The Islamic Garden Life in Gaza - American
Woman and Her Four Children
Umm Anas Huggi
accepted Islam in the United States
over 25 years ago. She married a Palestinian
hoping to improve her knowledge and understanding of the religion. They
children and she and her children have lived in the Emirates and the US, as well as in Gaza
from 2005 to 2008. She is now settled in
but in the recent air
strikes on Palestine,
sadly, two of her brother-in-laws were killed. Also, many of her
Zeitoon were killed and her house in Zeitoon was partially destroyed
by Israeli forces.
Visit to Gaza
first went to Gaza
to visit relatives in the late 1990s. At that time her oldest son was
and the youngest was two. She remembers, “We went for six weeks and it
peaceful then. We did not feel the violence.” At that time, Israel still had
several settlements in Gaza. “The
go into Gaza
and get medical treatment from Palestinian doctors. One Israeli woman
that she goes into Gaza
because the best dentist she knows is there,” recalls Umm Anas.
normal circumstances the Palestinians deal with the Israelis as
their shops and clinics and treat them well. There would only be
animosity if the
person had a gun or showed signs of violence.
spurred off the violence? Umm Anas comments, “People develop hard
they lose family members, or their farms get bull-dozed and destroyed.”
first visit to Gaza
she and her children went to the Emirates, then back to the States. Her
had settled in Canada
she decided to go to Gaza
and stay for some time. “We went back to Gaza
in 2005 because my mother-in-law was old and sick and needed help. She
asking for me. She loved me very much and I loved her. The Israeli
was still there for the first six months after we arrived,” she says.
Umm Anas also
would be more Islamic for her children than life in the States. She
was more Islamic because we could hear the call to prayer. The kids
readily and it was a more spiritually motivating environment despite
obvious problems. Also, the Palestinians are pleasant and respectful.
treat people with good manners, greet each other, help each other, and Gaza
has a religious feel
to it. Neighbors are good to each other and you feel you are being
Anas never felt afraid walking at night or letting the children play
unless there was threat of air strikes or faction fighting. Under
was a safe place to be.
people of Gaza
are not really exposed to Western culture and young children rarely see
foreigners except perhaps for people working at NGOs and the United
Umm Anas says, “As an American, the younger children were amazed when
us and wanted to talk to us because they do not see many foreigners.
intrigued by us. They would wave and call us ‘Ameriki’. It was not just
I am a Muslim, they treat non-Muslims well too. People from NGOs I used
with were always saying how they are treated with hospitality and
Palestinians welcome change and hope for a brighter future but so often
some elements of Palestinian society that are hopeful there will be a
resolution but not everyone thinks like that. Umm Anas comments,
“Hamas, Jihad Islamiya
and other staunch groups only see what is revealed in the Qur’an as
They see that at the end of the world, near the Day of Judgment, there
the Armageddon and ultimate peace. They do not see that it is possible
achieve peace with Israel
before that. There may be periods of peace and calm but they are
other elements of Palestinian society see things differently. They hope
for a truce
and calm so they can rebuild their lives. Gaza
is potentially a prosperous place but unless they organize themselves
one national identity – instead of several splinter groups – they will
it. Umm Anas comments, “They are determined to fight to the bitter end.
people have suffered great losses. They lost farmlands, family members
have been crippled because of injuries. They only see the bad that has
in their life so they put it in their mind that there is nothing else
asked what message she would like to give to the Palestinian people,
says, “I’d like to tell them to unite and become one nation, not this
thing we have now. I wish they seek a peaceful life so they can have a
semblance of peace for their children. I would like to see them have
government even if it is under Israel
but I must say that I am afraid of that. They need to let their
children and enjoy their innocence. They need some peace for their
even if it means compromise.”
the settlement and
moved their people out. This set up the situation that currently
Palestinians herded in Gaza, Israel
have to worry about hurting their own people. Umm Anas remarks, “We are
in a barrel, so Israel
does not have to worry about hurting their own people. Only
get hurt now.”
first peaceful six months in Gaza
in 2005, Umm Anas and her children were enjoying their time with the
sitting in the farm and eating fruit grown on their own trees. Then
after the Israeli
settlement was dismantled and emptied, there were hostilities on both
it escalated. The Palestinians were throwing rockets and the Israelis
farms. “It was hard to know which came first, the bull-dozing or the
were rising, and there were several air strikes and then there was a
stayed inside during the air strikes. The air strikes would last one or
days hitting several targets then they would do several flyovers. We
always try to stay inside. One time, I was working on the eighth floor
a class of women and Israeli soldiers did this sonic boom with their
frightened everyone and the glass blew in. Lots of women in Gaza
had miscarriages because of the stress,
anxiety and shock. These booms were a new terror tactic that did not
missiles. They did this for about three months then finally stopped
international pressure,” recalls Umm Anas.
beginning of 2006, Hamas came into power and this was a time of
many people in Gaza.
