Monthly Archives: May 2010



Some of Al-Sammuni survivors carrying the dead bodies of their children

It all started on January, 5th 2009, around two in the morning, the eighth day of a ferocious war the ‘Israeli Defense Forces’ waged against heavy-populated Gaza strip of more than one and a half million Palestinians packed in three-hundred-and-sixty square kilometers of the coastal area, south-east of Palestine— now, known as ‘The Palestinian Territories’— and it claimed the lives of more than fourteen hundreds of civilian residents. This was but another brutal episode in the long series of a well-performed twenty-two episodes of a tragic, really tragic, play spitefully called ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Its heroes, or anti-heroes in a time when utter confusion prevailed, are the Palestinian children, women, elderly people, and resistance members while its anti-heroes are three: two men and a woman; they nodded the tragedy in the first place and then nodded off, not even questioned in the least.

We headed toward Al-Zaitoon Camp, east of the Gaza Strip to listen to Helmi Al-Sammuni, twenty-seven narrating what apparently has turned out to be nothing but a sad story to be recalled with all its minute details each time some foreigner or Arab journalist, seeking some word-press or other world-wide award, comes over to take pictures at one of the richest areas across the region in terms of photography. This sad story we also, not so differently, came to refresh in the memory of a bereaved Helmi who, in the wake of this tragedy, lost his father, his mother, his wife, and his only five-month-old son.

We arrived. It was around three in the afternoon of an unexpectedly-hot sunny day of February 14th. Helmi, alongside with Abu Taleb, forty-four, was working on a new small tent to erect right opposite what he described as ‘the crime scene’. “This spot is where twenty-nine of my relatives were killed, the same day, the same hour, the same spot,” said Helmi in a journalist-like style, pointing at an approximately twenty-square-meter open piece of land. Continue reading

Will I Ever Get Out

Will I Ever Get Out
by: Nour Al Sousi
translated by: Mohammed Rabah Suliman

And now, caught, here I am. The battery indicator of my cell phone refers to a half-empty battery. Hopeless is my case, for the network will never respond to my persistent attempts to call one of them.

This very cell phone was my gift for passing my secondary school with excellence: it was my father’s way of expressing his overwhelming joyfulness on that day. And I do remember when he reminded me of my future dream as he said: “Oh, at last! I’ll see you that doctor I always dreamed of, Said. At last, I’ll do”

I was, then, expected to pursue my university studies abroad, but it seemed that fate wanted it another way. The mere idea of me leaving this country and never coming back again was out of question for my parents. They wanted me to stay. And I, therefore, had no choice but to join the Faculty of Medicine here, in Gaza. To tell the truth, it was not bad as I had expected. Not at all. All that which had muddled our life and made it intolerable, then, was nothing other than those regular power failures, the food price crisis, the continuing closure of the borders that kept my uncle from traveling abroad, and the transportation crisis. Only this and nothing more.

Oh, how happy those days seem to be when compared to these days!

Never mind, it won’t take longer than one hour.

A year has passed. Our home has been shelled. Most of our home hasn’t been damaged; one room has. My father happened to be inside that room.

A year has passed, and I still keep myself away from that room. Since then, I feel myself as if I can smell it.

Even here— in my confined room— I smell it. I smell burnt meat!

My agony was great, greater than to be relieved in tears. And, I didn’t cry over the death of my father.

All of a sudden, I have become the sole provider for my family. It wasn’t necessary to go on looking of some work here or there, for I had been doing so for long until somebody hissed in my ears: “come and work with me, Said, you’ll never find a better job than working in digging up the tunnels!”

A low-battery indicator never stops irking me.

Raising her blessed hands in prayer, my mother prayed for me. She prayed for me not knowing what sort of work I was doing. After all, she couldn’t tolerate the view of her children going to bed with empty stomachs. She could not.

We have begun digging. And so have the sands begun falling from the sky— from the dark sky of the dark tunnel. Although masked as I am, the sands could feel their way through the mask into my mouth, and drinking some water has worsened the situation. My mates laughed, unmasked: “You’ll get used to this, soon.”

I got my mind off them. I mused over the sea where I used to spend most of my time diving— this was one of my hobbies— one cold drop of sweat awakened me; it tore its way down on my back. Even this little drop was contaminated with the sands.

My cell phone is moaning. It stands rebellious, and dies, rebellious.

I am just wondering for how much time I have been stuck here in the bosom of this tunnel. My mates have gone out and left me alone. My mother’s prayers have done me no good. The tunnel collapsed over the gate before I could make it out.

They will come to save me out of here, for sure.

I feel the bitter cold piercing at my bones. And I feel the warmth of the earth from under my feet as though it were batting me to sleep. In the horizon, there seems to be a light coming. From far. I feel as if I will touch it.

A hymn. I can hear a hymn now. My mother’s prayer. My sister’s empty-stomach. The smell of burned meat. And the flavour of the sea water.

