Letter From Gaza

The Land of Cabin Fever

“We used to feed only hardship cases,” said an UNRWA official. “That was about 6 percent of the refugee population. These days we have to feed 78 percent.”

Marwan Kanafani is 64 and bubbling with anger. A striking presence with his shock of white hair, he is a reform-minded member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

“We are sick and tired of the Israelis running our lives,” he said. “If I want to travel, I need their permission. Even the Legislative Council cannot meet in plenary because of the travel restrictions. The Intifada was caused by the daily humiliation the Israelis subject us to.”

Marwan said many Palestinians have lost “hope that we will ever have peace and live like normal people.”

“You say the Intifada has killed the left in Israel,” he said, sitting in his office courtyard to receive an endless line of needy constituents. “Well, Israeli policies have killed the Palestinian forces of moderation. Now, when I talk about moderation, no one wants to listen.”

Gazans point out that Palestinian militants and Islamic fundamentalists thrive on every Israeli act of cruelty—just as the Israeli right-wing is strengthened by every suicide bombing.

“People are getting reckless because they don’t have a lot to live for,” Geraldine said. “People are desperately poor, many are hungry. There’s no work here. No one can do business. People blame Israel, not Hamas, for their suffering.”

Islamic fundamentalists are becoming more dominant. Nearly every woman in Gaza is now veiled. And women, whether Arab or foreign, no longer dare to appear on the beach in a bathing suit.

“When things get tough people turn to God,” explained one Gaza resident. “Here, Hamas is God.”

“The big and powerful state of Israel has to take the initiative,” Geraldine insisted. “Israel has to show some good will.”

But Marwan Kanafani believes that Israelis and Palestinians have both “lost the ability to solve this ourselves.

“We need outside help,” he said. “We need the international community to do whatever it takes.”

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