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Israel-Palestine Special: Getting the Truth in a Phone Call from Gaza

Washington Post front page with BBC Arabic's Jihad Misharawi holding body of his 11-month-old son, killed in Israeli airstrike


See also today's Israel-Palestine Live Coverage: Day 2 of Operation Pillar of Cloud
Gaza Feature: Timeline of Events Leading to Israel's "Operation Pillar of Stone"
Wednesday's Live Coverage of the Middle East.

"The rockets are falling about one kilometer away from us. How are you?" 

Only a Palestinian would say that, or an Afghan. I am the latter so I can appreciate when my friend reminded me of the spirit of resistance against all odds, from the other side of the world.

"So how are you, Shahryar?" He always calls me Shahryar because according to him, "The women, they like that name, my boy." I despise being called "boy" more, but then he's my uncle and I am his nephew… We're not related by blood, but by profession and by war ---- a bond stronger than genes. 

I wanted to know how he was yesterday. How Gaza was, as the shells and bombs fell.

"Several people have been killed. Two children," he told me. One of the children was only 11 months old, the daughter of a BBC Arabic correspondent in Gaza.

He wanted a distraction. So did I. 

"What are you doing in America? Do you clean dishes and wash floors?" he asked as my vigilant elder. 

"No, I still write." I congratulated him on the electricity he had.  

"It comes and goes." 

Why doesn't the government do anything about it?  

"Hamas? Hamas uses it to make money." The oil imported from Egypt is sold at twice its market price to the residents who then run generators. "They need it. They buy it no matter the price," he laughed. 

Why doesn't anyone write about the price gouging?

"It's not easy to write about Hamas. If Hamas thinks that this or that journalist is writing something [negative] about them, they will f*** that journalist!" My uncle usually substitutes getting killed with getting f***ed, especially if it involves organisations with military wings. He is quite familiar with those --- all Palestinians are, he once told me. 

So then how does one write about Hamas?

"The best way to write about Hamas and Gaza is to treat it like you are on vacation and you are writing about your visit. Palestinian journalists do just that. When they try to write about Hamas, there is no deep analysis or investigation. It's all vacation." More laughter.

He told me about a colleague who moved into activism and made a name for herself. We discuss women a lot; it's a way for men tired of war to distract themselves. This time, however, he was making his point --- she had become just another writer of travelogues when she was inside Gaza. There is no way around Hamas.

He continues, "You want to be a hero? It is very easy in Gaza to make heroes. Just go there two or three times, ask a few people about where you can find a cinema. A policeman or woman will come and slap you. Then, you are put through interrogation for two or three hours, then, the families will come and try to get them out. By the end of your struggle to find a cinema, you are a hero."  

So does he write about Hamas anymore? 

"I prefer to stay at home. At my age" --- he is in his 50s --- "people have to be careful here." 

Can we talk about the attack? 

"There is no safe place. You get some flour, some sugar, some other necessities, and you stay home and you wait the rockets out. Remember the last time they attacked Gaza?

"There were about 400 fighters killed, but 1,100 civilians. There is no safe place for people to hide. Gaza is small and pretty much all just houses. Hamas is running about between them. How do you kill Hamas members without killing civilians?" 

Does Hamas care? 

"It's an investment, both for the Israelis and Hamas. After this operation is finished --- whatever it is --- Hamas will be stronger, people will feel that Hamas is the one fighting israel and giving martyrs from among its leadership. It's not easy to punish the militants. You can kill a few hundred, but it doesn't hurt them. It's very easy to administer Gaza, it's small, you can do whatever you want with a few thousand men. And Israel has an election so [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will get what he wants."

He has lost hope: "The people, what can they do?" They are afraid, he said. When their houses are destroyed by Israeli rockets, Hamas pays them a small amount of money as compensation and they are left, camping out under the sky.

"The people --- they fear, Shahryar. They have nothing." 

What does he do? His salary, like that of many Government employees in Gaza, come from the West Bank Government under Mahmoud Abbas. He has received it for five years, "even if I don't go to work".

He almost lost that, he told me.  "They were sounding the alarm here that there will be no salaries because of America's opposition to the Palestinian bid to join the United Nations and that Israel was not giving out tax money to them." 

His colleagues were angry. "They said, they wouldn't open their mouths, but if salaries didn't come, they would struggle. But against who?" he laughed again.  

But why don't they struggle against Hamas? 

"People here are sad. They are angry. They are f***ed, but Shahryar, they don't move! They are more afraid than you can imagine. 

"When you tell them, hey Palestinians, you were the best revolutionaries in the world. Now Syrians and Egyptians are making such earthquakes in the region  and you are silent. Why are you not doing anything? They say, "Hamas --- they don't come with sticks and stones. They come to kill you." 

The people can only talk to God, he said.

We spoke of Cairo, how we will get together there when we are both allowed to travel. We will meet at this place called Cafe Riche. "It is famous because most of the writers, poets, political thinkers sit in that Cafe --- the lovers!" he tells me.  

Are the rockets hitting anywhere near you now? 


What's there to do when there are no rockets? 


Are you living in a ghost town? 

"When you go out, you see cats. Women… Hamas have turned them into cats. We watch the cats walk. Like ninjas. They are all covered. The men…we have Coca Cola." 

I reminded him of the last time we shared whiskey, almost a decade ago: "Now that was fun."

"You know, I visit doctors for fun," he says. "They fix my neck, my kidney. If you have money. you can find medicine." 

How worried is everyone about the Israeli offensive and the "precision-guided missiles"?  

"Most of the people are thinking benzene [oil], gasoline, electricity, are the salaries coming on time. They don't worry about the bombs or anything. They are tired of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. They realise all those organizations are businesses." 

Meanwhile, "if you tell them the Israelis will destroy Al-Aqsa [Mosque in Jerusalem], they say al-Aqsa is God's, let him do it. We can't find food, how can we protect al-Aqsa?" 

And the Israeli airstrikes? 

"I heard America gave the green light. Let's wait till tomorrow and see what happens? If it continues, then Allah will be with us. Live. Just live!" 

We hung up after some formalities. Later, he sent me a message: 

"I just followed the summary of what [Israeli Minister of Defense] Ehud Barak said in his press conference. He said it might take them to re-occupy Gaza.

"Who cares?"

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