How do you shop in a war?
War or not, daily life must go on. Ramadan or not, mouths must be fed. Destroyed home or not, families must eat, sleep, bathe, survive. Israeli atrocities or not, children must be cared for, the sick tended to, the dead buried.
But how, when the air above sends a hail of missiles every five minutes, the sea and land around you explode with mortar fire and worse? When a trip to the corner shop becomes a death-defying exercise in what you need more – a pound of rice or a pound of flesh?
The streets of Gaza City have been all but deserted for the last four days. On Tuesday several shops in the city were still open – but few customers were in evidence. By Wednesday the entire cityscape had become a wall of blind shop-fronts, windows hidden behind aluminium roller-doors.
I needed internet access at home. I had to go out and get it organised. A brave Palestinian friend accompanied me to the internet provider – miraculously it was open. I signed up, but they told me they had run out of routers and I would have to buy one elsewhere and bring it back to have their software loaded. We set off back into town.
A trip down the ‘electronics’ street was a blind alley of aluminium, then suddenly we were in luck – an open shop, with routers. But they didn’t have card facilities, and the banks were closed indefinitely, including the ATMs, so I couldn’t get cash. He would take a cheque, he told me. I don’t have a cheque account.
Back out into the blind street, hopes fast diminishing. we had all but given up when I glanced behind me and saw a side-door open, a man sitting in a dark shop. We went in, asked if he accepted cards. Yes! Did he have a router? Yes! …but only a broadband one. He told us to wait, and we sat with the sound of drones and apaches for company as he raced up and down the street in a vain attempt to find one – but the first shop we’d been to had now shut, and all the rest were closed.
With the typical Palestinian desire to help, he called every electronics shop in Gaza City – but all were closed. He even called the wholesaler at home, who declined to come out into the fray to deliver me a router.
“You won’t get one until after the war,” the shopkeeper told me.
What a fate – a journalist without a way to get the stories out. Well, I thought, I am already in the streets and if this is going to go on I guess I should at least stock up on water and some basics. So we headed for the main street to get a car to the supermarket.
We were the only ones in the street. A few vehicles roared by at high speed as the drones circled. “Are they after us?” I began to wonder. “Why are they just going round and round, what/who are they looking for?” Feeling increasingly exposed and uncomfortable, with an edge of fear creeping in, we stood out in the road. A car screeched to a halt and we jumped in. The driver would take us wherever we wanted – he well knew the danger of standing around outside.
He drove like a maniac to the supermarket – at the best of times Gazans are not known for observing traffic rules or speed limits, but at times like this speed is the only protection, however illusory it may be. At least there was no danger of hitting any pedestrians – there were none.
As we got out of the car others were desperate to get in, weighed down with their bags of groceries – all with the same questions and fears in their minds. “Do I have enough to last? Will we live long enough to even use all this stuff?”
Unlike the deserted streets, the supermarket was buzzing with activity. Water, juice, rice, instant noodles, nuts, tins of this and that, pasta were all flying off the shelves. I got my supplies and headed back outside. The stark contrast between the normalcy of the supermarket and the deserted street was like stepping into a parallel universe. Like stepping from full quadrophonic sound to a monotone – that of the ever-present drone, with the occasional bass-note of explosions.
We got into a car as it emptied, even though it was going in the opposite direction, and the driver conceded to take us to my place and headed there at break-neck speed. As we pulled up outside, a huge explosion ripped through the air behind us. We were to discover that it was a missile hitting only metres from the internet provider we had just visited, and all the windows of the buildings for hundreds of meters on either side were shattered.
As we carried the supplies inside my upstairs neighbour invited me for a cup of tea with his family. We sat sipping hot sweet tea and chatting, when he offered me the password for his wireless internet. Online at last! And so easily – I could have done it without even leaving the building, my friend pointed out.
This is Gaza!
At least we got my supplies, I consoled him, as he ventured back out into the bombardment to return to the illusory safety of his own home.