Vera Macht Reports from Gaza
15 January, 2011 — Gilad Atzmon Writings
The air is filled with the noise of the Israeli F-16s, which are flying so low that it’s almost like the air is trembling. You can positively feel the bombs before they fall, before they explode with a horrendous bang, that is unmistakable, with a pressure wave that breaks the windows of the houses in the whole surrounding area, and makes the walls shake miles away.
And even if you know rationally that you are not in an immediate danger, this bang triggers a primal fear, the feeling of vulnerability, of being absolutely exposed. ‘We people of Gaza die hundreds of times’, a young Palestinian woman said. ‘In our thoughts, we are buried every night under the rubble of our crumbling house, we are shot every morning by a sniper on a carelessly chosen path, we may starve to death every day, because no more food is coming in.’
This night four bombs fall, three in the middle area of Gaza Strip, one in Khan Younis. All places have been declared ‘terrorist targets’ in the official statement of the Israeli military, including a Navy police building.
They fly overhead for about an hour, and you try to ignore the noise by focusing on something else, on your laptop, the text before you. The people of Gaza might watch TV, but the images are constantly disturbed by dozens of drones in the sky above. Their pervasive, never-ending buzz can drive you crazy, not to mention the prospect of how they record every single detail of each house, each car and each movement of the people, of yourself. Always aware of how they can transform into a deadly weapon at any moment. And perhaps their bombs aren’t aimed at yourself, but at the car next to you, the person behind you, or at the friend on the motorcycle seat in front of you. This happened yesterday afternoon in Khan Younis, as a resistance fighter was executed in broad daylight as he rode his motorcycle with a friend.
Whoever writes about Gaza, whoever writes about the buffer zone without writing about the rockets, which are shot from there to Israel, is accused of writing only half the truth. Half of the truth about farmers being killed, stone collectors who are shot at, and bombs in the night. The other half of the truth would then be the approximately 20 mortar shells and missles that have landed in Israel since the beginning of the year, the Israeli soldier who died by ‘friendly fire’, which was actually aimed at a Palestinian, and the Thai workers, who were injured by fragments of a missile. The whole truth would then be a mutual terror, incited on both sides, and in which both parties would be equally responsible for the spiral of violence.
If there were two equal parties, then each Israeli police station would be a legitimate target, any Israeli soldier who, on his day off, rides with a friend on his motorcycle through Tel Aviv, would be a legitimate target for execution. That is how Israel operates. The discourse is, however, not about equality, it is about self-defense and protection of a state on one side, and about terrorism on the other side.
What about the safety of the people of Gaza? One wonders, living here. What about the safety of the children in the schools near the border that are shot at, of the pregnant women, over whom the F-16 circles? Where is the protection of the baby, who was sleeping in his bed, as a few weeks ago the bullet of an Israeli tank shattered the wall above him? All of this is a response to the terror of the Islamists, says Israel and the mainstream journalism.
The terrorists are called Muqawima here in Gaza. The people who sneak at night to the border with homemade rockets and Kalashnikovs, and they come from the whole political edge spectrum of Gaza, from the Communist and the radical-Islamic, but not from the government. That it’s Hamas supporters who throw missiles at Israel is a common propaganda myth. Since the massacre in Gaza two years ago, there is a truce between Hamas and Israel, and Hamas is abiding by it, in contrast to Israel. Not only that, Hamas cracks down on those militant factions which don’t. Right now, Hamas would take little advantage from a war, and that is what they act upon. The firing of rockets is thus punished heavily, many fighters of these groups have been arrested before doing anything. Israel doesn’t even claim that the missiles come from Hamas. The Israeli rhetoric is that they ‘hold solely Hamas to account for everything happing in Gaza’. It is not Hamas from which this Muqawima, resistance in English, comes.
If it’s not Hamas, from whom Israel officially has to protect itself, who is this resistance then? What drives these men to the border at night, with homemade rockets and Kalashnikovs?
When one wants to apply oneself over the allegedly other half of the truth about Gaza, one must deal with the militant resistance in Gaza.
In Europe the rhetoric of the media and politicians differentiates traditionally between Western and Arab resistance. ‘When justice becomes injustice, resistance becomes a duty,’ said Bertolt Brecht, and this is probably the general moral guideline by which Western resistance is measured.
