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Guernica In Gaza

By Vittorio Arrigoni

29 December, 2008
Il Manifesto

My apartment in Gaza faces the sea, a panoramic view that’s always done wonders for my mood, often challenged by all the misery that a life under siege can bring. That is, before this morning, when all hell broke loose at my window. This morning in Gaza we woke up to the sound of dropping bombs, and many of them have fallen a few hundred metres from my home. Some of my friends fell under them. So far the death toll is at 210, but it’s bound to rise dramatically. It’s an unprecedented bloodshed. They’ve razed the port facing my home to the ground, and pulverized the police stations. I’m told that the Western media have assimilated and are repeating the press releases issued by the Israeli military off by heart, according to which the attacks targeted Hamas’s terrorist dens only, with surgical precision.

In actual fact, visiting the city’s main hospital, Al Shifa, staring at a chaotic gathering of bodies laid out in its courtyard, we mostly saw civilians among those awaiting medication, lying alongside others awaiting rightful burial. Can you picture Gaza? Every house rests onto another, every building rises over the next one. Gaza is the place with the highest population density in the world, which means that when you bomb from a height of ten thousand metres, you’ll inevitably butcher many civilians. You’re aware of it, you’re guilty as charged, it’s no error, no case of collateral damage.

By bombing the central police station in Al Abbas in the city centre, the neighbouring elementary school was also seriously damaged by the explosion. It was the end of the school day and the children were already in the street. Most of their flapping sky-blue aprons were splashed with blood. When bombing the Dair Al Balah police academy, some dead and wounded were also recorded from the market nearby, Gaza’s central market. We’ve seen the bodies of animals and humans mixing their blood in rivulets trickling down the asphalt roads. A Guernica transfigured into reality. I saw many corpses in uniforms in the various hospitals I visited – I knew many of those boys. I greeted them every day when I met them in the street on my way to the port, or walked to the central café of an evening. I knew several of them by name. A name, a history, a mutilated family. The majority were young, around eighteen or twenty, mostly without political leanings, not with Fatah nor Hamas, simply enrolled into the police force once they had finished university in order to have a secure job in Gaza, which under Israel’s criminal siege has more than 60% unemployment among its population. I have no interest in propaganda and let my eyes speak, my ears stay in tune with the screaming sirens and the rumbling of TNT.

I haven’t seen any terrorists among the victims today, only civilians and policemen. Exactly like our own local police agents, the Palestinian policemen massacred by the Israeli bombings could be found every day of the year pacing the same city square, supervising the same street corner or road. Just last night I poked fun at a couple of them for the way they were cloaked up against the cold, in front of my house. I want the truth to redeem some of these dead. They’d never fired a single shot against Israel, nor would they have ever done so – it wasn’t in their job description to do so. They acted as traffic wardens, took care of internal security.

The port is quite a distance from the Israeli border anyway. I own a video camera, but today I discovered what a terrible cameraman I am. I can’t bring myself to film mangled bodies or faces drenched in tears. I just can’t. I start crying myself. The other international ISM volunteers and I went to the Al Shifa hospital to give blood. That’s where we received a call informing us that Sara, a dear friend of ours, had been killed by a piece of shrapnel near her home in the refugee camp of Jabalia. A sweet person, a sunny soul, she had gone out to buy some bread for her family. She leaves 13 children behind.

A moment ago I got a call from Tofiq, from Cyprus.Tofiq is one of the Palestinian students lucky enough to have left the endless prison camp of Gaza, on one of our Free Gaza Movement boats to start anew somewhere else. He asked me if I’d visited his uncle and whether I had gone to say hello on his behalf, as I had promised. Hesitatingly, I apologised because I hadn’t found the time. Too late – he was buried by the rubble of the port area along with many others. From Israel we received the terrible threat that this is just the first day of a bombing campaign which could last for up to two weeks. They want to make a desert and call it peace. The “civilised world’s” silence is more deafening than the explosions covering the city like a shroud of death and terror.

Published in Italian in Il Manifesto,


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