Monday, 21 May 2007

The Playground

The farmland on the drive leading to Rafah is so peaceful. It’s hard to imagine a few days ago there were roadblocks here, masked gunmen checking cars, eyeing passengers suspiciously. Usually, they would see Laila in the car, a young mother, and wave us through. We would ask Maher, our taxi driver, which gang they belonged to, and he seemed to always have the answer.
“Those are Presidential Guards.”
“How do you know?”
“They have numbers on their guns. Only Presidential Guards numbers their weapons.”
Presidential Guards, a unit of Fateh, the men British media was so naively calling Fateh “Security Forces” battling “Hamas militants.” Funded and armed by the US, these are the forces the UK and US lauded as the legitimate force in Gaza, a force for good. New best friends. Here they were, masked, manning impromptu checkpoints, dragging bearded men from their cars and shooting them. The truth is, both Hamas and Fateh have become thugs, armed gangs obsessed by revenge and battling for control over the streets of Gaza.

Now, on this morning, the road is clear. As quickly as the violence had flared, the gangs retreated (for now) and the roads were safe (for now). I opened the window and felt the sea breeze through my fingers.

We met Fida near her house, this woman so strong and resilient, a symbol of the real Palestinian resistance. The kind of resistance that saw her house bulldozed, lost everything, saw young Mohammad 9 years old shot through the head for crossing the street. She walked into the street after him, the Israeli sniper tower only 5 metres behind her, looking over the houses of Rafah. She could see her family, they were yelling to her
“don’t do it Fida! Don’t move! They’ll kill you! They were saying. But I didn’t hear them. I only heard Mohammad.”

She carried him to the ambulance waiting 50 metres further along the border. But Mohammad died.

Fida brings us to one of the locations being considered for her playground. The first and only playground in Rafah. She points to piles of rubble, concrete blocks and twisted metal.
“There we’ll have the visitor’s centre, the mosque, here’s the playground with the swings, the slides, volleyball and basketball.”

Children flock around us as we’re filming. We do our best to keep them quiet, but their yells and shrieks fill my headphones. They all want to be filmed, they all want to jump in front of the camera.

Later we visit several other playgrounds in Rafah, now destroyed, they’re just rusting carcasses of carousels and climbing frames. The children still flock there, even though there’s nothing left.

On the drive back, Maher points to a roadblock, still standing but abandoned, leading into Khan Younis. “This is where we were held up the other night, remember?” He asks. That night, after we thought all the troubles were over, we were late getting home. It was dark on this road, and two kids approached us on a bicycle as we slowed down to stop.
“Don’t drive, they’ll shoot you…” they warned. Maher kept driving, slowly, to see what was ahead. Laila tried to get Yousuf to lower his head. Her mother started praying.

Eventually we saw them, another gang, armed and wearing masks as usual. Maher stopped 30 metres from the checkpoint. He opened the door and leaned out.
“We have women and a child!” He yelled, “We just want to get home!”
“You’ll be shot!” was the reply.
“We have a kid,” he repeated, “we just want to go home!”
“You’ll be shot…”

He turned back and drove the long way instead.

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