Crushed Ice in Nuseirat:
My Gaza Refugee Camp Revisited
By Ramzy Baroud - Gaza
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 6, 2011
“Do you remember Mahmoud?” asked Abu Nidal, my neighbor from
nearly 20 years ago, when I lived in Gaza.
“Yes, of course, I
do,” I answered. I remembered him as yet another troublemaking child
among the Nuseirat Refugee Camp’s numerous rabble-rousers. He was
defined by a stream of snot that never seemed to dry. Although loud at
times, he had always been helpful and pleasant. But now, unlike so many
others who emerged from the camp’s rusty doors and narrow alleyways to
greet me after my long absence, Mahmoud was nowhere to be seen.
“He is in heaven now,” said Abu Nidal. His voice, which had been so
cheerful about my arrival, suddenly became muffled. The years of hurt
over the loss of his son had culminated into one moment. He paused and
wiped tears. A poster on the wall showed the face of a handsome, bearded
man. He had been killed during an Israeli army raid into Gaza a few
years ago. The poster dubbed him, “The Great Martyr Mahmoud Fa’iq
I placed my right hand on Abu Nidal’s shoulder and
said, as is customary in these situations: “We are all your children.”
Abu Nidal nodded gratefully, and the neighbors began recalling the names
of other Martyrs. Soon, we began to read al-Fatiha, asking God to bless
the souls of all those who had perished in Gaza.
It has been
many years since I last stood here, in the Red Square. Named after the
many people who were killed at the hands of Israeli soldiers during the
First Uprising of 1987, the once open area has shrunk, like many other
spaces in and around the refugee camp. The population of the Gaza Strip
has grown significantly, as has poverty. Surrounded and besieged by
Israel, 1.6 million people living in 360 square kilometers (139 square
miles) are now exploiting every inch of this tiny and continually
shrinking space. Still, Gaza persists.
I began my journey in
Nuseirat at my old aunt’s house. She gazed at me in disbelief and cried
intermittently throughout my visit. “Oh Allah, George is back,” she
repeated, referring to me by my old name. When it was time to go she
chased after me down the street for a last kiss, a hug and shed more
The Martyrs Graveyard is now full to capacity.
Desperately lacking space, some people had to resort to burying their
loved ones on top of others, until the practice was stopped by the
My father was buried in an area called Zawaydeh. In
2008, I was told he was buried in a ‘small graveyard,’ which encouraged
me to attempt to find the grave on my own. However, the graveyard is no
longer small and I spent over an hour trying to locate it. In the
process, I learned that some of my friends and relatives have also died.
They include: my geography teacher, my Arabic and religion teacher, the
kindly man with one eye who sold the strangest mix of items on a donkey
cart, and a 13-year-old girl by the name of Fida, meaning ‘sacrifice’.
I found my father’s grave at last. My dad, Mohammed. The
wonderful, loving, resourceful, angry, thundering and warm man. He never
imagined he would one day be buried in Gaza. He wanted to go home to
Beit Daras, his long destroyed village in Palestine. “I will see you
soon, son,” he had told me many years ago, when I last saw him. I now
wrote him a note, and buried it in the Gaza earth by his headstone.
“O peaceful and fully satisfied soul, return to your Lord…” read a
verse of the Quran atop the white grave. No Cast Lead, no massacre could
possibly interrupt the peaceful rest of the dead - not even in Gaza.
My mother Zarefah’s grave was in a different graveyard. It appeared
much older than I remembered it. It lay close to my grandparents, and my
two-year-old brother Anwar’s tiny grave.
My old house, which
once stood relatively tall amid the other impoverished homes in my
neighborhood, is now almost hidden from view. Its white walls have been
dirtied by years and neglect. Abu Abdullah, the new owner, welcomed me
in. A large man with a humble demeanor and a friendly but cheerless
face, he walked me through the house. While very little had changed
after all these years, the ‘basketball rim’ my brothers and I concocted
from rubber hose and fastened high on the wall was gone. I could almost
hear my mother yelling as her five boys ran wild in the small space.
“May Allah help me cope with all of this,” she would bellow, as she
tried frantically to fix whatever we ruthlessly ruined.
didn’t check to see if the bullet holes left by the rampages of Israeli
troops remained where I last saw them. While I had dreamed of seeing
this place again for so many years, it was now just too much to bear. I
left hurriedly, despite Abu Abdullah’s repeated pleas to stay longer.
My English teacher, Mohammed Nofal, remained as I had left him,
funny and hospitable. A few of my friends have been killed, but many
others have remained steadfast, building, repairing, educating and
surviving. The astonishing level of determination that has always
defined Gaza is much stronger than I remember it. No one seeks pity in
“There was a large building here,” I remarked
inquisitively to a cousin at one point in my journey.
casually. “It’s been destroyed in the latest war, but the people crushed
the rubble, processed it into concrete and the building now stands on
the other side of the street”. In Gaza, few discuss what has been
destroyed, but many speak of rebuilding.
As I waited for a taxi
to take me to the town of Khan Younis, I spotted the Akel falafel stand.
Here we had once spent my dad’s loose change on Falafel sandwiches and
Barrad-flavored crushed yellow ice.
I held onto my plastic cup
of Barrad all the way to Khan Younis in the south of Gaza, taking
careful, slow sips. It tasted exactly as I remembered it from when I was
six years old. Since then, nothing in the world has tasted better.
“Now the Egypt border will be open for good, you should come back to
Nuseirat for more Barrad,” said a friend.
“Inshallah,” – God
willing - I said. “Inshallah.”
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on