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Hope in the Face of War
by JulesMarie

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  • I Was A Human Shield   by  JulesMarie     16 y     2,622       2 Messages Shown       Blog: Hope in the Face of War
    Ma'ariv [an Israeli Hebrew only newspaper]


    I was a human shield

    By Billie Moskona-Lerman


    The death of human rights activist Rachel Corrie, crushed to death while trying
    to stop an IDF bulldozer, was reason for Billie Moskona-Lerman to go to the
    Rafah Refugee Camp and to spend 24 hours at the most miserable place in the
    Gaza Strip. A place where shooting never stops, where shells whistle by the
    windows, the walls are covered with bloodstains on the walls, houses turn into
    ruins and people walk the streets barefooted and desperate. She came back a
    different person. In a rare human document she describes her encounter with
    death.

    With the above words, the weekend supplement of Ma'ariv newspaper (28/3/03)
    introduced to its readers a report, giving a glimpse of Palestinian daily life
    which is very rare in the mainstream Israeli press.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    I visited hell and I came back in one piece. It happened on the night between
    Thursday and Friday last week [March 20-21] when I accompanied Joe and Laura,
    two 20-year old human rights activists, in acting as a human shield facing the
    IDF. When they asked me would I join in and I answered "yes", I did not fully
    realize what I was getting myself into. It was my first experience under fire:
    so close to death, so anonymous, my life so easily abandoned in somebody else's
    hands. Never did I feel so weak, so defenceless. I did say "I am coming" and we
    set out. It was 7.30 PM. we walked through the main street of Rafah, a town
    which is in fact just a big refugee camp. We walked in darkness, through
    ruins, pot-holes and puddles, torn bits of nylon and plastic, barbed wire and
    piles of rubbish. Here and there some stores were open. Groups of young boys
    were walking around us, shouting "Sa'lam Aleikum, Sa'lam Aleikum".
    Suddenly, one of them picked up a stone and threw it at us. It flew through the
    air and fell near us. Joe and Laura were not very disturbed. "We represent for
    them the American culture which they hate" said Laura.
    I vaguely knew that we were walking towards Rafah's border with Egypt. We
    walked towards the last house in the last row of Rafah houses. The home of
    Muhammad Jamil Kushta. At a certain stage, after ten minutes of fast walking in
    empty alleys, we went aside into a long and narrow alley at whose end I could
    see a big pillar. When we came near I could see it was a tall guard tower.
    When we came near the tower, Joe and Laura raised their hands high and
    signalled to me to do the same. I did as they asked and walked towards the IDF
    guard tower with my hands high above my head, walking
    quickly - but not too quickly - through the empty alley. Our clothing was
    fluorescent orange, with silver strips to make it even more conspicuous in the
    night. Joe held a big megaphone in one hand and a big phosphorescent sheet in
    the other. 20 metres from the tower we could see, even in the utter darkness,
    that we were facing a major fortification - an Israeli strong point at the
    exact border between Rafah and Egypt.
    A few steps before the tower Laura abruptly pushed me into a small, dark
    entrance and whispered "Quick, it's here". I went over the doorstep, feeling
    the way with my foot, with the eyes gradually getting used to the sight of of
    high, dark corridor. Five steps, and my brow hit hard against a concrete
    block. Passing under it, I went up ten winding stairs at whose end was a door.
    A short ring and the door opened to reveal the smiling face of Muhammad Kushta.
    Standing in the door, smiling back, I felt relieved that the damned walking was
    over and that we got to somewhere looking like a hospitable house. I did not
    realize what kind of night was waiting for me. I had not the slightest idea.
    Muhammad Jamil Kushta, whose house we have come to defend, opened the door to
    see two young human rights activists who had been spending the nights in his
    home for the past few weeks, plus a woman introducing herself as a french
    journalist. The French journalist was me, at that moment nobody knew I was
    actually an Israeli from Tel Aviv. "Tfatdal, Tfatdal"(Please Enter, you are Welcome) he said as he opened the
    door, the greeting joined by his young wife Nora holding little Nancy in her
    hands. It was already a quarter past eight when we all sat down on the floor by
    the little heater when suddenly it started. A noise which to my ear sounded
    very very close, a rolling noise, an ear-shattering noise, a noise which
    sounded like hell. It was the first time that night that the house came under
    fire, and the first time for me to be under fire. I started shaking. My entire
    body was shaking. The noise was rolling by my ears like a series of giant
    fireballs. Shooting, shooting, shooting. I understood this is how an encounter
    with death looks like. With the first burst Jamil moved his tea glass slightly.
    Up and down, up and down. Nora held Nancy tightly. Joe and Laura went to the
    baby Ibasan who slept in the corner and her brother the young Jamil and
    crouched over them. It lasted half an hour, and for an hour and half afterwards
    my body was till shaking. But I did not yet realize it was just the beginning.
    I watched Jamil without words and he said: "I goes on like this every night.
    For two and a half years". "What are they shooting at?" I asked. "In the air"
    he shrugged. "Why?" "Out of fear" he said simply. "They are also afraid, alone
    there in the dark. They are very young". "Why aren't you taking your children
    elsewhere, away from here?" I asked after getting my voice under control. "I
    have no money" he answered. "I have no money for another house, every penny I
    had was invested in these walls, and I got into debt even so".

