Cease Fire?

IDF Soldiers fired live ammunition into the crowd of people, stalled cars, trucks, taxis, buses, and UN vehicles just south of the Deir al-Balah checkpoint in the Gaza Strip this morning. This is a "no news" day. I’m writing about it because I was standing in the crowd, and then crouching in the dust to duck the fire, hands shaking, trying to return from an overnight trip to the refugee camps of Rafah. Why are they shooting? I asked my co-worker, Samir. He looks at me and laughs. This is the question everyone is asking, he tells me.

Three Palestinians were shot – wounded, mercifully, instead of killed– just a few feet from where I was standing next to a large concrete block that forms part of the checkpoint barrier (and my shelter from bullets this morning). An ambulance arrived within minutes but couldn’t reach the front of the crowd because of the crammed traffic. The three men were all taken to hospital.

When I phoned my friend Ashraf, a journalist in Gaza, to tell him about the mayhem he sounded almost annoyed. This kind of thing happens every day, he said. Just be careful. No, nobody knows why the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint won’t let the people cross to get to work and school. Apparently it depends on their mood. Are they irritable today? Four Palestinians from Khan Yunis were murdered last night trying to infiltrate a settlement; and a man from the Brazil refugee camp this morning – about two blocks from where I was staying with my friends. The look on everyone’s face is pensive, angry, tired. No one knows why the IDF killed the man in Rafah. All they know is that these are every day occurrences.

So this is what it’s like when there are no headlines about the Occupation in the news. At the edge of the market in Rafah there is an apartment building, newly re-finished, that is so covered with bullet holes it looks polka-dotted. The families living there have moved into the back rooms. There are many places more dangerous than this one in the camps and city of Rafah.

Yesterday on the ride down from Gaza City, another co-worker, Mahmud talked a lot about his experiences – in prison twice at age 16 for shouting and throwing stones during the first Intifada. He speaks so quietly you think he is immune from the jolting emotions that I experience every other hour. But then, on our left, we pass the cemetery outside the city. And Mahmud tells me he is very angry inside. His three closest friends are buried in the cemetery. He starts to tell me their names and ages when they were shot – but has to stop talking to keep tears back; he doesn’t want to cry in front of me. I look into his eyes and see what no words will ever express.

I am back now; refreshed after a long sleep and a light lunch. It took four and a half hours to get back to Gaza City. There are F-16s flying occasionally overhead. There were many more of them in Rafah. At night there are flares going up from the Netzarim junction; and you can hear – but not see – the pilotless drones in the sky surveying the area. A searchlight beams around and around in the distance. They are looking for all the terrorists.

Otherwise, the city is quiet.