Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza Massacres; The Time is Now

Please, everyone, stop what you're doing. This is not just any report from Palestine, but the worst in my lifetime, the worst in 40 years. At this moment, Israel is raining bombs down on Gaza, an enclosed tiny area that is home to 1.5 million men, women, and children, most of them innocent civilians. This space is tightly sealed by Israel, which constantly denies Gazans electricity, food, medicine, and the ability to leave. Gaza is one big prison being bombed from above. The death toll is up to 428 in the past 7 days. That's more than the number of Israelis killed in the last 7 years. This is what I would call a massacre.

Yes, more Palestinians killed in 7 days than Israelis in 7 years, and yet no comments from President Bush or President-elect Obama. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice places blame solely on Hamas for holding Gazans "hostage," as if Israel's actions were beyond judgment. Would Rice ever respond to a Palestinian attack on Israelis by blaming the Israeli government for holding its citizens hostage with their army's violence?

I am writing you from Jordan. I arrived the day after the attacks began. The day before they began, my friend and colleague Hannah had asked me to deliver a book of poetry to her friend Summer in Gaza, hoping I'd manage to make it on a Free Gaza boat. Since then, these boats bringing unarmed witnesses to Gaza ( have been attacked in international waters, and Summer's house has been blown to pieces, her brother almost died under the rubble, and her father desperately needs an operation but the hospitals are overflowing. In every home or shop I enter in Jordan, people are huddled watching the stories unfold: a family killed in their home, a university destroyed, a pharmacy blown to pieces, countless bloody babies screaming or worse, silent.

I wonder if people in the US are also seeing the bodies and faces or, as I fear, only some rubble and angry Gazans. The day after attacks began, Israel's largest newspaper Yediot Aharonot covered almost the entire front page with the words, "500,000 Israelis Under Attack!" In smaller font, one could learn that in addition to 1 Israeli, 225 Palestinians had also been killed. It was surreal. Consider where you are getting your news, and what is not being told to you.

For example, the stated purpose of the attack is to drive out Hamas, i.e. to kill anyone in Hamas and scare the rest into turning against Hamas. Not only does this tactic not work (brutality fosters violence), but it clearly fits the definition of terrorism: unlawful violence intended to frighten or coerce a people or government in order to achieve a political or ideological agenda. Israel is operating as a terrorist state in the true sense of the word.

Hamas is also a terrorist organization by this definition, so it would be easy to simplify the conflict as "an endless cycle of violence" were there no historical context. But there is a context, and there are alternatives: Let us remember that Hamas was elected after an intentional shift away from violence towards a mainstream political agenda. Hamas stopped its attacks and began offering the Palestinian people an alternative to the corruption of Fatah. Hamas was democratically elected and immediately strangled by a US-led boycott, preventing the government from functioning. Hamas continued to hold to its one-sided ceasefire (totaling almost 2 years), meanwhile the US and Israel began to train and arm the opposition government, Fatah, which they preferred. In response to plans for a coup in Gaza (anti-democratic takeover by the US-supported opposition government), Hamas secured its control (again, democratically- elected whether or not we like them) over Gaza, and continues to offer Israel an indefinite ceasefire--no more violent attacks, period--if Israel simply complies with international law. The Arab League (comprised of 22 Arab nation members) has offered the same. These offers are dismissed by Israel and silenced in the US media. Israel says it has tried everything else, but it has not tried the most obvious: complying with international law and accepting repeated offers for a peaceful resolution.

As events unfold in Gaza neither the media nor the people are silent here in Jordan, where people refuse to go on as if nothing were happening to their brothers and sisters (sometimes literally--more than 60% of Jordan's population is Palestinian refugees). Just one day after attacks began, the king of Jordan gave blood to send to Gaza and inspired hundreds of others to do the same (meanwhile President Bush was on vacation in Texas). Spontaneous demonstrations have erupted at least twice here in the capitol today, and thousands are protesting in various major cities around the Middle East and around the world.

Please, wherever you are, do something. Write a letter to the editor. Get a large group to inundate your congressperson at once. Protest! There are demonstrations being organized around the US. If there isn't one happening near you, then do what I would do: buy a poster-board and large marker and write something on it ("Gazans Are People Too," "Massacre in Gaza: Silence is Complicity," "Our Weapons Are Killing Palestinian Children," or anything you can think of). Go outside and stand on a busy corner with it. Force others to confront the reality. Talk to people, invite them to join you. People around the world are empowered enough to take to the streets; we have no excuse not to. The time is now.

No comments: