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|GULAMHUSEIN'S ROOM (2010)|
- Demonizing Islam, Alienating Muslims, Harming US (Sep 2010)
- TIME TO MUZZLE ISRAEL (July 2010)
- ISRAEL'S DEVIOUS PLOY (March 2010)
- GAZA: BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED: A shining symbol of unyielding resistance (Jan. 2010)
It’s the Muslims whose sensitivities are being trampled on
by Gulamhusein A. Abba, Sep 9, 2010
The Ground Zero Mosque controversy is drummed up by anti-Islam, anti-Muslim and anti-Obama religious fanatics and right wing politicians, each with their own agenda.
The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim forces want to indelibly link in the minds of Americans the 9/11 tragedy with Islam, in an effort to demonize Islam and Muslims. They are shamelessly exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for this purpose.
Two main reasons are cited for the opposition to the so called “Ground Zero Mosque”. The most loudly proclaimed one is that the building of the “mosque” would desecrate hallowed Ground Zero, hurt the feelings of the families of the 9/11 victims and would be a slap in their face. The second objection voiced is the fear that the mosque could become one from which radical Islam is preached and where the seeds of terrorism are sown.
First, the question of location and sensitivity.
There is no reason whatsoever for the sensitivities of any of the families of the 9/11 tragedy victims, or of anyone else for that matter, to be ruffled by the founders of the Corduba Initiative going ahead with the Park51 Project (mischievously dubbed The Ground Zero Mosque}
Before approving or opposing the project, it is important to know what exactly the project is.
What is going to be built is not a mosque as such. There will be just a prayer hall in a part of a Cultural Center. This building will not be on Ground Zero but will be two blocks away and will not even be seen from Ground Zero. The Center will have a library, gym, auditorium, swimming pool, culinary school and restaurant.
Further, it will also include an auditorium to engage large audiences, sophisticated classroom spaces, general spaces and world-class facilities for all New Yorkers to benefit from.
It will also host events to facilitate "multifaith dialogue" and will have a September 11th memorial and quiet reflection space where people of different faith traditions and beliefs, sacred and secular, can find quiet time and solace.
Yes, it will include a prayer hall, a “mosque” to be used by Muslims to offer their prayers. This will take up only a small portion of the final space. Muslim prayer services have been held daily at 51 Park Place, the site of the proposed Center, since late 2009. The developers hope to expand services and facilities in the coming months to meet the needs of an expanding Muslim population. (There are probably one million Muslims in the tri-state area and several hundred thousand in New York City).
The project planners are going to build on property they have lawfully owned for several years.
What is in works is a complete renovation of an existing building that used to be Burlington Coat Factory and which was damaged by debris falling on it from the 9/11 attacks.
At a time of economic hardship, Park51 will constitute an investment of over $100 million of infrastructure in lower Manhattan, creating over 150 full-time jobs and over 500 part-time jobs, and providing much needed space, open to all, for community activities, health and wellness, arts and culture and personal and professional development.
The plan to turn an eyesore of an empty building two blocks from Ground Zero into a community center has received wide support.
Community Board 1 approved the plan. The vote was 29 in favor, 1 against, with 9 abstentions.
Community Board 1 represent the people of lower Manhattan who are closest to Park51 and would be most relevant to the building of the Center. They are the people of lower Manhattan. They’ve studied the project closely, they learned about who the promoters are and they live in the area. They were clear in their support for the Center.
Borough President Scott Stringer, Mayor Bloomberg, Councilwoman Chin and Councilman Jackson, City Comptroller Liu, Attorney General Cuomo, State Senator Squadron, U.S. Congressman Nadler, Governor Paterson and a number of key officials and institutions are supporting the construction of the Center. The mayor’s office was supportive, as were local community boards..
On August 5, The Shalom Center and other Jewish leaders from New York held a vigil at the site of the proposed Muslim cultural center and prayer space in Lower Manhattan, supporting the plan for Cordoba House/ Park51 there.
Even more relevant, the project has the support of The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a nationwide group founded by family members of those killed on 9/11.
This is the statement they released: ”September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows strongly supports efforts to bring an Islamic Cultural Center to lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero site. We believe that welcoming the Center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with fundamental American values of freedom and justice for all.
“We believe, too, that this building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans stand against violence, intolerance and overt acts of racism and that we recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent.”
Ed Koch, who served as Mayor of New York City from 1978 to1989, supporting the project, had this to say: “I believe we are locked in battle with fanatical Islam and will be for the foreseeable future. I do not believe the vast majority of Muslims, and American Muslims in particular, are fanatics or enemies of the American people”.
But, it is pointed out that those who carried out the attacks were Muslims and claimed to be acting in the name of Islam. That, it is argued, is what would stir up memories of the attack if the Center were allowed to be built so close to the site of the tragedy.
If the proposed Islamic center was being put up by Alqaida or if it were to be controlled by terrorists or Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, then the hurt, the pain and the anger of those who oppose the project could be understood. But this is not the case.
The promoters of the Center are no terrorists or radicals.
The FBI called upon Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will be the Imam leading the Muslim prayers at the Center, to reach out to Muslims after the terrorist attacks, and the US government recently sent him on a world tour to explain that the US is NOT anti-Islam or anti-Muslims but only anti-terrorism and anti-terrorists.
Prominent rabbis spoke in favor of the cleric and his wife Daisy Khan, who has been associated with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which also lent its public support.
Well known leaders and organizations know Imam Feisal has served Lower Manhattan for a long time and that he has been a positive force in this city and country.
Feisal Abdul Rauf has clearly and specifically stated: "The Cordoba Initiative is an initiative to improve relations between the Islamic nation and the Western world and the non-Islamic religions.
“The Cordoba House, within the framework of the Cordoba projects, began before 9/11.”
He went on to explain: “There is a need for a cultural center, with an agenda that differs from what goes on in some of the mosques. Here in the U.S., we need to establish an Islamic-American community….There is widespread ignorance about Islam in the U.S. One of our goals is to make people understand what Islam is and who the Muslims are. Islam is a religion that loves tolerance and peace, and the people who carried out [9/11] were not... That action was not an Islamic action.”
The question the protestors ask is that if the promoters of the project realize that Ground Zero is hallowed ground and are really cognizant of and sympathetic towards the feelings of the 9/11 victims, why not build the project a little further away, specially when the mayor of New York has offered to make another site available to them at an attractive price?
