Israel is being allowed to destroy the very notion
of a state of Palestine and is imprisoning an entire nation. That is clear from
the latest attacks on Gaza, whose suffering has become a metaphor for the tragedy
imposed on the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. These attacks, reported
on Britain's Channel 4 News, were "targeting key militants of Hamas" and the
"Hamas infrastructure." The BBC described a "clash" between the same militants
and Israeli F-16 aircraft.
Consider one such clash. The militants' car was blown to pieces by a missile
from a fighter-bomber. Who were these militants? In my experience, all the people
of Gaza are militant in their resistance to their jailer and tormentor. As for
the "Hamas infrastructure," this was the headquarters of the party that won
last year's democratic elections in Palestine. To report that would give the
wrong impression. It would suggest that the people in the car and all the others
over the years, the babies and the elderly who have also "clashed" with fighter-bombers,
were victims of a monstrous injustice. It would suggest the truth.
"Some say," said the Channel 4 reporter, that "Hamas has courted this [attack]
..." Perhaps he was referring to the rockets fired at Israel from within the
prison of Gaza which killed no one. Under international law an occupied people
has the right to use arms against the occupier's forces. This right is never
reported. The Channel 4 reporter referred to an "endless war," suggesting equivalents.
There is no war. There is resistance among the poorest, most vulnerable people
on earth to an enduring, illegal occupation imposed by the world's fourth largest
military power, whose weapons of mass destruction range from cluster bombs to
thermonuclear devices, bankrolled by the superpower. In the past six years alone,
wrote the historian Ilan Pappé, "Israeli forces have killed more than
4,000 Palestinians, half of them children."
Consider how this power works. According to documents obtained by United Press
International, the Israelis once secretly funded Hamas as "a direct attempt
to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO [Palestine Liberation
Organization] by using a competing religious alternative," in the words of a
former CIA official.
Today, Israel and the US have reversed this ploy and openly back Hamas's rival,
Fatah, with bribes of millions of dollars. Israel recently secretly allowed
500 Fatah fighters to cross into Gaza from Egypt, where they had been trained
by another American client, the Cairo dictatorship. The Israelis' aim is to
undermine the elected Palestinian government and ignite a civil war. They have
not quite succeeded. In response, the Palestinians forged a government of national
unity, of both Hamas and Fatah. The latest attacks are aimed at destroying this.
With Gaza secured in chaos and the West Bank walled in, the Israeli plan,
wrote the Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi, is "a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic
society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate
militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic
and religious tribalism and co-opted collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of
On 19 May, the Guardian received this letter from Omar Jabary al-Sarafeh,
a Ramallah resident: "Land, water and air are under constant sight of a sophisticated
military surveillance system that makes Gaza like The Truman Show," he
wrote. "In this film every Gazan actor has a predefined role and the [Israeli]
army behaves as a director ... The Gaza strip needs to be shown as what it is
... an Israeli laboratory backed by the international community where human
beings are used as rabbits to test the most dramatic and perverse practices
of economic suffocation and starvation."
The remarkable Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has described the starvation
sweeping Gaza's more than a million and a quarter inhabitants and the "thousands
of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment
... The shadows of human beings roam the ruins ... They only know the [Israeli
army] will return and they know what this will mean for them: more imprisonment
in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions."
Whenever I have been in Gaza, I have been consumed by this melancholia, as
if I were a trespasser in a secret place of mourning. Skeins of smoke from wood
fires hang over the same Mediterranean Sea that free peoples know, but not here.
Along beaches that tourists would regard as picturesque trudge the incarcerated
of Gaza; lines of sepia figures become silhouettes, marching at the water's
edge, through lapping sewage. The water and power are cut off, yet again, when
the generators are bombed, yet again. Iconic murals on walls pockmarked by bullets
commemorate the dead, such as the family of 18 men, women and children who "clashed"
with a 500lb American/Israeli bomb, dropped on their block of flats as they
slept. Presumably, they were militants.
More than 40 percent of the population of Gaza are children under the age
of 15. Reporting on a four-year field study in occupied Palestine for the British
Medical Journal, Dr. Derek Summerfield wrote that "two-thirds of the 621
children killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their
homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head,
neck and chest the sniper's wound." A friend of mine with the United
Nations calls them "children of the dust." Their wonderful childishness, their
rowdiness and giggles and charm, belie their nightmare.
I met Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who heads one of several children's
community health projects in Gaza. He told me about his latest survey. "The
statistic I personally find unbearable," he said, "is that 99.4 percent of the
children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to
trauma, you see why: 99.2 percent of the study group's homes were bombarded;
97.5 percent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 percent witnessed shootings; 95.8
percent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members
injured or killed."
He said children as young as three faced the dichotomy caused by having to
cope with these conditions. They dreamt about becoming doctors and nurses, then
this was overtaken by an apocalyptic vision of themselves as the next generation
of suicide bombers. They experienced this invariably after an attack by the
Israelis. For some boys, their heroes were no longer football players, but a
confusion of Palestinian "martyrs" and even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers
are the strongest and have Apache gunships."
Shortly before he died, Edward Said bitterly reproached foreign journalists
for what he called their destructive role in "stripping the context of Palestinian
violence, the response of a desperate and horribly oppressed people, and the
terrible suffering from which it arises." Just as the invasion of Iraq was a
"war by media," so the same can be said of the grotesquely one-sided "conflict"
in Palestine. As the pioneering work of the Glasgow University Media Group shows,
television viewers are rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal
military occupation; the term "occupied territories" is seldom explained. Only
9 percent of young people interviewed in the UK know that the Israelis are the
occupying force and the illegal settlers are Jewish; many believe them to be
Palestinian. The selective use of language by broadcasters is crucial in maintaining
this confusion and ignorance. Words such as "terrorism," "murder" and "savage,
cold-blooded killing" describe the deaths of Israelis, almost never Palestinians.
There are honorable exceptions. The kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston is
one of them. Yet, amidst the avalanche of coverage of his abduction, no mention
is made of the thousands of Palestinians abducted by Israel, many of whom will
not see their families for years. There are no appeals for them. In Jerusalem,
the Foreign Press Association documents the shooting and intimidation of its
members by Israeli soldiers. In one eight-month period, as many journalists,
including the CNN bureau chief in Jerusalem, were wounded by the Israelis, some
of them seriously. In each case, the FPA complained. In each case, there was
no satisfactory reply.
A censorship by omission runs deep in western journalism on Israel, especially
in the US. Hamas is dismissed as a "terrorist group sworn to Israel's destruction"
and one that "refuses to recognize Israel and wants to fight not talk." This
theme suppresses the truth: that Israel is bent on Palestine's destruction.
Moreover, Hamas's long-standing proposals for a ten-year cease-fire are ignored,
along with a recent, hopeful ideological shift within Hamas itself that amounts
to a historic acceptance of the sovereignty of Israel. "The [Hamas] charter
is not the Quran," said a senior Hamas official, Mohammed Ghazal. "Historically,
we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we're talking now about
reality, about political solutions ... If Israel reached a stage where it was
able to talk to Hamas, I don't think there would be a problem of negotiating
with the Israelis [for a solution]."
When I last saw Gaza, driving towards the Israeli checkpoint and the razor
wire, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags fluttering from inside
the walled compounds. Children were responsible for this, I was told. They make
flagpoles out of sticks tied together and one or two will climb on to a wall
and hold the flag between them, silently. They do it when there are foreigners
around and they believe they can tell the world.