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Gaza Burning (Again)

By George Capaccio

02 August, 2014

If my faith in God or the existence of some form of benign cosmic intelligence were stronger, then I would pray for the killing to cease, for the killers to come to their senses and behold what they have done in their blindness and ignorance, their appalling lack of humanity. I would pray that whatever temporary truce one day comes to pass will eventually turn into a lasting peace.

But since such an outcome would require nothing less than a miracle, I will take my turn at the podium and express in no uncertain terms my deep sadness for the suffering of the people of Gaza, my anger at the Israeli leadership for their extreme, unforgivable brutality, and my disgust with my own government for openly supporting and enabling what is unequivocally the crime of genocide.

Canadian troubadour Bruce Coburn, outraged by the atrocities committed in Guatemala in the 1980s by the national army, once sang, “If I had a rocket launcher, I’d make somebody pay.” Seeing images of families in Gaza picking their way through the rubble where their homes once stood, of little children with shattered skulls from Israeli munitions, of Palestinian men and women weeping over the bodies of their loved ones, of pools of blood in Gaza’s main hospital from the traumatized victims of Israeli shelling, I can only echo Mr. Coburn’s words and say: If I had a rocket launcher, I’d aim it at both houses of Congress for voting in favor of resolutions expressing unconditional support for the criminal, apartheid state of Israel. (Aside to General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency: I have no intention of actually harming anyone—in case you were wondering.)

But since I don’t have a rocket launcher, the best I can do is lob imaginary handfuls of bullshit at each and every one of those spineless, contemptible bastards. And I’d reserve a special place in Hell for the President, who recently reaffirmed his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” He added: “No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.”

Apparently, his speechwriters had failed to inform him that the people of Gaza refuse to accept a blockade that has been in place since 2007 and are not particularly fond of having their homes, hospitals, sanctuaries, and schools fired upon by the region’s most belligerent and terrifying military force. The blockade, imposed by Israel in response to the election of Hamas as the governing authority of Gaza—an election that by standards in the Middle East was remarkably free and in keeping with the democratic process—has brought nothing but ever increasing misery to the 1.8 million people who live there.

Imprisoned within a stretch of land about twice the size of the District of Columbia, or 139 square miles, the Palestinian people must cope with severe shortages of the most essential commodities and services necessary to sustain life. Both the United Nations and the International Red Cross have determined that Israel’s siege of Gaza constitutes collective punishment and a “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Because of the siege, “Hospitals face critical shortages, with 40 percent of all essential medicines at zero stock level… [54 percent of the people] are food insecure, including 428,000 children.”

With Israel’s latest aggression against Gaza—Operation Protective Edge—the supply of “essential medicines” is undoubtedly much less than 40 percent, given the growing number of wounded Palestinians and the deliberate shelling of hospitals. Quoting Palestinian health officials, the Israeli paper Haaretz reported on August 1 that “the death toll in the Israeli operation has topped 1,360… More than 6,500 Palestinians have been wounded in the Israeli strikes.”

The above report is already outdated. The latest wave of attacks has pushed the death toll even higher. There are now over 1,442 dead and over 8,200 wounded Palestinians since the assault began. According to the Gaza health ministry, of the number killed, 327 were children and 166 were women. Two years ago, a troubled young man murdered 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. Imagine a death count 16 times greater. Imagine rampaging killers wearing the uniforms, insignia, and other paraphernalia of the worlds’ “most moral army” willfully slaughtering classroom after classroom of innocent children in the name of stopping rocket attacks from Gaza.

Conducting this sort of massacre is precisely what Israeli forces are doing to the people of Gaza, with diplomatic cover and military aid from its number one ally the United States. Supporters of the Zionist government in Israel can take comfort in the fact that quite recently (on Wednesday, July 30) our beloved Pentagon agreed to supply the Israeli Defense Forces with 120 mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers from a considerable supply of munitions stockpiled within Israel—despite Israel’s commission of what the UN sheepishly says may amount to “war crimes.”

In the words of Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby, speaking about this shipment, "The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability." Clearly, the people of Gaza have not suffered quite enough. At least President Obama and his big imperial heart feel their pain and are keen on getting Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a ceasefire. Unfortunately, Obama’s concern for Palestinians’ right to life does not translate into direct, convincing political action that might actually put an end to this unconscionable mass murder.

As I write these thoughts, the achingly haunting and poignant film score from Schindler’s List is playing. I remember how deeply the events in that film moved me, particularly Oskar Schindler’s desperate attempt to rescue even more Jewish families from the horrors awaiting them in Hitler’s death camps. It was perhaps because of that movie that I vowed to do whatever was in my power to help Iraqi families suffering under the weight of U.S./UN sanctions throughout the 90s and into the new millennium. I have not been to Palestine but having gone many times to Iraq as a humanitarian activist, I understand something about the cruelty of an economic blockade and how it destroys lives and renders hope, “that thing with feathers,” a thing of the past, flown forever.

How in God’s name can a people so unfathomably wounded by the cruelty and inhumanity of Germany’s Nazi regime subject their Palestinian “neighbors” to this unending nightmare of oppression, occupation, siege, and now—once again—unrestrained bombing of a captive people with no possibility of escape. The predicament of the people in Gaza brings to mind the appalling circumstances of Jews in the city of Warsaw, Poland during World War II. In 1940 Nazi authorities commanded all the Jews in Warsaw to move into a quarter of the city. The Nazis built a 10-foot high wall to prevent the Jews from escaping and to isolate them from the rest of the city. Living conditions within the Warsaw ghetto quickly deteriorated. Typhus epidemics spread through the ghetto. Unemployment, a shortage of medical supplies, sickness, and hunger reduced Jewish families to abysmal poverty. To survive, they were forced to live in overcrowded apartments and to depend on the Nazis for whatever food was available.

The following words of one of those unfortunate souls entrapped within the ghetto could very well be spoken by an inhabitant of Gaza today: "we are segregated and separated from the world and the fullness thereof, driven out of the society of the human race."

The comparison does not end there. It was official German policy to keep the Jews on the edge of starvation by giving them only half the maximum weekly food rations. In 2006, some sixty years later, an advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister, Dov Weisslglass, said: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

Palestinians in Gaza are dying from far more than hunger in Israel’s current assault, and they will continue to die, not necessarily because of the rockets Hamas fighters are firing into Israeli cities but rather because those with the power to stop the killing refuse to act for the good of people on both sides of the conflict. Because, finally, no time tables, no carefully negotiated terms of peace, however fair and binding, can compensate for the overwhelming dearth of compassion and simple humanity that characterize political leaders here, in Israel, and in the EU. Once again, it is up to ordinary people around the world to stand for what is right, what is moral, and what comes from a place of loving and heartfelt devotion to the cause of peace and justice.

No one gets a pass. We are all implicated in this struggle and obliged to oppose collective punishment and the transformation of Palestinian land into a killing zone where no one is safe, and everyone—whether a child playing in the street, a mother nursing an infant, an old man taking his rest—is to be considered a terrorist and therefore a target.

George Capaccio is a writer, performing artist, and longtime advocate for the Iraqi people. His involvement with Iraq has taken many forms. Besides going there on nine separate occasions as a member of various humanitarian organizations, he has written extensively about the effects of sanctions as well as the experiences of Iraqi refugees. George also maintains a donor-supported fund for Baghdad families impoverished from years of sanctions, war, and occupation. He can be reached by email: georgecapaccio@verizon.net



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