True that Ground Zero has become “hallowed ground”. But to claim that the area surrounding it is also “hallowed” is a stretch, Much sacrilege can be found within two blocks of Ground Zero: a strip club called New York Dolls; an off-track betting parlor; a couple of fast-food joints, and at least one Irish pub — all as close to Ground Zero as the proposed site of the future Islamic cultural center.
There is also Pussycat Lounge, a strip joint two blocks from Ground Zero, and the Thunder Lingerie and Peep Show. Also, “17 pizza shops, 18 bank branches, 11 bars, 10 shoe stores and 17 separate salons, offering what’s euphemistically called ‘bikini waxing.’ ”
As one commentator has noted “The crowded streets around the World Trade Center site feel deeply ordinary: Commuters pour in and out of the subway stations; shoppers pour in and out of Century 21, the popular discount department store; tourists pour in and out of the Millennium Hilton….”.
It is not as though the Muslims were proposing to put up a brothel or a strip-club or a gambling joint!
As for the proximity of the Center to Ground Zero, the problem is to determine the boundaries of hallowed ground.
The question that arises is: “How far is far enough?”. Somewhere between the 2-1/2 dense city blocks, where Cordoba House is planned on the site of an abandoned garment factory, and 10 blocks away in Tribeca, where Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf has led a congregation for 27 years? How far away from Ground Zero is acceptable? If opponents say two blocks away is not good enough, they could say "not in the state that the 9/11 attack occurred in" or, "not in the state next door to where the 9/11 attack occurred”. Three cartoons address this question admirably. The first is Kevin Sier’s telling cartoon in Charlotte Observer on Ground Zero with Palin saying “Sure we believe in freedom and inclusiveness, but you good people should respect New York and build your mosque farther from ground zero!” Next to this panel is a panel showing 9th Ave, 10th Ave and beyond stretching all the way beyond China, Japan and Russia, with a “voice” from beyond asking “How is this?”!! (see http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/08/05/1604104/ny-mosque.html ); the second is a perceptive, revealing and thought provoking Mark Fiore cartoon animation on the building of a “mosque” near Ground Zero (go to http://www.markfiore.com/ and then scroll to the 08.18 cartoon captioned Cat and Mosque) and, the third is a Bearman Cartoon captioned “how far is far enough” (see http://beartoons.com/2010/08/17/mosque-at-ground-zero-cartoon/).
The real question that needs to be asked is not “Why the Muslims are not shifting the site further away?” but “Why are the Muslims being asked to shift the site further away?” There is not one valid, justifiable or reasonable reason why the Center, with its prayer hall, should not be built exactly where it is proposed to be built. On the other hand, there are a number of very forceful and good reasons why it should be built there.
Left out completely from the discussion are the Muslims and their feelings – Muslims who are American citizens, and Muslims all over the world who are closely watching developments on this question.
It is as if American Muslims did not exist or had no feelings, no sensitivity of their own! As if they are third class citizens who do not matter.
And yet, this is an extremely important issue to consider.
The ones whose feelings are being rubbed raw are not the families of the 9/11 victims but the Muslims, both in the US and outside.
Telling the Muslims that they cannot, or should not build their “mosque” so close to Ground Zero because it would somehow defile the hallowed nature of Ground Zero is telling them that their mosque, their religion is so obnoxious that the mere building of a multi-purpose Center would desecrate the ground that has been hallowed by the suffering and deaths of thousands of innocent civilians (including Muslims) and hurt the feelings of the victims of 9/11 attacks.
It is saying that Islam is so offensive that while St.Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, St.Paul’s Chapel and even the profane structures and businesses mentioned earlier in this article, all closer than the Center, can be tolerated, a “mosque”, which will not even be visible from Ground Zero, is not acceptable anywhere near Ground Zero.
The opposition to the putting up of the Islamic Center is a slap in the face of the vast majority of Muslims in the US who follow and practice their religion peacefully. It is an assault on the deepest beliefs of millions of fellow Muslims in the US and millions more outside. As one commentator wrote: “It would be an unprecedented act of sectarianism, alienating an entire faith tradition from the American experiment”.
The opponents ignore the fact that many Muslim clerics and laymen have informed the US authorities about radical Imams and have thus helped the authorities in getting the offending mosques closed; they ignore, as President Obama pointed out, "Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings"; they ignore the fact that thousands of Muslims risked their lives and cooperated with the American troops in locating and rooting out Al-Qaida pockets in Iraq; they ignore the fact that thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan are, even as this is being written, putting their lives on the line and are actively engaged in helping the US and the international community in fighting Al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The protests amount to assigning collective guilt to the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims for 9/11, to Islam itself, for a deranged act of mass murder committed by a tiny heretical sect.
The Muslims who want to build this mosque did not fly airplanes into skyscrapers. They do not support terrorism. Hundreds of Muslims died on 9/11. New Yorkers of all faiths and no faiths died together. Muslim New Yorkers understand the horror of that day because they lived it. Terrorists attacked their city and their country, and terrorists have continued to threaten their city and their country. Many Muslims have worked with their fellow Americans to keep New York and US safe.
By what understanding do we assign guilt to all Muslims for the actions of a relative few?
Like the majority of American Christians or Jews, American Muslims are peaceful, disregarding out-dated or cruel laws that are there, just as Christians and Jews disregard such laws that also exist in Christianity and Judaism.
On the one hand we insist that our freedom of speech allows us to draw cartoons or produce plays that Muslims find offensive, and then demand that they be more sensitive to our feelings – and unfounded feelings at that!
On the one hand we deplore the fact that in many Arab countries it is extremely difficult to build a Church or a Synagogue, and take pride in the fact that we are different, and on the other hand we say “Do not build your mosque”!
The truth of the matter is that these protests are baseless, unjustified, completely unwarranted -- and dangerous. The opposition to the mosque is all about bigotry and intolerance. The campaign against this mosque is ugly and odious in the extreme. It is based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry, equates Islam with terrorism, lays, quite undeservedly and unjustifiably, 9/11 guilt on Muslims generally.
The protestors are engaged in collective vilification and incitement against Muslims in the United States, and they are doing it deliberately and for political and religious purposes.
The issue has been manufactured by the political and religious right in this country to incite hatred towards Muslims, which would in turn cause contempt for Democrats who support them, and lead to GOP victories at the polls.
We need to keep focused on the real issue. Let us remember who we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al-Qaida's cause is not Islam -- it's a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders – they are terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al-Qaida has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion – and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
That's what we must never forget about 9/11. This was never a war between us and the Muslim world. It's a war between us and al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida is fighting to claim Islam and shape it in its own terms. The promoters of the “Ground Zero Mosque” want to take back Islam from the clutches of Al-Qaida and build an Islam that loves America, embraces freedom, and preaches coexistence. They deserve to be helped rather than fought.