A Catastrophic We-Shall-Return

A Catastrophic We-Shall-Return

Abu Ibrahim dragged his feet along as his weak body struggled with the heavy luggage upon his shoulders. His body staggered and his feet tirelessly tried to carry him as far as they could, and though they failed to keep his body stable, he didn’t fall. Abu Ibrahim wasn’t alone, however, for he had a long line of followers; they were his family. He was accompanied by his two wives and a dozen of children aged from five to twenty-two years. Abu Ibrahim was leaving, but he didn’t know where he was going. There were thousands of people around him, and everybody was doing the same. Everybody was leaving. And all of them didn’t know where they were going. There was Abu Ahmed with his two married sons walking on either side of him, another two unmarried, his wife, and four daughters, followed by a line no lesser than that which was following Abu Ibrahim. They were leaving, too. There was Abu Naser and his kin who made some twenty people in number following him in one line. Restless with the load they had to carry, all of them were leaving. To where, they didn’t know.

Amidst the growing thick of dust that rose from the shuffling feet of the leavers and which strove to keep their owners standing upright, nothing audible thereabout but the chaotic sounds of the shoes scrapped with the rough rocky sands and each once in a while mistakenly kicking a stone, dozens and dozens of people were roaming around, all of them stooping down with the burden on their shoulders and backs; and, not knowing where they were going, they walked and walked on. The only thing they knew it was a black day, for someone had come and made them leave their homes, farms and olive trees, and as they said “No”, a gun was pointed at their faces to make them leave, so they left in the hope that they will come back again.

It was the Nakba. The sun had just fallen when Abu Ibrahim, Abu Ahmed, and Abu Naser gathered around a small fire where their families, discussing their hazy destiny and gusted with the gentle breeze of a summer night, sat peacefully under the wide starry sky everywhere they looked above. The chaotic trudging had vanished as the sun fell. It was replaced with the dreadful sound of silence. It wasn’t silence, in fact; for the fire crackled, and the wind occasionally whistled: the wind which, as it blew, the crackling of the fire grew more dreadful, and the laughs of the little children who, as their mother tickled their ambits, squirming, forced a laugh out of their chests. Abu Ibrahim aptly struck a conversation with a deep sight that might have been confused with a moan of an Arabian mare, alone in the bosom of night, crying over the sudden death of her little steed. Indeed, it was a moan of a prideful Arab, whose father had taught him how to be as proud as the sun even before he could write down his own name, and whose pride had but been scratched—for it was still scratched back then.

“Be’een Allah ya Abu Ibrahim” – God’s gonna help us, Abu Ibrahim – that was Abu Naser immediate reply to his neighbour’s distressed sigh as he aimlessly drew circles in the sand before silence fell again.

“God will help us,” there came the voice of Abu Ahmed who skillfully tickled his rosary. “I think the Arabs and Egyptian government won’t keep silent,” he said. “they will do something to get us back to our homes.”

“Yes,” his counterpart nodded approvingly.

“And don’t forget there are our brothers: the Saudis,” Abu Ahmed, noticing the approving nods of Abu Naser, and meeting his boosting looks, gradually raised his tone as he went on, ” and the Kuwaitis, and the Jordanians, the Lybians, and the Iraqis, and the Algerians and all our Arab brothers. All of them will rush to our help and fight these brutes out of our country”

“Yes, they will!” plucking up his courage and feeling the enthusiasm of his neighbour’s tone, Abu Naser ceased nodding only to take part in this passionate speech. “Theeey will crush these animals and kick them ouuut of here!”

While Abu Naser delivered his portion of this powerful, morale-boosting, and confident speech, Abu Ahmed, all out of a sudden, looked sullen again as though he had changed his mind of the Arabs within this very short period of time. The case being so, he, to Abu Naser’s disappointment (or was it to his embarrassment) didn’t say anything when he should have said as Abu Naser, losing his breath, made a pause. He waited and waited, but Abu Ahmed said nothing.

It all ended here, and silence reined the fire-lighted session again.

After this brief break of silence, Abu Ahmed started again, however this time, in a voice so calm, low, and hesitant, his looks fixed on the scribbles his straw drew in the sands and never meeting the others’, “Yes, maybe they will, but we don’t know how much that is gonna take,” he looked as though he talked to himself rather to his fellows, “it might take one week, two, one month, two months, and even half a year, who knows?”

“Fal Allah wala falak ya zalame,” – God forbid – Suddenly, Abu Ibrahim spoke out. “what are you saying? Half a year? Do you think we’ll stay in these tents for half a year? No, no, no I don’t think so,” Abu Ibrahim continued, widening his eyes in furious amazement as he spoke.

At this moment, both Abu Naser and Abu Ahmed wanted to say something. They exchanged looks for a while as each of them waited the other to say what they wanted to say. Each opened his mouth, started, hesitated, paused, and, at the end—both— remained silent. No one spoke up. No one had enough courage to say what they realised it would later be a matter of fact: to tell Abu Ibrahim—or rather to remind him— that it might take a little while longer than half a year before they could return to their homes, lands, farms, and olive trees. And it all ended here.

