The makeshift tank barricade on my street is gone. The twin piles of sand were probably never meant to do much more than provide area residents like myself with some sense of security. I think it only had the opposite effect on me, however. And while the removal of some defensive barriers in Gaza City could be an indication of better times ahead, the majority still remain, ringing the area. The most pathetic perhaps, are the four-foot sand walls lining the beaches along the Mediterranean.
But one can not deny a sense of relief in Gaza. The unannounced blockade of goods and food imposed at the Israeli controlled entry points has been eased. When I’m found at a store buying bundles of vegetables, it is no longer taken as a sign of a foreigner with foreknowledge of an impending invasion. Conversations on the issue have waned, giving way to speculation about what the West Bank will end up like. These are my final days in Palestine.
I feel the guilt of leaving pressing down on me. I can do things my friends here cannot. It has nothing to do with how hard I’ve worked, how wealthy they are, or what dreams any of us have. I can leave Gaza and they cannot. In a few days I’ll be quaffing beers in a Brussels pub and a little after that immersing in a Wisconsin spring brooding over my credit card debts. They will still be here.
Nasser Abu Husirah is anxious to leave. Hailing from Egypt, he laments over how long he has been trapped in Gaza. In one of the usual blackouts, I wander to his café off Orabi Street. He makes the finest hamburgers in the city, once a week, but he cannot afford to open a restaurant. He pleads with me to help him come to America where together we can open a fine Egyptian restaurant. So long as other Arabs don’t work there. He is so weary, he has tired of being around his own people.
I am leaving a place where my very presence is a political act. I know that I will feel distant and unable to provide as much support from home. The people of Gaza won’t know how I stand beside them. They wont see the American walking in their street, defying State Department evacuation orders and the propaganda of the Israeli Zionists. I lack the time to return to the south of Gaza Strip, for a final reminder of the misery of the occupation there, perhaps at its most apparent of anywhere in Palestine. I don’t have the time because I cannot risk being trapped due to the frequent Israeli closures of the roads. Yet those who live there don’t have the luxury of choice.
My friend at the Iyad internet café however assures me that I have nonetheless done good work here. Namoon reviews some of the photographs I took in Jenin and elsewhere in the West Bank following April’s Israeli onslaught. ‘You are a brother of Palestine,’ he emphatically tells me.
Walking home past UN Square on Shudada Street, I notice a piece of graffiti I hadn’t picked up on before. Next to a late night falafel stand in English is written, ‘Welcome Sheheda [Martyrs].’