Those who are protesting the construction of the mosque are playing right into the hands of Al-Qaida, the radicals and militants who want to divide us, who hope to provoke conflict between the West and Islam. The protestors are creating grave problems at multiple levels.
Islamophobia is a disease that threatens to rent asunder the tender fabric of our country; it is a disease that would shake the very foundations of our country's cherished tradition of liberty and justice for all and undermine our country's freedom of religion.
Opposition to the Cordoba Center is bad for America in more ways than one.
We cannot ignore the fact that Muslims all over the world are paying close attention to what is being said and done here in respect of the building of the Center in lower Manhattan.
The opposition to the building of the Center is going to lead to much greater hate for America, increased terrorism and worsening balance of trade. It will drive moderate Muslims into the arms of radicals.
It will have repercussions in Afghanistan and Iraq and put American forces in those areas at greater risk.
Insulting our Muslim allies will only give Osama bin Laden a huge propaganda victory. Making the struggle against terrorism appear to be a war against Islam – exactly as he claims – would be a strategic disaster.
Mark Halperin of Time Magazine wrote an article suggesting that even though this is clearly a potent wedge issue that could be effective for Republicans, they should not use it. Why? He explains, "a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy."
In our national interest, out of security considerations and, more important, because it is the right thing to do, we must support rather than oppose the efforts of the promoters of the Cordoba Initiative to build their Center near Ground Zero.
The Center will establish this community as the place where the moderate Muslim voice condemns terrorism and works for new, peaceful, and harmonious relationships with all New Yorkers.
The Córdoba initiative brings exactly the opposite of terrorism or kamikaze pilots to the world. It represents the deep truths of Islam--the search for peace, the practice of compassion, the concern for profound dialogue.
We must open the door to deeper communication between all the religious and spiritual families of humankind--Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and all the others.
Imam Feisal has been a champion of pluralism and tolerance. He fully understands the enormity of 9/11. In fact his own congregation was only blocks away from Ground Zero.
Chris in DC has written a nice essay on this "debate". “The Cordoba House is deliberately, expressly, and unequivocally intended to stand for the diametric opposite of what the 9/11 attackers believed. It would stand for inclusion, reconciliation, and understanding across faiths and cultures. In fact, in many ways, the Muslim founders of the Cordoba House (and its imam) are the sorts of Muslims that bin Laden and his adherents hate most. They are cosmopolitan and modern. The Cordoba House itself will contain many earthly luxuries and pleasures. Its founders (and location) actively embrace multicultural, multi-sectarian, quintessentially modern New York City, and many of its proponents have happily lived in Southern Manhattan for decades.
“The Cordoba House, in other words, is not only separate and distinct from the identity and ideology of al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists, it is a direct repudiation ("refudiation," for Sarah Palin) of them. So the only way that someone could ever confuse the Cordoba Initiative with radical, militant Islam is if that person thought that Islam itself was inseparable from terrorism or terrorist sympathies. That, to me, is highly illuminating. And if a very small handful of radicals who call themselves believers in a religion can hijack that entire religion to stand for the terrible things the radicals do and believe, then, well, Christianity apparently stands for the murder of doctors, the preachings of David Koresh, the beliefs and deeds of Tim McVeigh, the goals of the Huntaree militia....”
It is fitting to close this article by reproducing what another commentator wrote: “All these objections rest on the premise that the 9/11 hijackers, by committing mass murder in the name of Islam, made Islam a religion of mass murder. To accept this equation is to give them the power to define the religion of 1 billion people. That -- not the rise of pro-American Islamic pluralism – is the conquest the masterminds of 9/11 sought. Don't let them have it”.
A parting thought: It is not the building of the Islamic Center but the opposition to it that is a victory for the radicals, the militants and the terrorists.
by Gulamhusein A. Abba
The bloody and dastardly attack, by Israeli forces, in international waters, under cover of darkness, on a peaceful and unarmed flotilla, carrying nothing but humanitarian aid to a besieged people experiencing a humanitarian crisis, was strongly denounced by people and governments from all over the world. Deservedly so.
Israel, instead of apologizing, or at least being contrite, immediately launched a brazen and aggressive campaign to justify its actions and paint the aid-bearers as the villains of the piece!
It spewed out the standard propaganda. It tried to demonize the aid-bearers by alleging, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that some of them had ties to terrorists; “accidentally” released a video mocking those attacked; widely circulated heavily edited and doctored photos and videos showing those on the flotilla “attacking” the Israeli commandos (but did not make public video images of the commandos just prior to or during the attack); claimed that those under attack had snatched two guns from the heavily armed and well trained commandos and fired the “snatched” guns at the commandos, who then fired back in self defense (!); and made several other ridiculous claims and allegations. It even alleged that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza!
Anticipating that there would be criticism of not only the disproportionate force used and the killing of nine passengers but of the blockade itself, Israel resorted to its old and tried “justification” – “What else can Israel do? It is surrounded by hostile Arab nations. Gaza is under the control of Hamas which has the elimination of Israel written in its charter and which has fired thousands of mortars into Israel. If Israel does not impose a blockade, arms will flow into Gaza and will be used to try and destroy Israel”.
All these claims are baseless and can be refuted through incontrovertible facts. But doing so here would be playing into an Israeli trap. Such controversies, arguments and debates are exactly what Israel wants. They serve to distract the readers and divert attention from the real issues.
When the criticism and denunciations kept growing, Israel damage control experts at last played their trump card to defuse the international backlash. Israel announced that it would be “easing” Gaza’s blockade. Details were skimpy and the “easing” applied only to the land blockade. The high seas remained off limits. Nevertheless, Israel’s announcement had the desired effect. There was immediate applause and Israel was praised for “taking a step in the right direction”.
Israel has perfected this technique. It thrusts a nine inch blade into the body of its victim. There is an international hue and cry. Israel defends its action. There is a debate in the international community and in the media. While the controversy and debate continues, the blade remains firmly embedded in the body for months, its victim bleeding the whole time. Then Israel withdraws three inches of the blade. The world applauds its action, ignoring the six inches of the blade that still remains buried deep in the body of Israel’s victim.
When the dust and the din has settled, Israel delivers another nine inch stab, only to repeat the whole process.
That is exactly what is happening here. The occupied territories are pockmarked with Israel’s stab wounds!
