in palestine, that is. in gaza to be more precise. it is difficult for me to describe how i’m feeling, especially given the day i’ve had. the latest news report from ma’an and al jazeera is that 220 palestinians in gaza have been murdered by israeli terrorist forces (itf). the death toll continues to rise. bodies are still being removed from the rubble. the itf continues to strike. many people in the hospitals will likely not survive given that essential drugs are now at level zero according to al jazeera. i have so much i wanted to say, so much i want to say. so difficult to do given the very surreal day i’ve had. i debated for the last few hours about what to write–whether i would just unleash the rage i feel about what is happening in gaza. or whether i would also write about how my day unfolded amidst the news of the latest war crimes committed by the zionist entity. but my life, like so many people’s lives here, is a constant mix of trying to go about living while there is so much death and suffering around you. so i am going to share my day as it unfolded mixed in with news from gaza as it unfolded.
meanwhile essential reading on gaza: angry arab, dear, brilliant rania, of course ali abunimah, gaza today by sameh habeeb, the only blogger left actually living in gaza and blogging in english, and always electronic intifada.
7:30 am: i checked the news to see what was happening, specifically, in gaza. i was worried given the ominous sign of egypt lining the border with gaza with its troops yesterday. but there was nothing going on and i left the house with my friends who were visiting me to the nearby village of till. till has been victim to 35 martyrs in the second intifada whose posters line the homes of the small, lovely village. it is a village that is famous for its figs. they have 17 different varieties of figs (there are 71 varieties globally) that they grow there. they even sell them to the zionists at quite a markup (here figs cost about 5 shekels for 1 kilo; there they charge them 30 shekels per kilo). there is something called the biodiversity and environmental research center (berc) there and i wanted to go in order to learn more about berc’s seed bank. they also maintain a garden of 200 varieties of plants on 15 dunums of land. this is in contradistinction to the village itself which grows predominantly rain-fed plants like squash and cucumber. i was interested in meeting with these people and learning more about their work, in part, because my friend basem mentioned to me a few years ago how upset he was that palestinian seeds were dying out. he told me that there are older people in certain villages who save the historic, traditional or heirloom seeds, but that there is no network for them to preserve these seeds and keep them from being tainted by israeli seeds. israeli seeds are genetically modified and, like american seeds, have been played with in the laboratory to create hybrids, which makes the varieties of each plant extinct. this is dangerous for the environment in general, and it also destroys the nutrients and flavor, but most importantly here: saving seeds is a way of resisting zionist colonialism intent on destroying palestinian life and culture. berc is the first group to intervene in this process in a number of ways. the seed bank is both a traditional and community seed bank meaning that it goes around palestine collecting heirloom seeds from palestinian farmers who have those older seeds. they dry, store, label, and conduct research on them to decide which varieties are important to save. those seeds are then given to farmers so they will use historic palestinian seeds and then after the harvest those seeds are returned to the seed bank. this process enabled them to save a tomato seed here that was on the verge of extinction.
berc also has some other important projects under way. one is to catalog, research, and write about medicinal plants in palestine that were used historically in order to encourage people to use them now. the director of the center also recently wrote a paper about wild edible plants in palestine. and they are experimenting with solar energy to help farmers in till dry figs because they produce so much and the season is so short. they also grow some plants that can also be used in treating waste water. in fact, one of the researchers who showed us around is a specialist in waste water treatment. he uses a membrane to treat the water with a very expensive machine, meaning that it has limited use in terms of scale at this point. but he is conducting research to figure out a way to reduce cost. interestingly, when his machine first arrived at the zionist airport in occupied lydd it took 4 months before the zionists would let it out of security clearance.
9:30 am: we said goodbye and we were given all sorts of amazing publications about the work at berc, which i wanted especially for rami. we picked up felafel sandwiches for breakfast and drove back to my apartment. on the way i got a phone call from a friend of a friend telling me that i could come to lydd today to pick up a gift for some friends like yassin in lebanon and drop off yassin’s amazing cd-in-progress as a gift from him. it was last minute, but my friends were heading down to al quds anyway so i decided to join them knowing how much my friends will love this gift (i am going to have to be a bit vague about some of the next part of the story in lydd given that i want these gifts to be a surprise).