Meanwhile, settling a head-chopped pottery jug of water on her right hand which rested over her shoulder and slanted towards behind her head, Um Ibrahim in her popular embroidered black dress, decorated with raised intense red pattern, her child, bare-footed, hurrying after her, came up jogging to her husband, and said: “Ayzeen Amalko Shay” – do you wanna drink some tea? –

“Yes, make some tea, why not?” Abu Ibrahim replied. He had now joined up with his two neighbours drawing circles in the sand.

The three men kept quiet as they carried on their relieving activity. It was relieving, indeed, for the straws, tightly pressed in the farmers’ fists, had now been fully implanted in the sands. It must have relieved them to implant a straw in the sands. Only then, Abu Ibrahim felt his growing uneasiness as silence extended before him, and, feeling inclined to break this silence, he started hymning: “Rajeen ya blade” – We shall return, Home – only to be joined by Abu Ahmed who sang along with Ibrahim in a slightly higher tone.

The song was perfect, and the rhythm was astonishingly fine as both men sang keeping the same rhythm and the same tone, and, Abu Naser, feeling the rising passionate tone of this song, couldn’t help but raise his voice and take part, singing.

“We shall return, Home, we shall return, one day,”

Now, it being all three of them singing, the song went awkwardly. No harmony maintained just as everyone sang on his own; and, each willing to maintain his own rhythm and dominate over the other’s, it looked as though each was cutting in the other rather than singing together.

“Oh w badeen ya jama’a” – Ok what then? – Abu Ibrahim started angrily. “Are you gonna keep bleating like this?”

“Ok, let’s start all over again,” Abu Ahmed replied.

“Mashi” Abu Naser said.

“One rhythm, one tone, don’t forget” Abu Ibrahim reminded them. “Wahad tneeeeen talata” – one, two, threee –

“Rajeenlek ya bladee, rajeenlek rajeen” they started altogether, keeping the same rhythm and the same tone they had wished for.

Hardly had a few moments passed when Abu Ibrahim was indignantly rebuking his two neighbours for failing again to sing in harmony.

“Let’s try again,” he said.

The three men carried on their efforts trying to sing in harmony, but they failed to maintain it for more than a few moments each time they tried. They tried time and again until they reached their sixty-second attempt, and yet never did they succeed in uniting their voice. They were truly bleating! And at a very long last, exhausted with the long distance he had crossed, and seeing the futility of his painstaking efforts to keep up with the other two men, Abu Naser just fell asleep, and not very long later, he was followed by Abu Ahmed and Abu Ibrahim. It was the mid-night of mid-May. The fire had died, and, every now and then, a cold gentle breeze blew over the half-standing tents. Every one had fallen asleep. It was their first night away from home.

In the morning, the three men, Abu Ibrahim, Abu Ahmed, and Abu Naser stooped down as they walked on, struggling with the burden over their shoulders and followed by their sons, daughters, wives, and thousands of people here and there, all doing the same thing— all were leaving.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman
18th May

One War Day

As habitually, Hamza leaned back against the dark white-painted wall recently-spotted with the hands of his little nephews, nieces, and little cousins and whereon crevices of various lengths laid bleakly; he fought off all nudging thoughts which overrun him every now and then as if they conspired with the blasts hereabouts to preoccupy his mind when it looked peaceful for him to proceed on his reading. Theses thoughts, as he assumed, were of his own creation; they were figments of his own imagination; and therefore, they haunted no one but himself; they wanted to prevent him from going on reading his book. The candlelight flickered , and thus his shadow on the wall, while gentle cold breeze wafted through the slightly opened windows: His mother, a moderate lady in her late forties with a mole on the nose, made sure to open them slightly before everyone falls asleep and that in case a blast takes place nearby, the windows will not be smashed into pieces. Hamza, the book lying open onto his warm hands, persevered in reading his tattered book: the book which his father used to be obsessed with; he read it time and again and perhaps that was what made it badly tattered. Hamza read on: ‘”Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our Freedom” Hardly had Hamza closed his lips on, softly, pronouncing the ‘m’, a huge deafening blast struck the area and turned the once-seemed never-ending prevailing silence into an ear-shattering thunder. Hamza, unconsciously tightening his grip of the book, his heart pounding as though it were ripping his chest from inside, immediately jerked his head back. Pitch darkness savagely lied there. He focused his looks ahead, straining to fathom something of what he saw; but the deeper he focused his looks, the more his grip tightened around the book, and the pitcher the darkness seemed around him.

