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General News    H3'ed 5/17/11

The Buffer Zone: realities of this accursed siege

By Stay Human Convoy  Posted by Stephanie Westbrook (about the submitter)   1 comment
Message Stephanie Westbrook

Buffer zone
This morning as well, we woke up after only a few hours' sleep: various meetings with our Palestinian comrades here, and which we have been able to attend to everyday, keep us all busy late into the evenings. These are obviously followed by the Convoy's endless assemblies, which keep us all awake until the early hours.
There is an overall desire to be as productive as possible during our short time here and carry back with us as much as we can; therefore we have had to divide into smaller groups. Today, some of us set off early towards the Buffer Zone at Khozaah, to the east of Khan Younis. There, we meet with a family of peasants forced to live under constant threat and attack by the Israeli army. Theirs is a story of dignified resistance. They welcome us in the courtyard of their house, and having first offered us some dates - from their own harvest-, they immediately offer us their condolences for Vittorio's death. They tell us of his courage, for one of the tasks he used to carry out with other ISM activists was to act as human shields during harvest time, accompanying local farmers and physically placing themselves between the Israeli soldiers and the wheat harvesters- the latter, described as terrorists by mainstream media. Our hosts also remember Vittorio's ability to bring smiles upon the faces of children; children denied the possibility of a normal childhood, and forever marked by the loss of their loved ones.
We leave our hosts and their house, which stands only 300 meters away from automatic machine guns, control towers and electrified fences, and make our way towards the Village Improvement National Center ( a cultural centre which documents the daily abuses perpetrated upon peasants and offers psychological assistance to the young girls and boys of the village suffering from trauma caused by the military siege. There, we watch a feature documenting international volunteers accompanying local farmers, and their being attacked by dogs specifically trained by the Israeli army. Finally, we are told about their medical assistance work which began during Operation 'Cast Lead', for the nearest hospital is about 10km away, and during the military offensive, the road leading to the hospital was often blocked by the Israeli army. The 'Stay Human' Convoy donated a 13W solar panel to the Village Improvement National Center, which should make things more efficient for its members and the extremely valuable work they carry out.
Political prisoners: a sad, recurring reality
We arrive at the offices of the International Red Cross in Gaza, and find ourselves faced with a crowd of people, whom we are told gather here every week to pay tribute and demand the liberation of the Palestinian political prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails. Most of the crowd is comprised of women, who stand in the centre of the hall, loudly speaking out protest chants in support of their jailed family members. Each of these women holds on tight to the photo of a husband or a son, that is displayed with pride.
For the people gathered here today, their first thoughts go to Vittorio: they tell us of their deep sadness following the loss of a beloved brother, and make very clear their wish to distance themselves from those who killed him.
"We are not terrorists. Our prisoners have been jailed because they fought for freedom and the dignity of all men and women". 
These, the heartfelt words of a woman whose son has been in jail for 26 years. His only crime was that of taking part in a demonstration against settlements. She has not seen him for 5 years: a predicament which she shares with the other women present, because of the restriction Israel imposes upon Palestinian political detainees.
Another woman tells us about her son, who was arrested and deported to Saba Jail in Israel. Over the past 10 years, mother and son have not been able to see eachother. Nor have they been able to speak, write or have news of one another. Having herself been in jail for a few years, she is well aware of the conditions prisoners in Israel have to face.
Yet another story, this time of a woman arrested with her child, whilst trying to defend their house. She was released soon after, but her child -who in the meantime has become a young man- is still in jail.
In addition to the terrible treatment which these prisoners live on a daily basis, there is no health protection for them, and medical operations are not carried out as they should be. We are told the story of a man still waiting for a brain operation which he is being repeatedly denied. These are also the reasons motivating today's protest; hunger/water strikes are common occurences in the political prisoners' carceral routine. Today in fact, a few detainees have entered their 7th day of hunger strike.
Enough of cells and walls.
Freedom for everyone.
Vittorio's work in Gaza will live on
A well which will provide water to 15 000 people from the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, located in the north-east of the Gaza Strip: the gratitude felt by the Palestinian people and their resistance movement towards our brother and comrade Vittorio (now considered a martyr, for anybody who has given their life to the Palestinian cause is considered as such) has materialized into the realization of one of his dreams.
The municipality of Jabaliya gives us a warm and brotherly welcome- Vittorio undoubtedly won over people's hearts here. They have prepared a gift of Palestinian embroidery for Egidia, Vittorio's mother. A symbolic plaque thanks us for our visit.
Today, it is the dreams of an undeterred dreamer that Gaza's sun is shining over.
Music liberates what the Wall tries to repress
The 'Stay Human' Convoy brought from Italy many musical instruments (flutes, trumpets, drums and clarinets) destined for the Gaza Strip.
Amongst the Convoy's activities today were two music workshops. The first took place in the morning, in the 'Children of Palestine' afterschool centre, located in the Jabaliya refugee camp, in the north of Gaza. The second took place in the afternoon, in the Al-Amal Orphanage of Gaza City.
The 'Children of Palestine' afterschool centre is run by many volunteers, and offers children a space to develop their creativity and engage in artistic and recreational activities like singing, painting or clown/juggling once school is over for the day. The boys welcomed us in the garden of the centre with a juggling performance, and the girls prepared for us a song and a dance. Interaction with the children was easy, facilitated by their wide knowledge of English and innate curiosity, which very quickly gave them the confidence to try out instruments that were completely new to them. With the boys and girls of the centre, we drew a large drawing in memory of Vittorio Arrigoni, and showed them the basics of flute playing and drumming; we then played and sang 'Bella Ciao' together (which they already knew thanks to Vik) and 'Onadikum', the Lebanese song that has now become the anthem of the Palestinian resistance.
Amidst the fun and joy of a morning spent playing and celebrating, we were, however, confronted yet again with the realities of life under siege, and the effects of Israel's use of weapons over the local population. In this case, it was a young girl, with a tumour in her eyes provoked by contact with white phosphorus. She has had to undergo endless operations, which, due to the lack of adequate equipment and medical products, she cannot do in Gaza. Instead, her family has been obliged to take numerous trips into Israel to treat the girl.
In the afternoon, we visited Gaza's orphanage. It was opened in 1949, because many children lost their parents during the Naqba. The orphanage took in these children from the streets, offering them a home and the possibilities to study until unversity and have a future of their own. We found the orphanage to be a more traditional structure, very well organized with study and recreational spaces and colourful roooms. There too we experimented with rhythms, played and sang together with the chidren.
All in all, a day which gave us the possibility to plan new musical projects in Gaza. Although at the moment, music studies are not very widespread in Gaza, what we saw was an overall desire to learn, interact and experiment with new forms of expression.
Music can liberate what the Wall seeks to repress.
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Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy.
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