Messages from Gaza to Havana

By Yaimi Ravelo on May 17, 2021

Photo: pixabay

Only days before this last holocaust suffered by Palestine began, Dr. Fayez Abed al Shrafi went to meet a friend of the family. Ismail Mousa Salem received the doctor, who studied and graduated in Cuba, as one embraces a son.  This 83-year-old man knows all about wars, love, solidarity and friendship.  Mousa Salem deeply admires Cuba.  His eyes have seen many sons of Palestine leave for Havana full of fears and doubts.  But he has also seen them come back well-educated, trained professionals, ready to serve the families of the Land of the Holy Scripture.

When the young doctor studied at the University of Medical Sciences in Santa Clara — on that small island he now misses and to which he owes so much — he was welcomed by Bassel Ismail Salem, son of the old man he sometimes visits after getting off work at one of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

In that last meeting before the bombs came raining down, Ismail went to his garden together with the young Fayez and proudly showed him the colorful lemon tree grove in his yard.  They took a picture and sent it by WhatsApp all the way to the Caribbean.  When Bassel saw that picture — his elderly father embraced with tenderness, surrounded by love and gratitude — at that very moment he was reaping the most precious of harvests: Solidarity.

During those days when the Fayez and Salem families were having tea and strengthening their ties, the Palestinian people — along with many others — were protesting in the streets to demand respect for Palestinian sovereignty.  They were also demanding an end to the violation of human rights and respect for their sacred Jerusalem Al Quds.

The victims of aggression were multiplied daily — the dead, children arrested and imprisoned, wounded teenagers, women crying, families destroyed.

However, in the West, the inhuman blockade of Gaza in the midst of a pandemic, the daily deaths in the West Bank, the arbitrary arrests and humiliations are part of the daily news.  For the Palestinians, the horror suffered today by their people was like a time bomb.  The Palestinian Resistance had warned that it was coming and as we all can see, it came like a wild beast prepares to attack its prey and you don’t know exactly when it will pounce.  But the intentions are there, you perceive it in its animal look, its impulse to jump with fangs ready to tear you apart.

Messages to Havana

The Cuban capital going through a complex moment as it faces the complicated epidemiological situation.  The wounds of the blockade imposed by the United States are getting deeper and deeper and history has shown us Empires do not rest when they are obsessed with taking over a country.

But Bassel Salem has been in Havana for 34 years and knows what the blockade, the Special Period and resistance means for both of his homelands; Palestine and Cuba and as any good Palestinian-Cuban he works tirelessly.  He is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a correspondent for the Palestinian magazine Alhadaf and the website hadafnews.  He’s an Arabic-language translator for Resumen Latinoamericano, as well as one of the founders of the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.  Bassel is, in short, an indispensable activist of solidarity with Cuba.

The news arrived that someone far away from his land never wants to read invasion, bombs, occupation, deaths, destruction, and genocide.  These are the words that Bassel now reads in the headlines of the most popular media. Those are the same media that doesn’t even consider Palestine to be a country.

Desperate there and very worried here, the families try to keep in touch through Bassel and Dr. Fayez:

Monday, May 11:

Dr. Fayez: It’s almost impossible to record and communicate from the hospital, because there is so much work to do to save lives.  But, after leaving the hospital, I can log-on from my home.  The situation is serious and people are preparing for a long war.  But there is a commitment to fight and very high resistance in defense of the national rights of our people and their sacred places.

Bassel Salem: We are living a new genocidal Zionist war against the Palestinian people.  I just finished talking to my father.  He said that the word on the streets is that Palestine is united.  Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank are standing as one.  And the Palestinian territories, occupied since 1948, are facing a new chapter in the Israeli war of aggression.

Bassel confesses that he hardly rests.  His heart is in Palestine.  Every day he wakes up very early to try to talk to his father; there’s a seven 7-hour difference.  This afternoon in Palestine, his people may be running for cover or crouched in bomb shelters.  Or they could be searching for survivors buried under the rubble.  Or maybe gathering supplies for what could be a long, drawn-out war.

The fear of losing his father grows in Bassel’s soul.  On May 14, when Cuban President Díaz-Canel expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez denounced the crimes of the Zionist State of Israel, Bassel received the most encouraging of messages that came from his father:

“An immense greeting and great thanks to Cuba, the president, the government and the people for their courage and sincerity in supporting our Palestinian people and their just causes, and for their energetic and bold condemnation of the crimes of the Zionist enemy, as well as the condemning the United States of America for its support and protection of the rogue state. Our Palestinian people highly value the stances of the friendly Cuban people, as well as the just causes of the peoples fighting for liberation and independence everywhere.

Long live the heroic Cuban people!

For Bassel it is hard to receive images like the one of his father with the doctor by the lemon tree, he assures that when he spoke with his baba -father in Arabic- his voice was calm and firm; not even in a second of the conversation was there a hint of fear in Ismail Mousa Salem’s voice, they are determined to resist, to take care of each other and not to let Palestine die.

But Salem’s son meditates on that photo with the happy face of his father, on the colors of the garden, on the tenderness of the young doctor who left Cuba to save now so many lives in the hospitals of Gaza. Bassel prays for them and has faith that they can win, he works tirelessly to translate news coming from the Middle East into Spanish, there is also a media war to face, there are more than a few battlefields.

In Havana the Salem family fights against the pandemic, Bassel’s youngest daughter was positive for Covid-19, her soul is on two war fronts. For a Palestinian in Cuba, these are times to take care of health, to thank friends, to love, to demand justice, to resist, to fight and to win. From Gaza, messages of gratitude and love reach Havana. Words that transcend blockades and bombs.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – Cuba