None could ever understand what made him smile in his sleep. No one could ever simply conjecture that, only when he is asleep, he could have the objects that would grant him relief and happiness. He could own what he was always dispossessed of when not sleeping. He was encircled by his hissing nephews, nieces, and cousins— they were staying at their home along with their families during the war— who were competing who would come near that sleeping body and touch his bristling beard. Hamza lightly opened his eyes while clear mirthful faces, guiltless of wakening him up, were purely grinning to him. Yawning, he outstretched his arms, his book next to his head, half-covered under the pillow, and smiled back at the kids before he bade them leave the room. “C’mon, buddies, go play away.” quietly said Hamza, pulling the blanket up onto his face. The sun was flowing into the room through the widely-opened windows. This was the first thing his mother used to do when she woke up; she inherited this propensity from her mother not knowing what exactly it meant to do it before all else: perhaps to breathe a new life into their dull faces, or perhaps the windows were the first object to meet their eyes, so, desiring to release themselves from a smell that was not commendable in the least, they opened them. The light made the spots on the white-painted wall distinctly visible, and brightened the heaped up waxy pieces on the tarnished candlestick. Meanwhile, a little heavenly-like girl stealthily drew near the sleeping-again Hamza, whose smile had not vanished from his lips yet; she advanced on tiptoe, her eyes beaming, and concealing her smile with the back of her hands, she placed herself by her uncle’s head. The little ones on the other direction were no more hissing. They started to lose control of their sniggers which were little by little turning into uncomfortable chuckles. Hamza fidgeted, while the girl who was blocking the sun from his face, extended her hands to touch his beard. Dreadful silence prevailed in the place while the little ones finally ceased sniggering, carefully watching their playmate triumph over her uncle’s beard. The little girl fixed her eyes unflinchingly on her target while her hands were steadily nearing Hamza’s face. A sudden huge piercing blast hit the nearby area. The girl shuddered, pulling her hands promptly. She pushed her red under-lip out, and, contorting, she cried. Hamza, who had gotten up panicky, dashed to the windows while the hovering fainted away. It was shortly then, he had collected himself again and patted his preferable little niece to stop crying. He was harshly rebuking himself for failing once again as the would-be-familiar blasts aroused him from his sleep another time.

Hamza assured himself he would not have the least trouble, in case of, one day, becoming a father, his children ask him to tell them a story. He was standing by the window and reflecting on the past few days. “One week! Oh time goes by so slow” Hamza muttered, resting his head in his hands which were leaning against the windowsill. He looked at the vacant street below recalling how lively it used to be, and, feeling queasy, he raised his head. The view of the blue sky spotted with a few light clouds roaming overhead amused him; it revived his normal-low spirits. “At least, you’ve got some life.” He muttered again lowering his head. The street was not vacant, however; two dogs trotted along lolling their tongues and wagging their tails. Hamza, delighted, opened his mouth to call the dogs; he wanted to say something; he wanted to hail them, and, for moments, he had that sincere desire to yelp. But his desire had not lasted for long when he raised his head again as the hovering overhead was irresistibly to be ignored. He focused his eyes on the two choppers tearing their way through the clouds while the two dogs below had centered the street. Hamza was mindful enough to discern the message of both the still-hovering choppers above and the wagging-tailed dogs below. He was pondering on his unchanging status, and exasperated at grasping the discrepancy between his own status, and the other of the sky and earth. He had unequalled capability to dig deeply into the happenings around him, and little unimportant incidents which were insignificant to others, profoundly inspired him, though he thoroughly failed to notice his mother calling out for him over lunch.

It grew darker, and thus harder to read, as the sun, peacefully, sank to bestow a new life on a new people. And it seemed peaceful about while Hamza, sinking into darkness which nothing other than the same sun provided him with, goggled his eyes and struggled to read the grim lines lying lifelessly before him. It dawned on him earlier as long we seek it, we can give it, and there always must be life so close to us— closer than we imagine. He had some life to live among darkness, therefore; and Hamza had not failed to see it lying before him. “Everybody had fallen asleep” he thought, relaxing his eyes. “That’s another thing to be proud of,” looking down the page; he kept on in his thoughts. Meanwhile, the irregular creaks coming from the farthest door on the other side could not break him in the least from his prolonged muse. “Well, I’ve got a lot to be proud of” He replied to himself, conceitedly. Then, suddenly, “Hey, you’re still awake!” Came the soft low voice of his brother Jihad— He was Hamza’s only brother, seven years younger than him. Collecting himself, Hamza kept calm for moments, then replied in an undertone: “Yeah, just reading a few pages before go to sleep,” He smiled at his brother as he uttered his words. “Oh yeah I know” Jihad replied whisperingly. He moved closer, his blanket over his shoulder dragged on the floor, and seated himself next to Hamza. Hamza commenced perusing his book; his legs lying half-bare as the folds of his slacks piled up randomly at his knees. Little Jihad, noting this, drew the blanket to shield his brother’s legs; he could feel they were menaced, and covering them would help him, at the very least, muster his concentration on reading; however, he did not define precisely what menace he wanted to protect them from. In good tranquil times, Jihad was afraid of darkness; he seriously hated silence and never liked being cold; that is, he escaped the three conditions when alone, although in the presence of Hamza, he dared to insult darkness by his laughs. He turned his face, gazed at Hamza, and anxiously observed his eyes were fixed. Cold air wafted their faces while Jihad felt a great desire to break the horrifying silence, so, confidently, he interrupted his brother’s feigned reading, in fact he tore him away from his deep muse, and stated in a clear high tone: “I won’t go to school when war’s over,” He grinned. Hamza, immediately, turned his face, and lowered his looks to meet his brother’s “You won’t?” Widening his eyes in astonishment, he questioned whisperingly. “Yeah they say it’s goin’ to be an open-week” Cunningly, Little Jihad justified. “And I know what they’re goin’ to tell us, so I’ll just stay home.” Raising his voice, Jihad continued, his eyes beaming through darkness. Hamza was not surprised by his little brother’s clear and confident statement, as he justified it, yet he had but to praise him another time: “Oh yeah I see; you don’ need to,” He said. “But you won’t blow that week playfully, will you? I’ll bring you another two stories, how does that seem?” Hamza went on, admiringly, his smile broadened as he said this. Jihad exchanged looks with him for moments, and, neglecting the cold darkness, he said cheerfully: “Yeah I’ll read whatever you bring me.” He, then, feeling secure, sank under his blanket and, at short notice, fell asleep while, besides him, Hamza resumed reading his book encompassed by silent cold darkness.

