By Samah Sabawi
The passengers’ names have finally appeared on the exit list and they have lined up to board the bus in the early hours of the morning. They were finally given permission to leave Gaza, a Palestinian city that has been under Israeli occupation for 44 years and has often been described as the world’s largest open-air jail. But things got complicated and the line was held up for nearly one hour as an elderly man insisted on boarding the bus even though he had no travel documents and his name didn’t appear on the list.
The officials in charge spoke to him at length and with a great deal of patience and respect. In Palestinian customs it is considered a disgrace to disrespect elders. After nearly one hour, the man finally stepped away and the line began to move again. But the feisty old man didn’t really give up; he somehow managed to sneak on board. Unfortunately for the old man, there was one last check before the loaded bus was ready to depart and he was spotted by the officials, who even though were exasperated still exhibited an incredible amount of patience and once again tried to politely convince him that he can’t travel, but the old man refused to budge. He was pleading with them, it was a matter of life or death and he had to leave for an urgent personal matter. This caused an additional hour of delay as the officers negotiated with the old man.
Now imagine if this was to happen anywhere else in this world, what do you expect the other passengers to do? Riot? Lose their temper? Yell at the old man to leave? Would you not expect the officers to carry him off the bus? In Gaza where people are most desperate to get out, this was not the case. The amazing part of this story is that the other passengers who were truly eager to start their long journey were not angry at the old man or upset that the officials didn’t just drag him out. They were patient and in fact were all showing signs of sympathy toward the man. Once in a while, you would hear a deep sigh or someone saying “Poor man!” or “Let him stay on the bus and may Allah take care of the rest” or “He is just an old man just leave him alone” and so on. Finally, the old man was convinced he had to leave the bus, he was not forced out, carried out, pushed out, but respectfully talked into leaving the bus as everyone looked on with sadness for his plight including the officers.
This is an incredible story! It is incredible when you consider that the people on that bus have for decades suffered the worst kinds of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a viscous Israeli occupying army. Abuse that include random regular shelling, bombardment of entire neighborhoods, a crippling siege that imprisoned them behind high walls, economic deprivation, 44 years of occupation and 64 years of living in refugee camps stateless and without citizenship.
This simple story is incredible when you consider how anxious the chosen few would have been to make it on the exit list, and to get to Egypt’s borders before the gates shut again, yet how much patience they still had for an old man who has no documents.
This is an incredible story of survival of humanity in my beloved Gaza!
So this year, as we commemorate the past, let us celebrate the fact that despite it all, we held on to our dignity and our compassion. Let us celebrate our humanity. They have not broken us and they never will!
– Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian freelance writer. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.