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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Gaza is still the issue

Four months on from the end of 'Operation Cast Lead' and it seems Gaza is off the international agenda. The hail of missiles that wrought such havoc and caused so many deaths to the civilian population (over 1400) is at an end, our televisions are no longer filled with harrowing images of mutilated children and disturbing stories of food warehouses and hospitals under fire.

Yet in Gaza itself the tragedy goes on. Israeli journalist Amira Hass recently visited the Strip after several years of absence and wrote of the ongoing tragedy and destruction there: Life among the ruins in Gaza; Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza.

The truth is that Israel is continuing its strangle hold on the Gaza border, preventing reconstruction after the abject carnage that has been wrought there, a nightmare of shattered infrastructure and destroyed buildings; and preventing basic necessities from getting to the beleaguered and traumatised population.

At the beginning of this month, Palestinian human rights organisations banded together to issues a statement after a conference in Sharm el Sheikh at which $4.5 billion dollars was pledged to aid the reconstruction of Gaza, calling on international aid agencies to address the issue of Israeli restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza, and ongoing violations of human rights (see full statement here...).

The unfortunate truth is that simply throwing money at the problem will not make it go away, not unless that action is backed up by serious attempts to hold Israel to account for abuse of human rights and violations of international law. It will not work because in the first place the aid will be ineffective as reconstruction materials are impounded on the border and the money will be wasted, and secondly, in a couple of years, the reconstructed infrastructure (supposing it ever gets reconstructed) will very likely be destroyed again, and the international community will be called on once again to foot the bill, with no repercussions for Israel.

During the crisis, as I watched in horrified disbelief merging with resigned disgust, I wrote these words:

Open a window in your soul for Gaza.

Sometimes it is more frightening to be numb than to feel.

Sometimes it is more terrible to see than to be blind.

But if they can bear the terror, the least we can do is to look with steady gaze into that holocaust and let the horror in.

And ask ourselves why?

What is Gaza and why is Gaza?

How did this tiny strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea come to be a place of such great suffering and pain?

I see a road shining darkly from Auschwitz to Gaza, fruit of the same bitter tree.

Terrible irony we say, that people who had been abused as the Jews were abused in the Holocaust could inflict such carnage on another people.

Terrible irony I think that Europeans could have watched the Holocaust happen, failed to intervene or actively participated, sacrificed Palestine to their guilt, and then stand in silent complicity watching the tragedy of Gaza unfold across the decades.

Gaza, so small a place to bear such troubles as mankind has made there, crumbling under the weight of its own tragedy.

Gaza, where one million refugees languish, children of the Holocaust as surely as the Jewish refugees who fled to Israel are.

Gaza, where the very water is poison, where there is not food, where sewage chokes the land, a festering sore on the conscience of the world, a living sacrifice to Holocaust guilt.

What solace for Gaza, where hope lies shattered beneath the rubble?

If there is hope, it does not lie with Israel, Israel which has reduced Gaza to the status of a population on life-support and is now turning off the machine.

Israel, where 90% of the population support this war.

Israel who will tighten the border controls following this onslaught if they are allowed, so that the suffering will only intensify.

Israel who have been choking the life out of Gaza for 40 long years of military occupation and 2 years of economic siege, sentencing its people to a fast death or a slow one, a short life of suffering or a long one.

What solace for Gaza now?

A ceasefire, though desperately needed, is only the beginning of ending the horror that has been created there.

Are we not proud of our creations?

Israel and Gaza.

Will we be silent now, watching from the sidelines while tragedy spreads its dark wings over these victims of circumstance and birth?

I see a road shining darkly from Auschwitz to Gaza: we are all walking on it.

Open a window in your soul for Gaza, and do not be silent.

There are other roads and we can do better than this for humanity.


Now, just a couple of days after the 61st anniversary of the Nakba, these words come back to me. Will we watch in silence while this tragedy continues?

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