Life in "the prison of Gaza" and in the air raid shelters of Tel Aviv

The Daily Beast offers a perspective today that, while not entirely ignored, often gets overwhelmed in the action reports of war and terrorism: life on the streets of both Gaza and Israel.  In two different articles — one reportage and one a straight opinion piece — we get a glimpse of the human costs of the conflict in the region.  While both offer a very limited perspective, they both also offer a human connection for us to the people who have to live their lives on this gridlocked stage.

First, Raphael Magarik found herself in Tel Aviv when the air raid sirens sounded, and discovered the clarity — and the fog — of “living in it”:

Fifteen minutes in a bomb-shelter does not an Israeli make, any more than fifteen minutes of dancing makes you a ballerina (otherwise, I’d be in Batsheva). But having had a taste, what mostly strikes me is the usefulness of detachment: the ways in fear and threat sap your ability to reason critically.

In part, that’s just because helplessness breeds false knowledge. We all suddenly become, as Ami Kaufman says, “ballistic experts,” speculating about which buildings will be hit first—because it’s unacceptably frightening to admit you don’t know. We notice the extra green uniforms on the bus to Jerusalem, and we wonder if it’s the normal pre-Shabbat surge, or if this signals reserves being called up. We listen to Galei Tzahal (army radio), because even though they’re independent of the army’s combat wing, as an Israeli teacher said to me, “well, you know”—maybe they get leaked extra tidbits. The contexts that actually cause rockets to fall and bombs to drop (politics in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Egypt; a mishmash of armies, terrorists, and “security forces”) are so enormous they dwarf the individual. Reasserting your own knowledge—that you can draw conclusions from what you see and hear, that you have some agency—probably keeps you sane. …

I am thinking now of the horrible and ubiquitous Kadima billboard ad I saw Thursday morning, featuring the line, “Bibi will entangle us” and a brilliant red mushroom cloud. Now, I agree that Bibi’s Iran policy is foolish and dangerous, and that there’s what to be terrified of, and still—the mind reels at the chutzpah. On a day when little girls (and callow Americans) are terrified by rockets, it’s worth noting that there are politicians waiting to exploit that terror. It’s worth thinking about how negotiating their own physical and psychological safeties can make it harder for Israelis to see the more impersonal, more cynical political stories behind the sirens. It’s worth remembering that “living in it” isn’t always the best preparation for “making sense of it,” and that American Jews’ safety, comfort, and detachment doesn’t disqualify their analyses: sometimes, it helps us see more clearly.

Sarah Topol takes a somewhat more reportorial approach in “The Gaza Prison,” giving us the perspective of two young people in Gaza.  One, a young man who studied airport management in a territory with no airport, despairs of ever leaving Gaza, even though he dreams of meeting “flawless” Spanish women.  The other, a young woman, travels frequently to Egypt and relishes her experiences.  Wonder what the difference is between the two?

The two men blame both Israeli and Hamas for the deteriorating state of life in Gaza. Their families are Fatah supporters, the rival Palestinian faction that controls the West Bank, a place they are also barred from visiting. …

Yazouri is against normalization of relations with Israel. She is a strong advocate of what she calls the armed resistance movement. She says she has no problem with Israeli citizens, but doesn’t acknowledge their government or state.

People can travel out of Gaza, as long as they get a visa from the country they wish to visit, and get permission from Egypt and Hamas.  Although Topol doesn’t mention it, it sounds as if travel is accessible as long as the traveler supports Hamas and not Fatah.  That’s one way of forcing people to support the cause of those who hold power, and it calls into question just who is the jailer in the Gaza prison.

That doesn’t mean that the dangers of producing a generation of despair aren’t real, however:

Manshawi is in a similar boat. He studied airport management at the Gaza Community College, though the strip has no functioning airport. The irony, he assured the Daily Beast, wasn’t lost on him. The last time he traveled abroad was in 1996. He was 11. At 27, he is unemployed, with little hope of finding work.

Instead, Manshawi and Farra do the kinds of things most single young men do: they watch TV, they hang out with friends, and they crack jokes constantly. Though life has lately improved somewhat for the middle class in Gaza—there are now functioning coffee shops and small shopping malls—living in the strip is living in a different kind of prison, the kind that jails the mind.

More than 1.7 million people live in Gaza, an area slightly more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. Nearly 44 percent are under the age of 14. And while the literacy rate is high, 92 percent, the unemployment rate hovers around 30 percent of the population according to a May 2012 IMF report.

 As long as that generation clings to an eliminationist political stance, though, there doesn’t seem to be a path out of the impasse:

“Israel has to recognize and admit that Palestine is our land and not their land. Blood has to stop flowing, and then we can accept Israeli people as any human. I’m not against the humanity of Israelis, I’m against their acts,” she says.

Note that she’s not qualifying that to “Gaza and the West Bank.” She wants an Israeli surrender, not a two-state solution. If that’s the next generation of Palestinian leadership, then we’re not likely to see any real change in the next few decades.