Take what pictures you will, so that you understand,
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.
– Mahmoud Darwish, “Passers between fleeting words”
Our house started shaking as I was in the middle of writing this article. After it stopped shaking, an Israeli missile hit a target elsewhere in the city. Given all of the shaking before that missile hit, the target is now probably flattened to the ground. A few minutes later, ambulance sirens filled the air. An eerie feeling of death filled the air we breathed for the past week.
For the second time in less than five years, Israel has launched a military offensive against the Gaza Strip and its 1.7 million civilians. “Pillar of Defence”, as they’ve named it, started with the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, and has since resulted in the killing of more than 130 Palestinians, the vast majority likely civilians, along with injuring over one thousand. History keeps repeating itself in this part of the world, and so does life and death.
A few days before the current Israeli attacks on Gaza started, the Abu Atta family witnessed their son Matar die and live again in less than two hours. Shocked at the brutal assassination of her 19-year-old son by the Israeli forces, his pregnant mother went into labour early, giving birth to a son she would now name Matar.
History repeats itself
After an F-16 launched a missile that resulted in the deaths of five children and four women from the al-Dalu family on November 19, Israel targeted yet another civilian house belonging to the Hijazi family. Two-year-old twin brothers Suhaib and Mohammed were killed, along with their parents Amna and Fuad.
Mohammed Hijazi was killed in Israel’s offensive on Gaza in 2009, and so it was that this Mohammed, killed yesterday – on November 20 – had been named after his late brother. There will be no third Mohammad, because Israel remembered to kill the parents this time.
Yet, Fuad Hijazi was also killed in Acre in 1930, along with Atta Ezzir and Mohammed Jamjoom, in what came to be known as “Red Tuesday”. Three of the most important martyrs in the history of the Palestinian struggle – Hijazi, Ezzir and Jamjoom – were publicly executed by the British mandate forces for protesting against Zionist infiltration into Palestine. Eighty-four years later, Fuad Hijazi will be mourned in Gaza after being killed by an army which the 1929 martyr – also named Fuad Hijazi – was protesting the establishment of.
In the previous stories, an obvious pattern is repeated. Palestinians create life and Israel is quick to kill it. Palestinians build and Israel is quick to destroy. Almost all of the buildings that were targeted by Israel in the 2008 to 2009 offensive on Gaza were retargeted this time and flattened to the ground (following the command of Ariel Sharon’s son).
The millions that were spent by different world powers on rebuilding Gaza, rehabilitating its homes, schools and hospitals, creating emergency and early recovery programmes, have all gone to waste.
The Israeli army is clearly following Israel’s deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai’s wish to “… blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure, including roads and water… The goal of the operation is to send Gaza to the Middle Ages”.
Indeed, very few politicians on Earth envision a future based on some barbaric historic era, except for Yishai – who clearly still belongs to the Middle Ages himself, along with his government. No government in the 21st century rotates between governing a people and brazenly occupying another. No government allocates state funds to teach racism and hatred to children and to put all that hatred to practice in the army.
But what, if anything, does Yishai know about Gaza in the Middle Ages? Gaza’s paramount geographic location has historically made it one of the region’s most important cities; Gaza’s ancient ports were long used before Alexandria was even founded.
Restore faith in humanity
In the Middle Ages, Gaza was home to countless treasures, including rich agriculture, pottery making and wool weaving, with exports along the famous Silk Road. In 1660, a French visitor compared Gaza’s baths and markets with those of Paris and noted that Arabic, Turkish and Greek were all spoken in the streets. Where was Israel then?
As I’m writing this article, the Israelis are dropping leaflets on Gaza asking its residents to evacuate from certain neighbourhoods. Gaza does not have any shelters like the ones in Isdud or Ashkelon, and even if it did, they will probably be deserted. But Palestinians seek no shelter. As the original inhabitants of this land, we only find security where we belong.
Israel, aware of that fact, will probably use the leaflets in defending itself in case more civilians are killed tonight (which they probably will, given Gaza’s high population density). Any civilians who get killed in the way are either “collateral damage” or human shields used by Hamas. We know the narrative by heart.
But when a 7-year-old child carries his 2-year-old brother after their parents were killed by Israel, and when a one-year-old baby tries to play with his dead 8-year-old sister, you are left to question the little faith you have in humanity. Meanwhile in Israel, the Jerusalem Post shamelessly features articles about pets feeling anxious every time the bomb sirens go off.
And our faith in humanity will not be restored if countries of the world vow more money for rebuilding Gaza. It will only be restored once the world starts looking at our cause with its brains and not with its donations, in which case, no donations will be required.
The fact that the Gaza Strip is still besieged by Israel from land, sea and air, should mean that we are still under occupation and under the responsibility of the Israeli government. If Israel argues otherwise, saying that we arenot under Israeli occupation, then it should relinquish its control of our borders and leave us to handle our own business. But as long as Israel keeps us imprisoned in an enclave of ambiguity, the world will keep paying and Israel will keep destroying.
On a final note, I would like to prepare the international community for another Israeli argument that they will likely be hearing in a couple of years, when today’s children become the leaders of future Palestine. “We have no peace partners in Palestine,” you will hear every Israeli leader say. When you hear that, I want you to think of the 350 Palestinian children who were injured by Israel during the last six days, the orphaned boy carrying his baby brother and the baby boy trying to play with his dead sister.
Yasmeen El Khoudary is a Palestinian living in Gaza, working towards preserving Gaza’s cultural heritage and history. She blogs at yelkhoudary.blogspot.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @yelkhoudary