In an article I co-authored a few weeks ago, I wrote that Gaza continually redefines what it means to hit rock bottom. Since that time, the bottom seems to have dropped out as Gazans face an even worse reality.
The Israeli military has been pounding Gaza through a series of aerial strikes for more than four days now, and the death toll is mounting by the minute. As of Wednesday, December 31, more than 390 Palestinians and five Israelis have lost their lives in the largest military action against Palestine since 1967. Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, describes the situation as “all out war” with troops and tanks massing at Gaza’s borders for a possible ground invasion. The Israeli government rejected a 48-hour ceasefire that had been proposed by France and endorsed by other nations in order to allow emergency medical supplies into the Strip.
I remember visiting Gaza several years ago, just months before the second Intifada in 2000. The minute I crossed the border from Israel into Gaza, the enormity of internal and external broken politics were visible through miles of crowded refugee camps and shot out buildings. The presence of tanks and soldiers terrified the young civilian population. Children were everywhere, selling whatever they could to help provide for their families. They were ecstatic to have foreign visitors and challenged us to games of soccer in shelled parks where buildings once stood.
Years later, just after the Israeli offensive operation “Summer Rain” in 2006, I found myself at the shores of Ashqelon inside Israel looking down on Gaza. There too, I found myself talking with terrified civilians – in this case of Qassam rockets and mortar attacks. I spoke to a woman who wanted to move to a part of Israel that would be safer for her family but lacked the means to do so.
So much had changed since the beginning of the Intifada, but one thing remains the same. Increased violence has done nothing to increase security for either Israel or the Palestinians.
At times it is easy to become overwhelmed with the immensity of war. Numbers spiral upward and headlines blend into one another. It is important to remember the numbers and headlines amount to much more than partisanship and politics gone wrong. They represent human life. I wonder where the children I met so long ago are now as teenagers. Are some of them among the dead?
I feel so far away from Gaza now, but friends and allies on the ground there keep me informed about all that is taking place. They describe the fierce urgency for an end to the violence and tell of what it is like to lose family and friends. One friend told me that the streets were unrecognizable, and that even as a Gazan who has grown up expecting little, nothing in her life could have prepared her to witness this. Electricity has diminished to about two hours a day and people are tired and cold. Hospitals rarely have space or supplies to accommodate the needs of the sick. It is my hope that this time, rock bottom cannot get any lower.