The war on Gaza continues into its seventeenth night. I find myself longing for the day when I don’t feel I have an obligation to tell this story anymore. Life seems to have been put on hold; at work, at home, as I eat, as I write, I feel like I am just waiting for this to end, so that maybe I can allow myself to go out again, or just to sleep. It’s such a selfish thought to have when in Gaza, they’re also waiting for this to end but only so that they can maybe go back to living without the fear of death arriving before the next breath.
But it won’t end. Even if this particularly bloody episode finishes sometime soon, it will remain a chapter in the long book of Israeli injustice and oppression that every Palestinian has learned by heart. The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza prison since this slaughter began has exceeded 900, but very few will remember or care in a few months time, least of all Israelis. It is why they can’t fathom the reason Palestinians continue to fight. Israelis are so ingrained in their own historic victimhood that, even as they use the full might of their first world army against the imprisoned, malnourished and impoverished refugee population of Gaza, they cannot accept the defining role their own aggression against the Palestinian people has played in reaching this point.
Palestinian suffering comes into focus whenever Israel goes on a large-scale rampage. But as my cousin reminded me from Gaza last night, the suffering is always there, it has just become accepted by those who do not experience it on a continuous basis. Before this massacre, the people of Gaza were barely living due to the crippling siege that had closed off the land, sea and air, that had blocked the entry of raw materials and supplies, of food and medicines, and that had led 97% of businesses in Gaza to close.
Before that, there was the policy of closure that had made it extremely difficult for most of Gaza’s residents to exit the territory, and impossible for many people on the outside to enter. Before that, the continuing occupation. Before that, the nakba, the ethnic cleansing that had driven hundreds of thousands into Gaza from their villages and towns that surrounded the Strip.
Thus the idea that Israel is waging this war solely to ‘defend itself’ from the homemade rockets fired out of Gaza is ludicrous. What Israel is attempting to do is to deny Palestinians the right to fight against the accumulated oppression of the past six decades. It wants to destroy the desire amongst Palestinians to live a decent, dignified life. It wants to maintain its control of the people of Gaza, so that they give up on the right to live in their own lands, outside squalid refugee camps.
That’s why it burned the village of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, with white phosphorous. That’s why it bombed schools and mosques and university buildings and ambulances and homes, to utterly terrorize the population. That’s why the majority of those killed have not been ‘Hamas fighters’ or rocket launchers, but citizens sitting in their own homes: Muslim, Christian, secular, independent, Hamas, Fatah, conservative, liberal, but all Palestinian.
The 17th day saw yet another Israeli push to try and take the Zatoun and Tufah neighborhoods and the Jabalya refugee camp, all to the east of Gaza City. Again, they were met with extremely tough resistance. Nobody is quite sure what the extent of the humanitarian situation is in those areas-journalists and aid workers are finding it almost impossible to get through. When medics were allowed in after the first four days of fighting, they found dozens of dead bodies, and many more who had been wounded and denied medical attention for days. Most had been killed or maimed by Israeli shells being fired into the crowded homes were families huddled in fear.
In and around Gaza City, it was the artillery and not the war planes that did most of the damage today, firing at all the neighborhoods. But one missile did land, in Palestine Square, one of the few open, green areas in Gaza. Two civilians died in that attack, 10 were wounded
Rafah seemed to have borne the brunt of the bombing today, with entire neighborhoods in the small border town decimated by the missiles and shells. TV footage showed deep cracks within the roads that ran through the targeted areas, indicative of the destruction wrought on the homes and buildings that have left many thousands homeless.
The north, where the Israelis had made the deepest advances through the open farm lands, had become somewhat of a killing field. A fellow writer lost his 22 year old cousin there, when she was shot by an Israeli sniper in her kitchen.
I tried calling Mosab tonight. The words he had spoken yesterday, full of fear and certainty that his friends would be killed, had haunted me all day. I knew the north, where their house is, had been the scene of continuous shelling and sniper fire. But I couldn’t get through to him. His phone wasn’t turned off, but the phone network in that area, after days of warnings by the phone company, seemed to have finally gone down. Perhaps more cell towers had been bombed. Maybe the generators had run out of fuel. Maybe a combination of both. But I now had no way to find out if Mosab, his family, his home and his friends were safe.
I called my uncle Mohammad next, in Tal al-Hawa, the first neighborhood in Gaza City from the south. I had heard on the news that the neighborhood had suffered extensive shelling during the night from the tanks stationed at the former Netzarim settlement just to the south. But when I called, things seemed calm. I couldn’t even hear the ever present buzzing of the Israeli drones. He told me they were there, they were always there, even before this war, but tonight they were far off. The quiet, though, was scary.
I asked him how the day had been, and he said it had been calmer than most days. Not many people died today, I pointed out. Just 27. Great, he said. 27 killed in one day has now become a cause for hope.
I asked him about little Dina, who had been sick the day before. He told me she was feeling better after the medicine, that he’d made sure she was warm tonight despite the open windows. His wife Areej and the baby were sleeping. I asked him why he hadn’t slept yet. He said he couldn’t he was expecting the nightly bombing to begin soon. It had started at 2AM the night before and continued until 7 the next morning. He hadn’t slept at all during the night. From 7 till 9, he said, I got some of the best sleep of the last few weeks. Two hours.
I told him I expected the whole thing to be over before it entered its fourth week. The Israelis weren’t achieving any military goals. There is no point in this continuing. But the Israelis seem to operate using every basis but logic. From the beginning the war was folly. Even a re-invasion would not halt the rocket fire, as the stated goals were at first. The rockets were developed while Gaza was full of Israeli soldiers anyway.
We talked a bit more but I didn’t want to prolong the conversation. I told him to take advantage of the calm and try to get a couple hours sleep. Hopefully, he’d be able to sleep past that and through the whole night for once.
My uncle Mahmoud in Khan Younis wasn’t picking up either, so I called my uncle Jasim. He told me that things seemed relatively quiet there too. I figured Mahmoud was probably sleeping. Jasim was watching the news-the electricity had come on about an hour earlier for the first time that day. He told me Khan Younis had actually been calm all day, that they had only been bombed twice. I asked him what the targets were, and he said they were just buildings that had been bombed before. The eastern border was being shelled continuously by the artillery, but they were bombing fields since the area is made up mostly of farmland.
He told me people had left the house today for the first time in days. Some farm
ers were selling the little produce they had in the vegetable market, but all the stores were closed. I told him the Palestinian Authority were demanding they be given control of the Rafah crossing when this is over. He laughed, telling me the people in Gaza haven’t forgotten Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad’s open complicity in the siege. They wouldn’t last a day, he said. I told him I suspected they knew that now. It’s a shame most of the other countries around the world still don’t. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, talked today of the need to unite Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority, even as it loses the last remaining shreds of credibility it had amongst Palestinians everywhere.
That is actually testimony to some of the deepest obstacles to achieving a just peace in Palestine. So many people attempt to force upon the Palestinians what is not realistic without understanding the facts on the ground, and then are dumbfounded when this approach fails. Giving Gaza to the Palestinian Authority will not alleviate the suffering of the people there. The PA was in control in Gaza for 12 years before being overthrown, and in every single one of those years life for Palestinians became worse than the year before. Since Hamas took over, that trend has admittedly continued. The problem lies in the root of current Palestinian suffering: our dispossession, occupation and oppression at the hands of Israel. Until that reality is changed, the world should not expect Palestinians to live, content, under the most unjust of realities. Even if the price is that which has been paid over the past 17 days.