Today was the first day of Eid, and I awoke to the Arabic dance beats of Nancy Ajram. The alleys around around my apartment where alive with the sounds of children playing late into the the night, but I didn’t mind the sleep interruption. At least it wasn’t drones. And I love Nancy.
In the afternoon, we went to a special Eid children’s fair at a park in Beit Hanoun, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Fifty percent of the population in Gaza is under the age of 18, and as we arrived, that statistic became quite clear. There were kids everywhere. Playing, dancing, singing –riding horses — all in their brand new Eid clothes. Poofy synthetic dahlia barrettes were all the the rage among the girls. Volunteers from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative, which works with children traumatized by Israeli violence (among other things) were singing and clapping as dozens of kids shrieked with pleasure as we arrived.
Then there was a sort of homemade karaoke where Arabic songs were played over speakers and kids would sing along. Everyone got a prize.
Afterwards, one person in our group wanted to stop at the morning tent in Beit Lahiya to pay respects to the family of the farmer killed by the Israeli Air Force on Thursday, Nasr Ibrahim Alean. Here in Gaza, its the custom for the family to receive people for three days after the death of a loved one. I admit, I didn’t want to go. We had such a nice day with the kids, and I just wanted to go home. And wouldn’t we be bothering them anyway? They didn’t even know us.
Our car turned down a dirt road and we pulled up along a cement block house. Men sat on plastic chairs outside under a tarp, and they warmly welcomed us in. We asked where the women’s side was and I along with Silvia and Hama were led behind a plastic tarp to the area where the women family members had gathered in a circle.
We sat down, and I wondered if it would be in bad form to ask them what happened. An attractive woman in a purple headscarf introduced herself as Nasr’s Aunt told us the story. Periodically others would join in. Nasr, who was 23, was picking strawberries on Thursday, when an Israeli helicopter shot him in the leg. As he lay on the ground bleeding, he called his brother, and told him he had been shot. The helicopter fired again and blew his head off.
“His brother was to get married in two days,” said Nasr’s Aunt. “I had gone to the salon to get my eyebrows done, and then he was killed. He wasn’t in the resistance, he was just trying to work.” She added that Palestinians just want freedom, they want their own state, but Israel had completely closed Gaza. “They don’t even want us to work. If it wasn’t for the United Nations, I don’t know what we would do.”
Other women echoed the Aunt’s sentiments, saying they just wanted freedom. They were so happy we had come, and offered us dates, insisting that we take three, when we reached for one. “The prophet Mohammed always ate in odd numbers,” they explained. But one is also an odd number, I thought. But it was too late, I had taken three.
After the dates, they served us bitter coffee, the tradition after a death, and brought out a photo album of Nasr. Someone mumbled that he was very handsome and indeed he was. We flipped through photos of him eating with friends, posing in a studio with hearts as the backdrop, and just hanging around.
An old woman in her seventies appeared and sat behind me. She wore a white headscarf and a traditional blue Palestinian dress with red and white embroidery down the front. “They [the Israelis] don’t care about human rights,” she said. “There are no human rights here.”