10 am: we leave my house and head down to the new huwwara checkpoint. i haven’t been through it on foot since they built it to resemble qalandia’s permanent-international-border-crossing style checkpoint complete with the new sniper tower and israeli flag as if we were entering the zionist entity (see photo above). it wasn’t too crowded, however, this morning. on the other side we got into a service heading towards ramallah. we were held at a checkpoint, which had an enormous menorah centered amidst the sniper towers, for a while in a long line of cars so we didn’t arrive until around 12 pm. we took a short walk to an atm and then walked back to the bus terminal to get in a service to al quds. we see a normal day in ramallah: people packed in the vegetable market, people walking, shopping, enjoying the respite from the rain. my friends sami and wasef called to tell me that he wanted to drive me to lydd so we could hang out and they asked me to get out of the service at the qalandia checkpoint and hop into their car.
11:09 am: Three Palestinian fighters were injured on Saturday by an Israeli attack targeting a projectile launch site in the northern Gaza Strip, medical sources said. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967
11:30 am the itf begin their air strikes in gaza with american-made f16 fighter jets. the radio is not on in the service. no one seems aware of this fact. but within 15 minutes over 200 patients flood hospitals, like al shifa hospital. orthopedic and maternity wards are turned into make-shift emergency rooms. from 10 month old babies to 55 year old women, palestinian civilians are massacred. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
11: 57 am: Israeli airstrikes continue to bombard Gaza and Palestinian military factions launch homemade projectiles at Israeli targets. The toll for Saturday’s violence is 210 Palestinians dead and 300-600 injured. Medical sources say most arriving to Gaza City hospitals in “pieces,” while Israeli sources reported one dead, five injured. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
12:30 pm: we arrive at qalandia. our service is one of the last cars allowed out. qalandia gets shut down intermittently throughout the day. i hop out on the other side and walk over to sami’s car. he tells me what has happened in gaza. i wasn’t shocked. i expected it, but i did not know when it would happen. we drive to al quds to pick up wasef. at 1 pm as we arrive in al quds, we learn that everyone in al quds has closed down their shops because of the massacre in gaza. streets are quiet. very few cars are on the road. we head towards lydd. we listen to the radio. alternating reports from gaza–there are 140 dead now–with the music of marcel khalife.
1:08 pm: Meanwhile in the nearby Hebron city, local youth took to the streets and protested the latest attack on Gaza, local sources reported clashes between local youth and Israeli troops, no injures were yet reported. In Ramallah city, in the central Part of the west Bank people organized protests in the streets. Local hospitals are asking people to donate blood in order to try to send it to Gaza hospitals. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
1:30 we arrive in lydd. we know we are in lydd now because we are greeted by the zionist’s infamous ramla prison stretching across several city blocks. we call the house to get more specific directions. we are guided to their neighborhood and i notice israeli flags on people’s homes. i thought that lydd was an entirely palestinian city. like all palestinians living in 1948 they are forced to live with daily reminders of their dispossession through the street names like herzl or jabotinsky. but the house we were driving to was on a street named–brace yourself–“the heroes of israel street.” one all encompassing horrific name. shocking. it should be called the khara of the zionist entity. we go inside and instantly inside and are welcomed with coffee and images of the horrific massacres in gaza on al manar tv. there are 155 palestinians massacred. these are the bodies of palestinians: not the bodies of fatah or hamas. they are all the same. i am stunned by what i see. the images of the death, the massacre, is unimaginable and yet it is real. i’ve seen it before. in gaza. in lebanon. in iraq. in afghanistan. the zionist entity and the united states are one in the same. the person we came to visit is online. he is chatting with friends in gaza. they are safe, for now. they are going to the hospital to donate blood.
