Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009

22 January 2009

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The 2009 massacre in Gaza will be for international solidarity with Palestine what the Sharpeville massacre was for the international solidarity against apartheid in South Africa. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


“Where can I bring him a father from? Where can I bring him a mother from? You tell me!”

These are the desperate words of Subhi Samuni to Al-Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent. Subhi lost 17 members of his immediate family, including the parents of his seven-year-old grandson. Shockingly, even as I write this article, corpses of the Samuni family are still being retrieved from under the rubble — 15 days after the Israeli occupation forces shelled the two houses. The Israeli army locked 120 members of the family in one house for 12 hours before they shelled it.

Subhi’s words echo the harsh reality of all Palestinians in Gaza: alone, abandoned, hunted down, brutalized, and, like Subhi’s grandson, orphaned. Twenty-two days of savage butchery took the lives of more than 1,300 Palestinians, at least 85 percent of them civilians, including 434 children, 104 women, 16 medics, four journalists, five foreigners, and 105 elderly people.

What can one say to comfort a man who has the harrowing task of having to bury his entire family, including his wife, his sons, his daughters and his grandchildren? Tell us and we will relay your words to Uncle Subhi because his loss has made our words of condolences meaningless to our ears.

Think also of words you want to say to 70-year-old Rashid Muhammad, whose 44-year-old son Samir was executed with a single bullet to the heart in front of his wife and children. The Israeli army refused to let an ambulance pick up his corpse for 11 days so his family had to wait for the assault to stop before they could bury him. Rashid had the excruciatingly painful experience of looking at, touching, kissing, and then burying the decomposed body of his son. Tell this family how to make sense of their harsh reality — say something to make the children sleep, to ease the anguish in the father’s heart, to help the wife understand why her husband had to be taken from her.

You might prefer to talk to 14-year-old Amira Qirm, whose house in Gaza City was shelled with artillery and phosphorous bombs — bombs which burnt to death three members of her immediate family: her father, her 12-year-old brother, Alaa, and her 11-year-old sister, Ismat. Alone, injured and terrified, Amira crawled 500 meters on her knees to a house close by — it was empty because the family had fled when the Israeli attack began. She stayed there for four days, surviving only on water, and listening to the sounds of the Israeli killing machine all around her, too afraid to cry out in pain in case the soldiers heard her. When the owner of the house returned to get clothes for his family, he found Amira, weak and close to death. She is now being treated for her injuries in the overcrowded and under-resourced al-Shifa Hospital.

You can try to comfort 10-year-old Muhammad Samuni who was found lying next to the bodies of his mother and siblings, five days after they were killed. He would tell you what he has been telling everyone — that his brother woke suddenly after being asleep for a long time. His brother told him that he was hungry, asked for a tomato to eat and then died. Are there any other 10-year-olds in the world who are asked to carry this experience around with them for the rest of their lives? Of course not — this “privilege” is reserved just for Palestinian children because they were born on the land that Israel wants for itself. But it is these traumatized children who will deny Israel what it wants because their very survival is a challenge to that apartheid state. It is these same children who will surely inherit Palestine: it is their birthright and no assault can change that fact — not today, not ever.

And through it all we were subjected to Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, adamant in her defense of the world’s most “moral” army. “We don’t target civilians” she lied. “We don’t want the Palestinians to leave Gaza. We just want them to move within Gaza itself!” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert too had something to say to Palestinians in Gaza: “We are not your enemy. Hamas is your enemy.”

Amira, Muhammad, Rashid, Subhi and the more than 40,000 families whose houses have been demolished know differently. Those people who rushed to the cemetery after it was bombed and found the body parts of their dead relatives exposed to the elements know differently. They know that they were deliberately targeted because they are Palestinian. All the rest is propaganda to appease the conscience of those with Palestinian blood on their hands — those who are both inside and outside Israel.

For 22 long days and dark nights, Palestinians in Gaza were left alone to face one of the strongest armies in the world — an army that has hundreds of nuclear warheads, thousands of trigger-happy soldiers armed with Merkava tanks, F-16s, Apache helicopters, naval gunships and phosphorous bombs. Twenty-two sleepless nights, 528 hours of constant shelling and shooting, every single minute expecting to be the next victim.

During these 22 days, while morgues overflowed and hospitals struggled to treat the injured, Arab regimes issued tons of statements, condemned and denounced and held one meaningless press conference after another. They even held two summits, the first one convened 19 full days after the assault on Gaza began and the second one the day after Israel had declared a unilateral ceasefire!

The official Arab position vis-a-vis the Palestinians since 1948, with the exception of the progressive nationalist era (1954-1970) has been a lethal cocktail of cowardice and hypocrisy. Their latest collective failure to break the two-year old Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip and their lack of action to support Palestinians under brutal military assault must be questioned.

Arabs must demand answers from the spineless Arab League because there was no brotherly solidarity shown to Gazans during the Israeli assault. There was no pan-Arabism evident in their platitudes. Some, shockingly, even found it an appropriate time to blame Palestinians for the situation they found themselves in, instead of demanding that Israel stop its merciless assault.

In Gaza today, we wonder how the expressions of support for us in the streets of Arab capitals can be translated into action in the absence of democracy. We wonder whether Arab citizens of despotic regimes can nonviolently change the system. We torment ourselves with trying to discern the means that are currently available for democratic political change. With the ongoing massacre in Gaza, and the construction of an apartheid system in Palestine (in all of historic Palestine, including the areas occupied by Israel in 1967), we know that to survive, we must have the support and solidarity of our Arab brothers and sisters. We saw the Arab people rise to that challenge and stand by us for 22 days but we did not see their leaders behind them.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The UN, EU, Arab League and the international community by and large have remained silent in the face of atrocities committed by Apartheid Israel. They are therefore on the side of Israel. Hundreds of dead corpses of children and women have failed to convince them to act. This is what every Palestinian knows today — whether on the streets of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or refugee camps in the Diaspora.

We are, therefore, left with one option; an option that does not wait for the United Nations Security Council, Arab Summits, or Organization of Islamic Conference to convene: the option of people’s power. This remains the only power capable of counteracting the massive power imbalance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The horror of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa was challenged with a sustained campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions initiated in 1958 and given new urgency in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre. This campaign led ultimately to the collapse of white rule in 1994 and the establishment of a multi-racial, democratic state.

Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2009, like Sharpeville 1960, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity. Now is the time to boycott the apartheid Israeli state, to divest and to impose sanctions against it. This is the only way to ensure the creation of a secular, democratic state for all in historic Palestine.

This is the only answer to Uncle Subhi’s puzzling questions: it is the only way to give his grandson a future, a life of dignity and equality, a life with both peace and justice, because like all children, he deserves nothing less.

Haidar Eid teaches English literature in Gaza City. He is also a political commentator and activist.

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