I’ll call him Musa. He’s young enough to be my son, and has a young son of his own. We are “friends” on Facebook and communicate in private chats occasionally. The social network invented for connecting people, encouraged me to write him a birthday greeting.
Who am I to disobey Facebook?
“Happy Birthday (smilie fatcatwithcakeandcandle icon)”
“Thanks . . . have a nice dream Adele”
It was evening already by me, so it was evening by him — and cold. We both live in the desert, where the winter nights can be bitterly cold, as it was two nights ago.
“Sweet dreams to you, too. I hope you were able to celebrate your birthday joyously!”
“So sorry. I did not celebrate. It was just like any other day in my life. We had a 13-hour power cut.”
Musa lives in the same desert as I do, but I live on the Israeli side of the border, whereas he lives a few kilometers away, on the Gazan side.
“Are you employed yet?” Musa is a trained professional (I will not go into more detail, for fear that it could identify him), but cannot get work. Over 50 percent of the young men in the 15-29-year-old age bracket in the Gaza Strip cannot find employment. Closer to 60% for women, according to what the publication “Gisha” revealed in February 2016.
“No. I am without work.”
“How do you heat the house?”
His response (after all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?):
But that heats only one room.
Musa, his wife and son live, together with his siblings and parents, in a three room family house that was damaged by the 2014 war. Twelve people in this house altogether. It’s seven degrees centigrade outside, and only one room is heated by that open fire. The damage to the roof has been fixed, partially, but there are still holes in the walls, which are closed off with plastic bags. (How much insulation does THAT provide!?) “Some houses have been repaired, others have not,” he explained. “I can see a lot of houses and mosques reconstructed.” He explains that the construction is done under the watchful eyes of international supervision.
That information was gleaned in an earlier chat, when I wrote him asking about a mosque I can see from where I live. Those minarets had been destroyed in the summer of 2014 because they were being used by Hamas to shoot at our soldiers, and weapons were being hoarded in the building. But now as I look west, I see two new minarets still encased in scaffolding, rising higher than their predecessors.
Musa believes that the decision-makers in Israel have decided to attack Gaza every four years, so for now, there is time to build. But not everyone has the cement in order to rebuild. After all, if you had to choose between fixing a hole in your wall or feeding 12 starving mouths, which would you do? Fix the hole, or sell the cement to Hamas on the black market. Not that I am insinuating that that is what HE did. These harsh facts are ones I know from other sources from within Gaza. So minarets are built, but roofs and walls of homes do not always get fixed.
Musa asked me if I had any information about when the next war would be. As if there is a greater plan and Israeli citizens are informed of it. As I read his comments, I pondered where these notions might have come from. Was it fear-mongering spread by the Hamas to keep the citizens poor and scared, or urban legend Gaza-style, or just the pessimism penetrating the psyches of Gaza Strip residents. “Even if the people are poor. We do not wish war,” he writes. “We wish peaces always. . . I am married with five brothers out of work. . . . What do you expect to be our situation? I know that life is completely different to you. . . . It would be very dangerous for me to talk about this publicly.”
So Musa is not speaking publicly. But I am. Because people should know about what Musa’s life looks like. About what the lives of thousands of Gazans look like. Because life here IS completely different and even though I have the freedom to openly criticize my government, I know that it, and our IDF, are always here to protect me. I wish Musa had that.
Later, I learned that at the same time this conversation was taking place, further to the north, thousands of Gazans were so desperate that they were willing to endanger their lives and hold a mass protest. There were reports of live fire into the crowd during that protest, as well as mass arrests, to contain the dissent. But as the temperatures continue to drop, and people turn up the heat in their homes, the limited resources dwindle even more quickly, as does the electricity supply available to homes (aside from those who can afford independent generators).
Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Musa how they get money for the essentials, how they buy food. He responded: “ I am very sorry….I do not want to touch this stuff. Maybe talk about the danger for me….And my family. How life here is tough.“
Whether he doesn’t want to discuss that because he is so frightened that our private conversation could be detected somehow, or whether it is because some of his survival money comes from doing work that he knows would offend me (like digging tunnels), I can only try to guess. Maybe he is just too embarrassed, as an educated, trained professional, about what he finds himself having to do in order to bring home bread and bottled water. (UN reports tell us that 90% of the tap water is unsafe to drink due to the crumbling sewage systems, damaged during the wars and never repaired sufficiently).
Growing up in the States, I knew that wherever I looked, as far as my eye could see, I had the freedom of passage to go there. When I moved to Israel, to a kibbutz on the border with Jordan, it took a while to get used to the fact that I could see those beautiful red mountains, but never visit them. Here, on a different border, which has been my home now for over 40 years, I can see where Musa lives — even approach the fence, if I dare — but never cross over. I also understand that with the way things are, that fence keeps me and my family safe. But it is still mind-boggling to look towards the horizon and know that people like Musa and his 11 family members live there, in poverty and pain and hunger, with three hours of electricity to heat their home. And here I sit, in my AC-heated house with a sweater on, complaining of the cold.
We live in a tough neighborhood. Musa’s is far worse than mine. But I am Gaza border street-wise enough to know that what happens in Gaza directly affects what happens here. Our lives — mine and Musa’s; the Israelis’ and the Gazans’ — are inextricably linked by geography as well as humanity. I also know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Under slightly different circumstances, we could be good neighbors, working on collective projects for the betterment of both our peoples. We are related, after all — check our DNA. But rather than using that as a basis for working together, it is the root of sibling rivalry, on steroids.
I’m concerned for Musa’s safety and his family’s well being. But I also know that when things get so bad in Gaza that the people are willing to face the wrath of the Hamas at a public demonstration, it’s just a hairsbreadth away from the Hamas stirring up the pot in order to deflect their citizens’ anger towards a common enemy… And that means they could easily instigate a new rise in violence against Israel. As I tell everyone and anyone I speak to about his issue: until the Gazans have something to live for, they will only have causes to die for.
If you wish to read more about what it is like living on the border with the Gaza Strip, you can follow me on Facebook, join the FB group I moderate: Life on the Border and “like” The Movement for the Future of the Western Negev
I am also happy to be in contact via Twitter @AdeleRaemer