Though the belated awakening to Israel’s perfidious acts, as evidenced by the initial worldwide denunciation, is welcome, it ignored the real issues and continues to do so.
The crippling blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza – which is more for political than security reasons and which constitutes collective punishment on all – is unwarranted, unjustifiable and illegal and must be brought to an end.
Even more important is the fact that Israel, in spite of various UN resolutions, refuses to vacate its illegal and brutal 43-years-old occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Not to mention the fact that it has been for more than 60 years now dispossessing Palestinians of their homes and lands and turning them into refugees barred forever from returning to their homes!
Not only is Israel continuing this occupation but it is also making life a hell for the Palestinians living in the occupied territories. It has been setting up dozens of checkpoints; bulldozing homes; stealing land; uprooting olive and fruit orchards; throttling villages and towns by encircling them with a hideous wall; preventing relatives from visiting each other, students from going to schools, the sick from going to hospitals and clinics, farmers from attending to their farms, businessmen from going to their businesses; imposing curfews and closures; arresting (read “kidnapping”) people indiscriminately; shooting down innocent people; brutally repressing non-violent protests; crisscrossing the land with “for Israelis only” highways; assassinating at will through missile attacks and other means; bombing whole towns and refugee camps; holding thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails and torturing them.
It acts with impunity, not only in the occupied territories but worldwide; stealing and forging passports issued by friendly countries and using them to clandestinely send its operatives to other friendly, sovereign countries to carry out secret assassinations; knocking out reactors in foreign countries it suspects to be attempting to produce nuclear arsenal; provoking other countries to attack it and then invading and occupying territories it has no right to, bombing the ship of a friendly country anchored in waters off its coast, and on and on. Israel is an out-of-control loose cannon ball and it is time for the world community to muzzle it, hold it accountable, and compel it to behave like a law abiding civilized member of the international community. If Israel refuses to do so, the international community must treat it as the pariah nation that it has become and sever all connections with it and impose sanctions on it.
Perhaps this is expecting too much from the UN, divided and riddled with politics as it is. If the UN cannot or will not act, all nations that believe in justice, in the rule of law, in the inalienable right of a people to have their own government – all such nations must unilaterally impose sanctions on Israel, divest form it and boycott it totally.
But it is not only governments that can act. Each one of us, whether an individual or a corporation or a business, can and must do our part. Boycott Israel, its goods and its services; divest funds invested in Israeli stocks, bonds and ventures.
Israelis themselves must join in efforts to leash power drunk Israeli leaders at the helm of affairs in Israel. They are driving Israel to ruin, economically, politically and morally. Israelis need to save Israel from the currant Israeli government and those who constitute it.
The first step: The world community, which took prompt and decisive action to vacate Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, must now focus, not on promoting unending proximity talks or peace negotiations, but on making Israel vacate its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
An important development is taking place in Palestine which has so far gone relatively un-noticed. It has far reaching political and economic implications, ramifications and consequences which need careful study and analysis so as to help shape adequate strategies. The reference is to joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures (also known as joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zones) in West bank. On the face of it, they seem to be helpful to the Palestinians. But they have a sinister undercurrent.
Samah Sabawi, who was born in Gaza and is currently in Melbourne, brought this subject up in a paper she read on Tuesday, March 9 at Prince Philip Theater, University of Melbourne during the course of a forum organized by Australians for Palestine/ Women for Palestine.
She later wrote an article based on the paper she had read and this was published by Palestine Chronicle on March 10. The article deserves to be taken note of.
To read the article, see relevant phtographs (including one of the author) and also read a short bio of Samah Sabawi, please click here: http://defyingsilence.blogspot.com
Gulamhusein A. Abba, March 18, 2010
A shining symbol of unyielding resistance
By: Gulamhusein A. Abba, January 2010
"No meaningful action is in sight. Israel continues to throttle Gaza in its effort to topple Hamas. And Gaza still bleeds. In full view of the civilized world. But Gaza will never fall. Though bloodied, it has not been bowed and never will be. It embodies the essence of the struggle of free people against tyranny
Author's note: A year after Gaza suffered its worst bombardment, it is appropriate to chronicle all that Gaza has had to endure from its first acts of protesting the Israeli occupation , the blows that have been rained on it and the intrigues that were hatched against it. This is exactly what this article attempts to do. There is much to tell but even the abridged version is too long and so I have refrained from giving more details. Hope you find this informative. Save it as a reference source
Gaza! That small, beautiful but turbulent and besieged piece of land, just a little more than 40 km long, no more than 12 km wide, a little bigger than New Jersey, crammed with more than one and half million people, battered by wave after wave of Israeli incursions and bombardments, has been bloodied but remains unbowed, a proud symbol and a stirring example of unyielding resistance.
For long under the Ottoman Empire, it came under the British Mandate in 1920 and then, when the British left Palestine in 1948, and the ensuing war between Arab states and Israel came to an end in 1949, much of the Gaza Strip that was earmarked for an Arab state in the UN partition Plan was retained by Israel under the 1949 Armistice line. The rest of the Strip fell under Egyptian control.
Even this chopped up Gaza strip was occupied by Israel in 1967 (along with what is now the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan heights and the Sinai Peninsula). In 1979 Israel made peace with Egypt and returned the Sinai to it but retained what remained of the original Gaza Strip.
Since then, Gaza has been ravaged by Israel time and again.
Adequately capturing the pain and suffering, as also the bravery, the courage and the indomitable and unconquerable spirit of the Gazans, and effectively conveying them, can only be done by an artist, a poet, a visionary. Judging by the preview of his forthcoming book, Dom Martin, who combines in himself all the required qualifications, has wonderfully done.
However, to fully understand what the Palestinians have suffered it is necessary to know what exactly they have had to endure. To that task I have addressed myself here.
********** In 1987 the first revolt by the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation broke out. There were riots and strikes and violence throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Israel responded with tanks, tear gas, plastic bullets, and live ammunition against the stone throwing Palestinian youths.
Till that time Israel had favored the Muslim Brotherhood which was based in Gaza, and Gaza had refrained from attacks against Israel. But after the Intifada, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin created Hamas from the Gaza wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas quickly began attacks on Israeli military targets, and subsequently, Israeli civilians.
Apart from numerous incursions into Gaza, targeted assassinations ((including that of its 67 year old, wheelchair ridden, nearly blind, quadriplegic spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin in March, 2004) and imprisonment of its leaders, Israel has carried out major military operations in the area.