Israel is committing blatant injustice in Gaza, not just from an emotional, but from a legal point of view. The entire population of Gaza lives under a total siege, the nutrition of 55% of the Palestinians in Gaza is not ensured, and 10% of children show impairments caused by malnutrition. During the Israeli attack on Gaza 2008 / 9, phosphorus bombs were used. According to article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, collective punishment is prohibited. Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that the occupying power has the obligation to maintain the nutrition and medical care for the population to the maximum extent possible. The Additional Protocols of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 explain that the use of incendiary weapons against civilians, or in a manner in which it can easily result in so-called ‘collateral damage’, is prohibited. Those are only the most serious examples of a long list of Israel’s injustices toward Gaza.
Is it resistance in the Brechtian sense then, which drives the fighters to the border? Maybe, that’s what the supporters of the militant wing of PFLP, the Communist Party, would say, perhaps they have read Marx. They mostly fight against Israeli incursions into Gaza’s land, when the soldiers come with tanks and bulldozers to uproot the fields.
Two big questions remain for everyone who condemns violence, and deals with the resistance at the border. Even if one accepts that words, at some point, are not enough anymore, that at some point you have to actively defend yourself, the first question arises: How can you accept that from these the missiles children can potentially be killed? Perhaps we should say that these missiles are not better than fireworks, that they normally cause little damage, maybe this won’t change the fact. Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist, has asked this question to a leader of the Qassam Brigades, who answered: ‘We want the mothers and children in Israel to have the same fear that our mothers and children feel every day.’
The second big question is about the absolute pointlessness of this kind of resistance. Any better firework, which leaves a hole in the Negev, is repaid by bombs, which shake the houses of Gaza, and bury innocent people among them. Any better firework, which leaves a hole in the Negev, produces an outcry in the Western media, which is a hundred times louder than any voice that speaks of the incredible suffering in Gaza, about the open-air prison in which people are living here, under-supplied with food and medicine, which speaks of injustice, and a racism which deprives the Palestinians of their most basic human rights.
When you deal with this pointlessness, the way is short to hopelessness, which runs like a thread through the lives of those who go as martyrs to the border, with their homemade rockets and Kalashnikovs. Their death is almost certain, the border zone is a maximum security zone, hardly anybody comes back alive. And when you visit the families of these martyrs, the basic constants you find are poverty, unemployment and hopelessness. They come from the smaller villages around Gaza City, from the border area, from the camps, from refugee families who have settled in small concrete houses. Their fathers may have worked in Israel as long as there were permits for that. In Gaza there is no work, the unemployment rate since the blockade is 45%.
There is also nothing for the children, barely enough to eat, let alone money to study. ‘The only thing we have left is God’, one often hears, the other crucial constant is religiosity. For it’s the radical Islamic factions which send these martyrs to the border, the best known of them is probably Islamic Jihad. It’s the children of those families who go to their death, believing there is a paradise, with all those things they can’t hope to acquire on earth. They are in their twenties, often younger, and convinced that in their lives they will never have liberty, nor work, nor the money to get married. Convinced that the only thing they can decide about themselves is the time of their death, and the way. Maybe they think they help their people. Maybe they don’t know about the voice, which tries to be heard outside, and which speaks of the blatant injustice and the suffering of Gaza, maybe they just don’t believe it can possibly help. Who knows, you can’t ask them afterwards, and the next potential martyrs are almost impossible to find beforehand.
The people of Gaza you encounter in your daily life, the fruit-seller, the taxi driver, your friends and colleagues, they all speak with respect about the bravery of those who confront the Israeli soldiers in the way of David and Goliath. They don’t feel protected by them, but they esteem those that at least try to resist.
What about the ones who launch missiles into Israel, you then ask. Here in the center of Gaza City, where people’s lives differ from ours more in the way than in the outline, in which they are engaged in a normal everyday life, locked in terror and fear, here you can hardly find someone who can understand them. In some shoes you may have to be born to know what it’s like to walk in them.
After one year in Gaza you can only approach the answer to the two big questions of the militant Palestinian resistance.
After one year in Gaza, while sitting at your desk, the air full off the noise of the Israeli F-16s, so loud that it makes things tremble, and you can positively feel the bombs coming, you know something else. You know that when you speak of Israeli terror in the buffer zone, of dead farmers and bombs in the night, you don’t write only half of the truth.