Life on the Outskirts of War

A Palestinian man carries the body of two years-old Abdel Rahman Majdi Naim, after he was killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza City on 21 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Mohammed) Abed

By: Sanaa Kamel

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The daily routines of central and southern Gaza’s residents aren’t easily broken by Israeli drones and bombs. While many Israelis run to their shelters at the first sign of a rocket, Palestinians outside of Gaza City tend to business as usual.

Gaza – Signs of war and destruction can be seen everywhere in Gaza City, where the streets remain empty night and day.

If you do see a car, it is racing at top speed as if the driver is trying to escape certain death. Only ambulances, with sirens blaring, crisscross the city to transport the dead and wounded.

As you move out of Gaza City and head to the central and southern parts of the Strip, you find people going about their daily business as usual.

The markets are relatively busy with shoppers despite the occasional targeting of the homes of Palestinian resistance fighters in the area.

The residents of this part of Gaza do not like to live according to Israel’s agenda. They are mostly refugees here and stubbornly refuse to submit to what the Israeli occupation army dictates. They insist on living their life as normal, defying the occasional aerial attacks that strike their neighborhoods.

Vegetable and fruit vendor Mohammad al-Hawajri from al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, calls out the prices of his goods as loud as he can, hoping to draw customers to his stand. Having been cut off from Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip, it is hard to come by the produce he sells these days.

“However much the enemy tries to strangle our lives, they will fail. They always portray us as a people who love death more than life,” he tells Al-Akhbar. Pointing at an Israeli drone hovering above, he says, “Their planes observe us and can see all that we are doing – may they die of frustration.”

“At a time when their settlers are cowering in shelters, many of which are sewer pipes, we go out into the streets and live our lives normally, even though there are assassinations in our area,” he adds. “We will never surrender, for what they are seeing will surely demoralize them.”

Um Hamza stops by Hawajri’s stand to buy some tomatoes, but finds that they are overpriced, so she proceeds to bargain with the vendor to see if she can buy a bigger quantity at a lower price.

“We live in a constant state of war; it never leaves us. As long we are under occupation, their planes will never leave our skies and they will never stop killing our children. But all that will not diminish our resolve; it only makes us stronger,” she declares.

She then quickly changes the subject to talk about the difficult economic conditions, pointing out that prices have doubled since the fighting began.

Ibrahim al-Assar, who owns a women’s clothing shop, explains why he continues to go to work despite the dangers: “If I stay at home, what will happen to my children? This store is my only source of income.”

“The massacres committed by the Israelis,” he argues, “were against families who were supposedly safe in their homes, while we go to work and nothing happens to us.”

From time to time Assar and his fellow shopkeepers gather in front of one of the stores to catch up on the latest news. He says that seeing the bodies of innocent children on television evokes disgust for Arab officials, who seem to have nothing to offer but televised condemnations.

The situation is not much different in the town of Deir al-Ballah, where the weekly “Tuesday Market” is being held as usual. People from the area come to stock up on their daily needs, as if no war was underway.

Everything appears normal during the day as the occupation forces tend to begin their operations starting in the early hours of the evening.

“The bombing usually begins at night,” explains Abu-Mohammad al-Dayrawi, 56. “We have learned their daily routine. So we stay near our homes as night falls, so our relatives do not worry about us. But we stay in the streets and alleyways, so that the fighter pilots don’t think we are cowards and fear death.”

The people of central Gaza spend their nights under constant fire, but as soon as dawn breaks, life returns to normal. Everyone goes to their place of work, moving about more freely than those living in Gaza City, where Israeli attacks tend to be more random and deadly.

Gaza City resident Mahmoud al-Khodari points out that “we cannot move around because of our special circumstances. Gaza City is the biggest city – it contains the key institutions and government buildings. If we pass near them, we are exposing ourselves to danger.”

“Even if these buildings are not bombed,” he explains, “it is not a good idea to pass by them, as anyone who lingers near such sensitive areas may be taken for a collaborator who is feeding the Israelis critical information.”

In normal times, Khodari points out, Gaza City is the number one destination for all the people of the Strip. “They come here to enjoy themselves, because the city is bustling with life. But these days it is quiet as residents stick closer to their homes,” he says.

He predicts that in a few days or so life will return to normal in the city.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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