After demolishing 1800 homes in the largest and most densely populated refugee camp in Rafah (it was established in 1949 to provide shelter to 41,000 refugees), in May 2004 Israel launched "Operation Rainbow" on Rafah town and refugee camp. In seven days 45 Palestinians, 38 of them civilians, including nine children, had been killed, 134 civilians, including around 50 children, had been injured, dozens of Palestinian homes were destroyed, rendering hundreds of Palestinians homeless. Civilian infrastructure and facilities in the town and refugee camp were largely destroyed.
Just four months later, in September 2004, Israel initiated another military assault, "Days of Penitence", deploying about 2,000 Israeli troops, with 200 tanks and armored vehicles. According to a UNRWA report, approximately 36,000 Palestinians in different locations were under siege, many thousands of civilians were unable to leave their homes, as fighting raged around them. An additional 4,000 persons fled their homes in the affected areas. 107 Palestinians were killed and 431 injured, from rocket attacks, machine-gun and sniper fire. Twenty five per cent of those killed were aged 18 years or under. One of Gaza's bloodiest days since the start of the Intifada, the assault was directed at Jabaliya refugee camp, home to more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees. Under the pretext of creating a 9-km "buffer zone" around the refugee camp, Israel leveled dozens of Palestinian homes and acres of agricultural land were destroyed. There were reports that the residents were given just minutes to gather their belongings and leave. They carried on their head in a bundle the little they could save.
The stated aim of the Israeli operation was to prevent the firing of homemade Palestinian rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. It is relevant to point out here that just four Israeli citizens had been killed by these rockets in several months preceding the Israeli operation in Gaza.
The latest deaths in Gaza brought the total of Palestinians killed in Gaza since the start of the first Intifada to 1796, with another 12, 600 injured.
On August17, 2005 about 14,000 Israeli soldiers started the first forced evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip as part of the disengagement plan which the Israeli government had adopted. Under the plan the Israel government would evacuate all Israeli settlers from the Strip and deploy all Israeli forces stationed in the Strip to other areas.
This was presented to the world as a very difficult and painful decision which the Israeli government had taken, a great sacrifice which it was making as a first step towards the creation of a Palestinian State. It was made to appear that this was a gift to the Gazans who were being "liberated" and were being granted independence.
In truth it was nothing of the sort. The shrewd Ariel Sharon, the then Prime Minister of Israel had realized that the achievement of Eretz Yisraeel, with Judea and Samaria and all the land west of the Jordan, would pose a huge problem for Israel. The demographic reality was that in such an Israel the Arab population would soon surpass the Jewish population. If Israel was to retain its Jewishness it would then have to either become an apartheid state or ethnically cleanse the land of the Arab population. None of these options was viable. The only solution was to divest Israel of areas that were densely populated by Arabs and declare that the aggregate of these disjointed areas was the Palestinian State!
Another factor was that Hamas had made it very difficult and costly for Israel to protect the Israeli settlements and the settlers in Gaza. A huge military presence in the Strip was required for this purpose and the Israeli public was chafing at the expense. Furthermore, Israel needed these forces to consolidate their hold in the West Bank. Gaza was expendable to the Israelis.
Sharon had chosen unilateralism over negotiations and agreement with the Palestinians. As such, the "disengagement" was unilateral rather than as a result of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as ultimately the divestment of parcels of land densely populated by the Palestinians and declaration of them constituting the Palestinian state was intended to be.
Far from "liberating" the Gazans and making them independent, Israel put a tight noose round Gaza and turned it into a vast open air prison with more than one and a half million Gazans trapped within a tiny 140 square miles. Israel has guarded and monitored the external land perimeter of the Gaza Strip, continues to maintain exclusive authority in Gaza air space, continues to exercise security activity in the sea off the coast of the Gaza Strip, and has the Egyptians seal off its border with Gaza. Israel also reserves "its inherent right of self defense, both preventive and reactive, including where necessary the use of force, in respect of threats emanating from the Gaza Strip"
Nor was there any sacrifice on the part of Israel. Gaza was, under the UN partition plan, to be a part of a Palestinian State. It was never intended to be a part of Israel. Israel occupied it in 1967 and was in illegal possession thereof. Even if it was handing Gaza over to the Palestinians, it would be merely returning what it was not its to keep.
As for the settlers that were forcibly evacuated, it could not but be traumatic for them. This writer, along with the rest of the world, felt great sorrow for them. But it must be remembered that they had taken up residence there knowing that the title to the land was far from clear and that it indeed belonged to someone else. Also, they were fully compensated, were provided with alternate accommodation and were transported from their homes in buses provided by the Israeli government. Unlike thousands of Palestinians who were made homeless by the Israeli government.
Gazans had suspected that the Israeli settlers were being evacuated to give Israel a free hand for carpet bombing of Gaza. And sure enough, barely a month after the disengagement, Gazans awoke to the deafening sonic booms created by Israeli jetfighters soaring above the Strip. True no bombs were dropped. But these sonic booms are a punishment in themselves. Surely if the Israeli settlers had not been evacuated, Israeli warplanes would not be ripping through the Gazan airspace so repeatedly and at the most sensitive times, when every human being was sleeping. Add to them the 24/7 noise of the drones that hover over Gaza and you get a picture of what the Gazans endured.
In January 2006 the Palestinians held their Parliamentary elections. In a fair and democratic election, certified to be so by international observers, with a turnout of 77%, Hamas scored a surprise landslide victory over Fatah, capturing 44.5 per cent of the votes cast, against 41.3percent won by Fatah. It obtained 74 of the 132 Parliamentary seats while Fatah got 45. In Ramallah, Hamas won every parliamentary seat except the one reserved for a Christian. It took almost all of the 16 constituencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Particularly remarkable was its success in the Jerusalem district, where the group won all four seats allocated for Muslim candidates . In Hebron it took all its nine seats.
Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council. In the race for the 66 national seats, Hamas got 29 and Fatah 28. Four parties shared the remaining seats.
The rules required President Abbas, who had threatened to resign if Hamas blocked his political program, to invite the largest party in parliament to form the next cabinet
The January 25 elections, an unprecedented turning point for politics, stunned U.S. and Israeli officials.
Hamas and the Gazans (Gaza is the stronghold of Hamas) were jubilant. But this jubilation did not last long. The victory at the polls brought only further misery to them
The US and the EU were, to put it mildly, not pleased at the results of the election Though it was they who had been pressuring PA to hold fair and free elections, they were opposed to accepting the result of the election. They immediately started putting pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas to use his authority to cripple Hamas power in the Parliament.
