Sitting in a smoky upstairs room of a downtown Gaza cafe, me and Mohammed drank our tea and watched the final of the African Cup of Nations from the edge of our seats.
The match was tense, with Egypt, Gaza’s neighbours and supported by Palestinians throughout the tournament, stuck in a deadlock with Ghana for a full 87 minutes. And then, finally, a breakthrough – Egyptian substitute Gedo broke through the Ghanaian defence, played a brilliant one-two with Zidan (no, not the French one…), who nut-megged a defender in the process, and curled a shot into the far corner to give Egypt the advantage. 1-0.
Everyone leaped from their seats. We had won! Smiles and hugs and dancing all around… and then the chants began…
“Geeeeeeeedo! Gedo! Gedo! Gedo!”
A few minutes later, and the referee blew the final whistle. We poured out onto the streets of Gaza City.
We jumped into a passing car for a ride to the nearby jundee, a big square slash park where people were gathering to celebrate Egypt’s victory. We got out and sat on the railings which line the pavement.
“There it is!” said Mohammed, pointing up the road. A huge mass of people had started a demonstration, waving flags, chanting and marching towards us. A big truck embedded in the middle of the crowd was sounding it’s horn.
As the crowd passed us, we jumped up and commandeered a taxi to follow. We pulled down the windows and sat up, hands on the roof, chanting along with the crowd. After a few minutes, some friends we lost in the crowd joined us, and we were on our way.
Every now and then the car we were sitting in, or rather hanging out of, would be diverted away from the march, and speed away into the night. We chanted anyway, raced along the coast, the sound of the waves lapping onto the sand in our ears, and bumped into another car with a drum-player sitting in the boot. At one point, a Hamas police officer told us to sit in the cars properly… we obliged, and then got back onto the roof of the car as we rounded the next corner. I felt like it was one of the best nights of my life.
We found our way back to the main crowd, where journalists had gathered and were filming events.
“We are all Egyptians! Long live Egypt!” we chanted, amongst a sea of Egyptian flags, and photos of Gedo.
It made me sad to think that whilst Palestinians in Gaza, living under siege and suffering from daily shortages of food, medicine and electricity, rally in solidarity with their Egyptian brothers, on the other side of the border, the Egyptian government are beginning work on an underground steel wall to separate the countries. The Egyptian government says it is to stop Hamas smuggling weapons through the tunnels – tunnels that, in reality, are being used to smuggle in food and medicine to a starving population.
During the Israeli assault on Gaza just over one year ago, the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak once again proved what puppets they are. As Israeli occupation forces murdered women and children in their homes, the Egyptian government sealed the Rafah border completely, imprisoning the entire 1.5 million Gaza population as they were being brutally massacred. So much for brothers.