Friday, July 18, 2014

Walking between the drops while it’s raining death in Gaza

Last Sunday, the Ma’ariv daily did report “At least 15 children killed in the bombing of a mosque and a residential building at Gaza’s Tufah Neighborhood.” It appeared even on the front page, but on the very bottom - and in much smaller characters than the very warlike banner headline on the top - referring the reader to a news item on p.6, where it was more cautiously worded; the killing of 15 children was not presented as a fact, but as something which “the Palestinians assert.” The whole gave the impression of a compromise achieved after a power struggle between news editors.
Three days later, with the killing of the four boys playing soccer on the Gaza beach, there was no room for the ambiguity of “the Palestinians claim that…”. They were killed some two hundred meters from where the representatives of the international media are staying, and TV cameras sent the footage of the small blood-stained around the globe in real time.

And so, the four boys from the beach made it to the Israeli banner headlines. Unnamed diplomatic sources in Jerusalem  bewailed that the mishap of killing the boys on the beach had undone the international credit which Israel amassed due to Hamas rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It was probably because of the dead boys that Netanyahu felt obliged to accept the UN proposal for a five-hour humanitarian pause in the bombing of Gaza.

We have decided to go to central Tel Aviv during that pause, reasoning (correctly, as it turned out) that it minimized the risk of being caught by the air raid siren while inside a bus.  In the  bus we encountered the irritated passenger. About forty years old, nothing special about him, he was seated in a back seat, quietly reading his paper.Suddenly he got up, flung the paper violently halfway across the bus and burst out shouting, addressing no one in particular: “The cheek of these Hamas bastards! Making demands in exchange for agreeing to a ceasefire! Actually m aking demands! The release of prisoners, the opening of border crossings, the works! Damn them all to Hell!  And Netanyahu is sending people to Cairo to negotiate with them? What a disgrace! No concessions, I say, no concessions to damn terrorists! Just send in the tanks and smash them all to pulp, crush them, crush them!”

A family visit to Y., an old man who is more mainstream than us – though still rather leftish as compared with the general Israeli spectrum – did degenerate into political debate. “You want to go to this reading of testimonies of soldiers from Gaza? What the hell for? Do you think it will change anybody’s mind?” “No, probably it will not affect anyone who is not convinced already. People nowadays close themselves off to facts which don’t fit the opinion they already have”. “So why are you doing it? Just to provoke people?” “It is not we who are doing it, Breaking the Silence are organizing it. Soldiers’ testimonies are their thing”. “Nonsense! What is the use of that? Nothing!”. “Sometimes  there are things which need to be said, whatever the outcome”. “That’s total nonsense”. We parted on less than cordial terms.

In a small shop with a sign reading “Operation Protective Edge – 50% discount” the radio was blaring into the sidewalk. A small crowd gathered to hear the news bulletin. The news reader informed us in a rather shaky voice that “Aside from the four children killed yesterday, there were also four killed in bombings today – three on the roof of a residential building and a three-year old in the bombing of another house”.  Later on, we found that the three had been playing on the roof as their parents did not realize that the humanitarian pause was already over. 

Two hours until the reading of the testimonies. We met R., an old friend and fellow activist, at our accustomed place, Garcia’s Café on the tree-lined Massarik Square. Chatted with her trying to ban the war from our mind.

Walking along King George Street we passed two religious women with hand-painted placards. One read “Let’s all cry out as loud as we can: How long is it going to last?”. The other one  had “Our Lord God, oh please send us the Messiah right now!” Then turning to Habimah Square, where several hundred people already gathered for the reading of the testimonies.

Just as we came, the testimony of a soldier who had taken part in the 2009 invasion of Gaza was being read. “We were on the roof of a house. We saw somebody walk towards us in the darkness, a light wobbling in his hand. We wanted to fire a warning shot to make him stop, but this would have given away our position. Finally he came very close, close enough that if he were a suicide bomber he could have blown us up. Standing orders were to take no chances, so we opened fire and killed him. We examined the body and found he was an old man, unarmed, no threat whatsoever.”

“How many testimonies like this would come out of the present round?” wondered R. From a bit off, the extreme-right counter-demonstrators were shouting “Death to the Arabs! A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a bastard!”. The Breaking the Silence had taken care to install powerful loudspeakers, and the reading of the testimonies proceeded.  The police did their job (more or less) and there were only minor scuffles.

The siren did sound when we were waiting for the bus on the way back, again on King Geroge Street. A long, long wailing sound, longer then usual. We run into the nearby shop. It was quite big, we could get deep in, far away from the glass of the front display window. Several minutes and we could hear the dull explosion which means interception in the air, different from the heavier sound of ground impact. (How quickly does one gain that expertise!). Since we were in the shop anyway, we bought a small jar of Yemenite hot sauce.