    A Dangerous Game

    It is not by chance that over the past few weeks, Laura and Joe are spending
    their nights in Jamil's house. It is the last house in the row of houses fronting the
    Egyptian border. Some twenty metres from this house, perhaps less, the IDF built
    a high fortification, destroyed all houses to the right and left and stationed guns, tanks
    and mortars targetting the city.

    That is why Laura and Joe are sleeping over in Jamil's home. This is the next house
    in line to be demolished. There is no way for Jamil and the human rights activists to
    know in advance when the army would come at this house with tanks or D-9
    bulldozers - and it will be the job of Laura and Joe to try preventing the IDF from
    approaching the house. Laura and Joe are members of ISM, International
    Solidarity Movement, a group of human rights activists who oppose the Israeli
    occupation through direct non-violent action. They are young, politically
    motivated university graduates - very extreme and determined pacifists. Their
    purpose is to prevent the army from harming civilians.

    Every night, with the beginning of the curfew, they spread out into Palestinian
    homes on the first row, which are exposed to shooting from the military
    positions. They wear phosphorescent clothing and megaphones. In the midst of
    firing, or in the face of IDF bulldozers, they emerge to call out in English the
    text of international conventions and block the soldiers when they come in,
    shoot, bomb or demolish homes. Until a week ago it worked. They were calling out,
    warning, shouting, blocked the bulldozers with their bodies - and the army
    turned back. On Sunday, March 17, all bets were off. What happened found its way
    to the media of the entire world, causing a storm. A young woman, human rights
    activist, was killed by an IDF bulldozer which ran over her. Her name was
    Rachel Corrie, she was 23 years old, and Joe Smith recorded her last moments.
    He saw her facing the bulldozer, as was her habit, trying to establish contact
    with the soldier driving it. A second later she was not visible any more. A
    cat and mouse game is how members of the human rights group call the
    dangerous game they are playing with the IDF D-9 bulldozers. When a bulldozer
    approaches a house marked for destruction, they sit down in their phosphorescent
    clothing on the mound of earth carried on the giant bulldozer extended front,
    addressing by megaphone the soldier behind the windows of opaque, reinforced
    glass. Standing on the front of the bulldozer requires maintaining a very
    delicate balance, and there comes a moment when you can overturn and fall off. Until
    the day Rachel was killed, the soldiers did not push things to far. They
    would always stop and turn back one minute before this could happen. But on that
    Sunday, the soldier driving the bulldozer did not stop at the critical moment,
    and Rachel was killed. Joe Smith's photos document, stage by stage,
    Rachel's folding into death. Like a big strong bird which flies in the sky, gets
    a blow, squeezes itself and slowly falls down to become a small crumpled
    heap on the ground. Here is a photo of Rachel standing determined in front of
    the bulldozer, here she stands on the mound of earth. And here she disappears,
    she lies on the ground, her mouth open as if trying to say something,
    Alice crouches over her (later, Alice would quote what she said with her last
    strength: "My back is broken"), she draws in her two legs, the body lies like a
    lifeless sack. Rachel is dead.

