I first saw Gaza in 1979 and was overwhelmed by the hardships of the Palestinians living there. On return visits, I noted that each year life for the Gazans grew worse. Now that 28 years of direct occupation reportedly is over, is life there better? No, not according to the eminent anti-Zionist Jewish writer, Dr. Israel Shahak, who in a June 1996 commentary paper says Israel now is able to inflict even more oppressive measures "as it was not able to do for 28 years of direct occupation because it has, in Arafat and his security forces, an efficient instrument for 'keeping order.'"
About 70 percent of the work force in Gaza are unemployed. One Palestinian worker said, "We do not think about the future. Only about the next lunch." The Gazans have been described as living in "one big concentration camp," or, even worse, "like trapped animals in a cage." I came to know by personal experience how much the Israelis despise writers reporting about the situation in Gaza. On leaving Tel Aviv airport last year, I was asked by an Israeli interrogator, "Where have you traveled?" I answered I had been in Gaza. "Gaza!" she shrieked. She then called her supervisor, a tall, strong Israeli male, who began, "Gaza? Why did you go there?" Not answering questions to their satisfaction, I was taken away to a small room where the contents of my suitcase were unceremoniously dumped for inspection and where I was held for two hours of further interrogation.
I admire the courage and talent of any writer who has the fortitude to capture the tragedy being lived by Gazans today-and photographer-writer Dick Doughty together with his co-author, Mohammed El Aydi, have brought this life-in-hell to a reality the average American can comprehend, as they have done much of their work with pictures. They do not burden the reader with endless statistics such as the number of Gazans shot by the Israelis, or the number crippled for life by Israeli bullets, or the staggering number of Palestinians held behind bars as political prisoners, or the number of homes the Israelis have arbitrarily demolished as punishment to an entire family for one teenager's throwing stones or home-made bombs. The reader does learn, however, that one in eight of the world's 8.6 million Palestinians lives in the Gaza Strip. And as the authors remind us, "Under the Palestinian Authority born of the 1993 Declaration of Principles, the Gaza Strip has become a proving ground for the uncertain future of Palestine."
The book focuses on how Palestinians live as uprooted refugees in their own land, unable to move about, to get jobs, to visit relatives. Those living in Rafah awoke one day to find their village, as a result of the 1982 Camp David accords, sliced in half, Berlin-style. Some family members living in a southern part of the village were now in Egypt, while others living in the northern part remained under Israeli occupation, becoming what is today the southern terminus of the Gaza Strip. Daughters and sons were separated from mothers and fathers, sisters separated from brothers. And there would be no permits to visit. As the authors tell us, "The door had been slammed and locked." As a housing project for the refugees was being built on the Egyptian side, "people began calling it 'Canada Camp," the authors write, adding that one resident said they thought of the name "as a kind of joke."
In perhaps the most moving chapter, "Voices from Canada Camp, "the authors, having taken a number of photographs of the area, show a photo to a resident of the camp and ask for his or her reactions. One graphic picture shows two women perhaps a mother and daughter, talking to one another across barbed wire. Responds Adil, 38, a construction laborer: "This picture is about the border that was fixed in 1982, that separated Rafah into two parts. This began the suffering of our people. "Another Gazan, Yusef, adds:
This picture reminds me that my sister calls to us across the border. I don't know what else to say. It cannot be explained how a family comes to be divided and to talk along the border like this. The picture must explain itself. It shows how Palestinian life-either inside Palestine or outside-is khalass, finished.
To another group, the authors show a photo of a passport used by Palestinians. One man, Adnan, responds: "This is a passport for people who haven't a home. In any airport in the world, when the passport officer sees this, he will say, 'Okay, sit down over there.' It carries no respect."
And, comments another, Ruga: "Up to now, there is no Palestinian with his own passport. From my childhood, I’ve heard the word 'refugee' with the word Palestinian. 'Up to now we don't have anything of our own."
The comments regarding photos of "masked men" are perhaps the most revealing. Hashim, a civil servant of 52, says,
They are our mujaheddin, our strugglers....Most of these men are civilized, educated, most are university graduates. They are our hope. They are not terrorists....It's very human behavior that if you can't resolve a problem with those who take away your rights, you'll try to force them by your own hand. You yourself, in America, if you feel any government takes your rights, you'll hope all of the people and all of the country that does this will be burned and will go to hell. It's only human.
This book will help the average American to understand why it is morally wrong for his or her tax dollars to support a regime that has terrorized and demoralized the native people of a land unlawfully taken from them. The book indicates that no people can suffer injustices forever-that an oppressed people will eventually speak with fire.