Hamza whiled the night, his book in his lab, and his hands flipping the pages one following the other; he had not known he would have such persistence like that of a night spent with no company encircling him except that company of coldness, darkness, an amusing wheezing of his little sleeping brother: a persistence that empowered him to satiate his hunger lavishly devouring the words mercilessly. He breathed a thoroughly new life into himself.

Hamza strove to open his eyes a few hours later. He failed, but, persistent, he had to fight. He failed again, expectedly. His smile never vanished from his lips while sleeping; this time, however, it was a smile of that kind, ironically, he used to shoot others when they attempted to test his will. Hamza opened his eyes. But all he could see was blurry figures floundering before his eyes: rampantly swinging figures: higher and lower, lower and higher, right to left, and left to right. Shortly afterwards, the rampant figures cooled, and the picture settled down, and Hamza could make out some non-familiar figures around him; he focused his eyes and attempted to take a close look: masked surgeons were encircling him, and, on both sides, he could see needles, surgical blades, scalpels, handles and some scattered tablets. He knew this was a surgery room, and he needed not to seek further inquiring to realize what kind of rooms it was and who these people standing before him, curious gazes in their eyes, were. He needed but to know he had to be a little submissive sometimes. Hamza, obstinate as he was, insisted to ask, but scarcely had his lips separated, huge pains swelled through his chest and the back of his head, and now he had to be entirely submissive. His eyes slightly closed, He started to recall back the last moments he had lived before. “Right here, c’mon, c’mon, here I found another one.” The words resonated in his ears. Hamza, then, amid the hubbub, felt himself being heaved from under the rubble, his face hanging backwards, and the pebbles harshly scratching his dangling hands. The ambulance sirens were his great disturbance, and he could feel cold air bitterly blow his face while the hands of those carrying him on each side unconsciously nudged him in the ribs as they rushed to one of the ambulances. Meanwhile, through a gap in the ruins, Hamza was looking backward at the little body of Jihad laying peacefully, his burned hand extended motionlessly on his tattered book.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman
14th December 2009

Gaza, in Gaza, Fourteen Years in Gaza

Gaza …

Fourteen years in Gaza have taught me to believe that it is inconceivable for anyone who, on a Friday morning, hasn’t been walking up and down the bustling aisles of a public market while the sweating traders, at each side of the aisle, are calling at the top of their voices in well-rhymed phrases with the prices of their commodities, it is unimaginable for them to appreciate the enormous capacity and the charming power of the small word, and that to perceive how far significant these four letters are is next to impossible.

Gaza … Fourteen years are too much for me to make me realise what an improper behaviour that is, having visited a friend, you leave your cup of tea, not untouched, but rather unfinished, your plate of candy, no matter how stuffed you are, not finished. The more heartily you devour it, the more pleased your host is.

In Gaza, you and your friends meet together at home; you take issues with them, and they yell at you, but you never yell at them; they throw the pillow behind their backs over at you, and you never respond. Meanwhile, your mother knocks on the door of the guests’ room and calls out to you from behind, rebukingly bidding you to lower your voice, although she knows it for sure that your voice was hardly audible and that it is your friends who are making all this fuss. All this fuss, in Gaza, is about the day of the “Tasha” – the Arabic for a small trip inside the town – you and your friends will be going on. The trip will be to nowhere special but to a street! A mere street. All that which makes it differ from other streets is a statue standing upright in the middle of the island separating the two sides of the road; the statue is called “Al-Jundy Al-Majhoul” The street is special, for it is a little wider than all other streets in Gaza. With all these privileges, the street, therefore, becomes a destination for you and your friends; and, for its own sake, you and your friends spend hours arguing to decide on a date where everybody is free that you can gather and visit the statue, together!

Gaza …

Fourteen years have taught that I should not be staying up late at night the eve of Friday. They have taught me how much I would regret if I dared to do it. The mere thought of doing it is terrifying. In Gaza, Salatu Al-Jum’a – the Arabic for The Prayer of Friday – is most sacred above all else. In Gaza, you commit vices and crimes all week long; you commit offences and misdeeds all week long; you are a thief; you have murdered someone; you have committed adultery; and you might have just taken God’s name in vain, but you do pray Salatu Al-Jum’a. In Gaza, therefore, it is never surprising why it is terrifying to think of staying up late on the eve of Friday. On Friday, in Gaza, you wake up early in the morning; and, while your mother prepares the breakfast, your sisters carry on arranging and tidying the house and its items in apple pie order unless you’ll be telling them off because you have heard your mother shout at them for not doing their job right. Shortly afterwards, when you have eaten your breakfast, you settle the matter with you brothers who is first, in preparation for the prayer, will be taking a bath, after your father finishes, and who is next!