    After her death Rachel became a Shaheed (martyr). From all over the world,
    media was called upon to interview the group of young people, which had
    numbered eight and is now reduced to seven. So it was that I also arrived
    there. A short phone call from my editor, a contact person at the Erez
    Checkpoint, a taxi, a Palestinian photographer from Gaza, and an emphatic
    instruction from the contact person: "Nobody must know that you are an Israeli.
    From now on, you are a French journalist - period".

    A bad death

    I lived with the group for 24 hours. Crazy hours, very frightening, hours of
    fear and apprehension in which I felt at my nerve endings, a wildly beating
    heart and wet underwear. I understood what it means to live with death for 24
    hours a day. A bad death. With guns, tanks and bulldozers targetting your home,
    your bedroom, your kitchen, your balcony, your living room. No way of defending
    yourself, nowhere to run to. At mdnight in Jamil's home, facing the shooting
    tanks and feeling that these may really be my last moments, I decided to open my
    cards. I threw aside the instructions not to expose myself because of Hamas and
    Tanzim and all the others who may murder me at a moment's notice. With a feeling
    of profound finality I suddenly said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I must tell you the
    truth. I am an Israeli journalist from Tel Aviv. There was a moment's silence,
    then Jamil smiled and started speaking in fluent Hebrew: "Welcome, Welcome,
    Ahalan Ve'sahalan [Arab greeting which became, part of colloquial Hebrew].
    I lived for four years on Sokolov Street in Herzlia, I was the shawarma cutter in the
    Mifgash Ha'Sharon Restaurant. I have also worked on Abba Eban Street in Netanya
    and at the Hod Hotel in Herzlia Pituach. What I liked most was to eat cherry
    ice-cream at the Little Tel-Aviv Restaurant. Is it still open?" Rains of ammunition
    bullets came down on us on that one single night. A single night, for me.
    The shooting went on continuously from 1.30 to 4.15, near the first light.

    Only then it calmed down. My teeth did not stop chattering. "Its' verrry near"
    was the only thing I managed to say for four consecutive hours. Jamil and Nora,
    with their three babies, tried to calm me. "The soldiers know us, they know
    we're clear. You hear it so close, because they are shooting at the wall near
    us". "So they never hit your house itself?" I ask him with an enormous burst of
    hope. "Oh, sometimes they do. Look at the bullet holes". I raise my head and
    look to the sides. The ceiling is fool of holes, the side walls are cut up. So
    is the kitchen wall near the tap, near the table, in the toilet, one centimetre
    from the children's beds. Some of the holes have been filled up. Every night,
    once the shooting ends, Jamil closes the bullet holes with white cement. The
    walls are patchwork, and if you dare approach the window you can see that Jamil
    and Nora's home is surrounded by ruins on all sides.

    Everybody escaped, only he remained because of having no money to take his family
    away from here. The bullets are whistling and Jamil makes for his family salad
    and omelettes and bakes pita bread on a traditional tabun oven. The bullets
    whistle and we are eating. With a good appetite. We bend down whenever the
    shooting seems to come closer. It is incredible what human beings can get used
    to, I think. A week ago, Jamil took up a big black marking pen and wrote on a piece
    of cardboard: "Soldiers, don't shoot please. There are sleeping children
    here". He wrote in big Hebrew letters, and Rachel Corrie had climbed on the
    building's outer wall to hang it. Now Rachel's face appears on a Palestinian
    martyr's poster which hangs on the living room window. Jamil smiles sadly and
    tells me and my chattering teeth and my clenched hands and my widely
    beating heart: "What can we do? When Allah decides our time has come to die, we die.
    It is all in Allah's hands". It does not reassure me.

