“One Occupied Gazan Summer” is a three-part personal narrative by Mariam I. who explores her thoughts and retraces her steps during her most recent visit to the Gaza Strip. Read part one here and part three here.
Part two of three. Oddly, while I was in Gaza, even the moments of national celebration reminded me of how occupation and siege shaped our lives. I remember the end of the prisoners’ mass hunger strike that began on April 17 and ended on May 14. It was my first day in Palestine. I was thrilled, smiling uncontrollably, suppressing gleeful giggles, and using my utmost restraint to keep from flipping cartwheels up and down the alleys of my refugee camp. Then news of the end of the hunger strike broke and as all of the televisions in the densely populated camp were turned to the same channel and poor insulation, open windows, and gaping roofs allowed the sound to escape into the alleys, it felt like the women on the news ululating in celebration were with us in this very camp. Their cries of celebration were as real and present as the Israeli drones circling above our homes.
I remember when Thaer Halahleh decided to end his hunger strike. I remember exactly where I was when the radio news reporter announced that Halahleh was being released to his family. I had just spent several hours with my uncle’s family at a Gaza beach and we were in a taxi on our way home to our central Gaza Strip refugee camp. We were driving past al-Mughraga village and I was choking on the rancid smell of sewage and rotting garbage. I don’t know if I was holding my breath from the excitement of Halahleh’s release or from my disgust of the smell forcing itself down my throat. Either way, I was sitting between my thirteen year old cousin and my mother whispering to each of them about how incredible Halahleh’s heroism was and how thrilled I was to receive the news of his release, all the while excited giggles escaped from me and I held myself down to the backseat to keep from jumping through the roof of the car from my joy.
The next morning was another story. On my way to work, the car radio was playing the message of a prisoner’s mother to her son. She was telling him how much she missed him, how she prays for him often, how she is proud of him, how he is a hero, how his entire family is awaiting his release, how he must remain patient and steadfast. And as she indirectly shared with her son, through the ears of the entire nation, messages of motivation, love, and encouragement, I wept silently and uncontrollably in the backseat of a taxi at 7:45 in the morning. I arrived at work face red, swollen, and lined by streams of tears. The plight of the prisoners and their families was no longer just a news story; it was a real mental and emotional struggle that countless Palestinians had to live through every day. [Read more...]