Gaza: The coming tidal wave

One of my recurring nightmares is about a coming tidal wave. It’s my second least favorite recurring nightmare. My least favorite being the ones about the end of the world. In my tidal wave dreams, the scariest part is the waiting. I know it’s coming. I can see it and I know it will be bad but I also know i can’t run fast enough to get out of the way. Alternatively, I’m stuck and can’t move. Either way the dream sucks.

In Gaza City right now, people are getting ready. They can’t go anywhere either and they know something big is coming. Most people think Israel is going to invade, actually come into Gaza — the city itself — with tanks and street fighting, the whole deal. People are buying enough food for a month. All sorts of preparation is going on. A few days ago i saw two big warships in the water. They were pretty far away, but people here were really unsettled.

Yesterday they were joined by four smaller boats. Also yesterday I learned that in the first Intifada, boats like these shelled Gaza City. Last night, Husam, the guy who owns the Internet cafe I always come to said, “Go home and stay there. Buy food. Be careful, The Israelis are coming tonight.” I laughed, thinking he must be sort of teasing me. But he was totally serious. He said if not tonight, then the next day.

I asked what he meant by “coming”, what that would look like?

“Lots of blood.”

“Will there be tanks driving around in Rimal, like out on that street??”

“Yes, invasion. Maybe a week long, maybe two.”

Then a friend from Rafah called and said I should pack all my stuff and hightail it down to Rafah, becuase Rafah would be “safer”. When Rafah is a refuge, you know you’re in trouble.

So I did. I packed all my stuff, all the while feeling frantic and paralyzed just like I do in those dreams, knowing I couldnt make it. As I walked to the taxi station the moon was huge — full and low — which made me laugh a little, it was so cheesy like a movie, with all the drama. Then police car after police car went flying by with lights flashing. Everything coming together to increase my desire to flee.

I went to get a taxi but it was too late, Abu Holi checkpoint was closed already. Strangely enough I ended up eating ice cream with my friend, who himself is completely unworried. And we had one of our typical over-shisha (the sweet tabacco water pipe) conversations about his shoes and how he loves them and why.

So I went to work as normal today. A guy I know — we’ll call him Fred — took my busted zoom lens to get it fixed for me a couple of days ago and we went to pick it up today together. I asked him about what he thought might happen. He doesn’t speak a lot of English but I figured out that he said something like, “I’m ready”.

To help me understand, he threw open the glove compartment of his car. Sitting there was the biggest handgun I’ve ever seen. Then he showed me the gun he had on him, in the back of his pants. Still, he wasn’t done. This man, this man who had driven far three times for me and my silly zoom lens, this man who gave me a book on war crimes, this man with a wife working in the medical field and two little boys also has in his trunk, to the best of my translational understanding of boy explosion noises, a bomb and/or grenades and a machine gun, all the time, in his trunk.

He said something about never being first, he is only ready if someone was to hurt his family or come into his house. Driving toward Sheikh Radwan, an area where a lot of Hamas supporters live, with “Fred” and his freaking munitions vehicle, in a place where Apaches come out of the sky and bomb the shit out of anything, could have been one of the most unsettling things ive done.

Still, he wasnt done. He went on to explain that the night before, like almost every night before that, he was tooling around Gaza and didnt get home until 3:00AM. He is wanted for something, I dont know what, and he’s afraid of the jowasees (“collaborators”) telling the IDF where he is. He told me that he wasn’t afraid for himself, but for his wife and kids, so he stays away from the house. My vision went a little funny for a second.

Everything turned out fine, and before everyone freaks out — there are a lot of “wanted” people in Palestine. I’ve heard of people going to jail for years for painting grafitti here, for throwing stones. And I guess, becuase I know him, I mostly just felt bad that he and his family had to live like this — his wife and two kids only getting to see him a few hours a day. Him constantly feeling like any minute he could be killed.

On the way home i tried to get advice from Marwan. Should I leave, should I stay, should I try to leave Gaza altogether?

“Don’t worry,” he said, “before it was much worse. For example, the streets were covered with sand.”

I had no idea what that meant.

“We piled up sand in the streets so the tanks couldn’t get through.”

“Oh, you mean like they just did on the street up from mine?”

He didn’t have much to say after that.

Last night in Rafah, 50 tanks invaded the Yibna refugee camp. Fifteen homes were demolished. 160 people who had begun to believe the quiet of the hudna (“ceasefire”) could last forever were pretty quickly disabused of that notion. My friends were camped out in one home that wasn’t fully demolished, with only one wall bulldozed. They sat all day in a house with three walls. The demolished wall had protected the family, somewhat, from the tower that is next door. Now the family and my friends down there are waiting for their tidal wave.

I want to say that I know this sounds one-sided, because it is. I, of course, heard about the awful terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And I’m pretty sure you all did too. But I’m equally sure you all havent heard about Rafah or about how people here are buying months worth of food and worrying about getting shelled from the sea and the sky. I’m not failing to write about the other side becuase I wish to demean it or pretend it doesnt exist. In fact, when I saw the news about the attacks I was impacted by how amazing I think people are here, both Israelis and Palestinians, who live this life.

These people who are afraid and feel targeted and vulnerable, yet still fight for peace. Israelis and Palestinians who have enough power to continue to have hope where there shouldn’t be any are the true peacemakers. I’m also writing from this perspective because it’s what I know. If I tried to speak about Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and how it feels to live there, I’d have to lie, becuase I have no idea.

I’m going home now. There are police and some other stuff out there and I can feel my tummy responding as it usually does when I hear scary things. I am safe at home, I know that, so I’m going there. i think I’ll hang out upstairs with Ali and his family.

Molly lives in Gaza City and works with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.