1:39 pm: The IDF’s deadly strike on the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning, is far from over: The IDF said that while the first wave of fire was concluded, the military has to study the strike’s results before deciding on the next stage of the assault, which was launched in response to the nonstop rocket fire from the Strip at the western Negev. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
1:51 pm: Israeli warplanes targeted the police station in Rafah, leading to the collapse of several tunnels. Residents saw witnesses running from the tunnels as they collapsed behind them. Among the police officers killed in the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip was de facto Police Chief Imad Al-Amsi. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
2:23 pm: Fatah officials in Nablus called the attacks in the Gaza Strip on Saturday a “new Holocaust” against Palestinians. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
3 pm: we head back to al quds. all afternoon wasef has been receiving sms messages from the un because he works for them. messages about protests in khalil. in qalandia. we saw protests on television: in ramallah, in amman, all over lebanon (there were 5 there today in beirut and in various palestinian refugee camps).
3:29 pm: Leaders and citizens of Israel’s neighboring Arab countries condemned an airstrike that killed at least 150 Palestinians and injured more than 200 others on Saturday.protests in egypt, jordan, lebanon syria. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
4 pm: we arrive in al quds and drive through the streets to see what’s going on. all the streets are closed down. all the shops, except for pharmacies, are closed on salah ed din street, but we see people walking down the streets. we see itf on horses on the streets of this palestinian neighborhood. we are hungry. we see that the only place to get some food is at the jerusalem hotel on nablus road. we park–not an easy task on a normal day–and go inside. we order some kibbe, salata, kofta, hummus and chat. we see itf helicopters circling above. there are protests now in al quds, in multiple places. sami becomes happy. he tells me: “i am happiest when there is a protest in the old city because it unifies everyone. it is like we are one family.” they are flying overhead in order to photograph those who will likely be kidnapped tonight. perhaps as i type right now. we see itf cars with sirens storming down nablus road. garbage bins are on fire all around. my friend amany surprises me by walking into the restaurant. she had a hard time coming through the beit jala checkpoint. wasef gets another sms. protest at qalandia and fighting ensues between the itf and palestinians. we wonder if i will be able to get home. the restaurant is short staffed. the waiter tells us the other three who were supposed to come to work for the evening shift cannot; they live in the old city and it is shut tight.
4:49 pm: Palestinians poured into the streets Saturday after news of a massive Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip hit media outlets. Clashes broke out in Hebron and East Jerusalem as demonstrators met Israeli troops. Spontaneous demonstrations took place in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarem, and the Ad-Duheisha refugee camp, while organized rallies marched in Hebron and Bethlehem. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
4:59 pm: Commissioner General of UNRWA Karen AbuZayd expressed her “horror” at the extensive destruction in the Gaza Strip Saturday, and communicated her “deep sadness at the terrible loss in human life,” in a press statement. The UNRWA said in the statement that it “strongly urges the Israeli Government to heed calls for ceasing its bombardment on Gaza.” And reminded Israel that it is a signatory of “international conventions that protect non-combatants in times of conflict,” and added that “these conventions are worthless if they are not upheld.” this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
5:27 pm: Bethlehem district, like many areas around the West Bank, had a large demonstration against the Israeli massacres in Gaza. The demonstration started at 5 PM in the square between the Church of the Nativity and Omar’s Mosque. Hundreds of people (Palestinians and Internationals) gathered and held a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Israeli aggression and heard some speeches from leaders in the community including the mayor of Bethlehem. Palestinians belonging to various factions were participants. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
5:30 pm: my friends walk me across the street to catch a service to ramallah, through qalandia, to see if i can make it home, although they cannot because they are from the old city. it seems that services are still going there so i get on. but the roads we take are different. ar ram checkpoint is closed. we must go on some back roads. as we reach qalandia my phone begins to get a signal again. i start to receive a back log of sms messages. ayah tells me she’s going to a protest in beit lahem. she says the palestinian authority policy have reached before them and are trying to shut it down.