“Did you see how hysterical some of these people were, how they started crying out in panic when the siren started? Don’t they know that the chance of anything actually getting through  the Iron Dome and falling exactly on their heads is astronomically small? It is the people in Gaza who need to seriously worry. Not us.” “Don’t contempt these Tel Aviv people. The danger now might be small, but they get the taste of a less and less secure future. Israel is now less safe than it was twenty years ago. How safe will it be twenty years from now? Especially if the American Empire goes the way of the late British Empire?” “So, what political conclusions will the people of Israel draw from that?” “Each according to his or her taste. We say Israel should make peace and get integrated in the region before it is too late. If it’s not too late already. But others will say we have to dig in and increase the Israeli military power and give not an inch”. “So, what shall we do?”. “As for me, I will come to the demo on Saturday night and pick up the sign ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’. At least the specific Jews and the specific Arabs in the demo mean it, completely”.

And now – the ground invasion in Gaza. R., was late last night awakened by what she thought was a missile, but turned out to be the sound of a helicopter - and she knew right away that there were Israeli casualties being transported to the nearby hospital. One dead and three wounded up to now. The dead soldier was identified as the 20-year old Sergeant Ethan Barak, killed in the north Gaza Strip when his jeep was hit by a Hams anti-tank missile (or by “friendly fire”). His former school principal spoke on the radio and said what a swell guy Ethan Barak had been, and how greatly he was loved by schoolmates, and how highly motivated he had been to join a combat unit in the army, a dream which he duly fulfilled. “I know all this sounds like a cliché” apologized the principal. Indeed, that is how it sounded.

Twenty-four Palestinians were also killed in the initial stage of the ground invasion. Among them, it was noted in passing, a five-month old baby,  killed when his family home was hit by tank fire. A baby who will remain nameless.
The occupation is killing all of us

Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Habima Square, Tel Aviv

It is forbidden to shoot at civilian populations. It is forbidden and still it happens. Both sides do it. Hamas shoots on the population of Israel. The IDF shoots at the population of Gaza.

Two equal sides? Far from it. The State of Israel has enormous military and economic strength. With massive financial assistance from the United States, the State of Israel built the "Iron Dome" system, a great technological achievement  which protects us. Therefore, the missile attacks on Israeli cities are mostly a nuisance. The air raid alarms are irritating, a bit disruptive to the routine of life, sometimes frightening – but not much more.

Gazans have no Iron Dome, no protection whatsoever against the death which falls down on them from the air and the sea and the land. The State of Israel is pounding Gaza, killing and killing and killing. True - The State of Israel has no premeditated purpose of killing innocent civilians, women and men and the elderly and children playing football on the beach. There is no premeditated purpose – but there is a reality. The killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza is going on, day by day and hour by hour. More than two hundred Palestinians have been killed. A large part of them were unarmed civilians, dozens of them were children. And it goes on.

"Why are they shooting at us?" Wondered righteously the outgoing President of Israel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. "Why did they not make of Gaza a flourishing Singapore?". But Shimon Peres forgot to mention that the city state of Singapore, whose population and size are comparable to those of the Gaza Strip, has one of the largest ports in the world. There is no one to block thousands of ships from all over world sailing in and out of that port, maintain the flow of trade on which the wealth of Singapore is built. The minuscule port of Gaza is closed and blockaded. The Israeli Navy is ever vigilant to prevent even the smallest vessels from reaching it, and shoots at Gazan fishing boats which venture  more than a few kilometers from shore.

Gaza is a big prison for its residents, nearly two millions of them. The State of Israel and its neighbor Egypt – with whom relationship has tightened considerably since General Sisi seized power - cooperate in imposing the siege on Gaza and holding its population effectively  incarcerated, unable to come and go to the outside world. Gazas live on a seashore. They can swim and play on the beach (on days where lethal shots  don’t come at them out of the sea). But they can’t get on a boat and sail into the sea, nor on a plane flying to any destination anywhere in the world. Also the land crossings are almost completely closed. For years, millions of people are locked up in the little, narrow and extremely crowded piece of land called the Gaza Strip.

"We imposed a siege on them because they are shooting at us," say the leaders of Israel. (By the way, the siege on Gaza began long before Hamas took power there). "We shoot because you impose a siege on us. We will not agree to a cease-fire which does not include the lifting of the siege," say Gaza residents this week (not all of them  Hamas members).

There is no point to a ceasefire which would simply restore the situation that existed two weeks ago. The situation of two weeks ago was unbearable - a situation of a tight siege over the Gaza Strip, causing suffering and economic suffocation and extreme poverty for the majority of its inhabitants. The siege of Gaza has spawned several rounds of conflict. Continuation of the siege is a sure recipe for another round in a year or two.

Only the lifting of the siege on Gaza, enabling its residents to come and go by land and sea and air, export and import goods  and develop their economy, can open up for them a hope for the future. Only the lifting of the siege can give a chance for peace and quiet on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.

On Saturday night Gush Shalom will join with peace and human rights  organizations in a protest against the cruel and unnecessary war called "Operation Protective Edge".  Last week, an earlier demonstration on the same location was attacked by extreme right thugs. Organizers of the current protest have taken precautions to make sure this is not repeated - and of course, what happened will not deter us from expressing our position on an issue vital to our future.

As we were informed, demonstration marshals and stewards will be present on the spot, and anyone intending to come should follow their instructions regarding location, conduct of the demonstration and its dispersal, and refrain from taking any violent action from our side.

Transportation from Jerusalem: Parking lot, Liberty Bell Park Registration: Connie 052-6375033