A crowd gathered on the hilltop, clapping and cheering as they watched the night sky, as it lit up with explosions from a distance.
This was not the joyous occasion of New Year’s Eve; rather, it was the perverse celebration of 1,000-pound fragmentation bombs that were being dropped on the civilians of Gaza While Gazan men, women and children fled (to no-where) for cover, these Israelis whooped and whistled. Welcome to “Sderot Cinema,” where you can grab front-row seats to the barbaric killing of people.
The murder of three Israeli teenagers triggered Israel’s recent attack on Gaza, so we were told. Without any shred of evidence, the Israeli government blamed Hamas and proceeded to bomb Gaza, relentlessly. It later transpired, that Hamas did not murder the three teenagers, but the bombing continued. At the time of writing, “Operation Protective Edge” has resulted in the deaths of more than 1900 Palestinians. Estimates indicate that at least 80 per cent are civilians. . Let’s not forget that Gaza is one of the most densely inhabited cities in the world. At 360 square kilometres, it has population of more than 1.5 million people, of which 1.1 million are actually refugees in their own homeland. Gaza’s borders are closed. It has not control as to what can leave or enter. As with its borders, its airspace and water are controlled by Israel. Coupled with seven years of sanctions, Gaza’s economy lays in ruins.
The deplorable situation in Gaza, is but a backdrop to a much larger story of tragedy, death, and despair to which I shall highlight only some aspects.
In 1896, long before the Holocaust, self-proclaimed Atheist and the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl had called for a Jewish-only state in the territory defined as ‘The land of Israel’. He believed in the self-determination of the Jewish people who should have the right and ability to govern themselves, in their own country.
With Herzl having laid the foundations of the Zionist movement, it wasn’t until 1917, that the Balfour Declaration materialised the British intention to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the process of making this new homeland for the Jews, some 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees, by either being expelled or fleeing conflict that arose. Commonly known as “the day of catastrophe,” the al-Nakba marked the start of a long process of the decoration of the plight of the Palestinians, and the erosion of their most basic human rights. Yet, Palestinians were not only driven out from their homes, but also attacked where they sought refuge.
In 1982, Christian militias, guided by the Israeli military to surround a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, proceeded with the massacre of 3,500 men, women and children. Despite the horrific magnitude of such a crime, to this day, no one has been charged for the mass murder in Sabra and Shatila. Presiding over this massacre, Defence Minister Ariel Sharon (who later became Prime Minister)was dubbed ‘The Butcher of Beirut’.
Since its establishment, Israel has remained in violation of numerous United Nations Resolutions. In fact, no other country in the world has been so frequently condemned by the UN. Oddly, Israel has always insisted that it only wants peace with the Palestinians, yet, how can peace be fostered by a country that has been condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission for the “systematic killing of civilians and children,” and for “gross violations” of humanitarian law?
Israel brings to memory, thoughts of apartheid South Africa. The massive West Bank Wall has divided Palestinian villagesand separated families from one another. .
While Jewish Settlers have access to Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, Palestinians face innumerable checkpoints. at The injured and the sick are often unable to seek medical attention, due to the stringent and often very humiliating ways in which commuters are “processed.” There have been cases of women who have given birth at checkpoints without proper medical care.
After 66 years of occupation, Hamas was democratically elected in 2006 by the Palestinians. Seen by the outside world as a terrorist organisation, many see the hopes of resistance within it. In 2009, President Clinton noted that the people did not vote Hamas in for wanting “terrorist tactics,” bur rather, they had hoped that Hamas would offer “better service, better government.”
The greatest victims in this occupation have been children. They suffer what is effectively a life sentence of occupation. Children aged 5 and over have lived through three wars. In the recent war against the Palestinians of Gaza, children were killed while they slept; while they played football on the beach, and even while they sought sanctuary in UN refugee sites.
Even those defending the rights of Palestinians have been killed.
Yielding a megaphone in her hand, her blonde hair and bright orange fluorescent jacket with reflective stripes made 23-year old Rachel Corrie clearly identifiable as an international activist. In 2003, she tried to prevent an advancing military bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home in the Rafah refugee camp, close to the border between Gaza and Egypt.
Crushing to her death, the bulldozer showed no sign of slowing down. One decade later, corrie’s death was ruled as an accident.
One month following Corrie’s death, British activist Tim Hurndall was shot by an Israeli sniper while protecting Palestinian children from a line of fire. Hurndalldied nine-months later in January, 2004, after falling into a coma
The Gaza flotilla raid was a military operation by Israel against six civilian ships of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” on 31 May 2010 which was in international waters. Ten activists who were on board the Mavi Marmara were killed when Israeli Military officials had intercepted the flotilla headed for Gaza to deliver aid and building material.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence stating how shocked he was by the deadly raid.
“It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” he said.
“I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who also condemned the operation emphasised that this was a “disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza…”
Today, we see the descendants of the Palestinians, who number in their millions, still being denied the right to return to their homeland. Even until this day, many Palestinians still hold the keys to their old homes in the hope that they may one day return to the land they were so callously evicted from.
The rockets over Gaza will eventually stop falling but the blockade will continue. Israeli bulldozers will continue to destroy Palestinian homes. The settlements will continue to expand. The West Bank Wall will continue to separate villages. Palestinians will continue to be denied of their own resources. All the while, Israel will expand its military occupation. This is not a conflict. This is the oppressor against the oppressed. The coloniser against the colonised. The murderer against the murdered. This is genocide.
Despite the trials, tribulations, the death, the mayhem and destruction, the Palestinians move on. Life continues. No matter what their circumstances, they always move on. In that, we can take hope, that no matter how fierce their challenges, no matter how inhumane their conditions may be, their spirit is never broken.