Why won’t Gaza sit still? Why do its fighters periodically fire cascades of rockets, brainless tin-can affairs most of them, with little or no precision of aim, into the land mass of Israel? A war crime, by the way, because of that “fall where it may” aimlessness, and certainly a moral crime, too, in my view.
Why do the Palestinians of Gaza go on battling with Israel, when the outcome, reckoned by casualties on each side, is always wildly in Israel’s favor: 1,440 Palestinians killed in the three-week war of 2008-09, as against 13 Israelis killed — four of them by rockets fired from Gaza? And in the six days’ war of last month, smaller and yet fearsome, too, the “score” was also radically skewed: 160 Palestinians killed (including 34 children, 13 women and three assorted journalists), and six Israelis, of whom three were killed by rockets from Gaza.
Those lopsided ratios of overall death counts, both in Israel’s favor — 110 to 1 in 2008-09 and 25 to 1 in the November just past — sound to me more like a slaughter than combat between equals. Israelis are understandably fearful of the aimless rockets that come flying into their land from Gaza. But if we accept the equivalence of all human lives, which obviously not everybody does, it shouldn’t be hard either to imagine the fear felt also by the Palestinians of Gaza who at intervals are pounded from the sky by Israel’s stock of the world’s choicest armaments, with 25 times to 100 times more deadly effect on Palestinians than Palestinian weapons have on Israelis.
Underfed as the people of Gaza are, and ill supplied with essential commodities of every description, thanks to the Israeli embargo on their territory; bloodied, shamed by their impotence, and frequent witnesses, in their neighborhoods, of ever new instances of death delivered out of the blue by their unseen enemy, it’s not surprising that Gazans would charge into the flames again and again, thinking all is lost anyhow.
Should we reckon Gazans as terrorists, then, or as freedom fighters, heirs to the resisters of Europe in World War II, including the doomed Jewish fighters-to-the-end in the Warsaw Ghetto? (I dare the irony of this comparison.) Tiny Israel, with the lavish backing of the U.S. in both weapons and cash subsidies, is the most heavily armed nation in the Mideast, and relative to its size, one of the most heavily armed nations in the world. It has demonstrated time and again that it’s ready at any provocation to come in shooting very, very hard. The people of Gaza know at first hand this hardness of the Israel state, and yet, desperate, or mad, they keep on risking a next battle.
What then do the people of Gaza want from Israel, finally?
In my understanding and in a few words, an end to the 45 years of occupation by Israel of all Palestinian territory that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, and more immediately and urgently, an end to the rigorous blockade of Gaza maintained and enforced by Israel. That blockade leaves to Israel’s discretion the passage in or out of Gaza of every single person and every pound of goods, and it is so stringent that it has produced conditions of public health that amount to a scandal in the eyes of international health and humanitarian organizations.
Here are two common views on Gaza that I think are correct. With a million and a half population, the tiny Gaza strip is one of the most crowded places on Earth; more crowded than Tokyo, relative to its area. Shoot anywhere in packed Gaza, or God forbid drop a bomb anywhere, and more people than were targeted will inevitably die — sometimes multiples in a family; 10 in the case of a certain Al-Dolu family, in just recent days.
That’s first. Second, with Israeli troops manning most of Gaza’s perimeter, maintaining absolute control over who and what goes in or out, Gaza exists in a state of siege and can be said to function as the world’s largest open-air prison: a 24-hours-a-day lockup of six years’ duration, now, under absolute Israeli domination.
To what extent and in what ways are the people of Gaza freedom fighters or, by nationality and associations, an entire population of convicts, grandmothers and babies, too, “doing time” for past offenses and inherent criminality?
However you classify the people of Gaza, they subjectively feel the need desperately to break out of their decades-long imprisonment — while the rest of the world, including Gaza’s Arab neighbors, stands around with folded arms. (I’m absolutely not advocating a resort to arms by anyone, but at the very least, today, an opening by Egypt of its small common border with Gaza. A little more air for the victim, please.)
As a last, clarifying word on “What’s up in Gaza,” I want to quote here an excerpt, provided by Wikileaks, from a November 2008 cable sent to Washington by officials (unnamed) in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed (to U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge” with the aim of having Gaza’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.”
Situation hopeless, then?
I think that our country, as Israel’s chief ally and most generous supporter, needs to have a say in this. We need to do more than deplore softly Israel’s open violation of international law as it settles ever more of its own people in territories that the U.N. long ago assigned to the future Palestinian state. That basically and to begin with.
And we need to stop supplying Israel with weapons on the munificent scale we have been doing, while that country uses them in occupied Palestine in contravention of stipulations made by Congress when it authorized those gifts in the first place.
Jules Rabin lives in Marshfield.
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