WOMEN FOR PALESTINE M E L B O U R N E - A U S T R A L I A
Sonja Karkar presents a second report on the crisis in Gaza
“Shrew(d)” Program hosted by Liz Dean Thursday 24 August 2006 at 4.05pm
I didn’t think that I would be back here a month later talking about Gaza again and trying to find a way to tell you that the situation there is just as desperate now as it was then. There is something very surreal about all this death and dying and so much destruction and chaos, because nobody is saying anything and nothing is being done about it. I keep hearing that Israel has the right to defend itself. Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, everyone has that right. So do the Palestinians. But no one thinks about that, or at least, no one says anything. I mean, aren’t the Palestinians people too with lives and children to protect? It seems to me that there is a general acceptance of Israel’s right to defend itself no matter what it does. And it gives itself the right to unleash its bombs on innocent people below because it has the bombs and it has the planes to drop them: and America supplies them. Too bad that the Palestinians watching the “Summer Rain” - as Israel calls this operation - don’t have bombs or anti-aircraft missiles. They are going to die because the truth of the matter is, Israel sees them as terrorists. In Israel’s eyes, they don’t have a right to defend themselves.
It might be helpful here to remind you that Israel is the occupier, that it is subjecting the Palestinian population, not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to the worst form of military occupation that any people have endured for almost forty years. So we cannot blame the Palestinians if they want to resist this oppression. They want a life. They don’t want to have to stand at checkpoints for hours to visit their sick relatives, or go to school, or work, or shop. They want to be able to sleep at night without wondering if the warplanes circling overhead are going to blow up their homes. They don’t want to hear the jackboots of soldiers kick down their doors and take away their husbands, sons and fathers. They want to plant their olive trees and fruit trees and strawberries and see the fruit kissed by the summer sun so that they can pick them for the markets and make a living as they have always done. They want to see their children dance and sing and smile again in the open air instead of picking their way over the rubble of their homes trying to salvage the toys they had hugged only hours before or to find anything that might be left to comfort them. They want to live in security, They want what the Israelis want – the right to live in peace in their homeland. But, Israel has other plans for 4 million Palestinians whose roots go deep into the land.
Look what Israel has done to the Palestinian members of Parliament. They have abducted over 35 Palestinian Parliamentary Members and 10 cabinet Ministers, and various local government members and mayors. Only this week, the army came to the home of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Dr Nasser Iddin El Shaer in Ramallah and abducted him. They did the same thing to Legislative Council Secretary Mahmoud Al Ramahi two days ago. Just to remind you, these members of parliament were democratically elected this January under the strictest international supervision and these elections were declared the fairest elections ever held in the Middle East. In fact the Canadian Observation Mission said in its report “There can be little doubt that Palestinians have embraced the ballot box as the legitimate source of power and responsibility in their society, something that should be a source of pride to them and satisfaction to the international community.”
Well, all that praise was very short-lived when the Palestinians elected the Hamas Party to government. Suddenly the democratic process was not so convenient for the US and Israel because the outcome didn’t suit them, and pressure was brought to bear on the international community to impose sanctions on the Palestinians. Aid was cut off and Israel kept the $55 million in customs and tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. This meant that public service salaries couldn’t be paid and tens of thousands of people have had no pay for months. The sanctions literally decimated the already miserable Palestinian economy.
What is becoming clear is that since withdrawal, Gaza is actually worse off than before. As Israel continues to abduct members of parliament and to attack parliamentary buildings in Gaza and Ramallah, every vestige of Palestinian sovereignty is being eroded. Without a full-functioning civil society and the chaos that would inevitably follow, Israel hopes to make life so impossible for the Palestinians that they will beg to be transferred.
We need to look outside the neatly packaged media stories fed to us in isolation. We need to understand what came before this latest war. Around this time last year, Israel began its unilateral disengagement from Gaza, supposedly ending its occupation there. We all saw the endless scenes of screaming, crying, belligerent Israeli settlers being ever-so-gently urged from the homes Israel had encouraged them to build illegally years earlier, by the Israeli army. What we didn’t see were the Israeli armed forces tightening their siege on Gaza from the outside, virtually cocooning the 1.4 million Palestinians in an open-air holding cell. The borders were totally controlled by Israel from the air, the sea and the ground. And still, Israel says it has to defend itself. Defend itself against what? Defend itself against Palestinians wanting to be free in their own land? Defend itself against students who are longing to go back to their schools and universities? Defend itself against children who couldn’t wait to play on Gaza’s beaches so long forbidden to them? Defend itself against the Palestinians who were so eager to finally have the chance to build their businesses and trade with the outside world? Well, if you’re going to stop people from doing the things that make life worth living, you might well find yourself up against a seething mass of angry and humiliated people. And if some of the bitter, frustrated young men launch ineffectual homemade rockets over the wall into Israel because that is all they have to defend themselves - and note that I say defend themselves because they do have that right – then we ought to be saying to Israel to stop the lies, stop the spin, stop trying to fool people into believing that Israel is the victim of aggression. Israel is the aggressor; Israel is the occupier. Israel’s disengagement from Gaza was no step towards peace, it was – as Dov Weisglass, an adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said:“. . . the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” That is clearly a statement that says Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians.
According to the latest Palestinian Health Ministry reports since the June 26 military attack codenamed 'Summer Rains' began, the Israeli occupation army has killed 203 Palestinians, including 58 children and 25 women. 783 Palestinians have been wounded, including 281 children and 86 women and 72 of the injured have had limbs amputated.
