Tears for Dagon’s Children
Lessons Learned in Gaza 2004 – 2005
Copyright John Lloyd 2006
reprinted for Web publication 2018
For the citizens of Palestine
When I write something, I put it down.
When you read it, you pick it up.
A part of my experience becomes part of yours.
I have met many wonderful people; seen wonderful things.
But, they are not what I need to put down.
Wonder and beauty don’t wake you up at night.
Some things are written because they should be.
Some things are written because they must be.
This is one of those.
1a Yom Kippur
Last night the tanks moved south to take up positions for Yom Kippur. The Librarian got in an argument with one of them on her way to work; all four foot nine of her facing the steel of it.
As she stood there, a round took down the man standing next to her.
So it goes.
2a Why is This?
This had been their second house, crushed like their first.
They live now in a tent set up in the rubble.
Sheltered from the wind.
But I wondered: what darkness grows in there?
This city, this dust, these guns.
We make our own bullets.
We shoot our own demons.
All of it the will of someone’s God.
We loose the things we love over and over again.
Why is this?
4b A Studied Appreciation
When we first arrived in Gaza it was very noisy and we were very jumpy. We had no idea what all the various bangs and crunches meant and no way to tell which ones were dangerous. After we had been there a while, and I was surprised at how short a time it took, we could actually identify the type of ordinance or explosions we heard and had a fair idea about range and direction. By the time Christmas rolled around, we had no reaction at all to small arms fire and a sort of studied appreciation of the rest of it.
I still have to stop myself from flinching when I hear helicopters.
Dark angels hover overhead, like thunder at the end of the world.
You hope they’re satisfied with terror.
But you know better.
These angels are carnivores.
The bright violet flashes.
The raw orange afterglow.
The flowers spilled red out onto the street.
A fire truck races down Omar Muktar.
Not enough. Not nearly enough.
I wish I could find you.
Hold those fragile petals red to your face.
Those dreams you have?
Not enough. Not nearly enough.
5b A Special Hell
A little girl maybe 12 years old stepped out onto the balcony of her house and a bullet went right through her head. No-one had thought to stop her because the soldiers were way down at the other end of the street. Somehow or other, the girl survived and my friend saw her in the hospital. Later she also saw the girl’s dad scrubbing his child’s blood and brains off of the living room wall.
I wondered if there was a special hell for snipers.
4a We’re Not in Kansas
A ground blast hits you through your feet.
An air burst taps you on the chest.
A tank gun cracks so sharp and loud you wish you could climb down into the earth.
The boom from a low flying F16 slams all the classroom windows shut,
Quasams lift off with a loud bang, but no concussive force at all.
So here we are. Not on any map we know.
A completely different school.
How a concussion comes to you is important here.
Apache cannons make a deep thrumming sound.
Tank turret guns make a higher but steady staccato hum.
The drones make a model airplane sound, like a mosquito trapped in your ear.
The sound of small arms fire is everywhere and after a while it just blends in.
There is an important difference between normal and usual.
Last November, two Israeli kids were killed by a Palestinian home made rocket. In response, the IDF mounted the “days of penance” incursion which sent armor into the Jaballya refuge camp. We went to sleep hearing machine guns and explosions every night for two weeks and every morning there was smoke on the horizon. The IDF took control of the outskirts of the camp, shut off the water, blocked the sewers, stopped the flow of food and turned back the ambulances. Then they randomly shot into houses with machine guns and sniped at anything that moved. Whenever there was resistance they brought in the Apaches. When the body count his something like 140 they thought that this was a good thing and left. I think they actually killed 15 or 20 fighters but the rest were men, women and children who just happened to live there.
As far as I know, no international press was allowed to film or write about it.
5a Something Has Been Lost
Crushed houses, maimed kids, barbed wire, camouflage netting covered sniper hoping for a “target of opportunity” and taking the old man returning from the mosque instead, do whatever you need to do to keep them from ever rising up to threaten the sacredness of your opinions again and don’t talk to me about peace with these bomb throwing animals and what the fuck do you know about this land anyway?
Something has been lost.
Children, who can tell me what the word peace means?
We have settled for begging for the peace of the truce. A whole generation has not known peacefulness. Now we have become afraid and peace means preparing for the next attack.
My God! But, that’s only a breath away from wishing your neighbor the peace of the grave.
7b Shoot the Chickens
The armored Caterpillar bulldozers are huge. Sometimes they just push at one side of a house until it tips over and pancakes flat. Other times they knock off a corner and leave it standing. That way the owners have to complete the destruction of the house themselves before they can haul the rubble away.
And they really do machine gun the chickens.
