Thursday, February 1, 2007


After refugees were displaced to Rafah in 1948, several foreign governments aided with the construction of housing for refugees. One neighborhood of Rafah is called Brazil because the Brazilian government helped to build it.

Monsoor carries the metal brazier upstairs, walking backwards, cigarette burning down to filter in his mouth. He takes two legs, I take one. Logs burn between us, spilling the occasional coal on the tile stairs.

“Monsoor, I’m impressed!” I say.

“It’s no problem,” he says, “We do it this way.”

We sit quiet in the dark by the wood fire, coals glowing orange and purple. We smoke, talk, drink tea. He asks about my family, my work, my education. He gets on the phone with a woman; they talk mellow in the night.

“You like to talk to my girlfriend?” he asks, handing me the phone. She speaks no English; I speak no Arabic. We say a few words to each other, words heard as babble and gibberish. Hand the cell phone back to Monsoor.

He lets me sleep in a big bed with grinning cartoon puppies on the quilt. I awake 4 times before dawn to nearby machine gun fire. On other nights locals have laughed and pantomimed dance steps as the guns go off, saying “This is the music of Palestine.” Abu Jamil even said, “Without it we cannot sleep.” At least 95 percent of the gunfire comes from Israeli tanks and towers.

In the morning I get up and walk outside. In front of the house lie mangled wrecks of twisted rebar and concrete, which were once houses where families lived. I can still see the ruts made by tanks which rumbled into town only three weeks ago. Monsoor’s mother stands in the yard surrounded by children, her quiet face wrinkled with lines of patient wisdom. A boy points beyond the demolished houses.

“The Tank!” he says.

I see dust, hear the growl of monster diesels. Two tanks are moving. Might as well have a look. Raise my hands in the air like surrender, like angel wings, like a shrug, and climb over the dirt and junk to face the tank. It sits heavy as a grey-green steel rhinoceros, a stubborn creature of bulk and violence, a machine ignorant of flight and metaphor. This tank is of the variety commonly seen patrolling the periphery of Rafah: small, for a tank, and lacking the single barrel which protrudes from the turret of the larger Merkava tanks. Instead, this tank’s turret has various slits from which the narrow barrels of machine guns poke. It is designed for shooting people, not other armored vehicles. There are no armored vehicles in Rafah to shoot.

I have appointments to keep. I turn and walk away into streets full of sunshine and shouting children.

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