[News] Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 22 14:25:38 EST 2009

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the 
side of the oppressor.
- Archbishop Desmund Tutu

Sharpeville 1960, Gaza 2009

Dr. Haidar Eid, The Electronic Intifada, 22 January 2009


"Where can I bring him a father from? Where can I bring him a mother 
from? You tell me!"

These are the desperate words of Subhi Samuni to Al-Jazeera's Gaza 
correspondent. Subhi lost 17 members of his immediate family, 
including the parents of his seven-year-old grandson. Shockingly, 
even as I write this article, corpses of the Samuni family are still 
being retrieved from under the rubble -- 15 days after the Israeli 
occupation forces shelled the two houses. The Israeli army locked 120 
members of the family in one house for 12 hours before they shelled it.

Subhi's words echo the harsh reality of all Palestinians in Gaza: 
alone, abandoned, hunted down, brutalized, and, like Subhi's 
grandson, orphaned. Twenty-two days of savage butchery took the lives 
of more than 1,300 Palestinians, at least 85 percent of them 
civilians, including 434 children, 104 women, 16 medics, four 
journalists, five foreigners, and 105 elderly people.

What can one say to comfort a man who has the harrowing task of 
having to bury his entire family, including his wife, his sons, his 
daughters and his grandchildren? Tell us and we will relay your words 
to Uncle Subhi because his loss has made our words of condolences 
meaningless to our ears.

Think also of words you want to say to 70-year-old Rashid Muhammad, 
whose 44-year-old son Samir was executed with a single bullet to the 
heart in front of his wife and children. The Israeli army refused to 
let an ambulance pick up his corpse for 11 days so his family had to 
wait for the assault to stop before they could bury him. Rashid had 
the excruciatingly painful experience of looking at, touching, 
kissing, and then burying the decomposed body of his son. Tell this 
family how to make sense of their harsh reality -- say something to 
make the children sleep, to ease the anguish in the father's heart, 
to help the wife understand why her husband had to be taken from her.

You might prefer to talk to 14-year-old Amira Qirm, whose house in 
Gaza City was shelled with artillery and phosphorous bombs -- bombs 
which burnt to death three members of her immediate family: her 
father, her 12-year-old brother, Alaa, and her 11-year-old sister, 
Ismat. Alone, injured and terrified, Amira crawled 500 meters on her 
knees to a house close by -- it was empty because the family had fled 
when the Israeli attack began. She stayed there for four days, 
surviving only on water, and listening to the sounds of the Israeli 
killing machine all around her, too afraid to cry out in pain in case 
the soldiers heard her. When the owner of the house returned to get 
clothes for his family, he found Amira, weak and close to death. She 
is now being treated for her injuries in the overcrowded and 
under-resourced al-Shifa Hospital.

You can try to comfort 10-year-old Muhammad Samuni who was found 
lying next to the bodies of his mother and siblings, five days after 
they were killed. He would tell you what he has been telling everyone 
-- that his brother woke suddenly after being asleep for a long time. 
His brother told him that he was hungry, asked for a tomato to eat 
and then died. Are there any other 10-year-olds in the world who are 
asked to carry this experience around with them for the rest of their 
lives? Of course not -- this "privilege" is reserved just for 
Palestinian children because they were born on the land that Israel 
wants for itself. But it is these traumatized children who will deny 
Israel what it wants because their very survival is a challenge to 
that apartheid state. It is these same children who will surely 
inherit Palestine: it is their birthright and no assault can change 
that fact -- not today, not ever.

And through it all we were subjected to Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign 
minister, adamant in her defense of the world's most "moral" army. 
"We don't target civilians" she lied. "We don't want the Palestinians 
to leave Gaza. We just want them to move within Gaza itself!" Israeli 
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert too had something to say to Palestinians 
in Gaza: "We are not your enemy. Hamas is your enemy."

Amira, Muhammad, Rashid, Subhi and the more than 40,000 families 
whose houses have been demolished know differently. Those people who 
rushed to the cemetery after it was bombed and found the body parts 
of their dead relatives exposed to the elements know differently. 
They know that they were deliberately targeted because they are 
Palestinian. All the rest is propaganda to appease the conscience of 
those with Palestinian blood on their hands -- those who are both 
inside and outside Israel.

For 22 long days and dark nights, Palestinians in Gaza were left 
alone to face one of the strongest armies in the world -- an army 
that has hundreds of nuclear warheads, thousands of trigger-happy 
soldiers armed with Merkava tanks, F-16s, Apache helicopters, naval 
gunships and phosphorous bombs. Twenty-two sleepless nights, 528 
hours of constant shelling and shooting, every single minute 
expecting to be the next victim.

During these 22 days, while morgues overflowed and hospitals 
struggled to treat the injured, Arab regimes issued tons of 
statements, condemned and denounced and held one meaningless press 
conference after another. They even held two summits, the first one 
convened 19 full days after the assault on Gaza began and the second 
one the day after Israel had declared a unilateral ceasefire!

The official Arab position vis-a-vis the Palestinians since 1948, 
with the exception of the progressive nationalist era (1954-1970) has 
been a lethal cocktail of cowardice and hypocrisy. Their latest 
collective failure to break the two-year old Israeli siege of the 
Gaza Strip and their lack of action to support Palestinians under 
brutal military assault must be questioned.

Arabs must demand answers from the spineless Arab League because 
there was no brotherly solidarity shown to Gazans during the Israeli 
assault. There was no pan-Arabism evident in their platitudes. Some, 
shockingly, even found it an appropriate time to blame Palestinians 
for the situation they found themselves in, instead of demanding that 
Israel stop its merciless assault.

In Gaza today, we wonder how the expressions of support for us in the 
streets of Arab capitals can be translated into action in the absence 
of democracy. We wonder whether Arab citizens of despotic regimes can 
nonviolently change the system. We torment ourselves with trying to 
discern the means that are currently available for democratic 
political change. With the ongoing massacre in Gaza, and the 
construction of an apartheid system in Palestine (in all of historic 
Palestine, including the areas occupied by Israel in 1967), we know 
that to survive, we must have the support and solidarity of our Arab 
brothers and sisters. We saw the Arab people rise to that challenge 
and stand by us for 22 days but we did not see their leaders behind them.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa said, "If you are neutral in 
situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." 
The UN, EU, Arab League and the international community by and large 
have remained silent in the face of atrocities committed by Apartheid 
Israel. They are therefore on the side of Israel. Hundreds of dead 
corpses of children and women have failed to convince them to act. 
This is what every Palestinian knows today -- whether on the streets 
of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank or refugee camps in the Diaspora.

We are, therefore, left with one option; an option that does not wait 
for the United Nations Security Council, Arab Summits, or 
Organization of Islamic Conference to convene: the option of people's 
power. This remains the only power capable of counteracting the 
massive power imbalance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The horror of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa was 
challenged with a sustained campaign of boycott, divestment and 
sanctions initiated in 1958 and given new urgency in 1960 after the 
Sharpeville Massacre. This campaign led ultimately to the collapse of 
white rule in 1994 and the establishment of a multi-racial, democratic state.

Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions 
has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2009, like Sharpeville 
1960, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe 
in a common humanity. Now is the time to boycott the apartheid 
Israeli state, to divest and to impose sanctions against it. This is 
the only way to ensure the creation of a secular, democratic state 
for all in historic Palestine.

This is the only answer to Uncle Subhi's puzzling questions: it is 
the only way to give his grandson a future, a life of dignity and 
equality, a life with both peace and justice, because like all 
children, he deserves nothing less.

Haidar Eid teaches English literature in Gaza City. He is also a 
political commentator and activist.

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