Al-Waer, Homs’s most populated area and the city’s last insurgent holdout, might soon achieve the truce that Hom’s Old City saw in May this year when, in an exchange deal, the insurgents left their strongholds.
Roughly three kilometres north of Beirut's Syrian embassy in Baabda, Syrians crammed in one of an endless stream of buses, exited and continued on foot. The masses opted to walk the remaining few kilometres rather than sit in a traffic jam generated by the tens of thousands flocking to vote.
On a weekday afternoon, the Old City of Damascus heaves with people, cars, motorcycles, bikes. Markets are crowded with locals bartering with merchants for the heaps of spices, flowery perfumes, clothing, and most things one needs, abundant in the Hamidiyah market.
“We wanted to help foreigners in Gaza, so we created an English map of Gaza City,” says Amir Shurrab, one of the minds behind the foldable Gaza Tourist Map.
“For the past five years we’ve collected garbage by traditional means: donkey and cart,” says Abdel Rahem Abulkumboz, director of health and environment at the Municipality of Gaza. The municipality of Gaza alone produces 700 tons of waste daily, Kumboz says. More than half of this waste is collected daily by 250 donkey carts.
“An ark is literally a large floating vessel designed to keep its passengers and cargo safe,” say the group preparing ‘Gaza’s Ark’. But their ark, they say, is “a vessel that embodies hope that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip can soon live in peace without the threat of the Israeli blockade.”
“In Gaza we don't lead normal lives, we just cope, and adapt to our abnormal lives under siege and occupation,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, a physician and a long-time human rights and women's rights activist in the Gaza Strip. On International Women's Day, when many of the world's women are fighting for workplace equality and an end to domestic violence, Farra and the majority of Gaza's women fight for the most basic of rights.
A few stoic lines from Palestinian political prisoner Samer Issawi, 33, transmitted to his sister Shireen have given new strength to Palestinian resolve to fight Israeli occupation and its prison policies. As has the hunger strike of four others in Israeli prisons along with Issawi.
“We wanted to do something to bring focus to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners, of which there are around 5,000 in Israeli jails, including hunger strikers, children, women,” says Mohannad Barakat, 30, one of seven Palestinians who have made a Palestinian version of the Gangnam style.
Tawfiq Mandil, 45, stands amongst hundreds of Palestinian farmers, activists, and international supporters in the Gaza Strip's eastern Zeitoun district, about half a kilometre from the border with Israel. They are renewing a call for the boycott of Israeli goods.
On Nov. 17, four days into Israel’s eight-day assault on the Gaza Strip, deputy Israeli Prime Minister Eli Yishai publicly called for the Israeli army to “blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water”.
Shortly after Israel and Hamas signed a ceasefire agreement on Nov. 21, the Israeli navy abducted 30 Palestinian fishers from Gaza's waters, destroyed and sank a Palestinian fishing vessel, and confiscated nine fishing boats in the space of four days.
When Israeli bombs struck the Abu Khadra complex for civil administration, they also gutted the sixth floor of the Abu Shabaan complex, located ten metres across the road. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), eight Israeli warplane-fired bombs levelled roughly half of the government compound in eastern Gaza City in the early hours of Nov. 21.
“It was the first day of the cease-fire. An Israeli soldier shot once in the air and within seconds shot me in the leg. He was only a few metres away." Haithem Abu Dagga, 26, an electrician and farm labourer, will not be able to work for as many months as it takes his right leg to heal. The bullet exited his leg but fractured his shin bone.
It’s being taken as an antidote to the stresses of Occupation. But the prevalence of the painkiller Tramadol in the Gaza Strip has more to do with its ease of availability than its singular effectiveness as a reality-numbing substance.
“The overwhelming majority of people we work with tell us, 'We don't want the aid, we want to have an opportunity to work and earn money’. Especially people who had a decent job but lost it in the last many years: before asking for any aid, they ask for a job.”
“From the coast to eight miles out, the sea is like a desert: it's sandy and there are no fish.” Mohammed Al-Bakri traces a thick line on the wall map before him, following the lines of Gaza's eastern and northern borders, continuing south from three miles off the coast.
The car's engine revs, wheels spinning in vain, as it sinks deeper into the sandy lane near Rafah, southern Gaza. Members of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee (PPC) are en route to welcome Palestine's two Paralympic contenders, Mohammed Fanouna and Khamis Zaqut, home from the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
"Gaza's economy is expected to grow modestly and people will likely still be worse off in 2015 compared to the mid-1990s," reads a press release announcing the United Nations' August 2012 report, ‘Gaza in 2020 – A Liveable Place?’
“I waited from 10 am till 5 pm for my wife to cross from Egypt. She was among many hundreds who were coming into Gaza. Some waited since 6 am, some since the day before.”
"During hard times, we have survived off olive oil," says Ahmed Sourani from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee. "During the last war many people who couldn’t leave their homes had only bread and olive oil to sustain them for long periods."