Not from Gaza

8 March 2004

"The main difference between Bosnia and Palestine is that ethnic cleansing in the former took place in the form of dramatic massacres and slaughters which caught the world's attention, whereas in Palestine what is taking place is a drop-by-drop tactic in which one or two houses are demolished daily, a few acres are taken here and there every day, a few people are forced to leave" - Edward Said

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paulo Freir

I came home at the end of February after a month in Jerusalem and the West Bank. I had hoped to work on a paper about cancer with a doctor in Gaza City, but I was turned back at the checkpoint controlling entry into the Strip, although the Palestinian Ministry of Health had requested the Israeli military to let me through. In addition to the military’s general disregard of international humanitarian law, their refusal to let people from Israel-Palestine or from abroad into Gaza is illegal: Article 116 of the IV Geneva Convention prohibits an occupier from restricting visitors from entering the occupied territory.

boy amongst ruins

Why was I refused entry into Gaza? The Israeli army does not want people to see and make known what it is doing there. This picture was taken by a resident of Rafah. I was last in that part of the town fourteen months ago; in an e-mail, a man who lived there tells me I would not recognize it now. There is repeated terrorization of people in Rafah, as elsewhere in the occupied territories. This is how a human rights organization reported a recent example:

"At 2:30 am on Tuesday 20 January 2004, Israeli occupation forces with tanks and heavy military bulldozers entered the Salah El-Din Gate area of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. After subjecting Palestinian residences in the area to heavy machine gun fire, the bulldozers demolished civilian homes without allowing the residents to remove their belongings. 25 buildings were completely destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, making 600 people homeless."

Yesterday the doctor I had hoped to work with e-mailed me:

"Israeli occupying forces continue making incursions, killing, destroying housing, confiscating land. This morning at 3:00 am, special forces invaded both Albreaj and Alnosyrat camps in the middle of Gaza Strip, with the support of tanks and aircraft. The tanks fired intensively on every thing moving, while Israeli troops fired on people from the roof of a high building." 10 adults and 4 children were killed; of 93 injured, 40 were children.

This picture is of a Jewish Israeli I met when we joined an Israeli demonstration against the settlements and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The demo was close to where he is standing, in front of a West Jerusalem café in which his closest friend was killed by a suicide bomber. The friend was one of more than 500 Israelis who have been killed by Palestinians since Prime Minister Sharon triggered the second intifada at the end of September 2000. During this time, nearly five times as many Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers. In addition to these tragedies on both sides, there are up to ten times as many casualties as deaths, many maimed for life.

For Jewish Israelis, the suffering and fear resulting from this never-ending civil war are very real. However the risk of being involved in a terrorist attack is relatively small, less than of being killed or injured in a traffic accident. Most Israelis can live normal lives, much as people do in North America or Europe. However, not only are the lives of Palestinians at greater risk, but Israeli government policies and military activity have deliberately, and for years, been profoundly detrimental to the lives of all Palestinians. Israelis do not have to suffer in the many other ways which Palestinians do - the humiliation and wasting of much time at checkpoints, impoverishment, malnutrition, severe restrictions on movement, and other means of destroying the Palestinian economy and society and of making life unbearable for them. It is a horrible irony that the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel is so similar to the terrible suffering which Hitler inflicted on the Jews in the 1930s.

This morning I received an e-mail from an Australian who works in a rehabilitation centre in Gaza: "The situation of the Palestinian people continues to worsen. The destruction of people and property continues at an alarming rate - without any condemnation: how can this be? For years the Palestinian people have asked for international protection, but this has been denied them: how can this be?"

Does the international community have the right to stand aside when a country’s government brutalizes its people? Tony Blair asked this question about Iraq, but it must also be also asked of Israel. Why is Israel allowed to flout international humanitarian law, day in day out, year in year out? One reason is that from its inception in the 19th Century, Jewish Zionism has been fostered by evangelical Christian Zionism, first in Britain, and now in the US. But to support the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is to oppose both the teaching of Jesus and Jewish morality, or indeed any sense of morality.

Tony Davies, Edinburgh, 8 March 2004

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