After a few days trying to escape the security surrounding the Viva Palestina convoy, I travelled north to Beit Lahiya, where I have since settled down and made new friends.
It was the first Monday morning since I had arrived, and a guy called Saaber, who I’d met on my first trip to Gaza back in March, was organising a non-violent demonstration in Israel’s so-called “buffer zone”, just east of the nearby town of Beit Hanoun. My electric wheelchair had long since broken and been abandoned, miles away in Cairo, but Saaber promised that he could find me one that I could be pushed in, and so off we went.
The week before, the Israeli occupation forces dropped hundreds of leaflets in the local area warning residents not to go within 300 metres of the border. The problem is, the Gaza Strip is already the most densely populated place in the world, with it’s 1.5 million residents suffering every day from the Israeli-imposed siege, and that inconspicuous “300 metres” includes people’s home, and farmer’s lands; land that, for many, provides the only measly income they recieve.
Watching videos of past actions within the “buffer zone” the night before, I saw farmers going to plant their crops, and being shot at with live ammunition by the Israeli occupation forces. Some farmers here have not visited their land for ten years, despite living in desperate conditions… and it’s no guessing as to why.
On this occassion, fortunately, we were not fired at, although they did make some movements and I could see that several people were very nervous. We marched to within a couple of hundreds of metres of the Wall, waving Palestinian flags and chanting passionately. Some demonstrators talked to gathered media, and I heard Saaber giving a statement:
“…we have been joined by a British citizen who just came from Bil’in, and like the struggle there against the Wall, we too will be demonstrating every week…”
The democratically-elected Hamas government saw me on Al-Jazeera news in the evening, and subsequently went to Saaber’s house to ask “who that guy in the wheelchair is”. But then again, they have effectively stolen all the vehicles that Viva Palestina donated to the people of Gaza, so I’ve lost pretty much all respect for them.
Later in the week, I decided to take a trip to the beach in Gaza City. I sat down on the sand, and stared out into the sea. Despite the beautiful weather, I couldn’t see many boats on the horizon… Palestinian fishermen are regularly shot at by the Israeli navy, and many have had their boats confiscated for doing nothing more than trying to feed their family.
After seven and half months of living in Palestine, it was an emotional moment. I didn’t feel sad, just determined to make a change. I was sitting on the same beach… the same place that 11 year-old Huda Ghaliya once stood… knelt over the bodies of eight dead members of her the family, all killed by an Israeli artillery shell.
Farmers can’t farm their land, fishermen can’t go out in their boats, and to make matters even worse, Egypt have begun building a steel Wall on the border at Rafah, to join Israel’s existing Wall. For my first couple of weeks here, I have experienced the constant black-outs due to Israel cutting off the power supply, and Israel’s decision to suddenly open a dam flowing into Gaza, without informing the local Palestinian authorities, caused flooding in the south. No wonder they call the Gaza Strip “the biggest open-air prison in the world”.