Gaza … Not so little a word before has amassed such an immense variety of meanings in between its four letters. The city and the village, the happy and the sad, the old and the young, the large and the small, the far and the near, the poor and the poorer, and the good and the better!

Gaza is where you are never tired of shaking hands with others. You walk alongside a friend who pauses to shake hands with a friend; and you, unknowingly, find yourself shake hands with your friend’s friend; and on top of that, you answer to his inquiry about your heath: “Tamam, teslam” – I’m well, hope you are, too – as you put your hand across your chest as sort of respectable salutation.

A week or two later, while you’re hurrying along the street, alone without your friend, you hear someone hailing for you from a distance. Taken aback, you fix your eyes upon the approaching object and is soon so embarrassed to discover it was your friend’s friend— or rather your recent friend— whom you first met not very long ago to have forgotten this fast. Friendly reproaching you, he’ll part company with you, wholeheartedly inviting you to pay him a visit at home along with your mutual friend.

Nowhere other than Gaza are you wakened up in the early morning, rubbing your eyes, so infuriated with the thoughtlessness of whoever is ringing the doorbell unceasingly at this early hour, and you are struck to know it is your kind neighbour “Em Mazen”, stretching her hands with a large-sized plate on the end, piled up with fine fresh home-made bread. Enchanted by its smell, you cannot hide your admiration towards its baker. Its smell is reminiscent of the most renowned poet of the Gazans, of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Darwish as he says: ” We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s – hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn … ” In Gaza, at the doorstep, Em Mazen bids you a long, very long, good morning before she hands you the plate and leaves off, cheerfully as she always is.

Gaza …

The very word per se is evocative of a whole lot of irreconcilable senses: of life and death, of delight and misery, of excitement and wretchedness, of hopefulness and despair, of Hamas and Fateh; and, not understandably, of Al-Ahli and Al-Zamalek. Gaza, the word, by its own nature, and upon the mere pronunciation of it, automatically conjures up two images deeply inculcated in the memory of every Gazan: one of Fares Oda, unflinchingly facing a tank and throwing it with a stone, and the other Mohammed El-Dorra, embraced by his father, and crying for his life. The word, although light as it seems, weighs heavily upon the heart of its enemies.

Gaza is nowhere on the earth and is everywhere on the earth. Gaza is a pun where critics stand incapable of uncovering its near meaning, and which they think is the far hidden meaning. Gaza is a pun where illiterate peasants, drivers, peddlers, teachers and engineers are more knowledgeable of puns than literary critics: Gaza the heart, and Gaza the city. No matter what distance alienates you from Gaza, you are never alienated. Gaza lives in the heart of those physically detached from her as well as she lives in the heart of those who live on her sand.

Ghazza …

People in Gaza are synonymous of commendable naivety. Life is so easy and lovable. It is where my family visits yours when my children, out of boredom, suggest that we might break this monotonous routine of daily life by taking up this visit, and after a first feigning of not feeling inclined to go on with this visit, I just let go to my children’s demands and to my desires as well. Thereafter, I remember that this month is closing in its end which obviously means that I am lacking the sufficient money to buy some one or two pounds of banana so as not to visit you empty-handed, which, in Gaza, is not a very agreeable behaviour. I cancel the visit, therefore.

In Gaza, you pick up a book to kill the ennui which has been invading your life since you’ve grown up and people stopped calling you “ya walad” – come on, boy – since you were that boy who used to spend the day in the streets, having a jovial time among a convivial company. You pick up the book, and as you start reading it, you remember that you have forgotten doing something without which your reading is unworkable, or let us say you will be having a hard time carrying on reading this book. The case being so, you put the book aside, get up, and head towards the kitchen in order to make yourself a mug of strong tea with mermeria (sage). While you run your eyes over the lines one following the other, your mug of tea remains untouched. It is cold, now. The weather is awfully hot. And the sun is sinking behind the horizon in silence. And the power just goes off. A power outage. In Gaza, power outages control you and your life; they control your sleeping and your reading. In Gaza, no schedule is set without the power outages there in your mind as you set it up, humiliatingly restricting you to their oppressive rules.

Gaza …

A blackout as it is, you resort to a candle to light it up. In Gaza, you light up the candle. In Gaza, you read under a faint candlelight. In Gaza, you read; in the dark, you read.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman
6th May 2010

The Death of Nobody

The Death of Nobody

It had been six months since Abu Naji had passed away of prostate cancer. The last words of Naji’s father were still resonating in his mind, and he could scarcely get his mind off them. They were more than mere words of a dying experienced man who had to let go to the oppressing circumstances of a poor warden. He died. His wife Salma, a plump brunette woman in her late thirties, had to contend against the daily life of a depressed family along with her son, Naji.

