On the evening of January 3, we residents of Gaza realized that if there is any truth to Ehud Barak’s words, it is that this invasion will be a long one. At approximately 9:15 pm local time Israeli forces entered the strip from three locations. From the east of Gaza City, tanks rolled into the Palestinian residential areas while Israeli F16s provided cover from the sky. At the same time, Israeli tanks and infantry troops entered Rafah from the south east, while tank shelling and artillery fire rained on the Mintar area of Gaza City. Israeli warships were simultaneously barraging Gaza City from the sea. The entire strip was surrounded and being heavily pounded by Israeli missiles and artillery fire. Amid the chaos and explosions, many people were not even aware that the ground invasion had begun, thinking the whole time that Israel had intensified its air raids.
Gaza City has been without power for a few days now and radio batteries are running out. Almost all its residents have been confined to their homes for over a week, and stores have been closed. People rely mostly on word of mouth to get the news from a very small few who are lucky enough to have generators and leftover fuel.
These attacks – this war – are being waged against an unarmed civilian population at the most desperate and bleak of times. Israel has been systematically and relentlessly using its advanced military capabilities against an essentially defenseless population, nearly 75% of which is women and children. People are weak, physically and emotionally, and dealing with a great amount of loss and frustration, to say nothing of the 18-month siege that Gaza has endured – but just barely.
For the past few days we have seen more than 10 mosques bombed, often while people were praying inside. We have seen children being pulled out from under the rubble looking like there was not a single bone unbroken in their small bodies. We have seen hospitals overflowing with bloody corpses and people taking their last breaths. We have seen friends on television being resuscitated at sites of Israeli air raids. We have seen entire families swept of the face off the earth in one blow. And we have seen our streets, homes and neighborhoods become unrecognizable ruins.
Yet Israel continues to blatantly and insistently affirm that the offensive is not aimed at civilians and that its war is against the political and military wings of Hamas. Meanwhile we, the people of Gaza, are collectively experiencing a kind of terror and violence no human being should ever endure. One almost begins to suspect that the Israeli forces are acting on a delusion that they created and that they have come to believe. Otherwise, they would have expected what would happen during their invasion of the Strip.
How do we react?
The atrocities of this invasion have shown us that resistance, courage and love are an integral part of the Palestinian identity that will never change despite all the hardships we endure. It has given us a moral boost, which comes at a time when we need it most.
It is a tale of two extremes. The most generous estimates suggest that Palestinian military resistance fighters from various factions number in the low thousands, perhaps even 3,000. Israeli troops, on the other hand, number approximately 33,000 and more reservists are being called up daily. But the disparity is more than in size; it is also in might. Israeli forces – army, navy, air force – have at their disposal modern artillery, tanks, engineering and intelligence. Palestinians have mostly homemade projectiles and basic weaponry with which to protect themselves. The growing list of casualties – the vast majority of which are civilians – are no surprise.
In the midst of the violence it is hard to make sense of the current situation or make future predictions. It’s hard to come to grips with the numbers and the extent of our losses. It’s hard even to remember a time when basic necessities such as food, water, warmth and daylight weren’t a luxury. At this point, our human survival instinct is at work. We have fled for too long, Gaza is our last refuge and our home after we were first displaced. All this happened but 60 years ago. We have nowhere left to go.