There is a bouquet of plastic purple flowers in the center of a cheap wooden table. It’s easier to stare at it than into the faces of either of the men speaking. The air is suffocatingly hot — no breeze passes through the half-open window. I’m thirsty but won’t drink the orange soda our host passes around in paper cups.
We want to see Israel’s blood.
Fayiz and Muhammad Shehadeh trade turns almost shouting their anger at the lawyer and human rights activists who’ve come to ask for sworn affidavits. Their brother, Salah Shehadeh, one of the leaders of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassem brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), was the target of the July 22nd bombing in which fourteen others died, nine of them children, when a two thousand pound bomb obliterated the two-story apartment building in a crowded residential area in Gaza City just before midnight.
I’ve come to hear what these two brothers have to say, though among ourselves — workers for the Mezan Center for Human Rights — we know that their testimony is the least important, despite the high profile of their now-dead brother. A war crimes trial must center on the innocent who died or whose lives were destroyed in order to be successful, not on the venomous hatred of a man and his supporters who knowingly sent boys to blow themselves up in places also populated with innocent civilians.
Muhammad continues his speech.
We won’t have anything to do with your affidavits. We won’t sign anything. We don’t want a trial. We know about European justice. Look at Belgium. Will Sharon be tried for his war crimes? Will the victims of Sabra and Shatila ever rest in peace? Will the survivors ever see justice done in their names? What about Israel’s war against our people every day? Who cares about the United Nations? Count how many resolutions have passed against Israel’s criminal behavior. What have they accomplished? Who cares? The United States? The US, with its massive arms sales to Israel every year? The European Union that sits there and does nothing no matter how many pleas for intervention on behalf of our people it receives? Do you think your stupid, bureaucratic papers will make one bit of difference to the people suffering under Israel’s domination? Do you think they will stop being hungry? Do you think it will give them jobs? Do you think their humiliation will end? Do you think Israel will stop killing them whenever it wants? You can take your papers and your British Colonialist lawyer and get out of here. We know what Israel understands. Israel understands blood and power. Nothing else.
The tirade ends and more cold drinks are offered. No real offense to you guys for trying, you see. But we want to make our position clear.
It’s clear. I hear it today as clearly as I heard it then. The words are still ringing in my ears and I want to protest, but I have no grounds. They are the angriest, truest words I have heard this summer. When I walked amid the rubble of the blasted building and young boys followed me shaking a basket full of missile remains and saying, “Made in America” I remember feeling only shame. Is it any surprise that so many people have lost all confidence in the international democratic legal institutions set up presumably on their behalf? Where is justice each day when the sadists of the occupation are stripping another man of his clothes in front of his son? When they are daily detaining hundreds sitting in sweltering taxis at the Deir al-Balah checkpoint — people trying to get to work or to school, or just trying to return home? When their tanks are rolling up the streets of Rafah or Beit Lahia firing at anything that moves terrifying children, many of whom are malnourished and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? When their loudspeakers are arrogantly broadcasting yet another 24-hour curfew? “Mamnua Tajawwal; Mamnua Tajawwal” (“It is forbidden to go out”).
Should we be proud to know that the F-16s and Apache and Blackhawk helicopters that fly overhead in Gaza every day terrorizing a population of a million and a half prisoners are made in the United States? Is it gratifying that the state-of-the-art US military technology for which American taxpayers fork over billions every year are used to murder, wound, subjugate, humiliate, ruin, and dispossess people all over the world?
Leaving the home of the Shehadeh brothers, we are assaulted by the hot, desert wind again. The sand and dust clings to our faces mingling with our sweat. There is little to talk about. I know that the families who lost children, mothers, fathers, cousins, on that terrible night in July will never see justice — anymore than will the families who lose their sons, fathers, mothers, and daughters at the hands of the Occupation Forces every day in the Gaza Strip. Worse, I know that nobody cares.
Just days later more tanks roll into the city to destroy metal workshops, or “bomb factories” as the Israeli forces call them. This happens twice while I’m living in Gaza City this summer. Never mind that people’s livelihoods have been ruined; that more unemployed will line up for international food aid. These places contained the materials used for making bombs, so they must be destroyed. No one questions this logic. Like banning lead pencils going into Iraq. Who knows to what sinister use a pencil might be put??
I have little doubt that some of the materials in those metal workshops did indeed end up in the hands of homemade explosives experts. Does this justify destroying a man’s entire business? How long do we accept that a regional military superpower has the right to smash the lives of the people whose land it occupies each day, but that these people have no right to self-defense? I ponder this for a while and find myself thinking I’d rather not see both peoples armed. I’d rather see them both disarmed. But imagine the outrage, the indignation, the self-righteous ire of those whose military toy boxes come under threat. Imagine the look on the faces of the beneficiaries of our huge murder corporations when foreign tanks roll into Fort Worth, Texas or Mesa, Arizona or Hartford, Ct. to demolish the mega-metal workshops called Lockheed Martin or Boeing or United Technologies.
Sorry, you can’t have any more Blackhawk helicopters, no more F16 fighter jets or AGM air-to-ground missiles. No more Hellfire anti-tank missiles or Apache Longbow helicopters. Goodbye to the F100-PW-229 aircraft engines, adios low altitude navigation targeting infrared night systems. Tanks, don’t forget to stop in Lexington, Mass to put an end to Raytheon’s AN-TPQ-37 Firefinder counterbattery radar systems and their Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles. Move on to Fairfax, Virginia to halt the production of ExxonMobil’s JP-8 aviation jet fuel. Move south to Orlando, Florida to wipe out PGSUS LLC’s Standoff Attack Missiles, and then backtrack to Oshkosh, Wisconsin where the Oshkosh Truck Corporation is producing and selling Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks. The list goes on and on. The profits and the price tags for these items more jaw dropping than the items themselves.
The news bulletin might give us pause if worded correctly. “Metal workshops throughout the United States fired on and bulldozed this afternoon after it was determined that they contained materials used to produce Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
I think the rest of the world might sleep more peacefully that night.