Sunday, June 18, 2006

Turn the Corner in a Warzone


June 17, 2006

Ambulance sirens echo across the rooftops could be anything but their sound is a chilling reminder of daily life here. Gaza is not a safe place; it can lure you into thinking that life has a semblance of normality. Nothing down here is logical; the people realize that hell has a new address and that the postal code match.

In almost all war zones I have been too, you can almost always turn a corner and find a normality of life that is acceptable, turn another corner and anarchy and chaos wrack the streets.

It was that way this morning, Ibrahim Hazboun, Fox News Producer has to go back to Israel every third day to renew his permit that allows anyone with an Israeli ID to be in Gaza. A cursed and frustrating process because in reality it is not even three days, When you renew your permit on Day 3, the next three days actually starts on the same day, thus Israeli calendars have managed to turn three days into two days, yet another way to make things harder for us to work in Gaza.

The last time Ibrahim went out to the border his taxi had a bullet hole in the windshield, and so last night we discussed this and agreed that the armored car is the only thing we should be driving around town in, And that since I am the only one officially permitted to drive the hard car, I would run him out and wait for him to do his visa run.

Which brings me back to the original point, turn a corner here and the world can change in an instant.

The road ahead was clouded with a pall of thick smoke rising, dumpsters had been overturned and set on fire, a couple of old car tires had also been set alight to add to the mix, and there was flurry of figures thru the smoke. This is on the main road in Gaza, not on a side street in the mean part of town.

Your heart always beats quicker as you approach a scene like this, because it is the unknown. You do not know what has happened or why, all you see is the slo motion of chaos and anarchy. Ahead of us was a cement truck moving also towards the intersection and it turned off into a vacant lot to skirt the scene and we followed, missing the crossing by a hundred meters or so. Lumbering along sand tracks we slowly moved past and after a couple of minutes turned back onto the road and out to the border with Israel.

The thing Ibrahim commented on was that yesterday this intersection had been crawling with Hamas Militants standing guard fully armed, today with the troubles it had been void of any security.

I waited for nearly an hour at the border, remaining with the armored car on the Palestinian side, whilst Ibrahim went and renewed his Gaza Permit with the Israeli authorities, doing the walk of shame up and back the tunnel that connects Israel with Gaza.

Ashraf, is a local taxi driver I have come to know over my visits down here for four years and whilst I waited for Ibrahim, he explained that the feud down the road was a payback killing, Fatah had whacked a Hamas member the night before somewhere in Gaza and so in true mob style, Hamas whacked a Fatah member near the burning intersection on the main road, and as a result the local Fatah supporters had decided to set fire to dumpsters and tires. Makes sense … No but then again this is Gaza.

This explained why the Hamas Militia was not stationed at the intersection anymore; they would have just been sitting ducks for a sniper or a drive by shooting.

We drove back down the road and cars waved at us to follow them thru the back lanes again, it was still not safe to drive down the main road, as we crossed the road above the smoke had cleared, but more boys were out gathering stones and rocks, and hassling cars as we tried to get back onto the road.

I was resigned to the fact that I could be up for panel work, in the vacant lot we were stopped in traffic and the one thing I have learnt over the years is that it is often best to avoid eye contact at times when surrounded and out numbered, whether they are ten or forty armed with rocks or guns the principal is the same. If anyone sees fear or doubt they will use this as a weapon, seeing blank the aggressor loses their advantage.

We finally drove on and left the chaos of the morning behind us, just to prove the point in any danger zone, turn the corner and the world can change.

Gaza City

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