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RAMZY BAROUD: My Father Died Alone in Gaza

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    My Father Died Alone in Gaza There are No Checkpoints in Heaven By RAMZY BAROUD Apri1 5 / 6, 2008 http://www.counterpunch.com/baroud04052008.html I still
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 6, 2008
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      My Father Died Alone in Gaza
      There are No Checkpoints in Heaven
      Apri1 5 / 6, 2008

      I still vividly remember my father's face - wrinkled, apprehensive,
      warm - as he last wished me farewell fourteen years ago. He stood
      outside the rusty door of my family's home in a Gaza refugee camp
      wearing old yellow pyjamas and a seemingly ancient robe. As I hauled
      my one small suitcase into a taxi that would take me to an Israeli
      airport an hour away, my father stood still. I wished he would go back
      inside; it was cold and the soldiers could pop up at any moment. As my
      car moved on, my father eventually faded into the distance, along with
      the graveyard, the water tower and the camp. It never occurred to me
      that I would never see him again.

      I think of my father now as he was that day. His tears and his frantic
      last words: "Do you have your money? Your passport? A jacket? Call me
      the moment you get there. Are you sure you have your passport? Just
      check, one last time"

      My father was a man who always defied the notion that one can only be
      the outcome of his circumstance. Expelled from his village at the age
      of 10, running barefoot behind his parents, he was instantly
      transferred from the son of a landowning farmer to a penniless refugee
      in a blue tent provided by the United Nations in Gaza. Thus, his life
      of hunger, pain, homelessness, freedom-fighting, love, marriage and
      loss commenced.

      The fact that he was the one chosen to quit school to help his father
      provide for his now tent- dwelling family was a huge source of stress
      for him. In a strange, unfamiliar land, his new role was going into
      neighboring villages and refugee camps to sell gum, aspirin and other
      small items. His legs were a testament to the many dog bites he
      obtained during these daily journeys. Later scars were from the
      shrapnel he acquired through war.

      As a young man and soldier in the Palestinian unit of the Egyptian
      army, he spent years of his life marching through the Sinai desert.
      When the Israeli army took over Gaza following the Arab defeat in
      1967, the Israeli commander met with those who served as police
      officers under Egyptian rule and offered them the chance to continue
      their services under Israeli rule. Proudly and willingly, my young
      father chose abject poverty over working under the occupier's flag.
      And for that, predictably, he paid a heavy price. His two-year-old son
      died soon after.

      My oldest brother is buried in the same graveyard that bordered my
      father's house in the camp. My father, who couldn't cope with the
      thought that his only son died because he couldn't afford to buy
      medicine or food, would be found asleep near the tiny grave all night,
      or placing coins and candy in and around it.

      My father's reputation as an intellectual, his passion for Russian
      literature, and his endless support of fellow refugees brought him
      untold trouble with the Israeli authorities, who retaliated by denying
      him the right to leave Gaza.

      His severe asthma, which he developed as a teenager was compounded by
      lack of adequate medical facilities. Yet, despite daily coughing
      streaks and constantly gasping for breath, he relentlessly negotiated
      his way through life for the sake of his family. On one hand, he
      refused to work as a cheap laborer in Israel. "Life itself is not
      worth a shred of one's dignity," he insisted. On the other, with all
      borders sealed except that with Israel, he still needed a way to bring
      in an income. He would buy cheap clothes, shoes, used TVs, and other
      miscellaneous goods, and find a way to transport and sell them in the
      camp. He invested everything he made to ensure that his sons and
      daughter could receive a good education, an arduous mission in a place
      like Gaza.

      But when the Palestinian uprising of 1987 exploded, and our camp
      became a battleground between stone-throwers and the Israeli army,
      mere survival became Dad's over-riding concern. Our house was the
      closest to the Red Square, arbitrarily named for the blood spilled
      there, and also bordered the 'Martyrs' Graveyard'. How can a father
      adequately protect his family in such surroundings? Israeli soldiers
      stormed our house hundreds of times; it was always him who somehow
      held them back, begging for his children's safety, as we huddled in a
      dark room awaiting our fate. "You will understand when you have your
      own children," he told my older brothers as they protested his
      allowing the soldiers to slap his face. Our 'freedom-fighting' dad
      struggled to explain how love for his children could surpass his own
      pride. He grew in my eyes that day.

      It's been fourteen years since I last saw my father. As none of his
      children had access to isolated Gaza, he was left alone to fend for
      himself. We tried to help as much as we could, but what use is money
      without access to medicine? In our last talk he said he feared he
      would die before seeing my children, but I promised that I would find
      a way. I failed.

      Since the siege on Gaza, my father's life became impossible. His
      ailments were not 'serious' enough for hospitals crowded with limbless
      youth. During the most recent Israeli onslaught, most hospital spaces
      were converted to surgery wards, and there was no place for an old man
      like my dad. All attempts to transfer him to the better equipped West
      Bank hospitals failed as Israeli authorities repeatedly denied him the
      required permit.

      "I am sick, son, I am sick," my father cried when I spoke to him two
      days before his death. He died alone on March 18, waiting to be
      reunited with my brothers in the West Bank. He died a refugee, but a
      proud man nonetheless.

      My father's struggle began 60 years ago, and it ended a few days ago.
      Thousands of people descended to his funeral from throughout Gaza,
      oppressed people that shared his plight, hopes and struggles,
      accompanying him to the graveyard where he was laid to rest. Even a
      resilient fighter deserves a moment of peace.

      Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Curtin University of
      Technology and is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A
      Chronicle of a People's Struggle . He is also the editor-in-chief of
      PalestineChronicle.com . He can be contacted at:
      editor @ palestinechronicle.com



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