    A stranger among us

    24 hours I had lived in the ruined and beleaguered city of Rafah. "Rafah Camp",
    as both inhabitants and internationals call it. Most of the time, the people
    which I met did not know I was Israeli. It is important to note this, because
    the words I heard and the conversations I conducted were not part of an Israeli-
    Palestinian pingpong. Nobody tried to accuse me, to convince me or to make me
    understand something which I did not understand before. As far as they were
    concerned, I was a European journalist. During these 24 hours I did things which
    could be described as taking a terrible, irresponsible risk, unfitting for a person
    my age. Still, I am glad I did it. I feel now that I am not the same person which I
    was before entering Rafah. A person can grow considerably older
    in just 24 hours. Now I also understand better the fascination war has for many
    men. No other human experience, however ecstatic, can make so much adrenalin
    flow through your veins. But I was mostly concerned trying to understand how it
    is to live there for more than one day. My trek had began in Tel-Aviv at 8.30
    AM, with the nice friendly taxi driver Yehuda Gubali offering me water and a
    chewing gum as I got in. He was curious to know what I was looking for at the
    godforsaken Erez Checkpoint, on such a nice morning. I told him the truth: I was
    on my way to meet the ISM people. "Oh, I read in the paper about that girl who
    was killed, what's her name, and let me tell you the truth, I was glad she was
    killed. Who is that little busybody from America to come and interfere in our
    affairs? Standing on the bulldozer, really! no wonder she was run over. Let
    these people learn a lesson. Is this their country? " The sky was grey when I
    crossed alone the border crossing at Erez, after signing the Army Spokesman's
    document stating that I take full responsibility for my decision to cross and
    absolving the army from any responsibility for what may happen to me on the
    other side. I crossed past the last bunker, waved back to the soldiers, and stood
    near the rolls of barbed wire to wait for my Palestinian escort, Talal Abu Rahma.

    Abu Rahma has taken the photo which symbolizes the current intifada more than any
    other: the death of the child Muhammad Al-Dura in the arms of his father, during
    the exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinians. Nowadays,
    Abu Rahma is a very busy man who lives in Gaza and works for foreign networks. He
    is my official guide, and the first thing he says is: "From this moment, not a
    single Hebrew word. Even the photographer must not know that you are Israeli. From
    this moment you are a French journalist". With these words in mind I get into a
    car heading for Rafah Camp, an hour and half drive from Gaza. We race along the
    broken Gaza coastal road, in the direction of Khan Yuneis and Rafah. "You see
    these hotels and restaurants? Once they were all merry, full of life. Now
    everything is neglected, broken, abandoned". At the "Abu Huly" checkpoint, near
    the Gush Katif Israeli settlements, we stop.

    We wait for the soldiers' permission to proceed. Abu Rahame is an intensive
    person, i.e. nervous. He lights one cigarette with another. This IDF checkpoint
    must not be crossed by a car with less than three persons in.
    On both sides there are children waiting at the roadside. They take one shekel
    from drivers who take them in their car to fill up the required number, then on
    the other side they get another shekel from another driver to go the other way.
    This is their way of of surviving this collapsed economy.

    We wait. "Sometimes you have to wait here for three days. Depends on the
    situation". But this time, we get the permission after half an hour. We go through on a
    beautiful, neglected road, lined by ancient eucalyptus trees. And then we are at
    Rafah Camp. A big, ruined place. You can hardly call this place, with 140,000
    people, a city. Palestinians are unanimous that it is "the poorest, most miserable,
    most damaged place of all: 250 inhabitants killed in the Intifada, more than 400
    houses destroyed. Half of those killed were children."

