Report from Gaza
From the January 2013 PNL #820
The 1.6 million people of Gaza have come through November’s bombings, unbowed. I was in Gaza earlier that month, with a delegation of 21 Americans sent by Interfaith Peace-Builders. Among the many groups of people we met from diverse sectors of Gazan society was the family of Ahmed Abu Dakka, a 13 year old boy shot and killed a day earlier by Israeli fire while he was playing soccer with friends. His killing was not only tragic for one family, but challenging for all who call Gaza their home. As one event in a long series of violent episodes, it will be merely a historical footnote for the militarily dominant Israeli society. For Palestinians, who do not forget martyrs in their liberation struggle, Ahmed will take his place on the calendar of those marked for remembrance and honor.
The stakes are simply not the same for Israel and for the citizens of Gaza. There is nothing remotely equal about the struggle. Confined within 145 sq. miles of territory, two-thirds of the residents of Gaza trace their lineage to villages taken over by Israel in 1948. Israel does not permit Gazans to travel freely. The majority have never left their tiny reserve where most seek simple dignity through education and work, hoping as we all do for justice and opportunity. The international airport near Rafah was completed in 1998, with funds and services donated by several foreign governments. Three years later, the modern facility was bombed and bulldozed into uselessness by Israeli forces. Those who seek to travel abroad, most often to pursue graduate studies, face a year’s worth of paperwork to meet Israel’s requirements. The only functioning point of departure is the Rafah gate into Egypt.
Four years ago this month, Gaza was invaded by Israeli tanks and troops, bringing about enormous damage and the loss of 1400 Palestinian lives. Since that operation, known as “Cast Lead,” an economic siege has continued, imposing onerous restrictions on commerce. Among them is a rule limiting Gazan fishermen to a shallow three-mile band of polluted water near the coast. Shipping into and out of Gaza’s one port has been prohibited. Israel enforces its rules strictly, including a free-fire zone of 300 meters parallel to Gaza’s northern and eastern borders with Israel, which removes a significant quantity of desirable farmland from production.
Gaza is unwilling to accept the Occupation. Its military capability is akin to that of David facing Goliath, but Gazans circumvent Israel’s blockade with as many as 600 to 800 tunnels into Egypt, through which building supplies, cars, and all sorts of other goods flow into Gaza in defiance of Israeli restrictions. Some Gazan factions fire rockets into Israel, terrorizing their neighbors. Few of the rockets hit targets, but some do; every instance of death and destruction is tragic, fueling rage. To Israel, both rocks thrown at soldiers by Palestinian children in the West Bank, and rocket attacks from Gaza reinforce a narrative of fear that demands response. To Palestinians, on the other hand, rocks and rockets symbolize the defense of honor among victims of Occupation, in a struggle where non-violent resistance is actually more common. Reacting to violent resistance with much greater force, Israel defeats itself in the court of world opinion.
Many of Israel’s sharpest critics see themselves as its best friends. Among them are conscientious Jews living in Israel, the United States, and Europe, who yearn for an Israel which visibly embodies the call of Hebrew prophets for justice, letting “the oppressed go free.” They are joined by activists from numerous other faith traditions and philosophies who support democratic rights for all people, believing that only through mutually respectful negotiations can a livable and fair set of arrangements be shaped to bring genuine peace for both Jews and Palestinians. Until that happens, fear and resentment will reign.
Both peoples love the land. Can they learn to love sharing it? It’s clear that segments of both societies yearn to drive “the intruder” away. Fortunately, there are also many Israelis and Palestinians who believe co-existence is possible, so long as the terms of peace recognize the dignity, equality, and right to security of both peoples.
As US citizens, our investment has been almost exclusively on one side. The bulk of our foreign aid, decade after decade, has gone to the Israeli military, a force that has become one of the world’s most powerful and sophisticated. As we come to appreciate the deep devotion both cultures harbor for this land, I believe most of us will follow our prevailing instinct toward fairness and equal opportunity. Rather than send more weapons for Israel’s arsenal, our government must cultivate a future of peace for both communities, applying economic and political pressure to assure that both peoples may live quietly under their vines and fig trees, no longer afraid.