5:44 pm: Arab-Israeli leaders slammed the Israeli assault on Gaza Saturday, referring to it as a “war crime.” Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka, who participated in a rally in Nazareth, called for a general strike by Israel’s Arab community in protest of the operation in Gaza. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
5:50 pm: Death shrouds the hallways of Gaza City’s Ash-Shefa medical compound Saturday, its smell creeping in from all corners. Amputated bodies are strewn throughout hallways because morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead In one corner a man stands with his seven year old son in a cardboard box because the hospital ran out of sheets to cover the dead with. This is how he will carry him home and bury him. Another man stands dazed, in shock after watching his son Mohammed killed during his graduation ceremony at the de facto police headquarters. The father of one of Mohammed’s classmates stood next to his son as he was decapitated. The man is still screaming. In the packed hospital waiting room a mother sits silently staring into the distance; her son was pronounced dead shortly after she brought him in. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
6 pm: i arrive at qalandia and must get out of the service and walk through the checkpoint. there are itf jeeps everywhere in qalandia. i get in a new service and head towards ramallah, where i arrive a few minutes later. some shops are open, but the streets are very quiet. i go to the bus station to catch another service to huwara checkpiont. we drive through birzeit. we stumble upon a candlelight vigil and march for gaza. after we pass the birzeit checkpoint the entire drive to huwara checkpoint is tainted with the sight of itf jeeps every few meters, at every intersection. we listen to the radio. more news from gaza: 205 massacred now. some ahmed qabour music in between the reports.
6:36 pm: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip where punishing air raids on Saturday left at least 210 people dead. “I promise you on behalf of the government of Israel that we will make every possible effort to avoid any humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” he said in a statement he delivered both in Hebrew and in English. “The people in Gaza do not deserve to suffer because of the killers and murderers of the terrorist organisation,” he said in reference to the Islamic Hamas movement that rules the Palestinian territory. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
6:44 pm: Three days of mourning were declared separately in the West Bank and Gaza Strip Saturday afternoon, as Palestinians grieve for the more than 200, pray for the almost 400 injured as the result of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
7:30 pm: i make it to huwara checkpoint and hop in a taxi to my apartment. i come home and begin sifting through the news of the day. i turn on al jazeera. more news of the massacre: 220 dead. i start blogging. i chat with friends. i try getting in touch with sameh in gaza city. i learn that the itf bombed over 40 locations.
7:49 pm: The blame for Saturday’s catastrophic loss of life rests with Hamas, according to a statement from the White House. Bush administration officials did not call on Israel to end an operation that killed over 200 Palestinians in a matter of minutes. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
8:55 pm: As instructed by its political leadership, the Israeli army continued its military offensive against the Gaza Strip and shelled further targets raising the number of deaths among the residents to 225, and at least 700 residents were wounded, dozens seriously. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
9 pm: the united states’ best radio reporter on palestine, nora barrows-friedman, does an emergency broadcast about gaza. this is the bloodiest day since 1967.
12:20 am: The Israeli Air Force struck a total of 100 Hamas targets in Gaza on Saturday with the launching of the operation dubbed ‘Cast Lead.’ Palestinian medical officials have reported at least 230 people killed in the Israeli strikes. this is the single bloodiest day since 1967.
12:32 am: i finally reach sameh in gaza city. his is online, though there is little electricity. we chat online and talk on the phone. as we talk on the phone i hear american-made apache helicopters flying overhead and i hear at least one rocket fall on gaza city. he has posted photographs he took today online. he wrote about this day of massacres and it is now posted on palestine think tank. he wants to get the word out. he wants journalists to interview him (call me for his phone number if you are interested). while we are chatting he types:
More Rockets in Gaza. The night of Gaza turned hot as Israel hits more places. A workshop is hit now, mosque, minstireal office, a bulding near al shifa’ hospital. Many families went to streets due to thousands of Israeli phone calls threatening to bomb their houses. A house is targeted in Jabalia, 1 injured. Bombing in Al zaytoun kills 3. Now more bombings in Unknown places.
this is the bloodiest day since 1967. i have lost track of time. i have been watching al jazeera–english and arabic–for hours. it is now 3:08 am. the itf bombed a mosque a couple of hours ago across the street from al shefa hospital. i think that was at 1:10 am. i cannot keep track. 225 palestinians massacred. more in the rubble.