Since Gaza and Hamas are linked so closely together that they have almost become synonymous and since Israeli and American pressure on the PA was meant to effect the elimination of Hamas from the government to which it had won a right through the elections, it is relevant to here also mention in brief the actions taken by Israel, the US and EU towards achieving this goal. Israel stopped fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority and withheld the tax it collected on behalf of the PA. This amounted to millions of dollars.
President George W. Bush demanded that Mahmoud Abbas return USD 50 million he received in aid from the U.S.
The United States and its allies placed three demands on the new Palestinian government: that it recognize Israel's right to exist; that it affirm its commitment to all international agreements concluded by its predecessor, the Fatah Party; and that it renounce violence. President George W. Bush and the leaders of the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, the so-called Quartet, stressed that they would not work diplomatically with the new Palestinian government if it did not meet these demands. The United States and the EU also threatened to withhold economic aid, and Israel threatened to block its provision.
When Hamas refused to accept the "three demands", the US and other donor countries, including Canada, the EU and Japan shut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, depriving it of the means to pay salaries and meet its annual budget of roughly $2 billion.
Israel clamped down on Palestinians' freedom of movement, especially into and out of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip. The closure of the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza from January 15 to February 4, 2006 and then from February 22 onwards had a devastating effect on food availability in the Gaza Strip. Stocks of wheat flour were critically low and soon thereafter no basic commodities were available in Gaza
On Tuesday, the 14th of March 2006 the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) stormed the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) detention center in Jericho. The aim was to seize six detainees wanted by Israel, in particular Ahmed Sa'adat, claimed to be the mastermind behind the killing of the Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi, in 2001, together with Fuad Shubaki, wanted by Israel on charges of smuggling weapons into Palestine, and four others.
In this nine hour long operation the Israeli Military used helicopters, tanks and bulldozers. Missiles and tank shells were fired. Two guards were killed and at least eight others were wounded. The seized detainees were subjected to degrading treatment, being stripped to their underwear and blindfolded. The prison's premises were destroyed.
The six detainees wanted by Israel for the killing of Ze'evi were being held by the PA in Jericho prison under the 2002 Ramallah Agreement signed by the PA, Israel, UK and the US..
There is indication that the US and the British were complicit in this brazen violation by Israel. The prison was protected also by US and British monitors. These monitors left Jericho on the morning of the 14th of March 2006, leaving the prison exposed to the Israeli raid.
By March 19, 2006 there was a food crisis in Gaza
From June 1 to June 7, 2006 Israel carried out mock air raids over Gaza to terrorize the population. It fired missiles at uninhabited areas, sent planes flying low over densely populated civilian areas. And it killed Palestinians!
On June 1, Israeli gunboats shot at Gaza's coast and wounded two Palestinian children playing on the beach; On June 3, it injured two Palestinian children inside their homes and a middle aged Palestinian man; On June 5 it killed two Palestinian civilians through a missile strike aimed at a car carrying Palestinian militants; On June 7 it killed two Palestinians and injured another through artillery shells fired at them as they attempted to enter Israel through the fence.
On Friday, June 9, 2006, at about 4pm, an Israeli naval boat stationed off the coast of Beit Lahya in Gaza fired seven successive artillery shells at civilians on the beach crowded with men, women and children. Seven civilians from the same family (father, mother and five children) were killed as also another civilian.Thirty-two civilians, including thirteen children, were injured.
On the same day, three more Palestinian civilians lost their lives, killed by an Israeli missile that had been fired at a car. This near Jabalya.
Then, just four days later, on 13 June, Israel struck again, this time on a Gazan highway, killing eleven and injuring thirty. It also fired on a funeral procession, wounding three fifteen- year olds.
On June 20, Israel attempted to carry out a targeted assassination. The attempt failed in its objective but killed three Palestinian children and wounded 15 others.
On June 21 Israel carried out another missile attack. It missed its target but hit a home and killed a Palestinian man and his pregnant sister and injured four Palestinian civilians and seven children. In addition three adults and a ten year old child were injured near the house.
After giving the Gazans a taste of what was to come, Israel topped this activity by launching a full scale invasion of Gaza on June 27, 2006, under the code name of "Operation Summer Rain"
The then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not shy about telling the world about what Israel wanted to do. With tongue in cheek he said that the aim was "not to mete out punishment but rather to apply pressure so that the abducted soldier (Gilad Shalit) will be freed. We want to create a new equation - freeing the abducted soldier in return for lessening the pressure on the Palestinians." (emphasis mine)
And this is the "pressure" that was applied.
On the first day of the assault Israeli fighter planes carried out three airstrikes on Gazan bridges in the morning. This was followed by strikes against Gazan power plants in the afternoon. Gaza sank into darkness. Israeli forces in the meantime had commenced moving into Gaza to take control of the open areas east of Rafah
The Gaza International Airport and the Islamic University were hit.
On June 29, 2006 Israel seized and detained 64 members of the Hamas party, including eight Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers - a third of the Palestinian cabinet - Legislative Council members, ministers and mayors, making it impossible for the new PA government to function.
. On June 30 Israel, which had started its offensive against Gaza in December, started its bombardment phase. Israeli warplanes and gunboats struck more than a dozen times in Gaza in the hours after midnight, pounding more than 40 Hamas targets and a mosque, where 10 persons were killed. Roads and open fields were bombarded. The Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza City was struck. Three missiles hit the office of Khaled Abu Ilal, an Interior Ministry official.
On July 6, 2006, the IDF reoccupied three former Israeli settlements in northern Gaza. Strip. Additional forces entered a nearby Palestinian town.
During the conflict, 5 Israeli soldiers were killed (including two in the initial Palestinian cross-border attack, and one in a friendly fire incident). Six Israeli civilians were killed and nearly 40 wounded.
Early during the assault all border crossings in and out of Gaza were shut.
The public health, safety and environmental hazards stemming from the damage caused to infrastructure as a result of this military operation included water shortages, contaminated remaining drinking water, uncontrolled discharge and untreated sewage flowing in the streets resulting in groundwater pollution, pollution of agricultural land , making it impossible for Gazans to cultivate to harvest crops. All this not only had a severe negative impact on their earning, but also posed a grave threat to the health and safety of the Gazans.
As recorded by the PCHR in its report dated Sept 10, 2006, the outcome of the military action since 25 June 2006 was:
? 257 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 49 children and 12 women, have been killed by IOF
? At least 954 Palestinian civilians, including 272 children and 31 women, have been wounded by the IOF gunfire.
