Type Israel and occupied Palestine into a google search box and you’ll get 53,700,000 results in 0.41 seconds that’s a lot of information. There are experts out there who could do a better job of explaining events from 1948 to present day but this post is just about the random conversations and encounters I had as I passed through. Events occurred over a two-year period and are not presented in sequence.
Stories from Israel
My cellphone, with a sim card from Gaza, always showed this message when I was on a call:
Ciphering not provided by operator. Transmission insecure
The first time I travelled out of Palestine using the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv (no city in Palestine has an airport) I went through a full screening before the woman responsible for going through every item in my suitcase and getting me back and forth through the metal detector and said:
Try to enjoy this
After passport control upon entering Tel Aviv, I am handed a number which either means you’re free go get your bags and get on with your day or further questioning before you get your bags checked and declared ‘safe’, living in Gaza as an expat naturally I got the latter (in reality no Palestinian from Gaza can use this airport).
Airport guy: You live in Ramallah? ( West Bank)
Me: No, the Gaza Strip with my husband
Airport guy: You have family there?¨
Me: No just my husband
Airport guy: Is he Arab?
Me: No he is Norwegian
Airport guy: Is he Muslim?
Airport guy pauses
Airport guy: Sorry what is your religion?
Airport guy: So not Muslim
After a 1h30 wait (preceded by a 2 hour drive) to enter Erez Crossing to gain access to Gaza, I really need to pee.
A young Israeli soldier says:
No water, problem with pipes…you can go, not for big one but you can go.
His female colleague looks at him, then at me and we all burst out laughing.
Israeli soldier at Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah & East Jerusalem:
Soldier: Where you from?
Me: South Africa (handing over my passport)
soldier’s face breaks into a smile excitedly saying: Shakira! Shakira!
Ever since singer Shakira performed the 2010 Soccer World Cup song in South Africa with local group Freshly Ground she is the second most popular ‘South African’ people ask me about.
Once when exiting Gaza at Erez crossing the personnel going through my effects found my copy of Vanity Fair with George Clooney, Matt Damon & Daniel Craig on the cover, they look through it for a while then one of them looks up to me and asks if there is a new movie coming out including the three actors
Trying to conceal my surprise, I stutter out a ‘no, just interviews with them.’
Again at the airport in Tel Aviv, after over 2 hours of having my bags checked, undergoing a partial strip search, at the check in counter I discover one bag is overweight so I need to move items around to balance things but they want to go through everything again after that and my flight is in 45 minutes
A woman who’d checked my bags before says:
I remember you, we had a good time didn’t we?
Me: Yeah it’s all fun and games here
She takes me for my partial strip search, I can bring my money along.
She offers me water I say no thanks
She says: drink it it’s just water
And continues: Can I have a look at it, referring to the 1 pound coin laid out of the table with the other coins that I have to remove from my purse so the purse can be
‘Wow, it’s heavy’ she says
So you travel a lot?
In Haifa my husband and I were at the wrong bus stop and not sure which route to take when a 13-year-old Israeli boy realises this and offers to walk us to where we need to be as it’s close to his home. He had had his Bar Mitzvah 17 days before. He was born in Haifa, had no siblings and had a bunch of questions for my husband:
Did he go to the army, How old was he? Where had we been and What did we see and do in Israel?
And then a few more complex questions which we avoided answering but somehow end up showing him our map. The boy says the Green Line does not show in his school books because they don’t want to scare children
Regarding Palestinians Israel is so known in the news he says
At the end of the uphill walk, his mum was waiting for him and we part ways
At passport control at the airport in Tel Aviv the woman checking our passport looks up at my husband and I saying:
So where do you live
Ok so what are you doing here – world peace or something? smiling
Taxi driver in Tel Aviv tells my husband who is Norwegian:
I want to move to Norway, there are no Palestinians there.
He looks at me, a black South African:
You a team? I like to see this, like when Ethiopian is with Israeli
Stories from Palestine
A Palestinian taxi driver drops us off at the Erez Crossing to enter Gaza and says with a sad chuckle ‘Welcome to paradise’
At the end of November 2012, there was much excitement in the streets of Gaza around the UN’s decision to give Palestine non-member observer status at the UN. You could see cars with chairs on them and banners across saying they’d even provide the chair to the UN as long as they got recognition
I was taking a drivers test that day and we were stuck amid the marching people carrying mostly Palestinian flags.
Over the car radio the driving school manager we will even get a sofa if they need it.
A passerby tells my instructor: Let her pass because today is our independence.
But not everyone is optimistic, a local in Gaza later tells me when I ask his view on the UN recognition:
I don’t care about UN recognition, I am here, I do exist.
Now we will see is the West human?
Palestinians can survive anything.
I was born and bred in Gaza. I have never been anywhere and I will never be he says looking out of the window.
A week later in Ramallah whilst buying some fruit, the fruit seller would ask:
Where are you from?
Me: South Africa
I am from Palestine the fruit seller says, it’s something new to us
We attend a work retreat in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, several hours drive from the border Gaza shares with Egypt. Most staff have brought their families. During a lunch break airplanes fly overhead and I see the children terrified and almost begin to run.
I spent the bulk of my young adulthood near an airport so I am accustomed to that sound and most children love to look at airplanes in the sky.
But not children from Gaza because anything flying overhead in the sky means one thing – death.
A woman in Norway once said to me as we looked at a feature on the children of Gaza related to the 8-day war in November 2012 . She was saturated, here we go again, it’s not like they are traumatised all the time. This is my response to her.
After the 8-day war (I know internationally it is called an offensive but the people of Gaza called it war) on Gaza in November 2012, where over 100 civilians were killed
including 33 children, a man I encounter in a social setting days later told me he didn’t care about his own life:
I only wanted to make sure my wife and children are happy.
I have no future, I can die anytime but I think of my children’s future. When I think about it I have no happy memories because I was taken at 14 (by Israeli forces), I was a child.
We talk about the traumatic images of dead children replayed on most Arab channels. Of that he says:
I want to see those images, to compare which one will be worse than the ones I have already seen.
His wife would later tell me that during the bombing she wanted to walk out of her house and scream out:
If you want to kill me, kill me. It will be better than living like this. I wanted to go out to say to the helicopter what do you want?
It is better to live in ongoing war than in peace knowing there’s another war coming
An easy read on the key issues surrounding the November 2012 war on Gaza: