Saturday, 26 May 2007
Believe in God
The helicopters are hovering closer tonight. The buzz of the drone is louder. Israel has been increasing the intensity of their bombings, but the proble is, they’re running out of targets. The other night, I spoke to Mahmoud who works in one of the money exchanges hit by Israeli missiles only 10 metres from my hotel room. It was, of course, part of a “Hamas funding network.” Maybe it was, but it was also someone’s business. Any one of a thousand money exchanges could be used to transfer money to Hamas without the owner ever even knowing.
“Why did they hit here?” I asked Mahmoud.
“Just to show us that they can,” he replied. It made perfect sense.
The owner of the shop, in that split second explosion, became another one of Gaza’s unemployed. One more person who might become a criminal because there’s no work. Maybe one more who turns to smuggling arms to make money. Arms that are later unleashed on Israel. Everything was coming full circle.
In the taxi to Rafah, Maher explains the problem. Many of Israel’s targets were circumstantial. We stopped at two large metal workshops, completely eviscerated in the early days of Israel’s bombing campaign. Israel says they were manufacturing weapons, but what does it take to become a “weapons manufacturing workshop”? Maher explains that fighters would buy an empty gas canister and turn it into a 50kg bomb, or pipes and turn them into mortars. Suddenly the gas canister supply store or the plumber’s shop becomes a “weapons manufacturing workshop,” and is shredded to pieces, surrounding houses and passers by also destroyed.
No one knew the truth, and no one was asking the right questions. Israel sticks to their official line, and few foreign agencies have anyone reporting from Gaza who can investigate. Yesterday, they hit a carpenter’s shop.
Israeli attacks weren’t the only thing bothering Maher. He was also remembering the Palestinian violence of last week.
“It wasn’t always like this,” he said with resignation. Five years ago, he sat with a friend and was shocked to hear he had a gun. That was under the Israeli occupation, and owning a gun could get you 20 years in prison. One day Israeli soldiers came to his friend’s house while Maher was there, but he managed to talk them away.
“I speak Hebrew well, so I talked to them, but I could have gone to prison for it.”
Now, men was the streets with RPG launchers slung over their shoulders and no says a word.
Many of the armed men are not fighters, but members of the private militias of criminal gangs. They often fought their own bloody street battles for personal vendettas or control over business. One of those gangs was still holding Alan Johnston.
Maher mentioned his brother.
”He’s dead now. He used to take drugs, cocaine. He cried when the Israelis left.”
Maher couldn’t understand why. Everyone was dancing in the streets the day the occupation ended, but his brother was crying.
“He knew,” Maher muttered, “he knew what was going to happen.”
Maher once fell in love with an Israeli girl when he worked as a driver for an Israeli bus company. He met a Polish girl in Tel Aviv and fell in love, he got along well with her father, and his own father was happy for them to marry if she would convert to Islam. But she refused. The last he saw of her was at her own wedding.
“I still think about her every once in a while,” he tells me. “I really loved here. I never slept with her, or even kissed her, because she was such a good girl. I really loved her.”
Maher used to make good money here, before all the borders were sealed and the boycott of the Hamas government crippled what was left of Gaza’s economy. He could make 500 Shekels a day renting out one of his cars. Now, he has to rent a taxi for 50 shekels a day, hoping to make enough in fares to support his family. On a bad day, when he makes less than 50 Shekels, he ays the difference from his pocket.
That night, I’m awake until 3:30. I hear the Adhan over the city, but tonight, the dissonance echoing makes it sounds sinister. I can say I believe in God. I can say I love him and he loves me, wants to protect me, want to keep me safe. I can say I believe in his message, and that he wants to people of the world to do good. But how can I believe he’s the same God watching over men as they slit each other’s throats?