A Lament for Gaza

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

A craftsman

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)


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