? At least 248 air-to-surface missiles and hundreds of artillery shells have been fired at Palestinian civilian and military targets in the Gaza Strip.
? Buildings of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National economy, the office of the Palestinian Prime Minister and a number of educational institutions have been destroyed.
? The electricity generation plant, providing 45% of the electricity of the Gaza Strip, was destroyed, and electricity networks and transmitters have been repeatedly attacked.
? 6 bridges linking Gaza City with the central Gaza Strip and a number of roads have been destroyed.
? Hundreds of donums ( according to Wikipedia encyclopedia, "a dunam or dönüm, dunum, donum is a unit of area used in the Ottoman Empire and still used, in various standardized versions, in many countries formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. It was defined as "forty standard paces in length and breadth", but varied considerably from place to place"). of agricultural land and dozens of houses have been destroyed.
? Hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including 9 ministers and 31 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Secretary, have been arrested. Minster of Prisoners' Affairs, Minister of Labor and Second Deputy Speaker of the PLC were released.
? The Palestinian governmental compound in Nablus has been destroyed.
? Many families in Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia have been forced to leave their houses.
? IOF intelligence has warned some Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip by phone to evacuate their houses, which would be attacked.
? 40 houses belonging to activists of Palestinian factions were destroyed by IOF warplanes.
? IOF have imposed a strict siege on the OPT, and have isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.
Hardly had "Operation Summer Rain" ended when, on November 1, 2006 Israel commenced another military operation, this time calling it "Operation Autumn Clouds"!!
Starting on November1, in the first two days alone it killed 15 Palestinians, including at least 4 civilians, and wounded at least 50, including 15 children and 3 women. The Israelis announced an end of the operation on November 7.
However, on November 8, 2006, Israeli forces fired successively 10 to 12 shells at a Beit Hanoun residential street resulting in eighteen Palestinian civilians - most of them women and children from the same family -- being killed. The victims were trying to flee a barrage of Israeli artillery shells fired on and around the house where they had been sleeping minutes earlier.
The Gazans, who had just buried 55 of their fellowmen after a week-long offensive in Beit Hanoun, were stunned.
In a day-long meeting of the Security Council on November 9, called jointly by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement, more than 40 speakers expressed grave concern at the mounting humanitarian toll, with many demanding an immediate ceasefire and deployment of United Nations observers.
A ceasefire was declared on November 26, 2006.
On December 9, 2006 the PLO Executive Committee recommended early elections.
On December 14, 2006, Ismail Haniya was denied entry to Gaza from Egypt at the Rafah border crossing. Haniya was returning to Gaza from his first official trip abroad as prime minister in the PA government and was reported to have an estimated 30 million US dollars meant for the PA government. A gun battle between Hamas and the Palestinian Presidential Guard was reported at the Rafah border crossing. When Haniya later attempted to cross the border, an exchange of gunfire left one bodyguard dead. Haniya's eldest son was wounded. Hamas denounced the attack as an attempt by Fatah on Haniya's life. Firefights broke out between the two factions.
On Dec 16 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for new elections. This was viewed by Hamas as a bid to undermine the government which was formed following January's legislative elections and which was being led by Haniya as Prime Minister.
On 25 February 2007, Israel launched a wide-scale military attack on Nablus in the West Bank and on neighboring refugee camps and villages, torpedoing efforts to get the stalled peace process back on track. About 50,000 Palestinians were placed under curfew. Soldiers conducted house-to-house searches and residents were ordered to stay indoors.
Though this did not directly affect Gaza, it was the largest raid on Nablus in several years. It created havoc and large scale destruction. And Gazans, who are Palestinians first, suffered in agony
Gaza's turn was next. On May 16, 2007 Israel, claiming that it was acting to halt the launching of home made rockets at Israeli towns, launched a massive attack on Gaza already reeling under constant attacks. By May 2007, 50 Palestinians had been killed and 206 injured, 71 houses were destroyed in the course of the latest attack. During the same time period, two Israeli civilians were killed and several more had been injured by the Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip It is relevant to here remember that between 25 June 2006 and the truce that came into force at the end of November 2006, over 400 Palestinians (including 90 children) were killed and some 1,500 (including over 300 children) injured. During the same period three Israeli soldiers were killed and 18 wounded, and two Israeli civilians were killed and some 30 injured in Sderot by Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians from Gaza.
With Hamas showing no signs of capitulating, Israel further tightened the noose around Gaza's neck by closing the Rafah Crossing on June 9, 2007. This crossing was the only point of entry into and exit from Gaza. Its closure put Gaza under siege.
At one point as many as 6,000 Palestinians were stranded at the Egyptian border, waiting for the closure to be lifted so they could return to their homes and families in Gaza.
Also, in June, 2007 Hamas learnt, through a report published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that Abbas and a US commander had asked Israel to authorize a huge arms shipment by Egypt, including armored cars, armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Hamas viewed this as preparation for a massive attack on it by Fatah. It decided it was time to take defensive action before it was too late. Determined to foil what it believed on evidence was an American-Fatah plot to subvert the decision of the people democratically expressed, it launched operations against Fatah forces in Gaza and, within a week or so, Fatah forces were routed. Hamas was in full control of Gaza. Abbas's writ no longer ran in Gaza.
This has been portrayed by Israel, the US and some European powers as a Coup d'Etat by Hamas. In truth it was a counter coup by Hamas. It is important to understand this and towards this end a little digression is necessary here. It will help illustrate the extent of intrigue between Israel, the US and Fatah to deny Hamas its legitimate rights.
When Abbas began holding talks with Hamas to try and establish a "unity government", Condoleezza Rice personally met Abbas on October 4, 2006 and demanded that he dissolve the new government dominated by Hamas as soon as possible and hold fresh elections.
After several weeks, with no evidence of Abbas doing her bidding, Jake Walles, the US consul general in Jerusalem, went to Ramallah and delivered an ultimatum to the Palestinian president: Ask Hamas to accede to the demands of the Quartet and if it fails to do so, declare a state of emergency and form an emergency government without Hamas.
Instead of doing that, Abbas accepted Saudi King Abdullah's invitation and, on February 6, 2007 went to Mecca to meet with Hamas and formally establish a national unity government. In a couple of days an agreement was reached, without Hamas accepting the Quartet's "three demands"! The clincher was the promise made by the Saudis to pay the Palestinian Authority's salary bills
The US then redoubled its pressure on the PA. It asked Abbas to demand that Hamas accept Quartet's demands, and, if it refused, dismiss the government and either call early elections or impose an emergency government. It also impressed on Abbas the need to maintain "independent control of key security forces." and "avoid Hamas integration with these services, while eliminating the Executive Force or mitigating the challenges posed by its continued existence."
