Thursday, May 26, 2005

RafahNews -Death and Disappointment

The latest from Mohammed is discouraging:

Ahmed Robin Barhoom, 24, was shot by an Israeli Army sniper close to the place in Yebna Camp near the border where Thomas Hurndall, the British photojournalist, was shot by an Israeli sniper while trying to bring two small children out of the line of fire back in May of 2003.

Details were initially sketchy, but Ahmed's neighbors couldn't believe this young man had come under Israeli fire. There was enough shooting that the ambulances couldn't reach him for a long time. The Israeli press, predictably, is calling Barhoom a militant. There are also reports of Palestinians wounded in clashes in Khan Younis and firings of rockets at Gush Katif, with heavy fire returned by the Israeli army. The Palestinian Cabinet issued an official protest of this violation of the truce by Israel and urged the militant factions to withhold retaliation. Spokesmen for Hamas and other militant groups urged their members to maintain the cease-fire despite the Israeli violations.

This same week, the famous Brazilian soccer player Ronaldo visited Ramallah in the West Bank and Tel Aviv on a mission to promote peace and sports. His plans to visit Gaza as well were aborted by the Israeli military closure. Few realize what a passion soccer is in Palestine—it requires nothing more than a soccer ball, a little open ground. A Rafah 12-year-old, Hamad al Nairib, wrote to the sports star urging him to visit the children of Rafah "where all the people love you."

Some might call Hamad lucky; he was present at the peaceful demonstration in Rafah a year ago which the Israelis shelled. A number of Hamad's friends were killed that day; he himself lost his left leg. Hamad had been a fervent soccer player with dreams of becoming "the Ronaldo of Palestine." Maybe it isn't fair to expect a brilliant athlete also to be a diplomat, politician, and PR expert—we'll never know how much or little of an effort Ronaldo made to persuade the Israeli army to let him into Gaza. But Hamad and his friends were disappointed yet again.

photos at

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Rafah News--Two Children Injured

At early dawn today, the Israeli occupation forces manning a military checkpoint in Tal Al Sultan area, in the western part of Rafah, opened fire at random towards the residents' houses in the area. There seemed to the residents to be no reason for the shooting.

Later that day, two children in the Al Z'arba area in the southern part of Rafah, were injured when an object left on the street by Israeli soldiers exploded. Doctors at Abu Yousef Al Najjar Hospital said Ahmed Zaid Zuraob and Mohammed Ibraheem Zurob each had several shrapnel wounds in various parts of their bodies.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Introducing Mohammed

A lifelong resident of Rafah, and a photojournalist who learned his craft literally under fire. Three years ago, he started documenting daily events in his home town, as well as guiding and translating for foreign journalists visiting the Gaza Strip. His reports eventually became the Rafah Today website.

Somehow, despite the Occupation, he has continued his university studies as well. You can check his older reports on the Rafah Today site. You can also browse his extensive photo archives there.

To better spread the word on Rafah, his news reports and longer articles are posted here as well.

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Rafah--attempting an overview

Depending on your perspective, Rafah is a hotbed of terrorists, a poverty-stricken patch of urban sprawl on the border of the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the frequent target of a cruel occupying army, or maybe just some strange-sounding place you've never heard of.

In fact, until the current intifada erupted in 2001, "old Rafah," an inhabited city since before the Roman Empire, and its much more recent crowded refugee camps, was home to some 140,000 men, women, and children, and a busy collection of thriving neighborhoods, shops, small, medium, and large houses. On the outskirts, farms and olive groves were side by side with residential neighborhoods. In the last four years, there have been drastic changes, few of them good.

But I had never heard of Rafah four years ago. On September 11, 2001, I watched the smoke billow from the World Trade Center about a mile from my home and went shopping--despite the eye-stinging smoke--because I knew food deliveries and really, all public tranport and vehicular traffic was going to be a mess for a while.One stop took me to a convenience store run by a nice 40-ish guy with an accent. I knew he was a naturalized citizen; we talked politics occasionally, and I found myself explaining the Electoral College to him during the election cliffhanger of 2000. He might have been Hispanic, but, really, who knew? Who cared?

That awful day, I heard another customer asking him if his family was safe. Safe? They were somewhere in Brooklyn--why wouldn`t they be safe? Well, it turned out my storekeeper friend and his family are Palestinian Americans.

As the months passed, I realized hand-wringing and viewing-with-alarm and occasional vague nice thoughts wouldn`t cut it anymore. Not when Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans were getting a very rough time; not when conflict erupted in the West Bank and Gaza by October and steadily worsened.By the turn of the year, I`d found the Arab-American Institute and eventually, through them, several charities helping Palestinian children. Pretty soon, I was sponsoring a little girl--figured that was easy and practical: send a small check monthly, get a translated letter once in a blue moon, decide you`d done your bit for beleaguered humanity. I picked her out almost on a whim from the organization`s website--she`d been waiting for a sponsor for months. Oh, yes, she was from Rafah--which at that point I couldn`t have found on a map.

All these logical calculations were soon blown to shreds by reality, and by the charity's remarkable college student liaison in Rafah, Mohammed. Reports and letters from "my" little girl, and her whole family, were frequent. Mohammed proved to be a faithful e-mailer. An English major, writing to an editorial consultant--we discovered we had plenty to discuss. I thought I`d help a victim. Instead, I discovered friends.

So while I've never been closer to Rafah than my keyboard, or the telephone, I've been privileged to get a unique picture--idiosyncratic, perhaps, but authentic--of daily life in this besieged Palestinian town. The mainstream media tends to rely on fast labels and easy soundbites, but I'd like you to get to know some of the men, women, and children of this place--partly in the middle of nowhere, partly in the spotlight, caught in the cross-hairs--and in spite of everything, beautiful.

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