    When I enter the apartment used by "The Internationals" I start feeling that here,
    especially, I should not identify myself as Israeli. Israeliness, for these young
    people, represents the worst evil they know: demolition of homes, brutal killings,
    bulldozers, shooting, tanks, humiliations, hunger and poverty. The young people in
    the room are not quick to communicate with the French journalist which they think
    they are meeting. They are tired of the media, they have not yet completely come
    to terms with the death of their friend, they are not eager to answer questions
    and they don't particularly care that I have only two hours. I watch the nervously
    tapping foot of my escort. "Come back for me tomorrow" I suddenly ask him. After a
    short debate, in which I promise to take very much care of myself, he bids me
    goodbye with a disapproving look on his face. Joe Smith, the only member of the
    groups really willing to talk to me, offers to go together to the internet cafe a
    few steps away, and on the way he tells me how he had come to join the ISM.

    Seeping fear

    Smith is a 21-year old guy from Kansas City. While in high school he read a book
    about peace activists and became enthusiastic with the idea. In a political
    science course he met with Prof. Steve Naber, read Marx and realized his status as
    a white male, with privileges at the top of the pyramid.

    He went to Slovakia, joined anti-globalisation groups and decided that what he
    most wants to do with his life is to devote it to the weak, to those who don't
    have the privileges he has. Especially he wants to challenge the dictatorship of
    the strong which is enforced by his own government, which is how he got to the
    Rafah group. While talking we get to the internet cafe in the city center, where I meet
    Muhammad who does not want to tell the French journalist his full name "because
    there is very much trouble around here", but who insists that I sit by him and
    read from the screen his online diary and look at the photos he had placed at
    http://www.rafah.vze.com. Muhammad is 18, he has a delicate face and studies English in
    the university. I decide to gamble and suggest to him to be my interpreter and
    escort in Rafah. I leave Joe behind the computer and walk with Muhammad
    through Salah A-Din Street, Rafah's main street. I notice a bit of discomfort in
    Muhammad's look and ask him what is the matter. "You better buy a keffiya and cover
    your hair. That way, you will be less conspicuous, and people will feel that you
    identify with their suffering. I immediately take his advice. We stop at the
    first stall, buy a keffiya, stop a taxi, haggle a bit and agree upon 50 shekels for half an hour
    and start going around the city. Already on the first moment he asks if I am the
    foreign journalist who had come to visit the internationals. Rumors spread swiftly
    here. The driver tells me that it was him who had taken Rachel Corrie to her death
    on that fateful morning.

    The first site Muhammad chooses to show me is at Block G on the northern edge of
    the city, where 400 houses had been destroyed. As we come near, inhabitants living
    in tents warn us not to come close to the tanks with their guns directed at us.
    "When they see something moving they shoot", a woman on a donkey warns Muhammad.
    The rest of the way we do half crawling among the ruins, through the narrow
    alleys, careful not to raise our heads. The tanks are some 200 metres away,
    their guns at the ready. It is important to Muhammad to show me the site of the mass
    house demolition. He had photographed house after house and entered the houses
    into his internet site, which is daily visited by 900 people from all over the
    world.

    Row after row of destroyed houses, with personal belongings scattered and
    strewn around. Dolls, furniture, bicyles, books. We crawl through the alleys to avoid
    the threatening guns of tanks. "They can shoot at any moment, just at any
    suspicious movement" he says and leads further in. The fear comes crawling up my feet and
    legs. Finally, when we come closer and closer to the tanks and the ruins become
    deeper and deeper, I raise my voice: "Enough!". Muhammad yields to the French
    journalist, and we get into the taxi and move on.

    The next destination is the al-Ubur Airfield which had been destroyed by F-16
    airplanes, then the ruined house beside which Rachel Corrie was killed, then a
    small hospital whose two ambulances are running around constantly. Most things
    we watch from a distance of no less than 100 metres "since shooting can start at
    any moment". After two hours I insist on calling a halt. We enter a small
    restaurant and order large pita bread with humous, tehina and coca cola, all for four and
    a half shekels [About one dollar, less than half the Tel-Aviv price].
    "Where do you live?" I ask. "I moved with my parents to a different house. Two
    months ago they destroyed our home. I came from the university and found
    everything ruined. The computer, the books, the notebooks, my study materials.
    Nothing was left. They came and destroyed everything at a moment's notice, did
    not give any chance of taking things out. We were just thrown into the street. Me,
    my father, my mother, my three brothers, my grandfather. And believe me" he says
    to the French journalist "they had no reason. We are just an ordinary family, not
    involved in anything. They just destroyed our life in one hour". I look at
    Muhammad talking. Only now, after I saw the 400 destroyed houses, do I really
    understand his grief.