6a The Appetite
There is a place where the loss of two is soaked in the blood of one hundred and fourty.
What is this grief that requires such a wet vengeance?
What appetite does this remarkable new math sate?
The dead don’t know why they are killed!
How can you call ignorant deaths penance?
8b A Sad and Bizarre Game
Nothing in Gaza prepared me for our visit to El Kahlil (Hebron), the city built around Abram’s tomb. El Kahlil has always been a Palestinian town. A small group of settlers recently moved in and has the whole town under siege. They drive around like maniacs in SUVs and won’t make eye contact with you. The main shopping district of the city looks like an abandoned ghost town. The actual tomb of Abraham is surrounded by guns, wire and all the rest of it. Inside the mosque itself they have constructed a wall and separate entrances so that Jews can look aat one side of Abraham’s grave and Moslems can look at the other.
It’s sad and bizarre beyond belief.
Concrete pounded into sand and gravel. Crumpled and bent re-bar icing. The art of a new urban fascism. Windblown dust and dreams crushed by the caterpillars. They even take the time to shoot the chickens.
There is no space to forget in the presence of this perverted landscape. No breathing room for compassion in the rubble. Curb your dogs. Then perhaps there could be talk of peace.
Apache helicopters make a tremendous racket when they hover overhead and they’re completely invisible at night. They come in pairs. We heard them coming in one night and ran up to the rooftop to witness – whatever. From the sound we could tell that they were moving slowly around the city and at times were directly overhead. After about a half an hour of this, one of them started firing missiles down into the north-west part of the city. The noise and flash were tremendous as each missile hit. Then, they fired a few more missiles into Beach Camp and left. We didn’t know what the Apaches had been after, but we know it was going to be bad. The next morning we learned that they had been targeting a suspected Quassam assembly facility. What they got was a refrigerator repair shop and the houses around it. One family was blasted out of bed into the street. Seven children were killed outright and I don’t know about the wounded.
I haven’t gotten over it.
God played a trick the other day. A joke. He put soldiers around father. Snipers, machine guns, camo netting – guys its amazing what you’ve done with the old place with just a few fashion accessories. What fun father must be having watching you play at being an “us” and a “them”. Why, God has even divided father into two halves so the children won’t fight over him.
What a novel idea.
Can I play too?
1b I Hear He’s Dead Now
Armored vehicles are weird to begin with. They’re noisy, ugly and get poor gas mileage. People interacting with armored vehicles in their day to day lives, like on their way to work or to the store, is wierder. Here, people have been pushed around so much that they aren’t afraid of tanks anymore. The kids in the camps run towards the sound of gun fire and compete for the honor of bouncing a few rocks off of a tank. Of course a lot of people get shot doing that. It’s a standing order in the IDF to shoot anyone who approaches one of their tanks.
This fellow with the sling became the poster child of the intifada. A new age David.
I hear he’s dead now.
9b What Would You Do?
Imagine that you are at home and your husband is off to work, your child is off to school or your lover is down at the market shopping. You hear an explosion. You look out the window and se a pillar of smoke. It could be that today a part of your life just ended. Imagine that most days there is such an explosion, or machine gun rattle, or menacing helicopter to keep that fear alive. Everyone you know has lost someone to violent death. You won’t know whether it’s your turn until later when you see who comes home. So, you offer a prayer and go about your day.
What else is there to do?
2b Inside Intelligence
The IDF has a long memory and very good inside intelligence about who lives where. They track the families of militants and single their houses for demolition. The family I was writing about lived just south of the Erez border crossing in North Gaza, the IDF had just flattened their second house and they were living in a tent on top of the rubble. I was filled with a sense of despair combined with an intense anger and wondered what they were thinking and feeling inside the tent.
It didn’t feel right to take their picture.
In 1939, the German army invaded Poland, swept the Polish army aside and occupied the country. A year later the Germans ordered the formation of a Ghetto in the City of Warsaw and 500,000 Jews were deprived of their rights and property and herded into a crowded poor area. They were issued special documents and forced to wear yellow arm bands. The Ghetto was walled off from the rest of the city and surrounded by the German Army. In 1943, when they realized that their captors meant to destroy them, the people in the Ghetto rose up in armed rebellion.
In 1947, the Israeli Army invaded Palestine, swept the Arab armies aside and occupied the country. 200,000 Arabs were deprived of their rights and property and herded into a crowded poor area called the Gaza Strip. They were issued special documents and forced to paint their fishing boats yellow. In 1967 the Gaza Strip was fenced off from the rest of the country and occupied by the Israeli Army. On 1987, when they realized that their captors were not going to treat them as human beings, the people in Gaza rose up in armed rebellion.
I wish I were making this up.