Letter from Gaza: Rising Up from the Dust

Heaps of concrete, broken pillars with wire sticking out, people’s shoes, clothes, bedding, strewn haphazardly among the rubble, dust everywhere, a hole in the landscape where a two-story apartment was just yesterday: ‘the hardest part for me is how familiar it has all become’. Jenin, Rafah, Nablus, Khan Yunis, Ramallah, Gaza City. The Israelis are masters in the art of destruction. And as I wander through another mass of wrecked lives I’m struck by the sense of deja vu that comes over me.

Can you begin to imagine what it must be like to be sleeping in your home one minute and half dead from a missile attack the next? I say “half dead” of course, because the dead don’t have to reckon with beginning all over again, with the loss of loved ones, the loss of home and livelihood, the death of the past up to now, and the unfathomable uncertainty of the future. I remember Walt Whitman’s poetic elegy to war, “I Saw the Vision of Armies” in which he remarks that it’s those who go on living who suffer. This couldn’t be more vividly expressed than in the faces of those drifting through the wreckage of their former lives. And it will take on another dimension in the inevitable response Israel just created through its complete disregard for human life and dignity.

No army struck back at the F-16s flying overhead last night. This is the continuation of the We Kill - You Die philosophy of war adhered to by the world and regional superpowers. Fifteen people died sleeping. Eight were children. Six belonged to the same family. They won’t have names and faces in the US media. The children following me at the scene of the devastation assured me of this. “America thinks we are all terrorists” one young boy says. “So look at this,” he says pointing to the ruins, “this is America’s Peace.” Another child has collected the pieces of a missile. “Made in America,” he says looking at me for my reaction. It is sobering that the children of Palestine are so politically astute.

Around 11:45 last night I awoke to the sound of low-flying warplanes. They were circling in the skies above Gaza City seeking another product of their 35 year old occupation; another product of 54 years of subjugation and displacement. We’re not allowed to say this, though. It suggests that the US and its Israeli client have a direct responsibility in the creation of militant resistance movements; that the Arrogance of Power in our every step has left bitterness in its wake.

The mission was to kill Salah Shehadeh, a 48 year old leader of Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement) in Gaza and founder of the military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassem Brigades. Mission accomplished. The man whose resistance movement Israel once nurtured and funded is now dead. His brother Fayiz confirmed it on the telephone to a fieldworker at the Mezan Center for Human Rights office early this morning. Shehadeh’s wife and three of his daughters died with him. Another victory for Israelo-American Justice. Fair trials and Due Process are reserved for the White; democracy a privilege for the rich. Yes, and the academic and intellectual elites will write verbose articles defending Israel’s policies. What do you suggest Israel do with such people???, they will ask, in all sincerety, wondering how anyone can stoop to defending the poverty-stricken, dispossessed multitudes without being suspect themselves. I see that glance again and again: she’s a traitor. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She supports terrorism. Openly. There ought to be laws against this kind of thing.

Just wait. John Ashcroft is still in office.

Yusuf took us into his destroyed sewing shop. Fifteen industrial sewing machines ruined beyond repair. Each cost $1,000. All the fabrics in his shop lie saturated in grey dust, missile fallout. The plight of the neighbor. He has no insurance. No second chance. How many homes are damaged irreparably? How many children will not be able to sleep for weeks now? Would you like to see what happened to my car? —Someone asks me.

That’s OK. I can already see the metallic shell sitting mute in the distance.

What will it take for this insanity to end? How many articles must we write? How many more pictures must we take? How many more children must die in their sleep, or playing their games? How many more buildings will be reduced to twisted heaps of steel, concrete, and dust? How many more lives have to be ruined? How many more times will the warplanes fly overhead on a mission to murder? How many more dollars will be spent in support of state terror? How many more years must a people live exiled in their own land? How much longer can people be silent? When do we rise again together to stop the brutality?