Monday, July 13, 2009

Gaza: Day 2

Returning from Al-Mahthaf the night before, I experienced an intense pain in my stomach. I lay down on my bed for some time, but the pain did not go away. It persisted until morning, and I now found it to be accompanied by a sizeable headache. My first inclination: food-poisoning. I ate lightly at breakfast, but I was still unable to shake the pains. I figured that it would subside as the day progressed.

First thing in the morning, I accompanied Julia and Nahid on their site visit of the Gaza YMCA. ANERA was hoping to form some consortium with the organization along the lines of providing sporting equipment and other items to their summer camps, and programs. Unfortunately, this project cannot go through for a number of reasons.

The YMCA is a large compound in Gaza City, and it serves as one of the few positive places for young kids within the entirety of Gaza. The administration now boasts 30 straight years of summer camps for elementary school students, which bring positive influence from older Gazans to young, impressionable children. The camp offers a range of activities for its patrons from basketball and soccer to traditional Palestinian dancing (Dabke) to drawing/painting.

I walked around the grounds as the children were playing, taking photos at Nahid’s request. I began to speak with the children, and found that they were as curious about me as I was about them, and their life in Gaza. They continually asked where I was from, my last name, my first name, was I sad about Michael Jackson’s death, etc. They also kept requesting that I show them my photos. When I asked for a group photograph, the 15 or so children formulated so efficiently, it was as if they had practiced this pose.

By the time we got back to the ANERA office, the effects of my food poisoning were overwhelming. I had a fever, and my headache had gotten worse. I took a nap, and drank sage tea that Mona had made for me, but I was still struggling. 3pm came around, and it was time to leave the office.

Nahid drove Julia and I back to the Al-Deira, where we met up with Sami Abdel-Shafi, the Gaza consultant for the Carter Center. Sami comes from a very prominent Gaza family. His late grandfather, Haidar Abdel-Shafi was a member of the PLO Executive Committee under Arafat, and his father is a renowned surgeon. Sami, while maintaining American citizenship, is unable to leave Gaza because of the travel restrictions on Gazans. He lived in San Francisco for a long time, and worked for Cisco Systems before he moved back to Gaza.

Sami is another one of those Gazans who does not align himself with Hamas. He similarly rejects affiliation with the PA, and seems to me as a very rational, intelligent man. We spoke about a number of issues, and brought to light for me the reasoning behind the widespread support for Hamas. According to Sami, support for Hamas has strengthened since the end of Israel’s Operation Cast-Lead which ended in January. While Hamas enjoys the support of most Gazans, Sami explained that this support comes for specific issues rather than a unilateral approval of Hamas’ programs. In the same way that most Americans do not ascribe to the entire platform of whichever party they most frequently vote for, Gazans focus on specific issues, many of which are fulfilled by Hamas.

Sami also articulated the stark division between the militant wing of Hamas, and its government wing. While Hamas is indeed the terrorist organization that the Western media has portrayed so thoroughly for us Americans, it also serves as the prevailing government entity within Gaza. It is a democratically elected body that executes social services and legislative measures like most parliaments around the world, ineffectively. The militant wing resides under the same name, Hamas, but represents a separate faction from the government, and is often at odds with the government. In reality, the militant wing wields the most power within Gaza, because how do you tell men with Kalashnikoff rifles calling for the destruction of the state of Israel what to do?

At the end of my conversation with Sami, I was dragging badly. My energy level was low, and I needed a nap. We said our goodbyes, and I passed out for several hours in my bed. When I woke up, I had no appetite whatsoever. This food poisoning had taken over my body, and I just had to deal with it. I tried to read, but with no ability to focus, I was unsuccessful. My only option was to turn on the T.V.

I browsed the hundreds of channels for hours. All I could seem to find were terrible Arabic music videos, televangelist type preaching by bearded Imams or Egyptian soap operas. I found Al-Jazeera in English, although they only talked about the ethnic clash between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs for about an hour. This was unacceptable. Finally, before I lost all hope, I came upon Fox Movies, which specialized in giving royalty payments to the owners of the rights of the worst movies ever made. I watched the following: “A Knight’s Tale,” and “Fever Pitch.” Enough said. It’s a period in my life that I would like to forget now that I’ve gotten it off of my chest.

That was the end of my exhilarating evening. I was to leave for Jerusalem the next day, so I went to bed thinking about the great antibiotic pills that would await me.

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