On the way to a camping trip on Cape Cod last week, my family made a pit stop at a gas station. My partner took our four-year-old to the bathroom and I picked up a copy of the New York Times. I felt the ground shift as I saw the image of a tiny boy lying dead on the beach.
In Gaza four young cousins were shot down as they played soccer along the shoreline last Wednesday by Israeli military forces. Too cooped up to stay inside after nine straight days of bombing, they needed to move their legs and breathe the air. As the mother of a young boy I know all too well the way children will start to tear the house apart if pent up inside too long. Now I imagine the anguish the mothers of these boys are feeling as they grieve the cherished children whose feet will never kick a soccer ball on the beach again. I thought of them the whole weekend as I watched my boy digging holes in the sand to catch crabs. For 1.8 million Gazans today there is literally no escape from Israeli bombs and air attacks. The people cannot leave, no matter how many flyers fall from the sky telling them to do so. At least 117,000 are taking shelter in UN-run schools according to a report yesterday by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). The Israeli military bombed two UN shelters already, as well as mosques, schools, hospitals, and even the intensive care unit of one. “This is unprecedented, it is absolutely crazy. Once again, civilians are in the eye of the storm,” Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, wrote to me. “Besides all of the killing,” he continued, “we have something like 300,000 refugees who have lost everything, fled their houses under fire, bombing, and in terror.” Israel’s attacks on Gaza have left at least 663 dead as of July 23. According to the United Nations at least 77% are civilians. Every day the numbers grow. There is a “strong possibility” Israel’s killing of civilians and destruction of homes amount to war crimes, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay during an emergency UN debate on the crisis in Gaza. The statement shows hopeful signs that the UN may begin to take seriously its responsibility in holding up International law, even though belatedly. Undoubtedly Hamas’ rocket attacks are also unconscionable. But the situation in Gaza must be understood within the context of a brutal, ongoing military occupation. “Once every few years we have a massacre,” Jamal Juma, director of the Stop the Wall Campaign in the West Bank wrote to me. “There are on-going non-stop home demolitions and hundreds of thousands jailed since the occupation, Jamal continued. “Three main massive attacks have left Gaza with thousands killed (the vast majority are women and children.), thousands of houses leveled to the ground, contaminated water, and starvation. And we are the terrorists? Until when?” Many of us are asking ourselves if we can make a difference to bring peace and whether our actions matter to those on the ground. I would answer that yes, our voices need to be heard at actions in solidarity with Gazans, and Palestinians generally, through donations, and by calling for divestment from companies that profit from the occupation and an end to US military aid to Israel. As I participate in these actions I keep in my heart the words of our partners like Nida’a Abu Al Atta from the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees who wrote, “People like you are the only way to voice our rights to a world full of injustice and inhumanity.” And the words of Ruba Abdullah of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, who told me, “Your support gives us the power and the will to work harder and defend our rights.”
Photo courtesy of UAWC, Reuters / Majdi Fathi