“Son, keep this gun with you as long as you can get a breath into your body. This is all what I’ve got to leave you just as my father did before me,” said Naji’s father stretching on his bed as he handed him a gun. Then, he continued in a dying voice: “Remember the two Israeli soldiers killed in Ashdod, don’t you? Naji nodded approvingly. They were killed by nothing but this gun,” Naji heaved a deep sigh each time he recalled his father’s last words. .

Naji was tall and skinny. His appearance would suggest a young man in his early twenties. He was struggling over bringing his mother and himself their daily sustenance. The new work Naji had obtained at the smuggling tunnels was good enough to bring them food; it was enough to keep them alive for a day more, yet it was alike enough to bring them death.

‘Get a move on,’ growled perspiring Naji with a huge trunk heaved over his shoulders. It was 3:00 in the morning when Naji was getting himself ready to go back home after being paid when a voice called him ‘Naji, come in here, I want some words with you,’ Facing a rotten wooden door and examining some keys, Abu Sham looked over his shoulders toward Naji as he called him. Abu Sham, a big-bodied man whose mouth was hidden in thick jet-black hair, was Naji’s boss. He had a good relation with Naji outside work as well. ‘Here is yours, 50 shekels!’ rumbled a hedgehog-alike man stretching his arms toward Naji. Drawing a big smile on his face—that was hidden by the uncertainty of its continuance and buried in the darkness— Naji grabbed the 50 shekels and gestured to him. Straightforwardly then, he headed to the small cornered chamber where Abu Sham was eagerly waiting his arrival.

‘Tap tap tap,’ Naji knocked on the door. ‘Get in, Naji,’ replied Abu Sham. Unhesitant, Naji stepped into the chamber. The place looked as though it had been inhabitant by none other than cockroaches and spiders. Naji anxiously went on examining the dim place as his looks were roaming across the chamber. ‘Here, Naji, come on, here,’ fizzed Abu Sham interrupting Naji’s uneasy looks. As Naji drew nearer, he spotted that Abu Sham was not sitting alone. He was surrounded by another three men with different beard lengths. They were as big as Abu Sham was, and all three of them drew smiles on their faces on seeing Naji step toward them.

IT felt disconcerting while Naji was having his usual moderate supper with his mother at home. He couldn’t help thinking of the discourse he had with Abu Sham and the other three bearded men. Salma took notice of Naji’s being absent-minded. Still staring at his plainly sullen face, she refilled his cup of tea. Naji’s eyes were leering at the pasty in his hands; his lower jaw moving up and down as sluggishly as his body appeared to be. Breaking the silence, Salma asked: “How was your day at work?” fully aware of the answer. “Tiring, I suppose?” she continued. Naji, however, sounded uninterested in his mother’s question. He was transfixing his eyes unblinkingly at the small scattered pieces of sage floating on the surface of hot tea. It had been a while before Naji realized that he was not at Abu Sham’s chamber and his mother was uneasily exchanging with him nervous looks from the edge of her watery eyes. “What’s wrong?” She asked him once more. “Nothing,” Naji lied. “Don’t lie to me,” she snapped at him. “You’ve been acting weirdly since you came home, what happened; just let me know,” she tersely continued.
Naji, foreseeing his mother’s prolonged worry at night in case he didn’t tell her the truth, made up his mind to tell her what happened between him and Abu Sham inside the rotten chamber.

It had been a week since Naji told his mother about his sneaking behind the green lines and staying in Israel for two days. It was today he is meeting the three bearded men in the same chamber where they handed him 2000 shekels in return for the ‘ok’ he replied to their proposal. Nonetheless, Naji had had to deal with the continuing image of his mother fainting at the moment he told her about sneaking into Israel—the image the haunted him all week and kept him awake all night long. Naji was up early in the morning. He dressed himself and tore his way to the kitchen where his mother was preparing him breakfast. As he drew nearer the kitchen, Naji could hear his mother sing in a low voice. Her singing was mixed with sporadic heartbreaking sobs. Naji felt as though his heart sank at each sob his mother uttered.

While having their breakfast, Naji couldn’t stand the idea of his mother staying alone for two days. Then, he cleared his throat and raised his eyes to meet his mother’s. “I don’t want you to be angry with me. I’m doing this for us,” said Naji in a distressed voice. Salma, who was not eating, shoot him an angry look, yet so compassionate. Lowering her face, she said nothing. Naji got up to his feet and headed to where his mother was sitting. “I’ll be back in two days; I promise,” His mother raised her face again while Naji was grabbing her hands. Salma perceived that it was a moment of farewell. It was a moment of inevitability. Naji lowered himself and kissed the back of her hands. Failing to gulp back her tears, Salma tightened her grab of his hands before she let go of them— of him.

