Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Voices From Gaza

Photos courtesy of Sameh A. Habeeb.*

Palestinians continue to suffer as Israelis slaughter hundreds of civilians and keep the press in the dark. Meanwhile, Bush continues to appear ambivilant while Obama finally raises his voice.


"I was at home when I heard that Israel had begun bombing the Gaza Strip. I was afraid that something had happened to my brother, Osama, so I tried to call his mobile but he didn't answer. I later found him dead in [a] hospital. My brother was married with 10 children. He didn't belong to Hamas; he was just trying to look after his family. My brother is a victim of this crazy bombing in Gaza. Civilians are always victims and they pay the price of wars. What will we say to his sons when they grow up?"
--Saber Abu Reesh, 40, from the Maghazi neighborhood of Gaza

"I threw some clothes into a bag and hurried with my girls to Nusserat, where my father lives, but we still don't feel safe. Before we left, we spent the whole night in the basement with our neighbors. The shelling continued all night and my children cry constantly."
--Etemad Abu Tahoon, 35, fled from Gaza City with her three daughters

"In my work as a hospital nurse, I come into daily contact with Arabs, both patients and staff, and I have excellent relations with them. Of course a peace agreement is possible, I've always thought so. These people are my friends and my colleagues. Despite the fact that Irit is dead, I still say that there is a real possibility to reach a solution. But these are not the people who killed my niece. It's the extremists who killed my niece, and they will stop at nothing right now. There are extremists on both sides and, as terrible as it sounds, maybe it should be the extremists that we talk to. Otherwise, where is the end to this bloodshed?"
--Tziona Peleg, Israeli, 47, aunt of Irit Shitrit, who was killed by a missile on Ashdod last week

"A friend of mine was badly injured in a rocket attack three weeks ago and, for me, this was a wake-up call. I was shocked that it touched my personal life so directly. I served in the Israeli Army on the border with Gaza and I knew the Palestinians in Gaza had the capability of sending rockets deep into Israel, but never thought they would use it. I'm the kind of person who thought a solution was reachable, one way or another. I've lived in Ashdod all my life, and I've heard talk of peace come and go, but nothing has ever been finalized. I don't know if an agreement can be reached while Hamas is in control of Gaza."

--Ortal Suissa, 21, works in a clothes store in downtown Ashdod (Israel)


Israel's assault on Gaza has exacted the bloodiest toll of civilian lives yet, when the bombing of UN schools being used as refugee centres and of housing killed more than 50 people, including an entire family of seven young children.

The UN protested at a "complete absence of accountability" for the escalating number of civilian deaths in Gaza, saying "the rule of the gun" had taken over. Doctors in Gaza said more than 40 people died, including children, in what appears to be the biggest single loss of life of the campaign when Israeli bombs hit al-Fakhora school, in Jabaliya refugee camp, while it was packed with hundreds of people who had fled the fighting.

Most of those killed were in the school playground and in the street, and the dead and injured lay in pools of blood...

Hours before, three young men who were cousins died when the Israelis bombed Asma elementary school in Gaza City. They were among 400 people who had sought shelter there after fleeing their homes in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.

Abed Sultan, 20, a student, and his cousins, Rawhi and Hussein Sultan, labourers aged 22, died. Abed Sultan's father, Samir, said the bodies were so mangled that he could not tell his son from the cousins. 'We came to the school when the Israelis warned us to leave,' he said. 'We hoped it would be safe. We were 20 in one room. We had no electricity, no blankets, no food.

'Suddenly we heard a bomb that shook the school. Windows smashed. Children started to scream. A relative came and told me one of my sons was killed. I found my son's body with his two cousins. They were cut into pieces by the shell.'

...The rising casualty toll, more than 640 Palestinians killed since the assault began 12 days ago, gave fresh impetus to diplomatic efforts. The White House offered its first hint of concern at Israel's actions by calling on it to avoid civilian deaths. The president-elect, Barack Obama, broke his silence by saying he was 'deeply concerned' about civilian casualties on both sides. He said he would have 'plenty to say' about the crisis after his swearing in."


"I don't know about you but I did not find the Israeli government's Twitter press conference particularly winning.

There is something downright creepy about the juxtaposition of mass civilian casualties in Gaza and Israeli officials' demonstrated fluency in cutesy text message jargon.

To the short but crucial question from 'peoplesworld': '40 years of military confrontation hasn’t brought security to Israel, why is this different?' The Israeli consulate replied: 'We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?'

Hype about the 'first ever' Twitter press conference gave Israel a boost in the mainstream media, as Megan Garber observes in CJR.

But the use of Twitter for propaganda purposes didn't sit as well with Twitter bloggers. Small wonder. The messages were short, but the content of the press conference was practically nonexistent.

...A nation at war that sounds like a high school girl texting trite tidbits on her cell phone is not much of an improvement over men in suits who stand behind lecterns and say nothing at great length.

Propaganda is all about narrowing discussion to a few simple points. Twitter, it turns out, is a great tool for that purpose."


"What matters most, General Amidror [Israelis] said, are three changes: coordination between the infantry and the air force; having commanders on the ground with a clear mission and flexibility to achieve it; and methods to keep Hamas in the fog of war, which includes disinformation and impediments to real-time press coverage on the ground. [emphasis added]

'The less Hamas understands, the better,' he said.

The army and government have also made it clear that Palestinian civilians will die in this war, because of the way Hamas has chosen to fight it from within the densely populated urban centers of Gaza. But events like the deaths of schoolchildren are harder to swallow."


"Hamas is an enemy that refuses to recognize my national right, as a Jew, to live in my country. No one would be happier than I would to see it gone from the seat of power...However...Hamas is an immanent part of the democratic system in Palestine, and the only way to remove it from power is the same way it got there - through the ballot box. Not with bullets...

Israel must decide, once and for all, which path it will take: reach a courageous resolution to the conflict, or prolong it indefinitely. If it chooses the former, it will find the Arab peace initiative of March 2002, which garnered enthusiastic support from Yasir Arafat and vehement denunciation by Hamas. It is unlikely that Israel will get a better deal than what that initiative offers: full recognition and normalized normalized relations with all of the Arab states in return for near total withdrawal from the territories, including East Jerusalem, with reciprocal land exchanges if Israel wishes to retain any areas in the West Bank or Jerusalem, as well as a just and agreed-upon resolution to the refugee problem. One may assume that in such an eventuality, the international community, with the new American president at its helm, would provide the parties with a broad security and economic shelter.

If Israel refuses to pay that price--which has not changed for the past two decades and probably will not for the next two--and if it is willing to risk losing its Jewish and democratic character, instead of fighting Hamas it can easily find common ground with the organization: Hamas also rejects the idea of two states based on the June 4, 1967, borders. Its leaders are begging for a long-term truce and have proved that they can enforce one. They know that they do not have the power to defeat Israel's mighty army. But they also know that as long as Israel refuses to demarcate a permanent border with Gaza and the West Bank, the demographic clock--which will soon bring about a Palestinian majority in Israel and the territories--makes the dream of "greater Palestine" look more and more real."

*Sameh has been receiving death threats to take down his blog. "I have got three calls from anonymous persons stop blogging or I would be killed," he says.

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