Welcome to Gaza

By Matthew Cassel – Gaza

We walked through an area of Jabaliya today that was completely destroyed by Israel. How, F-16? No. Tanks? No. Apache? No. Unmanned drones? No. So then how were dozens of homes destroyed and thousands made homeless in one area?
This is a country that world leaders have the audacity to say is acting in "self-defense" and goes and puts bombs inside civilian homes and blows them up.
Why? Who really cares? How can such an act ever be justified? As one boy responded when I asked him, "They didn’t destroy this because there was resistance here, and not because they want the land. They destroyed it because we are Palestinian!"
So true. Why even ask for the logic behind what Israel does? They do it and get away with it, and they don’t have to explain themselves to anyone.
I was walking with my friend when I saw a young girl sitting atop her flattened home. The home was three floors before it was destroyed, now its height was probably equal to that of one of the floors. The rubble provided a perfect inclined surface for climbing up on top of the building.
I approached the young smiley girl and shouted out, "how can I come up into your home?"

She pointed to the staircase lying parallel with the earth and said, "the stairs!"
As I laughed at her my friend followed and asked her, "What are you doing sitting here on top of the rubble, aren’t you scared there might be explosives left and you could be hurt?"

I was expecting an answer that had something to do with her feeling sad about what happened and wanting to be close to where she had lived her entire life.
Instead she replied, "I wanted him to take my picture." I couldn’t believe it. This girl, 7 maybe, knew I would stop and go take her picture if she was sitting on top of her destroyed home.

By now, Palestinians in Gaza are used to the routine. Israel destroys. Journalists come. Nothing changes, in fact it seems to only get worse.

Every older person who I’ve talked to has made it a point to tell me that these latest attacks by Israel have by far been the worst they’ve ever witnessed. Some of them have lived for more than six decades of war. Never have Palestinians seen or heard a non-stop Israeli bombardment like the one that lasted for three weeks just last month.

It’s quite incredible, the amount of destruction in the aftermath of these attacks. And it’s even more incredible that a population — that is already mostly refugees of countless Israeli wars — has the will to keep living their lives, resisting the massive force that is trying so hard to keep them down.

I don’t like to generalize, but a broad statement can be made for the 1.5 million people across the Gaza Strip. Regardless of their class or where they come from, their religious or political affiliation, all are living in the open-air prison that is Gaza. And all are subject to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks across the territory. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to run.

Even now Israeli planes continue to fly overhead bombing targets across Gaza. Each time a jet is heard everyone stops … and listens, closely, quietly, shhhh … as it passes with no sounds of earth rattling explosions you can finally exhale, relax. No one died that time, thank God. But it will return again and again, and if not next time then the time after, or the time after that the sound of the jet will not fade in and out with no interruptions in between.

So, you wait. You sit knowing that you are alone. You, sitting in your home watching television are the "terrorist" committing the wrong in the eyes of the world.

What was that? Shhhh… listen…. is it? No, it’s nothing. A car off in the distance, thank God. Sit back, relax… and smile to yourself when you realize how silly you were to think that doing so might actually be possible. There is no chance to relax when you’re constantly waiting for something to happen.

Like I’ve heard many times in English from the hundreds of people who I’ve met in the past two days, "Welcome to Gaza."

– Matthew Cassel is a photographer and journalist based in the Middle East. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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