Blasts from the Past – Aug ’06 Culture of Death

Posted: September 28, 2008 in Travel



Culture of Death


He arrived in Egypt as one of the lucky few, out of 15,000 people waiting, that managed to make it across the Rafah passageway in the three hours that they allowed it open…

“Some were throwing their babies over the fence to relatives or strangers positioned on the Egyptian side, in hopes of making it to them themselves. Some left everything behind and just held on to their passports, to stand a better chance of crossing”, pictured Mr. Riyadh El Tahrawi, a multi-talented officer of the Palestinian Authority.


Mr. Riyadh is the president of The National Arts and Culture Institute in Palestine. He is a writer/director  who’s presented many plays, most famous of which is, the Ide’ot Ahranot shunned; Al Af’aa [the snake].  He is also a poet, cinematographer, former daily columnist and currently an officer with the Palestinian authority and Fateh movement.


Mr. Riyadh is staying at a downtown hotel, “I’ve always seen Egypt to be my home away from home, at least here we find sympathizers, other places Arabs accuse us of selling out our homeland. Did the south Lebanese sell out their homes, when they escaped the carnage?” he begins, “I try to come here as often as I can. Sometimes it’s not easy living in Gaza, Egypt is usually our refuge”.


“When one is staying at his brother’s house he is very self aware, trying as a guest to be light and welcome. In my opinion, home is where you feel safe enough to take your shoes off to rest, because as a refugee you are always on the run. Imagine being a refugee, having nowhere to call home”.


Riyadh Al Tahrawi’s struggle with the Israeli policies started at a fairly young age; “at 16 and a half I was already embarked on a journey in Israeli detention camps, that will span over 7 years. When I was first arrested, for rioting, I was interrogated for 7 months. They sat us on miniature stools, with our hands tied behind our backs and 2 or  3 bags over our heads to keep us in a constant darkness. They tried their best in every conceivable manner to drive fear into us, break us, humiliate us, drive us crazy, but what they don’t realize is that they only made us more adamant to stand our ground and not let go of our land. They squeezed our testicles, pushed bic tubes up our urethras, even blasted Beethoven in our ears at the times we were left alone in an attempt to totally detach us from reality, so we can’t even hear ourselves think”…


“I didn’t notice it at first, but we each had a piece of paper stuck to our backs denoting the amount of time dedicated to certain torture methods, a schedule so to speak. Like it would say, three days of questioning, then maybe a couple of weeks in the forn, [literally translates to oven] a 1 meter by 80 centimeter holding cell with no windows, then 10 days of standing still, then God knows how long of what, then something else, and so on. They were so methodical about it”.


“During one prison riot, they were targeting ringleaders and the man next to me was told to step down, he refused and opened his shirt exposing his chest in protest- he fell. I ran to him trying to do anything to help, I was warned, then shot, 3times, the first right above my heart, the next two, one in each foot. All three injured were later taken to hospital, though the dum-dums are still in me, I was the only one that made it.”


“I have no idea how the world can allow the Israeli’s to abuse us in such a way, then portray us as the terrorists. They give us sudden phone calls telling us that we have 15 minutes to evacuate our houses, so we scramble with the family and children to a safe distance outside the house, and true enough 15 minutes later the house is in ruins, whether it be an F-16, an Apache or one of their marine pieces or even an artillery shell. But you see that’s not really the problem; after a while some genius thought up having an automated system to place several phone calls each night, so everyone would abandon their homes and then the 15 minutes would pass, then the 2nd 15 minutes, and nothing would happen. And you end up with people that are stranded outside their homes, paces away, for days, even weeks seeing their homes yet unable to live in them. Out of approximately every 10 calls, one is not a joke- but you could never tell which one.”


“We live in a big prison in Gaza. To the north you have the wall, the south Rafah and the border, the east their defense army, west their marine shells. One big prison. I was with a friend at the Zamalek club, and I saw the children playing with bicycles, toys and running around playing games like hide and seek. In Gaza the children would be getting pieces of wood and fashioning them into make-believe rifles, a piece of cloth and stones and sand would become a utility belt or one full of explosives, they run around playing Arabs and Israelis- their equivalent of hide and seek. They would take these toys with them wherever they went, even to bed, in an attempt to feel safe. Give them colored pencils and automatically they start drawing a house in ruins, dead people, blood, tanks, people throwing stones and women crying. No one loves to die, but we have to die to live- even the children arrive at that conclusion”.


“Imagine a dissected homeland, like having an army post between  Dokki and Mohandiseen, one between Mohandiseen and Agouza, another before Zamalek and so forth. No one can pass from one area to the next. 3 million people segregated into little spaces. We can’t even take our kids to the beach, the whole world saw what happened to Huda Ghallya, the little girl who went with her family to the beach and played a little distance from where they were sat. The navy shelled the family, in a moment she lost her mother, her father, her two brothers, 4and 7, only she survived. She ran around like crazy screaming, shouting, throwing sand on her head and the cameraman who happened to be there got all that. But unlike her and Mohamed el Durra, what about all the moments when you don’t have a cameraman there?”


“The stories are endless, like Dalal El Maghribiya, who after pulling off her suicidal bombing was sentenced to 4 consecutive life sentences and is now stored in some forensic box till her time is up. She’s not the only one; they have the remains in the coolers with a sign on the door stating ‘name of saboteur and time of release’. They’re dead for God’s sake, how can one do that?”


“You can see it very clearly in the mothers who lose their children as martyrs; one minute they’re beyzaghratu [wagging their tongues], a custom in celebrations, the next they’re screaming and crying and putting sand over their heads, then yezaghratu again”…


“The Israelis have instilled in us a culture of death. Every house in Gaza has either a shaheed [martyr] or a prisoner or a debilitated person. How else would children face tanks with stones? Some of their army can’t even take the policies their government tries to enforce. A lot of them are admitted to psychiatric hospitals, some even sue the government; they’re the 2nd best trained soldiers in the world in warfare and you send them to bomb defenseless women and children?”


“I try to lighten things up in my home, so I watch strike TV or any other channel that is not conflict related, but as soon as I leave they switch to Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya and watch the sad reality of close places that we cannot reach. They sit there crying, and this happens in every house in Gaza”.



Published in Ego Vol. 6 – Violence Issue Sep 06




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