They thought there would be a lot of changes. Umm Anas remarks, “Hamas
has a reputation
for helping people, providing doctors, building schools, and helping
the poor. Then
the faction fighting began between Hamas, Jihad Islamiya and Fatah. The
year was on and off, first there was faction fighting with Islamic
to round up people to support them. I was worried about my teenage boys
them busy with school or got them busy building our house on the farm.
went to work with their uncle who taught them welding and other skills.
tried our best to keep them busy during the hostilities.”
notes that they were more nervous about Israeli attacks and that
during the faction fighting they may be hurt by a stray bullet, this
nothing compared to Israeli attacks as they have more sophisticated
do not hesitate to use them on anyone – young or old. “When we used to
planes coming, we would count to ten and then ultimately hear the bombs
Even now in Cairo
when we hear planes flying over we feel afraid,” observes Umm Anas.
have left but I was stuck there,” says Umm Asas. She had her American
but the children’s passports were with her mother-in-law in her safety
box and her husband would not let her take them back. He was in Canada.
embassy in Jerusalem
could not help as they needed her
husband’s signature and he refused to give it. Her mother-in-law passed
January 2008 and she hoped that then they would have the passports but
not happen. Umm Anas recalls, “Hamas broke the border between Egypt, Gaza
and Rafah and they did major damage to it. This was our chance. The
in Jerusalem advised
us to try to get to Cairo.” She
children. They had two bags and a blanket. She recalls, “We wanted to
through the role in the wall but it was too muddy to run! The hole in
was so huge. Hamas kept bombing in down. You have to admire their
determination. If someone stopped up a place in the wall, they would
down another place.”
edge of the wall, the family saw an Egyptian taxi and the driver was
get his car out of the mud. He lived in Rafah on the Egyptian side and
asked him to help them. He said that if they help him get his car out
mud, he would drive them to Cairo.
“The boys got his car out of the mud and he kept his word and stayed
with us through
all the check points until we got to Cairo,”
remembers Umm Anas.
first check point the family had to turn around and go back to Rafah.
to the police station where they were treated decently. They had to do
a lot of
paper work because the children did not have passports. There were many
crossings on the way to Cairo.
“It was a hassle,” recalls Umm Anas. The first low- level officer would
the paper to a higher level and so on and each border crossing took a
time. The fastest time they got through was about two and a half hours.
last one took over six hours. “We were treated nicely but had to stay
taxi and were not allowed to get out of the car or talk. After the
point we called the US
embassy in Cairo.
We were worried because at each border crossing a decision would be
whether or not we could continue our journey or have to go back,” says
Anas. She did not talk because as a white American woman it might
things. Eventually the family arrived safely in Cairo and
managed to settle there.
and her children did not find out about the recent air strike until
a call from the son of her brother-in-law who lives in Cairo.
He had received a call from Gaza
saying that one of her husband’s brothers had been
killed by shrapnel near the Red Crescent hospital in Gaza
during the recent killer air strikes. Normaan
Huggi had been visiting his brother who was dying of cancer at that
went out to get some pain medicine for him from the chemist. On his way
missile fell and he was killed. Then on December 29, 2008 another
the hospital where the other brother was, and he died. Umm Anas
remarks, “The Israelis
are even bombing hospitals! And they bomb when the children are being
of school – children walking in the streets. All this is planned for
Huggi was 53 when he died. “My brother-in-law helped us a lot when we
were in Gaza.
In the beginning he
helped us build our house which was near his. He would bring us fruit
trees and we would sit and have tea on his front porch and the children
play,” recalls Umm Anas. He has a wife in Gaza
and she is expecting a baby in spring. “Her children are small and she
be able to work the farm alone so we are worried about her,” says Umm
family left Gaza and
came to Egypt,
Huggi would call to see if they were ok. “He wanted to help us but he
and had nothing to give. I asked the Rafah border people to let him get
but they would not let him. They do not usually let adult males through
border either way,” says Umm Anas.
brothers now dead, the family does not have anyone to help them.
planning to go back to Gaza
for a visit as soon as things settle down,” says Umm Anas. “I’ll go
older son. I need to see if I can do anything to help, even if it is
blood. I want to help my sister-in-law and try to settle her somehow
her some aid through the agencies. Normaan was never a rich man. He was
and generous with what he had but he did not have anything to support
family except his farm and she can not work it as she is.”
speaking to her sister-in-law in Gaza for a few minutes, she counted