Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Eye In The Sky

At night, I walk to the café next to my hotel for a sheesha. There is a football match on the giant screen in the back, AC Milan vs Liverpool. I’m still trying to relax in Gaza, but it’s not any easier. At least the crowd of men, drinking coffee and sucking on their sheesha pipes, makes me feel a little safer, like perhaps ordinary life really is returning once again to the city. But above the sound of the match, the sound of Israeli drones is getting louder. Her motor increases in pitch as she dives in for a better view. She’s looking for something. Soon after, the sound of a helicopter gunship churning the air above us. I remember what Laila told me – if you can hear the engine above you, it means the gunship will fire on a target around 500m away. I can’t tell how close it is now.

The match ends, AC Milan 2 – Liverpool 1. The men in the café yell to each other, some cheering, others moping. I can still hear the helicopter above us, and I decide to head back to my hotel as quickly as possible.

At 11:45, there is that familiar sound. I heard it only a few days ago when a gunship fired on the tree outside my hotel. It was louder this time, a fierce hissing, getting quickly louder. I braced myself, knowing what was coming. The explosion rattled the windows of my room. Looking out the window, smoke rose from a hundred or so metres down my street.

My feet crunched over broken glass as I walked closer to the site. I passed a couple of boys, meeting their friends walking the other way. “I told you not to come. There’s nothing, go back…” He means no one was killed. There’s no blood to look at.

The missile hit a money exchanger. Two men in Jalabiyahs are getting annoyed at the crowed gathering outside the shop – a few journalists, but mostly just curious neighbours. One man is yelling, waving his hands furiously. “Go away! Leave us! There’s nothing here! Leave us!” The blast threw the shop’s metal shutters over 30 metres away. All the shops surrounding the exchange were also destroyed, and shopkeepers walk down from their apartments to inspect the damage.

Before long, a car pulls up and everyone stops to watch an older man, walking with a cane, stepping slowly out of the passenger seat. He’s the shop’s owner. The two older men take his hand, kiss him on the cheeks, and offer their hope that God protects him.

A fat man with a goatee approaches me, asking how I can film with such little light. His name is Mahmoud, he’s a colleague of the owner of the exchange, and he tells me he, too, was once a journalist in the West Bank for a while.
“Why was this exchange hit?”
“Just to give us a signal. To let us know they can do it.” I’m not convinced.
“But why this exchange in particular.”
“I don’t know. Maybe one of his clients…” and his voice trailed off. I understood what he meant.
“Take care,” Mahmoud says to me as we shake hands goodbye.

On my way back to the hotel, I hear the crackle of a walkie-talkie. A boy is holding a receiver in his hand, standing in the shadow far from the crowd of attention seekers. The voices over the radio are discussing the attack.
“Who is that?”
“That’s the frequency of the Qassam Brigades. I can get Al-Aqsa Brigades as well, wait…” and he retunes the receiver, but there’s no sound.
“Oh, they’re quiet now.”
“What are they saying about the attack?”
“Maybe they were transferring money to Hamas.”
There it was. The Israelis would probably say, if they admitted to this strike at all, that it was transferring money to “terrorists.”

Four hours later, I jolt out of bed to the same sound. This time, the explosion is even closer. Another money exchange. The same scene. Shattered glass scattered across four lanes of road. Men struggling to pull the wreckage apart, to see what’s left in the house. Others yelling at the crowd to leave them alone. Firemen survey the explosion, taking notes and cutting electrical wires. On the ground, blown off the wall of the house, I find the house number: 150/200.

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