 .. You walk on the foot to the big gate, which is the gate that you can exit from the Egyptian hall and enter the state of Egypt. Passengers were taken in a car or bus to go to Cairo International Airport. The price of this car or bus is 400 EGP, or about $ 25.

Checkpoint suffering

There’s a proliferation of security barriers erected by the Egyptian army, about 20 to get through before arriving at the airport. Passengers are thoroughly searched through these Egyptian checkpoints by the army . Waiting for long hours delays their arrival at Cairo airport or vice versa, according to the accounts of the travellers who informed me of their suffering . The Raysa checkpoint is one of the most dangerous barriers in inspection and checking, and travellers stand for more than 4 hours many told me. The distance between the Rafah crossing and Cairo International Airport is approximately 450 kilometres, which under normal conditions takes 6 hours. But with these checkpoints and strict security measures, the travel process takes 24 hours .. a whole day.

Winter in Gaza 2021

Now in February, I’ve assembled a short collection of statements from some of the people we support and communicate about through this blog. This past two months my friends have told me there’ve been missile strikes from Israel, the lift of lockdown, an opening recently of the crossing from Rafah to Egypt, the first time in 7 years (it could well close again any time), very heavy winter rains and even snow.

Several people they knew and even my friends themselves fell ill with the corona virus but have recovered. Islam as you can see is pretty unhappy. Only Hmada, a cool young man and keen photographer who likes to hang out by the harbour and in the fields seems fairly chilled. He points out that rains which are hell for tin shacks that flood are a boon for peas.

Power cuts are as bad as ever. As if things weren’t bad enough, Samiha sent in phone footage of giant Israeli bulldozers clearing topsoil from fields presumably in the Israeli-declared ‘buffer zone’ in front of their border, whilst a Palestinian farmer takes advantage of the winter rains to plough and sow with his horse-drawn plough in the next field, trying to ignore the mayhem of Occupation.

Reem is delighted her boy Emad had his operation and sends me prayers of thanksgiving daily. I had a halting chat with her husband who expressed his thanks in English, whilst the sounds of a muezzin and sparrow chirpings competed in the background. It brought me instantly back to Palestine. Ed

“My name is Islam Ahmed Raida, and I’m living in extreme conditions. I have three children. Two are learning at school and the little one is in kindergarten where fees are $100 a month. I live in a rented house, simple and small, which is very hot summer because of its tin roof and very cold in winter. We’re in a border area close to the occupying power Israel. It’s a marginalized area that doesn’t receive proper services like electricity or water and no one is responsible for the housing which we built ourselves. The children’s father’s family is also in a bad situation and cannot help me. My brother is walking but lame with a lifeless foot because of the Israeli occupation [presumably an injury caused by Israeli soldiers].

Our children are always nervous of sudden bad situations, which has led to a low of educational level. I fear for their failure in the future. They wet themselves constantly at night and the tension makes them bite their their nails. My children play football in parking lots and take picnics like children do everywhere in the world. We cannot go to the leisure centre because the place is far from our house and we don’t have enough money.

The closet of the house is a hole in the ground, so we ask a lot to use the neighbours’ facilities. There are frequent power cuts and a lack of goodwill between neighbours. Diseases are spread in my areas due to water pollution. I just wish our children could live safely as do other children of the world.”

Reem Al Najjar Feb 6th

Dar Eas Salaam Hospital where Reem’s son Emad was treated. I’s dedicated to the poorer residents of Khan Yunis, who pay nothing or little, the funds being raised from outside donors. It has several clinics and state of the art facilities. Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) are based here from time to time.

“I have been cut off a lot from Facebook due to the lack of Internet access. My son Imad had an operation two weeks ago [funded by supporters of this blog, to put a platinum plate in his broken foot] and he is now in good condition and needs care due to the winter season. Here there is heavy rain and it entered the house from the roof. We live in a cooler season now. Thank God for whatever comes. My children did not sleep at night for fear of the sound of the rain. [Reem sent an audio clip of its thunderous sound on the tin roof].

Hmada S Abo Raida Feb 2nd. “They go out to their farms early in the morning and grow tomatoes, potatoes, spinach and peas. Tomatoes are grown in greenhouses in order to quickly maintain heat and freshness. The farmer irrigates with water through plastic tubes, while potatoes are grown in sandy soil such as sea sand. Spinach farmers grow spinach on their land and water it with water through plastic tubes. Spinach is the best kind of product because after being picked they grow again . Peas are only grown in the winter up to March 12th, and farmers do not water them through water pipes, but let the rain do its work that produces a beautiful result that tastes the best .”

Tunisia man discovers Palestine origins 30 years after his adoption

Ed: Wafa sent me a draft of this story last December. I helped a little with the English. It was published Dec 30th in the Middle East Monitor. Wafa is a founder member of the October 16th Group of young journalists in Gaza which brings news of Palestine to westerners. You can see their page here https://www.facebook.com/16th.Oct.Group/

Wafa Al Udaini ‘In 2005, not long after the death of his mother in Tunisia, Ayman knelt down next to her bed surrounded by her possessions and noticed a piece of paper on top of a box of unsorted items. It read: “According to the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO] in the Syrian Arab Republic, – Damascus office, – the child Ayman Abd Al-Rahman Al-Derawi son of Aisha, born in Beirut, Lebanon, on 11-6-1982, and his parents are among the martyrs who were killed during the Zionist invasion of Lebanon.”

With mixed emotions, Ayman rushed to his father for answers, but his line of questioning alarmed his dad who was surprised that his son had discovered that he had, indeed, been adopted. Seeing the upset on his father’s face, Ayman vowed not to dig up the past as long his father was alive.

In 2016, four years after his father’s death, Ayman left Tunisia for Lebanon in search of his relatives.

Ayman Bin Hadi, born Al-Derawi, is now 38 years old. He was raised by his Tunisian parents – Abdel Qader Bin Hadi and Samira Bin Abd Al-Salam – almost since birth after his Palestinian refugee parents were killed during the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut in 1982.

Ayman Bin Hadi, born Al-Derawi

Once in Lebanon, he visited the mass graves where his parents are buried, and for the first time, he spoke to his birth mum and dad. Standing there, he told them that his adoptive parents were very kind-hearted and generous and never allowed him to scope to question whether he was their son, but now he wished he had met and spoken to them, his biological mum and dad.

During his visit to Lebanon, Ayman was able to track down relatives who explained he survived the massacre because his mother had hidden him in a container, where he was found by a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) who took him along with other orphaned children to Syria. According to documents, he stayed there only three months before he was adopted and taken to Sousse in Tunisia.

He also discovered he had a half-sister, from his father, living in Gaza where his father had previously lived, been married, and had a child before moving to Lebanon. Due to Israel’s siege on Gaza, Ayman had no way of meeting his 50-year-old Huda who lives in Nuseirat refugee camp with her nine children.

The pair hope to carry out DNA tests to confirm their blood relations.

“I have always felt so passionate about the Palestinian cause and nostalgic about the Palestinian people,” Ayman tells me, “but I have never expected or even thought that I am Palestinian.”

“When I discovered my Palestinian origins and especially that my roots were from the Gaza Strip, I was overwhelmed with pride and a feeling of steadfastness,” he adds.

Ayman recently received his Palestinian passport from the Palestinian Embassy in Tunisia after contacting the Palestinian Authority (PA) office in Ramallah. “I’ve achieved one of my goals but I still know nothing about the family of my slain mother nor have I manage to meet my only sister in Gaza.”

“The massacre ended and we are paying the price while the enemy is still free and acts above the law.”.

Subah the fisherman facing down danger.

Hmada S Abu Raida, 15/11/20

‘”Safe agriculture” is defined as environmentally responsible, economically robust and socially favourable agricultural practices. The recommendations and available knowledge are applied to the on-farm production processes as well as post-production (harvest) in a sustainable manner, leading to access to safe and healthy food products’. [Teller Report 22/2/20]

Subuh, along with 150 farmers and livestock breeders in the Gaza Strip, joined the “Safe Agricultural Practices System” project, which started three years ago, and its results have been practically evident this year, whether at the level of supervisors or financiers, as well as at the level of farmers. The local international partnership between the Islamic Aid France-Gaza office as a financier, and Al-Azhar University in Gaza, which is based on the project, was able to reap important and accelerated results in the field of safe agricultural production, to ensure food safety and security, consumer protection and environmental preservation.

Fishing has become the most dangerous profession of Gaza City, in which the worker is insulted by the Israeli occupation forces, who do not care about the fisherman who leaves his family daily for his work.

The Israeli naval forces have mastered the harsh practices they implement against fishermen, including the closure and imposition of the sea cordon, attacking them suddenly at sea, arresting and assaulting them with beatings and insults, deliberate shooting them at sea, damaging or withdrawing fishing nets, detaining, interrogating and intimidating them, confiscating their boats and their luggage.

The Israeli navy chases them at sea, preventing them from carrying out their work, forcing them to leave the fishing grounds rich in fish to other places, reducing the fishing area that they are allowed to move in, and manipulating this area between ebbs and flows.

This crime does not end with these unfair practices but continues with the policy of detaining boats that were confiscated after the naval forces seized them and damaged them, and the process of detaining them continues for nearly three years or less until they return them to their owners. As the Israeli Public Prosecution announced last May The High Court of Justice decided to return 65 Palestinian fishing boats to the Gaza Strip based on a petition submitted by Palestinian human rights organizations, including Adalah and Al-Mezan for Human Rights.