    Muhammad leads me back to the internationals' flat just as they are about to go
    pay a condolescence visit to the familes of people killed on the same day as
    Rachel. To my surprise, they don't object to my joining them. The seven of us
    squeeze ourselves into a single taxi, and we go the water tower at the edge of the
    city. One of the group's duties is to guard the water and electricity workers who
    repair the water pipes or electricity wires damaged in the shooting. While they do
    their work Joe, Laura, Alice and Gordon form a circle around them, to defend them
    from the soldiers' shots.

    A faceless enemy

    In the bereaved families' houses, where I sat with the others on the floor, drank
    bitter coffee and ate dates, I hardly ever heard the word "Israelis". Even the
    word "soldiers" was only rarely used. What the Palestinians usually say is simply
    "they". This is not by chance. During the 30 hours that I lived there I never saw
    a flesh-and-blood Israeli soldier. From the Palestinian point of view the enemy
    has no face, no body, no human form. The enemy is hidden behind giant D-9
    bulldozers, monsters as big as a house themselves, at whose top there are squares
    of opaque reinforced glass. The enemy is hidden behind bunkers, guard towers,
    metal tanks. The enemy has no face, no expressions which could be interpreted. The
    enemy is hidden behind tons of khaki-coloured steel. Massive steel, frightening,
    belching fire without warning. For the man in the street the enemy is virtual,
    sophisticated, unhuman, inaccesible.

    And facing this enemy are the Palestinians I see waliking in the dirty streets.
    Many with torn cloths, some barefooted, neglected, manifestly poor. You can see
    the traces of sorrow, apprehension., suffering, inadequate food. At 45 they look
    old. They walk from one side of the city to the other, seeking some kind of a job.
    Man walk in groups, hither and fro. They have no jobs and nowhere to go. They live
    squeezed - men, women and children - in narrow houses and small pieces of land.
    On the way back from the condolences visit, we encounter a massive group of
    marching men. At the front a car with enormous loudpeakers, blaring music and ten
    masked young men holding swords and calling out slogans against the Iraq War. "A
    demonstration, a demonstration" the internationals call out, stopping the taxi and
    joining right in among the fiery men. Willy-nilly, the French journalist also
    walks with the march, keeping constant eye-contact with the three women of the
    group - Laura, Alice and Carol. There are no Palestinian women to be seen.
    It is one of these demonstrations which look very frightening on TV. Guys with
    black rags covering their eyes, blaring loudspeakers, swords and knives between
    teeth. The direct human contact, at close range, diminishes the drama. I look at
    the fiery men and toy with imagining how they would have reacted if they knew that
    there is an Israeli identity card right there in my pocket. In their sweating
    faces I can see how young and desperate they are, looking for action. Alice, Laura
    and Carol join the heated chanting of slogans against the Americans and Israelis,
    taking out a large colour poster, with the face of Rachel in her role as a martyr.
    Alice, a 26-year old Londoner, takes up the megaphone and delivers a fiery speech
    on what Rachel had done for the Palestinians and how she was killed. Alice speaks
    in English and the Palestinian men listen in admiration. I feel that Alice is the
    stongest woman in the group. She is young, charismatic and determined. I had to
    watch my chance for ten hours before she consented to peel off her tough exterior,
    soften a bit her Jeanne d'Arc image and exchange some words with me.
    Alice, who prefers not to mention her family name, grew up in London. After
    highschool she studied computer programming, had a nice job and rented a good
    appartment."I lived a bourgois life and I found that it leads nowhere. Going to an
    expensive restaurant with a new boyfriend, and on the way passing homeless people
    sleeping on the pavement. I started to be interested in how the strong exploit the
    weak, and for a time I went to work in a factory. Afterwards I became more and
    more political. I started to give an account to myself for everything I did, what
    did I eat, what entertainment did I enjoy, what does it mean to live in a
    capitalist society. I went to demonstrate in Prague and got arrested. I put my
    courage to the test, until I finally trained myself to come here. Here it is the
    most difficult. What is most interesting to me is to analyse the tactics of force
    used by the strong against the weak. Only here, when I help the Palestinians to
    face the Israelis, do I feel that my life has a meaning.

