Two weeks on the Road to Gaza, an opportunity today is presenting itself to network with the group I still count myself to be part of. The youth. Everywhere one drives in Gaza, one is struck by the overwhelming numbers of youth that are visible. It is no secret that 60% of this society are considered youth and thus, not just the future, but even the present rests on their shoulders.
A group that has stepped up to shoulder an important responsibility towards their people is the so-called Baytul Hikmah or House of Wisdom. This independent organisation is a think tank and learning centre for young people who will be taught to advocate and articulate themselves correctly on the Palestinian cause. It is a pressing need for a people who have a most just cause, but who often are done a disservice by their own who are not savvy or tactful enough to deal with aggressive and deceptive questioning from a corporate driven media. It is pleasing to discover that most of our young guides who have accompanied us on the trip thus far are members of Baitul Hikmah and accomplished professionals themsleves.Their approach is to set the Palestinian internal house in order before attempting to take on the world.
Among the attendees today is Eman Sourani, a youth activist in Gaza. When she stands up to speak everyone listens. Her grasp of political intricacies is impressive and her articulation is captivating. What makes her story even more special is that she has been an ardent follower of the Africa 1 Aid Convoy on Facebook for months and today like Mbinji Mufalo before her, is having her moment of truth with the Convoy. When I get to speak to her afterwards, she is full of praise for South African students for their humilation of Israeli propaganda teams on their campuses, and for the University of Johannesburg for severing ties with an Israeli university.
The presentations this morning spell out some blatant injustices of the Israeli siege. Like the many silent bullets it fires at innocent victims who die painful deaths due to a lack of medicine and other essential supplies. In a response to a question of mine, they also indicate how the West Bank and Gaza and interchangeable parts of the same puzzle and how we should not mistake the mistake of separating their plights. Both are under siege, they say. It is just the nature of the siege that is different.
The venue is stylish, the presentations are sleek and the gifts are precious. The House of Wisdom exhudes a great air of professionalism.
Perhaps in testimony to the latent power of the youth and the threat the occupation perceives from education, we get to see first hand the destruction of an Israeli strike from as recent as two weeks ago, on a library. Another target hit in the same strike we are told, was a youth centre.
Just before noon, the Gaza Legislative Council or the equivalent of parliament, hosts a special sitting in our honour. Parliamentarians are all lined up outside the venue to meet with members of the convoy.
In his address to the dignitaries, Moulana Igsaan compares the current visit to his trip a year ago and highlights what he feels are several major areas of progress. Even the parliamentary hall we are currently in was unusable last year as the premises was being reconstructed after an air strike. Today, all remnants of that cowardly action are gone. Except a masjid that has been established on the premises in honour of a parliamentarian who too was killed by the occupation.
It is a great moment of honour, but one of even greater responsibility when Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels announces in the parliamentary chambers that from now on he will prefix Convoy members names with the word Ambassador. The nature of the experiences thus far have been overwhelming bur they cannot be confined to that realm. The ambassadors have to disseminate their experiences and enhance the commitment to the cause.
Zuhr is performed on the beach where the Awqaf and religious affairs ministry holds a special reception for the Convoy as well. The Ministry is also one of the recepients of a vehicle from the Convoy.
We breakaway from the officaldom and make it our mission to at least dip our hands in the warm waters of the Gaza beach. Which we do. Along the way, we find the beach much busier than the last few days. Mostly young children splash in the water, whilst their families picnic away. A small boat gives brief rides to the children on the calm waters. It is a most pleasant sight.
Incidentally, it could also have been the same picteresque setting that formed the backdrop to another chilling murder on this very beachfront some years ago. From naval gunboats an entire family together with their child had their joy erased by the occupiers from this world. Huda Ghalia and her family are never far from my thoughts on this glorious day.
That the occupation would even contemplate such an act is callous indeed. The Gaza beach is perhaps one of the very few outlets Gazans have for relaxation and merriment. One Gazan told me that when in stress, he would sometimes just stroll over and have an intimate chat with the sea.
But it is not just the threat from naval gunboats that needs to be considered. The water itself could also quite possibly be contaminated or polluted by the Israelis.
I cherish every moment of our next encounter thoroughly. We challenge a group of Palestinian young people to a game of football on the beach. Ultimately, it is just an excuse to share some moments of joy and get to know these enthusiastic people better. They display great sportsmanship and we thoroughly enjoy our game. Even though the South Africans come out on top, the real losers in this contest are in fact the occupiers and oppressors. Some fellow travellers feel they need to replicate the experience and thus arrange for a further friendly later in the evening.
Before that, we are hosted by a well established school for orphans called Darul Arqam. One man instrumental in its founding was the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. A massive potrait of him smiles down on the gathering. So too does 2 mammoth Palestinian flags, almost 3 stories high. If the proceedings yesterday were made memorable by the powerful voice of a young Palestinian girl, tonight it seems we have found her male counterpart in a little boy who also runs the proceedings professionally. As the orphans roll out their presentations from the stage, it is wonderful listening to the Nasheed Ya Ghaza Wa’Maaki Allah, which Cii had chosen as a theme song for the Convoy, but this time reverberating through Gaza itself.
More schoolbags are distributed tonight and the scenes are again touching. The segregated manner in which they are distributed as well speaks much on the Islamic ethos of this institution. It is a massive premises and has all the hallmarks of a school of prestige.
The proceedings for the day are over, but I always make it a priority to engage fellow members of the group to exchange notes on their experiences. Today is the opportunity of Hafez Mohammed Sadeqa. He recounts to me how after a particularly emotional experience on one of his day visits, he secludes himself in his room and begins reciting the Quraan. Only when he is interrupted does he realise that he has just completed reciting 5 Juz of the Quraan. All this with the least stenousness or exhaustion. His conclusion, “Ebrahim, this place is just full of Barakah!”