This short video by Palestinian filmmaker Hadeel Assali displaces the horrifying images of the 19-20 July Shujaiya massacre with sweeter ones she collected during a 2013 visit with her family in Gaza. Most of the video footage comes from Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.
About her video, Assali told me that after she was sent this recorded plea for help from the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, she created this short film “to show what ‘humanity’ means when we say ‘crimes against humanity.’”
Over Assali’s sentimental and pleasant images we hear the audio from a frantic recording from journalist Samer Zaneed who tells us that residents of Shujaiya reported being abandoned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during the massacre. As Al Akhbar reported on 21 July, “survivors confirmed that the Red Cross ignored their repeated calls before the communication network stopped completely.”
Israeli attacks continued through the morning of the massacre. Meanwhile, journalists also contacted the ICRC but their calls were ignored. Al-Akhbar quotes an unnamed journalist who says that the Red Cross finally responded: “This isn’t our responsibility and the Israeli army prevented us from entering the area because it declared it a military zone.”
The Red Cross responds
On 22 July, Nasser Najjar, a spokesperson of the ICRC in Gaza, responded to Assali’s video in an email seen by The Electronic Intifada. Najjar wrote that the institution was “extremely concerned about the human toll of the hostilities taking place in Gaza, especially about those civilians who are surrounded by conflict and unable to get help.”
On 20 July we facilitated a humanitarian ceasefire between the IDF [Israeli military] and Hamas which enabled us to evacuate civilians from Shujaiya and yesterday we evacuated the wounded after a hospital was caught in the line of fire in Deir al-Baleh. At times, both ICRC and PRCS [Palestine Red Crescent Society] emergency services have been overwhelmed by thousands of calls for help, especially during intensified hostilities. We’re working at full capacity in complex, dangerous and challenging circumstances and our team in Gaza is doing everything in its power to respond to those in need.
Both Al-Akhbar and my own sources report that inquiries with ICRC office in Jerusalem about their activities in Gaza are not answered by the Jerusalem office.
Crisis of humanitarian institutions
Last month, Ali Abunimah criticized the ICRC when it called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of three Israeli teenagers later found dead in the occupied West Bank, while never making similar demands of Israel which, as of April, held 196 Palestinian children in military custody.
At the time, the ICRC spokesperson in Jerusalem responded that Israel’s detention and torture of Palestinian children are violations of international humanitarian law and that it was “monitoring” Palestinian children in detention. This passivity suggests that the detention of Palestinian children is considered low priority for the organization, even though it acknowledges its illegality.
Now the institution’s personnel in Gaza tell us that they are “working at full capacity.” Yet despite their efforts, they are not able to meet people’s dire needs.
If Palestinian children are not a priority and “full capacity” means human lives are still neglected, then the priorities of the ICRC deserve harsh scrutiny.