Gaza Panorama

Eight tanks rolled into Rafah (southern Gaza Strip) early this morning to quell a "disturbance" by the people. It seems some Palestinians were upset over the death of a four year old girl. Did the news there even bother to inform you that she was shot?

Yes, on Thursday a four-year-old girl became one of the latest recipients of Israel’s "restraint" policy. She was hit in the head by a bullet but wasn’t pronounced clinically dead until yesterday. There was a lot of open anger and protesting as a result. Imagine that: a community of people upset because a child was killed in cold blood. How dare they show such a lack of respect for Israel’s need for security.

Here in Gaza City the streets are calm; people are going about their business shopping, having lunch, talking to friends, working – or trying to get to work. Mahmoud, my immediate supervisor, arrived here at the Mezan Center for Human Rights today after spending 3 hours at the Netzarim (north/south) checkpoint. His co-worker, Muhammad, spent six hours there yesterday. That’s a good day. Thirteen hours is the record, I’m told. It would take less than half an hour to drive here directly from their homes in Rafah if there were a normal road and normal traffic. "Normal" here is abnormal, however. Mahmoud and his friend Samir both sleep and eat in the office five out of seven nights a week because there is no way to get back and forth from their homes on a daily basis. Every time Mahmoud calls his wife, his seven year old son Sharif runs to the phone to ask his father if he is coming home today.

Not likely. Not if he wants to keep his job and keep his family out of the poverty that engulfs nearly 80% of the population here.

Gaza City is calm on the surface, yes. For a few short days people here were breathing a little more easily. Zinni was here and Cheney, too. Nobody had any illusions that these American "envoys" were going to make a difference. They just knew that Sharon would put on another charade of good behavior in order to appease the paymaster. So, for a brief few days, people here could go to sleep at night without fearing F-16s or Apache helicopters – or door to door searches in the nearby refugee camps with the accompanying murders and vandalism. Things are back to "normal" again now: you can feel the tension in the streets especially around the soldiers. Everyone is tired, overworked, ill at ease.

This is a maximum security looney bin for 1.1 million people who have delusions about human rights, freedom, and dignity. They pose a serious threat to their rational, genetically superior, keepers, which accounts for their inability to leave under any circumstances. The secretary here, Ghada, is 23, speaks beautiful English, wants to study English literature and travel. She has never been outside of Gaza. Her crime is being Palestinian. Same old, same old: A fair target for any IDF soldier because she’s a "militant" – that is, she opposes the Israeli occupation of her land. Letting crazies like her out of this cage would be far too risky.

I wish you could see this with your own eyes. I wish you could walk through the streets of the Jabaliya refugee camp (the biggest in the Middle East with 100,000 residents piled in on top of each other in 2 square km of land), or past the Ansar compound bombed into rubble last week. I wish you could see the ill-clad children and the tired street vendors; spend a day in Gaza where you can’t ever count on having electricity when you need it, or hot water – or water at all – from your sinks. The half starved cats stare at you through glazed eyes and the mangy donkeys pulling their carts around the strip bray for relief and nibble at trees no bigger than they are. Car horns blow, ambulance sirens screech, radio news hums on in the background, the phones keep ringing, the voices in the other offices drone on in soft echoes, children play in the streets, women shop for food at the markets, and Anwar brings me my third cup of Arabic coffee this morning.!

The noose tightens around all our necks.