Middle East: A witness to the Gaza slaughter

Israeli residents “used as trading cards”

Resident of the Gaza strip, Jom`a H, 29, lost friends and relatives in the Israeli army’s assault in December 2008 and January 2009. He tells the Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel) about the daily reality of life, before and during the bombardment. He addressed the residents of the south of Israel saying, "You are being used as trading cards". Jom`a is related to a family of refugees, who lived in Jaffa until 1948.

The following interview was conducted on January 18, with the help of Enass Masri

A witness to the Gaza slaughter

What is the situation in Gaza strip since the cease-fire began?

“In the past few days, there were numerous violations, which included firing from the sea, bombardment, house demolitions and land flattening. There is no security for Gaza’s residents, especially since Israel is not obliged to maintain the cease-fire and continues its aggressive actions against the population, through military means and through the ongoing siege. In fact, no solution was delivered by the cease-fire and it can be expected that at the next stage in the cycle of bloodshed, the Israeli regime will renounce responsibility for its actions and will blame the Palestinian population, even if the realty is different.”

What can you tell us about the life under the siege before the attack?

“The presence of the Israeli regime in the Gaza strip didn’t end with the withdrawal of the army and settlements in 2005. Using harassment and intimidation by different means, even sonic booms at low height, the Israeli regime constantly reminded us that it was there. The harassment grew when the Hamas movement was democratically elected to the Palestinian authority in 2006. Israel did not respect the democratic elections at all and it punished not only Hamas, but the Palestine people for their choice.

“As punishment, a siege was declared on the Palestinian territories, especially on the Gaza Strip, which became a huge prison. The punishment of the population worsened gradually and was accompanied by dreadful army attacks. Even before the last Israeli strike, many families were erased, houses demolished and infrastructure bombed, including schools and power stations. Since Hamas stopped cooperating with Fatah, in June 2007, the siege worsened and Israel blocked fuel supplies almost entirely. It many places, there has been no electricity at all for months and many homes and businesses only have electricity for two hours a day. There is almost no gas – in order to drink tea, I have to put it on the stove-top for an hour in advance.

“Because of the siege, the population was imprisoned. About 350 patients died before the last attack, not from bombs, but because they were denied advanced medical care. Many of them had cancer and in the Gaza’s hospitals there is no proper treatment- everything is in Israel. Security pass approval was needed to go through. "Physicians for human rights" and other voluntary organisations and in many cases, patients did were refused entry for all kinds of “security” reasons. On the day Israel declared a ceasfire, it also opened a large field clinic on the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing and made a big buzz about it. The Israeli regime is trying to prove that it is human: today it kills you, the next day it feeds you. That’s been the attitude of all the Israeli governments.

“The unemployment rate is extremely high and even those who work barely manage to survive, because of shortages and high prices. We eat mostly basic food and sometime there is no flour. This makes it very difficult to marry and build a family. Despite this, there are people who have money. There is extreme economic inequality, but the majority of the population are unable to satisfy their basic needs.”

How do you think the siege effects the struggle to end the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinians?

“The Israeli regime oppresses the Palestinian population to such a level that we are busy trying to survive and we don’t have time to talk about the occupation, oppression and the borders. This is also a way for Israel to crush the resistance to oppression. Every time there was a development in the Palestinian society, especially in Gaza, the Israeli regime undermined it.

“One example is education. Gazans see education as very important. We give big value to study. People feel that, without education, there is no way to build a future. My cousin is working as a plasterer and doesn’t have much, but all money that comes in goes straight to education fees for his daughter. Since 2000, there was a drop in the number of students because the situation didn’t allow people to study – Israel had demolished some schools, colleges and universities. This is a policy of attacking education in Palestinian society and it goes along with the policy of starvation. But people don’t give up. People in Gaza have developed the capability to survive and learned to cope.