Once the boat is returned, the fisherman begins the repair process, which requires a large sum of money that he cannot save, given the financial return he receives monthly, as the average income of the fisherman is 500 shekels ($ 130) per month.

Islam Khaled Abu Raida’s situation Oct 11th 2020

“Gaza, the beloved city knows no joy. It’s a sad and patient city that suffers and ends up as a Corona- ghost.

I am Islam Khaled Abu Raida from Gaza. I am separated from my husband. I have a diploma in Business Administration. I live in a village close to the Israeli border called Khaza’a in the Khan Yunis area. It’s one of the areas most affected by the Israeli occupation. Unemployment is widespread; only a few are working. Our area is filled with the poor and with orphans because of the multiplicity of wars we have suffered.

The water that reaches my area is polluted, which leads to the spread of diseases amongst many children. Some children suffer from malnutrition due to the lack of healthy and suitable food for them. Children sleep and wake up frightened by the constant Israeli bombardment and the nearby and disturbing sound of bulldozers. The majority lament a decline in academic achievement. Children suffer from bedwetting due to constant fear.

The situation here in Gaza is very difficult. The virus is spreading everywhere; we’re very scared. I want to buy some sterilizers for my children, as well as food and drink. The water here is very polluted. Here everything is closed. There are no shops open when I need them.

Movement is strictly prohibited. There’s curfew in all places. We always need to replace sterile dressings for my son, the patient. Food products are becoming more expensive. We need to buy clean drinking water, buy sterilizers [sterile wipes sprays creams, as well as dressings for her son’s wound I think] and cleaning tools, to prevent the virus and protect our children. They have high temperature. The electric power is not continuing well. Our children fear the virus.

The pictures are around the lane that I live in. The polluted areas are very close, and they cause my children to fall sick again and again with germs stomach pain flu or fever as they contain contaminated water.  Our neighbour grows zucchini in plastic baths.

Sometimes there is clean drinking water available but I can’t afford it. I cook food for my kids on a wood fire because there is no gas left.

My son needs surgery. The owner of the house I rent bothers me every day, threatening to evict me. My children are afraid and always cry for fear of ending up in the street.”

Reem al Najjar

 “My name is Reem and my children are Khaled, aged 10, Emad aged 8 and I have a little daughter, Dania. My husband is Mohammed.

On the day of the Nakba originally my family came from Jaffa. Now we live in Khan Yunnis “.

[DM writes] Reem shows me round her house in pictures and video. Pink flipflops lie casually outside the door of a single story breeze block house, hastily rendered with grey cement.  There are two small glass-less windows with bars at head height. A flat corrugated iron roof is attached to intermittent blocks, allowing plenty of air circulation. Wikipedia says the temperature averages 10C in winter.

            “I’m ashamed to tell I need help” writes Reem [winter 2019-20]. “In the winter we need food blankets and nylon to put in the house”. 

In her images, her family are conspicuous by their absence. In the yard is an open stone fire place with cold cinders; there’s a trestle table with washing up racks and bowls above it. Next to it is a free- standing tap and a small fig tree.

We enter the kitchen, where a wonky 4 ring cooker is propped up above a bare earthen floor, attached to a big blue gas bottle. Mettle racks lined with clear plastic hold plastic food containers, food blenders, a pink washing up bowl, a frying pan and a large round stainless steel tray. Also propped off the floor-I imagine it floods in winter- is a giant saucepan and two large blue covered plastic barrels, perhaps for flour and rice. On top are rolling pins and upside down wooden stools.  It’s all kept as tidy as can be.

Not quite knowing what Reem wants me to say I compliment her on the house. She retorts

“Do you want to help us? I do not want a house.  I want to heal my husband from his illness and to perform the surgery. I hope you stand by me dear brother.”

In a room next door Mohammed spreads back the top of his t shirt to reveal a raw-looking scar just below his neck. The camera, perhaps at his request, catches his fingers but ignores his face. 

“My husband is in need of an operation and there is no money for the operation and unfortunately the situation is very difficult. Please help me with even a small amount of money”

writes Reem.  A couple of times Reem has rung me, a friend in the background seems to encourage her. With my non-Arabic and her halting English we find it hard to understand each other. Her voice sounds young and vivacious and she laughs a lot. I reassure her that I will tell her story, and don’t promise financial help.

Recently Reem has written

 “I live near the border. There is shelling of Gaza. I am not safe and am scared for my children and my husband“

Reem sent a picture in October 2019 of her daughter in jeans, looking grey, eyes downcast, with a drip in her arm and two pig tails in her hair tied with fluffy pink ribbons.  Reem writes

 “My daughter is sick and in need of urgent treatment and there is no money with me to buy her medicine. This photo is taken in the hospital . Please help me if you can”.

