The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

People I Love Are Dying

Kathy Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, 03 March 08

People I know and love are dying. They are under a siege that prevents them from getting adequate food, medicine and potable water. Children I held and played with are being targeted by the world’s fourth largest military power. They are in danger if they leave their homes, and equally in danger if they stay put. Their crime – being born in a part of the world that was sacrificed to atone for horrible crimes committed elsewhere by other people – being born to parents who refuse to lie down and let the world quietly take from them what little remains of who they are and what the Western world has left to them – being born Palestinian in the Gaza Strip.

Every night I go to bed terrified of what may happen while I sleep, if I sleep. When I get up, I check the news to see what was lost overnight. Yesterday I got news that a blast near a friend’s apartment had blown out their windows. No one was hurt – physically – but the children’s symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or more accurately Chronic Traumatic Stress Disorder have worsened. Same with the parents who must deal with their own anxieties while trying to protect and heal their children. These are children who shared their toys with me when I visited Gaza three years ago. One tried to teach me a few words in Arabic. My pronunciation was apparently unacceptable and quite funny. But we persisted until we all dissolved in laughter. I in turn showed them how to fold peace cranes with wings that flapped. And we flapped these cranes all around the apartment. We provided crane noises.

February 29. I read that Matan Vilnai, the Israeli deputy defense minister has threatened a “shoah” or “holocaust” on the people of the Gaza Strip. Now this “shoah” is reality – not so deadly as the Nazi “holocaust” that murdered 6 million Jews along with various other “undesirables”. But A “shoah” nonetheless. A “nakba” or catastrophe for the people of Gaza.

Now, missiles are flying around and landing, some landing near or in other apartments. The noise they make is much louder and scarier than noises made by paper cranes. The cranes have probably long since been lost or worn out. The trauma from the missiles will last a lifetime.

I spent an afternoon in Rafah in the home of a family expecting twins. I ate food prepared especially for me. I played with five young nephews – the toys, paper cranes again. I spent the night with them. My host was a fieldworker for the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

The following morning my host took me on a tour of Rafah. We were interrupted by reports that a young girl was killed by sniper fire from an Israeli tower while waiting in her schoolyard for school to start. I saw her mother surrounded by friends trying to console her. I saw the body at the morgue. I saw her wounds. I visited a child in the hospital that was injured in the same “incident.” Barely a blip in the US news. A few days later I visited the newborn twins.

Al Mezan carefully documents human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip. Israeli abuses of Palestinians, Palestinian abuses of Israelis, and Palestinian abuses of other Palestinians. Human Rights Watch also documents these human rights violations. Their reports can be found on-line. And all types occur, but the overwhelming majority of human rights violations that occur here are of the first kind. Palestinian civilians have been killed at an alarming but hardly noticed rate. Homes, greenhouses, gardens have been routinely destroyed. This killing and destroying has gone on at times when Palestinians resisted peacefully and at times when the resistance was not so peaceful. Yet Israel, the US and the US news media frames the violence as Palestinian provocation and Israeli retaliation.

This latest escalation of violence is framed as Israeli retaliation for rocket fire from Gaza that injured a teen-aged girl in Ashkelon. But nobody asks if maybe that rocket fired from Gaza was retaliation for ongoing Israeli violence in Gaza. And the immediate Israeli retaliation: four young boys killed playing soccer in Gaza.

Death by siege, death by the IOF, death (rarely) by Palestinian rockets. Why is the latter deplored while the former are largely ignored? Who decides what is provocation and what is retaliation? Who decides who can retaliate? Who decides who is allowed to react to what in “self-defense” and who must quietly accept an intolerable situation?

The Israel siege of Gaza is deadly violence. There is not enough food, not enough water, the water there is is unsafe, there is no more hypochlorite to disinfect it. There is not enough fuel to pump the wells, boil water, drive ambulances, run hospital machinery. Critically ill and injured Gazans are often prevented from leaving Gaza to obtain life-saving treatment.

Targeted assassinations occur routinely, often killing innocent family member and random nearby people. The target is not always killed. Buildings that “might” house “extremists” are blown up, possibly killing the targets, and usually killing others. Random acts of deadly violence also occur routinely. Nowhere is safe. There is nowhere to go.

I am worried about the physical and mental health of my host, the twins, the nephews. Will they survive?Intact? How will the current trauma effect the rest of their lives? What kind of adults will they become?

My mission in Rafah was to help Playgrounds for Palestine build a playground in a park, previously bulldozed by the Israeli army during “Operation Rainbow” . Playgrounds are not safe places to be in Gaza. Neither are schools, or the streets, or homes. Might as well have playgrounds.

Last night I got news of a family from Rafah I met here in Madison. They were on tour raising money for The Rebuilding Alliance to rebuild homes for people whose homes had been bulldozed by Israel. They brought along an infant. Last night a missile exploded a kilometer from their home, but it was loud enough that the children thought it hit very nearby. More traumatized children.

Some children are not traumatized. They are dead. My latest information is that since February 27, 101 Palestinians have been killed; 49 were unarmed civilians, 25 of these, children. The Israeli toll: three deaths, of which two were soldiers.

We must stop pretending that this situation is the Palestinians fault. We must admit that they are the ultimate victims of an attempt to remedy the crimes of a European nation on the backs of innocent Asian victims. We must admit that they are currently victims of the world’s fourth largest military power, backed by the world’s only superpower. They are the victims of racism by former victims of racism and their allies. And the only way to end racism is to end all racism. Everywhere. By everyone. Forever.