Permanent temporariness

"Permanent temporariness" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

El-Haddad's husband was born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees and inherited their refugee status. Differing identity papers mean the couple often can't travel together: For example, El-Haddad's papers don't allow her to enter Lebanon, though her husband may enter. Her husband can't enter Gaza, though El-Haddad could enter before Israel indefinitely sealed the borders. (Now El-Haddad is unable to visit her family in Gaza.)

The stateless status of most Palestinians produces a "permanent temporariness," according to El-Haddad: "Our lives are very precarious. Our identities are very precarious. But that's what Palestinian life is built on."

Palestinian life in Gaza is bleak, with high poverty rates, a devastated economy, depleted resources, and sealed borders. But El-Haddad-who lived in Gaza three years-says the psychological trauma is worse: "You feel like it's choking you from the inside out." She quotes Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish: "The earth is closing in on us."

Conditions in southern Israel are better, but Malul of the Barzilai Medical Center says eight years of bombings from Gaza have taken a heavy toll on residents. The 500-bed hospital serves as the region's public health office, and Malul says thousands of residents suffer from psychological trauma: "You don't know how to run your life, and these people in southern areas have been living like this for eight years."

Malul says the Israeli attacks on Gaza aren't surprising: "No Western country would agree for eight minutes to live under these attacks, let alone eight years." When visiting Israel in July, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama echoed those sentiments: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." Obama promised to engage conflict in the Middle East as soon as he took office, but didn't indicate a major shift in U.S. policy toward Israel. In a confirmation hearing Jan. 13, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration would not negotiate with Hamas.

Back in Gaza, Palestinians-including a small Christian minority-struggled to endure the war. From his office in Jerusalem, Simon Azazian of the Palestinian Bible Society (PBS) described his daily conversations with Christian contacts in the Gaza Strip: "They're psychologically broke, they have no water, and no electricity. And they are just trying to stay alive."

Azazian says he's heard of at least three Christians dying in the conflict. Bombs damaged the building housing the society's Gaza headquarters and burst windows at Gaza Baptist Church, he said. Azazian says members of Gaza Baptist haven't used the building since 2007, when a prominent member of their congregation (and owner of the only Christian bookstore in Gaza) was murdered on the way home from work. Since then, their pastor has fled to Israel, and church members meet in homes.

PBS is working to provide aid for Christian and Muslim families in Gaza, and Azazian says he tries to encourage contacts by phone, including members of his own family: "I have cousins there, and their children are waking up nightly, crying and shouting." When asked what Western Christians should know about the complicated conflict, Azazian says, "I always reply with a simple answer: Please pray."

Spilling over

For a 14-year-old Jewish girl in the suburbs of Paris, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came closer to home than she might have expected: French authorities charged four teenagers with attacking the girl outside of her high school two weeks after Israel began its Gaza offensive. The girl told police the youth called her a "dirty Jew" as they kicked her, and told her they didn't like "what your brothers are doing in Gaza."

The incident isn't isolated: Officials around the world reported a rise in anti-Semitic activity since Middle East fighting began. Authorities in Britain, Belgium, and Germany reported arson attempts on synagogues. Assailants rammed a burning car into the gates of a synagogue in France, the country with the largest population of Jews and Muslims in Western Europe. Protesters at a rally in the Netherlands shouted: "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas," and police arrested dozens of protesters in Belgium after a pro-Palestinian rally turned violent.

In Denmark, authorities charged a Palestinian man with injuring two Israelis when he opened fire on them at work in a local shopping mall. Eli Ruvio, the victims' boss, said Muslim youth have harassed his employees before: "I told my employees not to speak in Hebrew and lie about where they come from . . . never, never say you're from Israel."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…