Her family are descended from Nakba refugees, from Salamah village near Jaffa, kicked out by Zionist forces 25th April 1948. [Reem didn’t tell me her source but some info is here https://www.palestineremembered.com/Jaffa/Salama/] Reem sends me a history book extract. It was a village with fields of citruses, irrigated orchards, grains and olives. It was destroyed leaving a mosque cafes and some houses, in a terrible state apart from ones occupied by Jewish Israeli families. Now the area is part of a Tel Aviv suburb. In the British mandate period we know there was a soccer team, several cafes and a new transport company. There were a few Christians (60) but most were Muslims, from a few clans. There was trade with the Zionist colonies, farmers selling fruit. Milk was sold in Jaffa. There were about 6,000 villagers then. Today these refugees have over 50,000 descendants. Being surrounded by Jewish colonies, the village was attacked continuously since the declaration of the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Attackers were repulsed repeatedly but in the end as the Brits withdrew, they succumbed. Her family settling in Gaza, Reem, a descendent, ended up in Khan Yunis.

One piece of good news in 2020 was the academic success of Khaled and Emad.

She asked me for help in August 2019, for food and medicines, but her most pressing concern was her husband’s health. He’d had an upper chest injury that had healed badly and the scarring tissues was painful and itchy, making it impossible to get back to work and needing expensive ointments to treat it. She identified a specialist operation to repair the scar tissue that was way beyond her means and, through a friend’s generosity, I paid for it.

Reem sent me daily updates of the pandemic as it took hold during September 2020. A relative died of c19 a month ago. There is strict curfew, with 1 hour per household allowed for one member to get food in per day.

After a year of requesting a story, Reem sent me this, slightly tidied up by a friend.

The death of my father (see pic)

“My story must reach the whole world for everyone must know how the Israeli occupation kills those who were once safe in their homes and who themselves have never sinned.

On Wednesday, 23rd July 2014, my civilian family – my father, my mother, my little brother, my older brother and his wife, and my sister with her children and her husband – were all safe in their home. They were given no prior warning to what was to happen next. They had nothing to defend themselves with. They heard the sound of a whistle shaking the house – it was the Zionist occupation warplanes. A missile tore my family apart and my father died instantly. Others were injured. This is the reality of an arrogant occupation against innocent citizens.

I received the news of my father’s death as I listened to the general news on my television to reassure myself about what was happening in our country:

“Urgent martyrdom of the citizen Ismail Abu Zarifa, and the wounding of everyone in the house by a missile by the Israeli occupation planes”

Can you imagine that?

I was shocked and passed out. I walked to the hospital, panting and crying – I did not believe what was happening. I did not understand how my compassionate father, so tender and kind, who treated me with love, kindness and respect – of whom I had a very great relationship with and yet I would not be able to meet again – How could he die? It was not clear, nothing was clear. I could not see him because his head was separated from his body. It was so painful.

My middle brother had asked the paramedic, ‘Who is this Martyr?’ He replied ‘Ismail Abu Zerifa’. With cries of shock and grief he exclaimed “Oh my father’ and fell to the ground. His mother and sons fell too.

People always ask about our father. When they receive the news of our father’s sad and terrible martyrdom, I feel such sadness. This is the reality of the occupation. My family and I still suffer from this unforgettable incident and I will not forget it as long as I am alive. This incident is present in all our memories and our tired body because of the injury of this trauma. It will always remain for the conditions we live in so far – being under siege, of poverty, hunger, injustice and intimidation of our faith.

The wound is still bleeding so far from this dangerous incident.”

This early October Reem was very preoccupied by the illness of her 2 boys. She’s sent pictures of them on a drip feed.  They had ‘severe and acute intestinal cattarh’ caused, Reem speculates, by the ‘lack of a clean living environment’. They need daily treatment for a week. On October 17th they were discharged, feeling much better. Reem talked about her hopes:

“What makes me laugh and introduces happiness to my heart is the end of my suffering that I live, and that I live in a house befitting humanity and preserves my family. This is what brings happiness to my heart.”

EDITOR’s NOTE What causes the chronic illness for these and many other children in Gaza? Water pollution is one likely source but also this quote may shed light on the issue: ‘Ahmed Abu Shaban, director of the “Safe Agriculture” project, associate professor of agricultural economics at the Faculty of Agriculture at Al-Azhar University, said: The problem of agriculture in the Gaza Strip lies in the extensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers without supervision, which caused many diseases, including serious ones, according to research.’ [https://www.tellerreport.com/news/2020-02-22—for-the-first-time—–%22safe-agriculture%22-products-on-store-shelves-in-gaza-.BJzJL2sAmL.html]