Three years later, at daybreak, Salma was wrapping some packages of food and cigarettes. As she finished packaging, she dressed up and prepared herself well. Confusing feelings were occupying her. She didn’t know whether she must be in high spirits as she was or dejected as she intermittingly felt. It was only a few hours that separated her from seeing her son for the first time in three years since he was caught in a failed attempt to sneak beyond the borders. Since then, Salma sat, where her son kissed her the good-bye, sniveling and sniffing each of the three letters her son sent her throughout three years. She lived sobbingly reproaching herself for letting him go as though she had any chance to put a stop to what he was up to. She grew more pallid each day as she languished after her lost son. She wept bitterly over him that her eyes seemed to have drained off tears. It struck 5:00 in the morning and Salma carried the two packages and went off the house. She went to visit her son, who hadn’t stood in a trial yet, in Nafha prison inside Israel.

Tightly clenching a package at each hand, Salma alighted from the car with anxious thoughts whirling over her head. She felt ready-to-drop, but she had to pass one more last checkpoint before she could gain access into Israel. After having her packages inspected, she had to go through the metal detector. She passed through it when it gave a buzzing sound. Her blood ran cold. A blond capped officer with freckles on his face asked her to check if she had any metal pieces with her. Salma examined herself thoroughly but failed to find a sign of any single metal. The officer, then, required her to go through the metal detector for a second time. As she returned back, Salma felt her heart was pounding so loudly as though the smirking officer could make it out. She stepped toward the metal detector and attempted to steady her legs while she passed through it. And then ‘Zzzzz,’ it buzzed again. Immediately then, two slender female officers came straddling toward her when it flashed through her mind: she could tell it was the buckle of her watch that made all the fuss. ‘Good riddance,’ she said to herself gleefully that she could eventually pass through it without making it buzz. Salma speculated the picture of her son drawing nearer and nearer.

Salma finally reached the prison where she physically was going near her son more than anytime in three years. She entered a big hall she had never seen something alike before. Shortly after, she recognized it as the place where she was going to be inspected again. There was bustling. She heard many loud voices coming from hither and thither. It seemed like tens of quarrels were taking place at the same moment. The view of her son was fading in her mind when she found herself in a row of elderly women waiting to hand in their papers. After what seemed a long while, Salma found herself face to face with a blond female clerk. She was slim and short as to be sinking in the chair. Salma stood still while the blond clerk was sitting at a large glossy desk and talking as hastily as she typed. She looked up at Salma, and moved back and forth all four fingers next to her thumb at the end of her stretched hand as to tell her to hand in the papers. Salma handed her the papers and examined her fingers while they were hitting the buttons so gently. The officer pushed her back her papers while she gripped them and moved hastily to release herself from the restless nudging women behind her. She didn’t have the slightest idea where she should go. She was roaming in the place with the packages at her hands and the the papers curled under her armpit. She had the shortest thought of enquiring about where to go from an officer at one of the gates. But, she spotted the nudging woman limping with three huge bags outside the hall. She moved right away after her. Salma was hurrying to catch her when her shoulder drew level with the restless woman’s shoulders. “Hello, ma’am” Salma said, doing her utmost to catch her strides. “Hello,” came the throaty voice of the old woman. Salma was on her way to ask where they were supposed to do before the nervous woman’s voice came again: “So, visiting son?” ‘Yes,’ Salma answered straining to walk by her side. “and you?” she went on. “Grandson,” the old woman answered her promptly. “Seeing them now, are we?” asked Salma. But the old woman broke off to rest from the heavy weight of the three bags before moving on. Salma was waiting her answer while she was taking short breaths. Then, the old woman said: “not yet, still had to pass the last inspection,” Salma felt badly disappointed at hearing the word ‘inspection’. She couldn’t help waiting and felt more waves of cordial longing breaking through her body as she made more strides, now behind the old woman. “I know it feels embarrassing, but that’s it; we had no chances of seeing our sons if we thought about being embarrassed,” came the restless voice of the woman again. Salma thought for a moment the old woman was not talking to her. Then, when she assured herself she was, she tried to interpret what she meant by ’embarrassing’ before she replied: “Err sorry, but I didn’t understand what you meant?” The old woman said: “The inspection; I am talking about the inspection,” Salma felt as though she should have felt embarrassed at each of the inspections she went through so far. “What’s wrong with them?” she asked, feeling truly embarrassed.

“What? Don’t you know?” the old woman looked dumbstruck.
“Know what?” sounding stupefied, Salma replied; her heart was beating so fast.
The old woman looked at her pityingly. The old woman was quite wise to tell Salma that she had to strip completely at the last inspection before she could see her son.

Three years later, Salma, now at the age of forty-four, sounded paler than ever before. Stretching on her bed, she was striving to picture the vague view of her son whom she saw last time six years ago. Sweat was mingled with few tears and trickling down her cheeks. While she was reenacting in her mind the last moments she spent with her son, she recalled his promise that he would come back. Another tear tore its way on her cheek. The poor mother felt her heart drop again when she happened to hear a sound echo so loudly in her mind: the sound which was penetrating her ears all three years. It was the sound which bore her the news of her son’s death of prostate cancer. The last tear had come to a halt at her lips. Her lips curled. The tear dropped off.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman