Better to launch balloons than die in silence

Incendiary balloons bear no resemblance to the deadly weapons in Israel’s arsenal. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

In recent weeks, the tension between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel’s forces of occupation has increased. Israel has used the launching of incendiary balloons by Palestinian youths as a pretext to bomb Gaza once again.

The release of the balloons is a gesture of protest against how the Israeli occupation has procrastinated in abiding by its previous agreements with the Palestinian resistance. Under those agreements, Israel had committed to easing the siege on Gaza.

This procrastination has caused the continued deterioration of Gaza’s health and public services and its economy. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to control the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza.

The Israeli military has responded to the incendiary balloons by carrying out dozens of raids on sites used by Palestinian resistance fighters with US-made F-16 jets. The Israeli naval forces, which besiege Gaza from the sea, have prevented fishers from doing their work and fired at their boats.

The Israeli government has also closed the only crossing through which commercial goods enter Gaza. This closure led to the shutting down of the only power plant in the territory, which, in turn, means households in Gaza receive only four hours of electricity per day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated frankly that Israel would respond to the incendiary balloons in the same way as it responds to rockets fired from Gaza. Israel, it seems, wishes to keep on responding with deadly force to largely symbolic acts of resistance that make use of very basic materials.

Israel has put this statement into practice by dropping highly destructive missiles from F-16s onto densely populated Gaza for 13 consecutive nights.

The incendiary balloons bear no resemblance to Israel’s sophisticated and modern weapons. Youths have simply attached burning wicks to balloons and released them toward Israel.

The balloons have been carried into Israel by the wind. They have caused some fires on farm land and, as a result, incurred a small amount of damage to Israel’s economy.

Yet nobody has been killed or injured by them.

Compelled to act

Israel and pro-Israeli media exaggerate the effects of this form of resistance while completely ignoring the reasons motivating it.

If one wishes to understand why incendiary balloons have been launched from Gaza, it is crucial to go back to the circumstances under which Palestinian youths feel compelled to act.

I have been asked repeatedly by many Western journalists if the youth who launch incendiary balloons are contradicting the principles of the Great March of Return, unarmed protests which began in 2018.

I have replied by asking the journalists to imagine a person locked in a room without access to food or medicine while they are dying slowly and silently. The person decides to bang on the door of the room with all their strength and anger and shouts for their freedom and their need to escape from death.

Then their jailer comes from outside to give a moral sermon and tell people: Look at this prisoner’s barbarism. They are not behaving properly because they are not knocking on the door calmly and not presenting their demands to us in a respectful way.

It is unfair to blame the victim, to be preoccupied with assessing their behavior. By neglecting to address the root of the problem, we are distracted from the real criminal, the one who placed a prisoner in those life-threatening and inhuman conditions.

Whatever a prisoner who feels death approaching them does, their behavior will be in harmony with the principles of freedom and justice, even if they break the door of the prison cell.

This analogy captures Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has exaggerated the significance of the simple incendiary balloons launched by groups of Palestinian youths.

Israel has tried to portray these balloons as akin to a military threat. By doing so, it has tried to devise new “rules.”

Under those “rules,” Israel thinks it may respond to crude balloons with missiles launched from F-16 warplanes.

Banging on the tank’s walls

Israel says nothing about the political and economic environment in which the young people who release those balloons are growing up.

These young people are victims of Israeli aggression many times over.

Their problems began before they were born. In 1948, their families were expelled from their villages by Zionist forces.

Two-thirds of Gaza’s population are refugees hailing from towns and villages in what is now called Israel.

Many young Palestinians can see their families’ original villages beyond the fence separating Gaza and Israel. But they cannot reach them.

That offers some explanation as to the motives of people releasing balloons. The balloons are crossing the boundary and reaching towns and villages that have been stolen from Palestinians.

They are being flown as a protest against the theft of our homeland.

After the expulsions of 1948, Israel committed countless other crimes. Those include occupation, massacres, the mass detention and torture of Palestinians.

They have included, too, a siege that has deprived Palestinians in Gaza of basic rights and necessities. The siege has undermined our economy, destroyed the labor market and shattered the dreams of Palestinian youth for a decent life.

Gaza’s youth banged against the prison walls during the Great March of Return. Israel responded by firing live bullets against them, causing death and permanent disabilities.

These youths, crushed by the Israeli occupation and deprived of their fundamental rights, still feel the urge to scream at their jailers. They want to make noise so that they do not die in silence.

In his novel Men in the Sun, Ghassan Kanafani tells a story of three Palestinians undertaking a perilous journey hidden in a water tank. After the men are found dead by their driver, Kanafani asks why they didn’t bang on the water tank wall.

Banging on the walls of a tank is better than suffocating.

Launching handmade incendiary balloons from the besieged Gaza Strip is like banging on the walls of a water tank and refusing to die in silence.

Ahmed Abu Artema is a writer who lives in Gaza and a researcher at the Center for Political and Development Studies. He is one of the organizers of the Great March of Return.