[News] Gaza - Who will hold us accountable?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 15 11:00:45 EDT 2009

"Who will hold us accountable?"

Natalie Abou Shakra, The Electronic Intifada, 15 July 2009

I will never forget the image of the elderly woman whose son was 
dying in a hospital in Egypt. She only wanted to be with him. Crying, 
her hand touching the glass window of the office of the Egyptian 
intelligence services, she pleaded, "Please, please. I beg you, show 
mercy, let me go in." Another woman sat by the State Security office, 
looking up at an officer blocking her path. "You promised to let me 
in," she said with her soft, tired and drained voice. "Please let me 
in" she repeated calmly with her tired voice, then she looked at me 
with wide, tearful, sad eyes.

I came to Gaza a week before Israel's winter invasion began. After 
seven months, I spent two days at Rafah crossing with the Egyptian 
authorities refusing to allow me to return to Lebanon, despite having 
all the necessary coordination documents, approval and permission 
from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Egyptian authorities made people wait in the arrival hall at the 
Rafah crossing, sitting on filthy floors where names for either the 
entry to Egypt or to return to Gaza were called by the voices of 
aggressive Egyptian police officers, or state security or 
intelligence personnel. After hours of waiting, two officers headed 
towards us: "you are being returned to Gaza." "No!" we would reply, 
"We have coordination documents!" But, the officers and intelligence 
personnel grew angrier and threw the papers in our faces 
humiliatingly: "This means nothing! Move on! Hurry!"

After being asked numerous times "what were you doing in Palestine 
for seven months," I answered the intelligence officer simply, "what 
you didn't do." Another officer asked, "How did you come to Gaza?" 
"By the boats" I replied, referring to the Free Gaza Movement ship 
that brought me. "So, now you know why you ... can't leave," he answered back.

It was a simple message to the Free Gaza Movement and anyone hoping 
to break the siege: they and the Palestinians will be punished. Yet, 
it must be done, something must be said, this injustice cannot be 
allowed to stand in silence, whatever the price. And there is a huge 
price to pay -- that of not being able to go back.

As I was explaining the situation to someone on the phone, a sick, 
elderly Palestinian man fell to the ground unconscious. I approached 
as a state security officer began dragging the elderly man across the 
floor. I was intercepted by Said, the intelligence officer, who 
pointed his finger at me and said in a cruel and wicked tone, "I will 
make sure you will never get out of here." I countered, quoting the 
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, "all that you have done to our 
people is registered in notebooks." He replied in a vindictive tone, 
"Really? Who will hold us accountable?"

I watched as my International Solidarity Movement (ISM) colleague 
Jenny was dragged across the floor by security officers screaming, 
"Get off of me! Get off of me!" I watched her disappear behind a wall 
as I clung to a window and the officers came for me. I looked at each 
of the men in the eye, knowing I had to humanize them to humanize 
myself. I asked them, "You have a daughter my age? I am 21." There 
was no reply. I tried again, "Would you accept your daughter being 
treated this way? I am your daughter, and your daughter and your 
daughter." I was pulled away by my wrists and dragged along the dirty 
floor, and the man dragging me said, "You are lucky my shoe is not in 
your mouth."

At Rafah, I saw a voiceless Palestinian man in a wheelchair being 
pulled and shaken. I watched women begging on their knees, children 
and the elderly sitting on dirty floors. And all us were dragged by 
the Egyptian security officers and thrown out.

At Rafah I also saw laughter and love. A little girl on a bus asked 
her mother, "Can we gather a shekel from each to give to the 
Egyptians to pass through?" I watched as people shared bread and 
water, share laughter as well as pain and tears. Yes, we laughed. 
Laughter and love under the bombs, to laugh and love under racism, 
degradation, humiliation, by monsters clad in the uniforms of a 
brotherly Arab state.

Coming from Lebanon to Gaza initially seemed surreal. Larnaca, Cyprus 
was the checkpoint, and the sea was the road to Palestine. In the 
beginning, breaking the siege was all that came to mind. It was 
almost three years to the medieval, hermetic siege that the apartheid 
state of Israel had imposed on Gaza's million and a half residents. 
All I thought of then was: Israel, the occupation, the monster. But, 
the monster, as I later became aware, was not one but many, who were 
all devouring the souls of Palestinians in Gaza. The official Arab 
regimes were sharing the crimes that Israel was committing. These 
regimes, especially Egypt, are not complicit -- their participation 
is direct, clear, observable, noticeable, felt and lived directly, 
and therefore has transcended complicity into direct participation.

In Gaza, I have lived the "quintessential Palestinian experience." I 
have lived a nakba, a man-made disaster, a disease of hatred, racism 
to the bone. In Gaza, I have lived under occupation, a brutal, savage 
blockade. The epitome of the Palestinian experience comes in what 
historian Rashid Khalidi says is lived "at a border, an airport, a 
checkpoint ... at any one of those modern barriers where identities 
are checked and verified." It is what the eminent Palestinian 
novelist Ghassan Kanafani described in Men in the Sun. It is 
El-Haddad's description of how she and her children lived suspended, 
humiliated, and stranded in a Cairo airport waiting and wanting to 
return home to Gaza.

It is the experience of every Palestinian. I became a Gazan -- I am 
now a refugee, a prisoner. I am now, as El-Haddad explained, holding 
a passport "that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry 
... to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast 
aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the 
orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those 
with no identification."

I came to stand with the suffering, besieged Palestinians in the Gaza 
Strip. I came to learn from their resistance, in all its forms, and 
to fight hand in hand with local activists in acts of non-violent 
civil resistance. After all, I came from a supposed "resisting 
Lebanon" and therefore, resistance was no stranger to me. I came to 
Gaza to confront the occupation and know it through a window other 
than that of the biased petrol-dollar media of our times. And I did.

I learned that the Arab regimes were Israel's best friends in the 
region, not out of love of the colonizer, but out of the intense 
hatred they hold for the Palestinians and their own people. Oh, 
Palestinians, you are on your own! Where has the cause of Jerusalem 
gone? It was certainly not in the eyes, hearts and minds of those 
intelligence agents and members of the security services based at the 
Rafah crossing, one of Gaza prison's gates. All I could find there was hate.

The psychological and physical torture Palestinians are subjected to 
at the Rafah crossing is a clear message from the Egyptian 
authorities. It is intended to frighten and punish the Palestinian 
people and all those who stand in solidarity with them. The Egyptian 
authorities at the crossing violated our basic human rights, a daily 
reality for Palestinians. The degrading and the humiliating manner in 
which we were treated also violated our rights as women.

During my time in Gaza, as in July 2006 in Lebanon, I endured a 
hellish assault and massacre designed to break a people but which 
once again only revealed the criminality of the apartheid regime and 
the complicity of the international community. Gaza is our South 
Africa, our Guernica. The Palestinian people exceed their unworthy 
leadership, and if there is a victory it is that of the people who 
endured, who drank tea above the rubble of their destroyed homes, who 
still stand up high, steadfastly against their uprooted olive trees, 
against occupation, betrayal, complicit silence, and neglect.

Natalie Abou Shakra is an activist from Lebanon and is affiliated 
with the International Solidarity Movement and Free Gaza Movement. 
She defied Israeli orders for Lebanese citizens not to go to Gaza and 
was able to get in with the Free Gaza movement's SS Dignity on the 20 
December, 2008.

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