The human loss and pain and the damage that Israel suffers from the homemade rockets and what the Palestinians suffer from the full onslaught of Israel’s war machine is not even comparable. Most of the homemade rockets fall short of the nearest Israeli settlement and if they do meet a mark the damage is minimal. You don’t go into Israel and see Ground Zero type destruction or Palestinian armed men kicking down doors and rounding up Israelis while spraying family homes with bullets from their machine guns. Of course, no one is saying that the Palestinians should be allowed to continue attacking Israel, but Israel should be immediately stopped from attacking the Palestinians. There must be a mutual respect for international law not one-sided expectations or demands.
The media were all quick to focus on the capture of an Israeli soldier when Palestinian groups attacked an Israeli army post, but nobody mentioned that only the day before, Israeli troops had entered Gaza and had abducted a doctor and his brother alleging they were members of Hamas. That doctor and his brother are now in an Israeli jail joining the 10,000 other Palestinian prisoners that Israel has abducted over the years. And one soldier became the excuse for Israel’s massive military operation across the Gaza Strip which has decimated Gaza’s infrastructure and continues to terrorise the entire population.
Much of this was happening while we all watched Israel’s war on Lebanon. Palestinians were being murdered and their homes destroyed every day. Wherever you look, there are army tanks, convoys of soldiers, shadowy drones overhead, and the constant rumbling of warplanes. Bulldozers are a common sight as they quickly obliterate another family home. These bulldozer leave not a trace of the still warm hastily departed beds, or last night’s dishes in the sink, or the newspaper folded on the coffee table, or the sad little flowers picked from the roadside to gladden someone’s heart, or the family photos lined up to show the generations of a family life lived here, or the school bags packed and ready, homework checked and done, the polished shoes, or the breakfast prepared lovingly the night before – foul, hommous, boiled eggs, labane, za’arta, olives – the toys, the clothes, the books, the china, the linen, the little touches of home that only a mother knows how to create – all gone forever in a matter of minutes when those bulldozers grind family history into the ground. The parents know what is happening, but the trembling children who watch these scenes in their nightgowns are unable to comprehend the enormity of the act – ethnic cleansing not yet grasped by their innocence. Oh, I forgot, Israel has the right to defend itself.
All this destruction for the sake of a pure Jewish state because Israel does not want to absorb the 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza. Neither does it want to absorb the millions of other Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, so their lives have to be made miserable as well. Israel can’t bomb them out of existence because there are too many Israeli settlers now living around them, but it has found more insidious ways of undermining their lives. More Jewish immigrants are being brought in and the illegal settlements, contrary to all agreements, are expanding at a rapid pace. Palestinians are unable to stop Israel from taking their land despite the title deeds they hold. The latest outrage is Israel’s revocation of Palestinian IDs which has caused painful separations between husbands and wives and families who have gone on holidays or away for work. They are not allowed to come back home and it is too bad if they have lived there all their lives or if their families are still there. And then there is the Wall - a monstrous blight on the beautiful Palestinian landscape – a wall which catastrophically defines the separation of two peoples on one land in the most cruel, inhuman way.
Hasn’t anyone sat down and thought about the immorality of all this? The inhumanity? How can Israel get away with doing something so inhumanly calculated in order to establish a heavily-armed and heavily-financed Jewish state posing as the only true democracy in the Middle East? It beggars belief. Israel is only a democracy for its proven Jewish citizens not for all its citizens and certainly not for the Palestinians living under occupation. Does anyone really believe that all these contrived manoeuvrings will achieve peace or at the very least, security? Obviously, Israel thinks it will ensure security, although the amount of killing and destruction Israel has wrought on the Palestinians over the years has denied them every security and it certainly hasn’t given Israelis or Palestinians, peace.
The sounds of Israel’s warplanes still thunder menacingly over Gaza as Israel perpetuates atrocities and needless suffering on the Palestinians. Nothing has changed to date except the attacks have become more intense and brutal and the people more desperate. According to Gaza’s UNRWA director John Ging: “People’s whole existence has been pushed to a new low of basic survival.” Yet, it is unlikely that Israel will succeed in its ethnic cleansing. No amount of military hardware can erase the Palestinian narrative from the hearts and minds of the people. The only reason Israel is getting away with what it is doing and has been doing all these years, is the international community’s silent acquiescence. And we are complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity, make no mistake about that. History will judge us harshly, and while we may not suffer for that, our children will, if we even have a world worth preserving as we allow the abuse of the rule of law and all the tenets of human decency to continue unchecked.
I would like to finish with parts of a letter from the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Bishop Riah who wrote “For the past forty years we have been largely alone on this desert fighting a predator that not only has robbed us of all but a small piece of our historic homeland, but threatens the traditions and holy sites of Christianity. We are tired, weary, sick, and wounded. We need your help.
It is family and community that has sustained these people during these hopeless times. For some, it is all that they had, but that too has been taken away with the continued building of the wall and check points. The strategy of ethnic cleansing on the part of the State of Israel continues.
Perhaps as others have you will ask, “What can I do?” . . . If you find that you can no longer look away, take up your cross. It takes courage as we were promised.
Write every elected official you know. Write to your news media. Speak to your congregation, friends, and colleagues about injustice and the threat of global war. If Syria, Iran, the United States, Great Britain, China and others enter into this war - the consequence is incalculable. Participate in rallies and forums. Find ways that you and your churches can participate in humanitarian relief efforts for the region. . . I urge you not to be like a disciple watching from afar.”
If anyone would like to donate to relief efforts in Gaza or the West Bank, you can contact Anglicord an overseas relief and development agency of the Anglican Church in Australia. Anglicord supports the provision of essential medical care through the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus. They provide this care to all people in Gaza and Nablus. You can contact them on 9882 6517 for more information. They have special online appeals for Gaza and Nablus which you can access by entering in www.ourcommunity.com.au/anglicord