In parallel to these efforts, the US also pursued a covert initiative it had launched to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan (Fatah's strong man in Gaza) and armed with new weapons supplied at America's behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.
A portion of the plan was leaked and published in a Jordanian newspaper. Hamas became aware of it and regarded the plan, quite understandably, to be a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup
In mid-May 2007, 500 Fatah National Security Forces recruits arrived, fresh from training in Egypt and equipped with brand new rifles with telescopic sights and vehicles. In June, as satetd earlier, Hamas learnt, through a report published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Abbas and a US commander had asked Israel to authorize a huge arms shipment by Egypt, including armored cars, armor-piercing rockets, thousands of hand grenades, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Hamas decided it was time to take defensive action before it was too late. Determined to foil what it believed on evidence was an American-Fatah plot to subvert the decision of the people democratically expressed, it launched operations against Fatah forces in Gaza in June 2007 and, within a week or so, Fatah forces were routed. Hamas was in full control of Gaza. Abbas's writ no longer ran in Gaza.
In June,2007 Abbas split with Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and declared a state of emergency. Abbas dissolved the government and named Salam Fayyad as the new prime minister, but Haniya vowed to carry on.
To continue the narrative:
On September 19, 2007 Israel declared the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity." The justification given was once more the firing of rockets from Gaza. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice immediately backed the declaration. There followed a series of collective punishment measures which crippled Gaza's already non-existing economy. Importing of basic needs, including medicine, was denied. Exports were severely limited. Fuel supplies were cut. Movement of people out of and into Gaza, including those in need of urgent medical care, was halted.
On 15 January, 2008, in a raid by Israel, nineteen Palestinians were killed, including the son of Hamas head Mahmoud al-Zahar, three farmers and a student.
On January 17, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the total closure of the Gaza Strip. Power supply and fuel to Gaza were also cut.
The residents of Gaza are mainly food aid-dependent refugees. With the total closure of the Strip and cutting off of power supply and fuel to Gaza, a major disaster soon developed.
On June 19, 2008 a 26 week Egyptian brokered truce between Hamas and Israel was announced. Under its terms, Israel was to halt its incursions into Gaza, and Hamas was to stop the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. Israel agreed to also ease its blockade on Gaza if the truce held. Further talks on prisoner exchange were also envisaged. The truce was to last till December 19.
Hamas adhered to the terms of the truce. Though a few rogue elements in Gaza did fire some rockets into Israel during the truce (about 500 rockets were fired during the period, most of them after Israel broke the truce on November 5), Hamas honored the truce and enforced it on its cadres (even Israel's intelligence agencies acknowledged this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness).
The truce was going well for Israel. From the beginning of 2008 till June19 Hamas fired 2660 projectiles into Israel. From June 19, when the truce started, till November 4, only 65 rockets had been fired. Israel itself admitted that during the truce period there was a significant reduction of shells being lobbed into Israel.
But it was not going so well for Gaza. The promised easing of the blockade by Israel never materialized. What is more, Israel chose to violate the truce. On November 4, 2008 under the pretext of stopping a "ticking" tunnel, Israel executed six Palestinians in Gaza.
Not withstanding this, even before the truce expired on December 19, Hamas sought, through the good offices of Egypt and others, to extend the truce. Israel refused.
Determined to bring Gaza to its knees, Israel, unleashed its cruelest offensive against Gaza under the code name of Operation Cast Lead. On December 27 Israel began its bombardment on Gaza and then on January, 2009 it began its ground offensive. The assault lasted for 22 days. During this period more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. There was shelling from every side, from air, sea and land. White phosphorous was rained on Gazans. On the first day itself, more than 100 tons of bombs were dropped on this tiny, beleaguered strip of land. Entire families were wiped out. Much of Gaza was reduced to rubble.
Though the above is a long report, it does not even begin to record the trials and tribulations of the people of Gaza. And it does not convey the emotional and psychological impact all this has had on the Gazans. It was not meant to. The purpose here is to lend context to what Dom Martin and others have so effectively expressed in their images and poetry.
Most regrettably, the saga continues. The International Community, which galvanized itself into fast and telling action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait (which once was its province) and not only drove the occupying Iraqi army out of Kuwait but chased it almost into the heart of Iraq, leaving a trail of warped and burnt tanks, armored vehicles and men - this same community, in the case of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and its stranglehold on Gaza, has stood idly by during Israel's more than 40 years of brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories. It assuages its conscience by giving millions in aid - to feed the impoverished Gazans (who would not need any aid if only they were allowed to go about their business without Israeli restrictions and bombardments and allowed to import and export freely) and rebuild what Israel goes on reducing to rubble whatever is rebuilt! By doing this the International Community does no favor to the Gazans. It merely perpetuates Israeli tyranny and becomes complicit in it.
Of late the international community is becoming increasingly reluctant to pour in money to rebuild what they know Israel will destroy again by its precision bombs and missiles. Notwithstanding this, at the donors' conference in Egypt last March the international community once more pledged billions of dollars to rebuild what Israel destroyed in Gaza in its 2008/09 war on Gaza. But this time no rebuilding can take place because Israel has put a blockade against any material coming into Gaza. According to international aid agencies, only 41 trucks of building supplies have been allowed into Gaza during the year.
Former president of US Jimmy Carter has recently recounted that he has seen "homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza." He has gone on to state "The US and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action….. The cries of homeless and freezing people demand immediate relief….We cannot wait any longer… It is time to face the fact that, for the past 30 years, no one nation has been able or willing to break the impasse and induce the disputing parties to comply with international law…. Israel has long argued that it cannot negotiate with terrorists, yet has had an entire year without terrorism and still could not negotiate. President Obama has promised active involvement of the US government, but no formal peace talks have begun and no comprehensive framework for peace has been proposed. Individually and collectively, the world powers must act".
But no meaningful action is in sight. Israel continues to throttle Gaza in its effort to topple Hamas. And Gaza still bleeds. In full view of the civilized world. But Gaza will never fall. Though bloodied, it has not been bowed and never will be. It embodies the essence of the struggle of free people against tyranny.
In the end, it is Israel that will go the way of all tyrannies and Gaza will forever be a shining symbol of unyielding resistance against overwhelming and unceasing force, an example for all time to all the oppressed people all over the world as to how to rid the world of oppression.
Please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU5Wi2jhnW0