    We walked for 20 minutes with the stormy march, then we moved aside and started
    shopping for the evening: preserved meat, noodles, rice, sugar, cookies and tea.
    The group is financed by contributions and lives as a commune. Every spent Shekel
    is carefully noted down

    Nowhere to escape

    At Six PM, a last team meeting ahead of the night. The small commune is conducted
    by strict rules. Every morning at 8.30 they meet at the appartment after having
    spent the night at threatened Palestinians homes. They discuss the experiences of
    the past night, hear from Palestinian friends on developments on the ground, and
    divide tasks for the coming day. They stand as human shields at electricity
    installations and water wells, collect testimonies, and take footage on small
    video cameras. They face the hostile lumps of steel with their megaphones and try
    to establish dialogue with the soldiers inside.

    These seven people are taking up an enormous load in this chaos. But who is to
    take care of these young people themselves, who sleep two hours per night and had
    not yet time to come to terms with having intimately witnessed Rachel's death?
    They spare themselves nothing. They had insisted on wiping the blood from Rachel's
    face, touching her broken back, taking the body to the morgue with their own
    hands, wrap it with shrouds, and accomapny it in the ambulance to Tel-Aiv, sharply
    debating with the soldiers who stopped them for hot hours at the checkpoint
    despite the fumes which started to arise from the body.

    The mother role is played by Carol Moskovitz, who joined the group with her
    husband Gordon a week ago. Carol is 61 and Gordon seems a bit younger. They are
    artists, they live in Canada, and have been travelling the world for the past
    three months. When they heard of what happened to Rachel they decided to cut their
    trip short and come to offer their help. Since Sunday, they act like parents to
    the younger members of the group: preparing tea, asking questions, trying to
    address the shock and disbelief which Rachel left behind.

    Carol and Gordon have three daughters in Canada. An hour ago Carol got a phone
    call from her eldest, 30 years old, with warm greetings for Mother's Day. Carol
    and Gordon conceal from their daughters the fact that they are in Rafah Camp. They
    don't want to make their children and grandchildren worry.

    It was at 7.30 that I went with Laura and Joe to stay the night in the house of
    Muhammad Jamil Kushta, the first house fronting the IDF position on the Egyptian
    border, an ill-fated house. There, in Jamil's house under the ceaseless shooting,
    guns, missilies, rockets and only the devil knows what else, for four consecutive
    hours, truly feeling that these might be my last moments, I gambled and revealed
    my identtity as an Israeli from Tel_Aviv. Then I said that my own sons might be
    among the soldiers shooting at us, not knowing that I was there in the house they
    were shooting at, or it might be one of my sons' friends who had visited my home.
    And that was the moment we started to look at each other and laugh. Three babies,
    two Americans, a Palestinian couple and an Israeli woman all sitting around a big
    bowl of salad, with bullets whistling through the air, we started to laugh. A
    laughter of despair, of apprehension, of relief at the human closeness which we
    suddenly found. I knew that with some luck I would get through the night and run
    for my life, but Jamil and Nora had no escape, that they were doomed to raise
    their three babies under live fire. And then Laura opened her mouth to reveal that
    she was Jewish too, and rather an observant Jewess too. And it turned out that the
    fiery Alice, the group's "Jeanne d'Arc", the Israel-hater, was Jewish too. "And
    the soldiers" said Jamil "they too are just 20-year old children who have to stand
    out there, alone in the dark, shaking, within the cold steel".

    We all agreed: life is short and human beings are silly creatures.

    International Solidarity Movement http://www.palsolidarity.org/


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