By the time you read this, who knows how many people will have been killed in Israel’s latest onslaught in the Gaza Strip? As I write, some 1,400 mostly civilian Palestinians have been killed, including hundreds of children. Also, 59 Israelis have been killed, 56 of them military personnel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complains that the media show pictures of “telegenically dead” Palestinians. It’s true. My Facebook feed looks like a perverse beauty contest for dead babies and traumatized kids. There are the “before” shots: Essam Ammar, 4, from Gaza City wears a yellow check shirt and holds a somewhat bedraggled flower; Hind Shadi abu Harbeid, 10, from Beit Hanoun has clearly been playing with her mother’s nail varnish — she rests her chin on paint-tipped fingers and gazes away from camera, a small smile lighting up her eyes. Hatem and Yasmeen Yazji hug each other, soft hair flopping over foreheads, big smiles revealing gappy baby teeth. Then there are the “after” images: children on hospital trolleys and in ambulances, children burned, children blinded, children buried under rubble.
What these dead children tell us, beyond everything else, is this: Israel believes itself unassailable. There is no doubt that Egypt’s complicity, newly explicit, has helped. But Israel has acted with impunity for a long time. Remember the Turkish activists it killed on board the Mavi Marmara as they headed for Gaza? Remember Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09? And how, in 2012, the world was shocked when the four children of the Dalou family were killed in Gaza? In the last week, the United Nations noted that a child is killed every hour in Gaza, on average.
A strip of coast, 25 miles long by seven miles wide. Home to 1.8 million people. Besieged and locked in for eight years now by Israel from the north, east and west, and by Egypt from the south; their medicine, their books, their calorie intake, their fuel, their CDs, their building bricks all rationed, all outside their control. Half of the Palestinians of Gaza are under age 18. Many of their parents or grandparents were refugees from land just to the north, where Israelis now gather on a hilltop to watch bombs fall on the people they’ve displaced, the people whose lands they’ve stolen. If someone with guns and bombs robs me, locks me up and starves me, surely I have the right to dig a tunnel to get hold of food and medicine. Surely I have the right to find a way to fight my jailer.
It has been de rigueur to decry the Hamas rockets that crash into Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. But terrorism is using violence to impose a political condition. Terrorism is Israel imposing a siege on a people because they voted for a government Israel didn’t like. Terrorism is bombing imprisoned civilians and schools and hospitals. Think of the countless days and weeks when no rockets were fired from Gaza. Was the siege lifted then? No. The world treated Gaza as a humanitarian case, as if what the Palestinians needed was aid. What Gaza needs is freedom.
Israel requires the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” That is, to accept that the Palestinians living in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth, Acre, etc., will always be second-class citizens in their country. Israel ruptures logic; it wants to be a democracy practiced on the basis that some people are “chosen” and others are not. And if that won’t work, then it wants the “not chosen” to disappear.
This impunity will not last forever. Israel has tried to hide from judgment by using emotional blackmail and accusations of anti-Semitism. But the latest Israeli killing spree in Gaza has moved the hearts and consciences of people across the world.
Protesters have marched in cities from Tokyo to Reykjavik, Iceland. A tower block in Bogota, Colombia, is illuminated in the colors of the Palestinian flag. #ICC4Israel is trending on Twitter. Dutch children have made a video speaking the words of dead Palestinian children. Hardened newsmen and women have suddenly dropped the “parity” approach and spoken of the horror they’re witnessing in Gaza.
In London, when a group of Jews opposed to Zionism stood on top of a red double-decker to declare their stand with the Palestinians, they were met with a huge cheer. On Sunday, a group of rabbis in Washington disavowed Israel’s actions. Jewish citizens across the world declare, “Not in my name.”
Protests have erupted across Haifa, Nazareth and Tel Aviv. Young people have clashed with occupation forces in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron and many other places. Some of them have lost their lives in this latest round of killing.
It was not just the arms dealers watching the Israeli display over the last weeks; citizens of the world paid attention, and they’ve taken Palestine to their hearts. There’s a rising demand for an arms embargo against Israel, and for trials for possible war crimes, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is getting stronger. None of this will bring back one dead loved one. We mourn the dead and grieve with the living. We also resolve to do everything we can to heal this terrible wound in the heart of the world.
Ahdaf Soueif is the author of Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed.