Gaza from a distance is quiet – becalmed and stuck in political stasis. The government is accruing power and the population is quiescent, while the Israeli army is engaging in never-reported incursions in Al-Farahin, Khoza’a, and Abasan, savagely flaying the rural edges of Gaza, squeezing the strip geographically and, in turn, economically. The buffer zone protests have subsided, or been quashed. For a brief period they were going on frequently, three or even four times a week, or multiple protests simultaneously: in Rafah, Meghazi, Beit Hanoun. But those have mostly stopped, in part because people got so scared after IDF snipers showed how they were prepared to enforce the buffer zone. From an outside perspective, there seems to be very little organized political protest.
But beneath the surface, Omar Shaban of Pal-Think tells me, sentiment is bubbling fiercely. There is ongoing political debate, lectures, seminars, strategy sessions, self-education and so on. Several weeks ago I was at a discussion about the apartheid analogy, hosted by Haidar Eid, a professor of English at Al-Aqsa University. We talked about the benefits and costs of using the apartheid analogy for the Israel-Palestine conflict. About a week after, I went to a lecture on Western media discourse toward the Palestinian Issue, given by Mousheer Amer, a professor of linguistics at the Islamic University of Gaza. Amer discussed the Chomsky and Herman propaganda model and did a discourse analysis of the way the conflict is reported. Other professors, journalists and old leftists I know filled the room, along with several of the hyper-literate young writers from Gaza who have been filing their reminiscences of the Cast Lead massacre at the Mondoweiss site. At the lecture, a female university student was carrying Amira Hass’s Drinking the Sea at Gaza. She said that the situation is “hopeless,” in that exasperated way some people have here of announcing its hopelessness, but revealing their secret hope that it is anything but. Most of the people here, young and old alike, say this, and most carry on, stolid, implacable.
The occupation here is doing two things. Some sectors of the population are being psychically devastated by the siege. The children draw pictures of blood and death and war machines. Without outlets for their anger, many of them must internalize it, become traumatized and numbed, or else furiously explode. Some of the resistance fighters who go to the border areas know, as one farmer told me, that they are going to die, and “what can you say to someone who wishes to die?” As Eyad Serraj reminds us, speaking of the second intifada, “Let me tell you first that the people who are committing the suicide bombings in this intifada are the children of the first intifada: people who witnessed so much trauma as children. So as they grew up, their own identity merged with the national identity of humiliation and defeat, and they avenge that defeat at both the personal and national levels.” When a Hamas police officer screams at his countryman to move away from some solidarity activist on a convoy, the first reaction is to recoil in revulsion. But the second reaction is to pause, and remind oneself of that thug’s life. His has not been like mine: it has been settlers and soldiers humiliating his family and torturing his people.
Israel is doing another dangerous thing. It has turned Gaza into the last ghetto. But inside that ghetto, except for the fishermen and farmers in the border areas – a big exception – there is no boots-on-the-ground occupation here to make day-to-day life impossible. Israeli forbids the fullness of life, but only sporadically carries out a savage intrusion. So for some of the slightly older generation, those aged 20, 21, 22 or 23, the nothingness of the siege is giving them something dangerous: time to read, write and think.
In a couple of years, this generation won’t need sympathetic Western journalists to advocate for them. They’ll be able to do so themselves, beautifully. They request books: Said, Malcolm X, Fanon and Benjamin. And they debate strategy, tactics and politics endlessly: on Twitter and Facebook and during class. And they erupt: not with RPGs but with manifestos, and then livid critiques of the manifestos – for impotence, for lack of a political program, for criticizing the government too harshly, for criticizing it purposelessly.
My first impression when I got to Gaza a month ago was the pervasive bleakness: the increased tempo of murders from the Israeli snipers haunting the border, the muffled roar of F-16s flying low and slow overhead and the high-explosive hell they rain on the people here. That bleak wash is still omnipresent, especially when I talk to people in the streets, or taxi-drivers, or those glancing nervously at the skies, waiting for the next steel rain. But then I twist the kaleidoscope a bit and see what is new and what is on the verge of breaking through. If you squint, you can maybe see their tips, visible through the dry dirt and rubble. These are the early shoots that will grow into the future resistance. And I think about how to help them bloom.
Max Ajl is a doctoral student in development sociology at Cornell, and was an International Solidarity Movement volunteer in the Gaza Strip. He has written for many outlets, including the Guardian and the New Statesman, and blogs on Israel-Palestine at maxajl.com