Redemption in Gaza

Wedding dress shop in Ramallah (Jamal Wilson)

9 December 2003 — On this day the ninth of December 2003, again the group of internationals left Rafah for Erez after five windsped weeks in Rafah, left empty shelves, an apartment full of the fragrance of absense, cups of coffee and tea and cigarettes, the scent of exhausted sadness, overwhelmed as empty hands carrying the weight of the wind blowing through their fingertips.

In this winter night the chill of the air is the only detail separating winter from those long summer days I and Mahmood spent locked in an empty office writing paper after preparatory paper for the dream of new groups of internationals.

This time we are not left entirely alone: Mary has stayed and Ahmed has joined our work and they have stayed like family, beyond the goodbyes. I write to the rhythm of small glass cups filled to the brim with sweet tea. I plan for long days of reading and writing; language study and home visits. The rhythm of visitors has become usual and unimpressive. For the first time in my life it is I who am being left, I — who was addicted to leaving the people who had filled my soul with theirs — now watch those souls pass through my footsteps and run to the far reaches of my world. I suppose it’s healthy.

I hope I don’t bore you by relating the mundane details of this office life this once, in place of the usual warragged stories, written in exhausted catharsis until my fingers write of their own accord beyond the careful control of mind.

I’ve become enthralled with births and weddings — the creation of family — redemption from the ache of a war that systematically removes the most beloved burdens of a person’s full hands. A house, a brother, a mother.

I count the marriages and the births like a high school student crosses off the squares of a calendar, measuring the distance between the dredgery of institutionalized education and the open arms of vacation. Every marriage is a triumph of construction in the face of this violent waste. Every birth is red ‘X’ on the calandar of the Occupation.

My friend Selowa gave birth today.

Last week Maya adopted a baby from Bellarus.

Jehan brought Mohammed into the world a week before Eid.

Feryal birthed Ahmed two weeks prior.

(This is not marriage season)

One week ago it was not yet time for leaving but only the beginnings of collecting goodbyes. In a long dance through Gaza City we found our evening in the back porch of the Al-Deira hotel, that magnificence of wealth on the edge of the strip of Gaza, with its eye out to sea. The soft red of paper lanterns exhaled into the Al-Deira’s winter-white tent (erected on the back deck to accommodate for the growing chill of the wind), like little children blowing mist on crisp windows.

In summer, the restaurant had been open and you could drink cool mint lemonade on the terra cotta carpet of the deck above the sea. The summer sea was full of summer dreams in a great expanse of fishing boats rocking on the deep, and you could find the warm pockets of water past your toes’ reach and watch the horizon, the Watcher surveying the watched, the infinite reach of the breathwork, finding its meaning like a finger’s touch upon the surface, bringing the water to tighten and fold before its eventual exhale into its own soul. Reconciling self with self: the wisdom of the ocean: water into water, salt into salt, until it reaches the outer limits of its own expression, the earthen mountain summoned by the Author who can alone make one out of two, and two from one.

The ocean remains a body unto itself, touching its own eternity in the indrawn breath of sunrise, the exhalation of moonrise. The ocean unto itself knows nothing of humans, those late creations, divided creatures rendered complex between their late entry out of dust, and their stolen return back thereon. The ocean does not waste a glance to acknowledge the divisions humans impose on it (physical expressions of their own divided earthen selves), as a river runs and does not pause for a bridge’s deepened reach.

(Gaza Johannes Abeling)

Laura Gordon is a 20-year-old American Jew who came to Israel in December 2002 with the Birthright Israel program and proceeded, three months later, to begin work with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah.