I am not sure what emotion can be carried in numbers.
I am not sure if justice can be found in cold calculation, but I am tired of those who defend this brutal occupation.
A little over two years ago, Israel launched an invasion of the Gaza strip called Operation Cast Lead, lasting about three weeks. They killed 1,417 Palestinians, 926 were civilians, of which at least 250 were children (though that number is more likely closer to 350), 4 Israeli soldiers, wounded over 5000 Palestinians, destroyed 4000 buildings, including hospitals and the UN compound in Gaza City, and displaced roughly 58,000 Palestinians according to Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Al Huq (an independent Human Rights group), the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and various other human rights groups.
The minuscule Palestinian armed resistance, during the same period, killed three Israeli civilians, 6 IDF soldiers and wounded 518 Israelis of which 186 were civilians.
According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli forces extensively destroyed civilian property, including homes, factories, farms, and greenhouses “without any lawful military purpose.” In its May 2010 report entitled “I Lost Everything: Israel’s Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza Conflict,” HRW stated “in certain Gaza neighborhoods (Izbet Abed Rabbo, Zeitoun, and Khuza’a) Israeli forces destroyed “virtually every home, factory, and orchard … indicating an apparent plan of systematic destruction in these locations.”
According to Amnesty International and anyone with a TV, the Israeli military shelled a hospital with artillery shells containing white phosphorus. This is a highly indiscriminate weapon that can spread over the size a football field. It can’t be put out with water. When white phosphorus comes in contact with someone, it burns deeply through the skin, muscles and into the bone and will continue burning until it is deprived of oxygen.
Also according to Amnesty International, Israel continued its use of human shields in the invasion of Gaza. In one instance Amnesty reports that “for two days from 5 January, Israeli forces held Yousef Abu ‘Ida, his wife Leila and their nine children as ‘human shields’ in their home in Hay al-Salam, east of Jabalia, while they used the house as a military position. They then forced the family out and destroyed the house.”
All of this, it must be noted, took place on a piece of land no bigger than two per cent of historic Palestine, a measly 139 square kilometers. It is the most densely populated area in the world. It borders Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean. Gaza is subjugated to one of the harshest sustained blockades in history, effectively making it an open-air prison.
Some justify this brutality because of Hamas, the elected Palestinian government. They call Hamas a terrorist organization, bent on killing all the Jews in Israel. I have no love for Hamas, but Hamas is only a product of decades of oppression, occupation, and humiliation. The daily brutality of the occupation in the West Bank, the impossibility of the two-state solution due to settlements, the inhuman embargo of Gaza and the failure for Israel to recognize its legacy of ethnic cleansing in the form of Palestinians refugee camps has made Hamas possible.
What choice do Palestinians have but to resist? Should they just die silently? Should a legacy of ethnic cleansing, refugee status, occupation, imprisonment, and poverty be accepted? Would you accept this?
Think about it for a moment. Israel, a nuclear-armed nation that possesses one of the world’s strongest armies, occupies the West Bank. It builds fortresses for colonizers and has flying checkpoints. Israel constructed a wall that is built beyond an international border, cutting off precious farmland. Israeli-built access roads, strafe across the countryside, making the West Bank resemble Swiss cheese. It, in short, dominates Palestine. If Palestinians resist at all, they fire homemade rockets and occasionally bomb targets inside Israel. The conflict is completely unequal.
Israel demands peace from the Palestinians as a precursor to negotiations. But by peace it means passivity and subjugation. Meanwhile in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, they cannot access building materials or get sufficient medical or food supplies. As Saeed Bannoura of the International Middle East Media Center reports, (with access to newly declassified Israeli documents) the Israeli government imposed a deliberate policy:
“In which the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are ‘putting the people of Gaza on a diet.’”
So beyond the numbers, behind the reports and the violations of UN resolutions are people just like you and me. They are caught up in game of oppressed and oppressor. Our government’s stance that Israel can do wrong is shameful. What happened, what is happening in Gaza cannot be understood by numbers alone. Perhaps the following poem by Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi can give us something to ponder beyond cold numbers.
A Poem for Gaza
By Remi Kanazi
I never knew death until I saw the bombing of a refugee camp
Craters filled with disfigured ankles and splattered torsos
But no sign of a face, the only impression a fading scream
I never understood pain
Until a seven-year-old girl clutched my hand
Stared up at me with soft brown eyes, waiting for answers
But I didn’t have any
I had muted breath and dry pens in my back pocket
That couldn’t fill pages of understanding or resolution
In her other hand she held the key to her grandmother’s house
But I couldn’t unlock the cell that caged her older brothers
They said, we slingshot dreams so the other side will feel our father’s presence
Built homes in areas where no one was building
And when he fell, he was silent
A .50 caliber bullet tore through his neck shredding his vocal cords
Too close to the wall
His hammer must have been a weapon
He must have been a weapon
Encroaching on settlement hills and demographics
So his daughter studies mathematics
Seven explosions times eight bodies
Equals four Congressional resolutions
Seven Apache helicopters times eight Palestinian villages
Equals silence and a second Nakba
Our birthrate minus their birthrate
Equals one sea and 400 villages re-erected
One state plus two peoples…and she can’t stop crying
Never knew revolution or the proper equation
Tears at the paper with her fingertips
Searching for answers
But only has teachers
Looks up to the sky and see stars of David demolishing squalor with hellfire missiles
She thinks back words and memories of his last hug before he turned and fell
Now she pumps dirty water from wells, while settlements divide and conquer
And her father’s killer sits beachfront with European vernacular
She thinks back words, while they think backwards
Of obscene notions and indigenous confusion
This our land!, she said
She’s seven years old
This our land!, she said
And she doesn’t need a history book or a schoolroom teacher
She has these walls, this sky, her refugee camp
She doesn’t know the proper equation
But she sees my dry pens
No longer waiting for my answers
Just holding her grandmother’s key…searching for ink
(Originally published in the Dalhousie Gazette)