With the Gazans

by Mark Chmiel

Palestinians in short do not deserve anything like a narrative or collective actuality, and so they must be transmuted and dissolved into essentially negative images.

—Edward Said, From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays

 

2003 I walked miles & miles & miles in Gaza
Even went to the beach one day

(Most Palestinians were prevented from even going
If the beach was close to Jewish-only settlements)

Sat on the floor in many homes
Some simple and plain

A few bourgeois homes too
Class divisions in Gaza just like here

Ate hummus & falafel
Foule & rice & maqluba

Drank 300 cups of shay
Smiled my thanks at least that many times

Conversed with men and boys
Some had good or excellent English

Made them grin
When I muttered

Bush majnoon
(“Bush is crazy”)

Stood for what seemed like hours
In the remains

In the rubble
Of what was once such families’ homes

Bulldozed
Blown up

Listened to people
Of many walks of life

Taxi drivers & engineers & professors
Priests & shaykhs & doctors

From Gaza City
Down to Rafah

Disarmed by the serene smiles
Of two young girls both named Lubna

The same name as one
Of my brilliant students back home

Went to the shahaeed tent
To offer condolences to yet another family

Whose son or father or husband
Was now a martyr in the struggle for freedom

Staying with the Gazans who had some of the same dreams as us
For education, pleasure, travel, long life, belonging

Learning from the Gazans who were soon to become the inhabitants
Of the world’s largest open air prison

Being present to the Gazans
Like the man my age

Who proudly beamed as he told me
“One wife, 17 children…

You must return to your home
And start having children”

His wife was doing her heroic part
In the demographic battle in Palestine/Israel

It was a very short time to be there
Six weeks or so

(It took me eight years
To write a novel of 200 pages about it)

We arrived on October 31
Just a couple of weeks after Operation Root Canal

(What bureaucrats think up these names?
Do they get pay raises for such corrosive cleverness?)

Thousand people homeless
Scores killed

Tents all over the place
Still a conviction in the air

In their eyes
These Gazans:

We are human beings.
We are not giving up.

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