Jehan is a twenty-year-old woman from the Gaza Strip who writes a beautiful and illuminating blog under the wryly humorous name of Palinoia. I also follow her on Twitter. She’s usually quite active at this time of night – as is the rest of the Gazan Twitter crowd. When they all sign in en masse in the space of ten seconds, I know that there is a bombing raid going on and they’ve given up on sleep. Together, they provide 140 character windows into Gazan life – their hopes, their frustrations, what they’ve had for breakfast, and what it feels like to have F16 fighter aircraft acting as pre-dawn alarm clocks. Oh, and the most effective music for blocking out the sound of said aircraft (Metallica, apparently).
But tonight they are silent. Initial reports are that the Israeli military has cut off all telecommunications, using bulldozers. The land cables have been severed. The mobile mast has been damaged. Naturally, people beyond Gaza have started to get worried. As one Gazan Palestinian living in my own city of Manchester put it, “They could be doing anything to them and we wouldn’t know.”
The Israeli authorities have said nothing about the communications blackout so far. It’s easy to predict what the justification for imposing even further isolation on 1.7 million besieged people will be: “Security. Counter-terrorism operations.” They say that so often that they have started to sound like parrots with severe vocal tics. For a counter-terrorism operation, it is certainly fostering enough terror of its own.
I’ve never met Nader or Jehan or Sameeha or Mona or any of the others, and thanks to the siege, I’m not likely to see them any time soon. But through their writing and our cosy bombing-time chats, I’ve come to feel close to them. I want Nader to achieve his dream of studying in the UK. I wish I could smuggle a concert grand through some Egyptian tunnel and into Jehan’s house, so that she can make the music she loves. I wish she and Sameeha could have something resembling a normal gossip between two young women who are friends, and not the usual, “There is a helicopter over my house! Have you got one too or is it just drones where you are?” I’d like the world to know of Mona’s kindness and good practical sense, her commitment to justice and her work as a doctor, so that they have another image of Gaza to set alongside the gallery of masked men with rocket-launchers that the Israeli authorities present to the public.
I’m not going to get my wishes, at least not tonight. There is no wishing well deep enough to accommodate them. So instead of wishing for things that can’t happen, I am penning this short reminder: there are 1.7 million human beings trapped in the Gaza Strip tonight. They are being prevented from speaking for themselves. I am not trying to speak in their place – no one can do that. I am simply giving voice to my own concern, because this ominous silence feels horribly like a foretaste of what it might be like never to speak to them again. I’m simultaneously thinking of Operation Cast Lead and trying not to think of it.
It’s only possible for Israel to continue in its policies towards Gaza because there aren’t enough people in the world who are acquainted with this feeling. Even in the West Bank, we joke that Gazan Palestinians are aliens; Israel has been very successful at cutting them off from the world. The Internet is their way of fighting back against the dehumanisation and the isolation. Reading what they write and chatting to them online is how you can help break the siege without leaving your own living room. Let’s value their voices and make them heard.