[News] Notre Dame of Gaza: Our mosques and churches are also burning

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 24 10:45:22 EDT 2019

  Notre Dame of Gaza: Our mosques and churches are also burning

April 24, 2019
By: Ramzy Baroud - http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=783305

As the 300-foot spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris tragically 
came tumbling down on live television, my thoughts ventured to Nuseirat 
Refugee Camp, my childhood home in the Gaza Strip.

Then, also on television, I watched as a small bulldozer hopelessly 
clawed through the rubble of my neighborhood mosque. 
I grew up around that mosque. I spent many hours there with my 
grandfather, Mohammed, a refugee from historic Palestine. Before grandpa 
became a refugee, he was a young Imam in a small mosque in his 
long-destroyed village of Beit Daras.

Mohammed and many in his generation took solace in erecting their own 
mosque in the refugee camp as soon as they arrived to the Gaza Strip in 
late 1948. The new mosque was first made of hardened mud, but was 
eventually remade with bricks, and later concrete.

He spent much of his time there, and when he died, his old, frail body 
was taken to the same mosque for a final prayer, before being buried in 
the adjacent Martyrs Graveyard.

When I was still a child, he used to hold my hand as we walked together 
to the mosque during prayer times. When he aged, and could barely walk, 
I, in turn, held his hand.

But Al-Masjid al-Kabir - the Great Mosque, later renamed Al-Qassam 
Mosque - was completely pulverized by Israeli missiles during the summer 
war on Gaza, starting July 8, 2014.

Hundreds of Palestinian houses of worship were targeted by the Israeli 
military in previous wars, most notably in 2008-9 and 2012. But the 2014 
war was the most brutal 
and most destructive yet. Thousands were killed and more injured. 
Nothing was immune to Israeli bombs. According to Palestine Liberation 
Organization records 
63 mosques were completely destroyed and 150 damaged in that war alone, 
oftentimes with people seeking shelter 
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28468526> inside. In the 
case of my mosque, two bodies were recovered after a long, agonizing 
search. They had no chance of being rescued. If they survived the deadly 
explosives, they were crushed by the massive slabs of concrete.

In truth, concrete, cements, bricks and physical structures don't carry 
much meaning on their own. We give them meaning. Our collective 
experiences, our pains, joys, hopes and faith make a house of worship 
what it is.

Many generations of French Catholics have assigned the Notre Dame 
Cathedral with its layered meanings and symbolism since the 12th century.

While the fire consumed the oak roof and much of the structure, French 
citizens and many around the world watched in awe. It is as if the 
memories, prayers and hopes of a nation that is rooted in time were 
suddenly revealed, rising, all at once, with the pillars of smoke and fire.

But the very media that covered the news of the Notre Dame fire seemed 
oblivious to the obliteration of everything we hold sacred in Palestine 
as, day after day, Israeli war machinery continues to blow up, bulldoze 
and desecrate.

It is as if our religions are not worthy of respect, despite the fact 
that Christianity was born in Palestine. It was there that Jesus roamed 
the hills and valleys of our historic homeland teaching people about 
peace, love and justice. Palestine is also central to Islam. Haram 
al-Sharif, where al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock are kept, is 
the third holiest site for Muslims everywhere. Yet Christian and Muslim 
holy sites are besieged, often raided <http://www.maannews.com/often> 
and shut down 
per military diktats. Moreover, the Israeli army-protected messianic 
Jewish extremists want to demolish 
Al-Aqsa and the Israeli government has been digging 
underneath its foundation for many years.

Although none of this is done in secret; international outrage remains 
muted. In fact, many find Israel's actions justified. Some have bought 
into the ridiculous explanation offered by the Israeli military that 
bombing mosques is a necessary security measure. Others are motivated by 
dark religious prophecies 
of their own.

Palestine, though, is only a microcosm of the whole region. Many of us 
are familiar with the horrific destruction carried out by fringe 
militant groups against world cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq and 
Afghanistan. Most memorable among these are the destruction of Palmyra 
in Syria, Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan and the Great Mosque of 
al-Nuri <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCWQIjFSgjw> in Mosul.

Nothing however can possibly be compared to what the invading US army 
has done to Iraq. Not only did the invaders desecrate a sovereign 
country and brutalize her people, they also devastated her culture 
that goes back to the start of human civilization. Just the immediate 
aftermath of the invasion alone resulted in the looting of over 15,000 
Iraqi antiquities, including the Lady of Warka, also known as the Mona 
Lisa of Mesopotamia, a Sumerian artifact whose history goes back to 3100 BC.

I had the privilege of seeing many of these artifacts in a visit to the 
Iraq Museum only a few years before it was looted by US soldiers. At the 
time, Iraqi curators had all precious pieces hidden in a fortified 
basement in anticipation of a US bombing campaign. But nothing could 
prepare the museum for the savagery unleashed by the ground invasion. 
Since then, Iraqi culture has largely been reduced to items on the black 
market of the very western invaders that have torn that country apart. 
The valiant work of Iraqi cultural warriors and their colleagues around 
the world has managed to restore some of that stolen dignity, but it 
will take many years for the cradle of human civilization to redeem its 
vanquished honor.

Every mosque, every church, every graveyard, every piece of art and 
every artifact is significant because it is laden with meaning, the 
meaning bestowed on them by those who have built or sought in them an 
escape, a moment of solace, hope, faith and peace.

On August 2, 2014 the Israeli army bombed the historic Al-Omari Mosque 
<https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=717666> in northern Gaza. The 
ancient mosque dates back to the 7th century and has since served as a 
symbol of resilience and faith for the people of Gaza.

As Notre Dame burned, I thought of Al-Omari too. While the fire at the 
French cathedral was likely accidental, destroyed Palestinian houses of 
worship were intentionally targeted. The Israeli culprits are yet to be 
held accountable.

I also thought of my grandfather, Mohammed, the kindly Imam with the 
handsome, small white beard. His mosque served as his only escape from a 
difficult existence, an exile that only ended with his own death.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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