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In the Gaza Strip, Terror Can Create a Language All Its Own

September 17, 2002|GHADA AGEEL | Ghada Ageel, a doctoral student at Exeter University in Britain, lives in Zahra in the Gaza Strip.

ZAHRA, Gaza Strip — There is a very thin line between life and death in Gaza. No matter who you are, where you are or how old you are, the Israeli bullets and shrapnel always seem to be waiting.

Two weeks ago, my family was returning home by car when an Israeli tank opened fire toward us. We could discern no reason for the sudden perilous outburst.

It was about 8:30 at night and dark. The car in front of us began to travel in reverse erratically and almost smashed into our vehicle. There was no choice but for us to reverse also to escape death by "accident." The bullets were loud and continuous.

Instantly, I ordered Ghaida, my 6-year-old daughter, to lie on the floor of the car. I did the same with Tariq, my 2-year-old son.

When Ghaida understood what was going on, she started to shout hysterically: "The tank, the tank is firing at us, Mommy." Simultaneously, I was beseeching her not to raise her head.

And then my son broke my heart. He had had only seven words in his vocabulary, and yet there he was suddenly articulating dababa, which means tank in Arabic. He did not move despite the shooting, the darkness and the terror that gripped us.

Nasser, my husband, who less than two years ago joined the baseball team of the American organization for which he worked, directed that if he was hit I should continue driving in order to save the children's lives. After an eternity of fearful moments we reached safety at El Sheikh Ejleen mosque.

The following night was no less horrible. Around 11:30 we heard shelling, heavy gunfire and very big explosions. Then the electricity went off, and again there were more explosions. It was now totally dark.

We and our neighbors were jailed inside our apartments--cages in the middle of a medium-size prison called Zahra, a town within the larger prison of the Gaza Strip.

When the shootings stopped, we went to sleep without realizing that a brutal killing had taken place. Artillery shells spitting nail-like "flechettes"--courtesy of the United States, according to Jane's Defence Weekly--killed four members of the Al Hajeen family. A woman, her two sons and a cousin sleeping in front of their house in the middle of their fields were slain when an Israeli tank launched its death shell at them. Two hours passed before the ambulance reached them.

This was not the first time such a slaughter has happened in this place and to people who seemingly matter little in the eyes of the world. I fear they will not be the last.

Last year, three Bedouin women from the Al Malalha family were killed in the same place and by the same American-made flechettes. The victims were a mother, her recently married 17-year-old daughter and another relative.

Another neighbor, nurse Abd al Hameed al Khurti, was shot in the same place last year. He was killed immediately after being dropped off by an ambulance.

Time and again, the Israeli government admits a mistake and launches an "investigation." Most recently, an Israeli investigation of three incidents in which 12 civilians were killed whitewashed the reality of the onslaught in my neighborhood and two in the West Bank.

The investigations will not bring back the dead from the Al Khurti, Al Malalha and Al Hajeen families, but a sincere inquest might help to protect innocent civilians in the future. And yet investigations do not get to the heart of the matter. Israel is a colonizing power. It continues to occupy what should be an independent Palestinian state, and it refuses to make any allowance for the rightful return of my family to the home and land we were thrown out of 54 years ago.

Instead, Israel has us pinned in an ever-smaller prison, one in which we shout instructions to our children to keep their heads down so as not to become another "accident" for the Knesset to report to its funders in the U.S. Congress.

I ask you, to whom can I turn? The United Nations' resolutions regarding Israeli actions are on the books but carry no weight. George Bush is too busy applying U.N. resolutions to Iraq to pay our plight much mind.

I ask you, then, on behalf of my son, so that his ninth word might be "peace." But I do not speak of the "peace" of a conquering and occupying Israeli army. I seek a peace rooted in fairness and justice for all the peoples of the region.

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