“People here have a lot of criticism of Egypt cooperating with the siege and of the Arab’s regimes, who attempt to blame Gaza’s government and are very submissive to the USA’s demands to support Israel.

But I know and trust in the Egyptian community to push their leaders to open the border, for the sake of Gaza’s residents. The border will open if there is enough pressure from below.”

The images and the voices from Gaza were censored by the Israeli media throughout the war. How can you describe the daily reality of life during those days?

“So much death makes you stop fearing of death. Everybody dies. You see a jet in the sky, you know that it is going to bombard, the question is which house? A couple of days ago a house, only dozens of meters from me, was bombed. This situation of uncertainty becomes the daily routine. Every family lost someone. I was in places that were bombed but I survived. Anywhere, I could be stopped and murdered. Death’s meaning changes. But even if my life is in danger, I keep working to save the lives of others.

“In the last attack, no international law was upheld. Extremely brutal weapons were used, forbidden by international law. The Israeli army bombed warehouses, hospitals, schools and 14 ambulances, killing 16 paramedics. Ambulances’ movements were restricted and people died while waiting to receive urgent medical treatment. Two of my friends, who worked as firemen, died on the first day of the bombing. Israel proudly announced the killing of Hamas members, when in fact it had been humanitarian workers who were killed.

“Everyone expects their own death in a situation like that. Whole families were wiped out. A family I know from the refuge camp, Al- Buriej, were bombed while there mother cooked a meal. A relative of mine was killed in a UN School on the second week of the attack. That bombing took place when she and her brother-in-law were in the school to bring food for people who used the place for shelter.”

How can you describe the situation now, after the attack?

“Society in Gaza is suffering from anxiety and post-trauma. The population needs to deal with so many symptoms of disease. Many are crippled. There are many orphaned children and destroyed families. There is a feeling of displacement amongst the people who had to run from place to place and among mothers who spent days and nights searching for there children.

“The war was waged only for the benefit of the Israeli political parties, led by Barak, Olmert and Livni. They just want to further their political interests, at the expense of the Palestinian people. They have won nothing. They have made a Palestinian boy, who was against harming Israelis, angrier and more anti-Israel, because of the suffering he was put through. He will never forget who was responsible for the death of his relatives. The level of destruction is very high. What the PNA (Palestinian National Authority) build in 10 years, the Israeli army destroyed in couple of days. It will take years to repair all of this, but we won’t give up.”

What can you tell Israeli-Jewish workers and poor people, who live in the Western Negev’s or in Sderot (towns affected by Hamas rocket fire)?

“I want to say to them that the Israeli government is responsible for the situation. It crossed all the limits during the “calm”. They need to demand that their politicians change their strategy, their behavior, the way they look at the Palestinian people. They should respect the life of Palestinians and the right of Palestinians to live and have self-determination. The Israeli-Jews should know that they are been used as "trading cards". They are also exploited by their rulers.

“Not everyone agrees with the Hamas or are satisfied with them, but everybody knows the Kasam (rocket fire) is just an excuse for this attack. The attacks on the Palestinian population began long before the Kasam and before Hamas and attacks continue also in the West Bank. It is Israel that did not respect the “calm” with Hamas and still carried out attacks and enforced the siege. Also, most of the casualties in this attack had nothing to do with the Kasam firings. However, the Kasam also achieved nothing. Many saw them as a last resort, out of desperation. At the moment, I don’t think people are interested in firing Kasam on Israel, because people want a break, to recover, to stand on their feet and examine were they are. But people won’t give up their resistance as long as the occupation continues and some will see Kasam as the only way.

“Now there are a lot of dead and wounded. Many people are exhausted. We need to stand on our feet. I think Palestinian society is mature enough to decide what is good for it and what leadership it wants. No matter what we choose, we will choose what seems right for us and not what is dictated to us. I want my rights. I want security and I want the right of return. But al this will be achieved by struggles of the community, by awareness, by writing , action, education and livelihood.”

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February 2009