Friday, October 9, 2009

No Check Points in Heaven

“My father’s reputation as an intellectual, his obsession with Russian literature, and his endless support of fellow refugees brought him untold trouble with the Israeli authorities, who retaliated by denying him the right to leave Gaza.

His severe asthma, which he developed as a teenager was compounded by lack of adequate medical facilities. Yet, despite daily coughing streaks and constantly gasping for breath, he relentlessly negotiated his way through life for the sake of his family. On one hand, he refused to work as a cheap labourer in Israel. “Life itself is not worth a shred of one’s dignity,” he insisted. On the other, with all borders sealed except that with Israel, he still needed a way to bring in an income. He would buy cheap clothes, shoes, used TVs, and other miscellaneous goods, and find a way to transport and sell them in the camp. He invested everything he made to ensure that his sons and daughter could receive a good education, an arduous mission in a place like Gaza.

But when the Palestinian uprising of 1987 exploded, and our camp became a battleground between stone-throwers and the Israeli army, mere survival became Dad’s new obsession. Our house was the closest to the Red Square, arbitrarily named for the blood spilled there, and also bordered the ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’. How can a father adequately protect his family in such surroundings? Israeli soldiers stormed our house hundreds of times; it was always him who somehow held them back, begging for his children’s safety, as we huddled in a dark room awaiting our fate. “You will understand when you have your own children,” he told my older brothers as they protested his allowing the soldiers to slap his face. Our ‘freedom-fighting’ dad struggled to explain how love for his children could surpass his own pride. He grew in my eyes that day.

It’s been fourteen years since I last saw my father. As none of his children had access to isolated Gaza, he was left alone to fend for himself. We tried to help as much as we could, but what use is money without access to medicine? In our last talk he said he feared he would die before seeing my children, but I promised that I would find a way. I failed.”

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