Imagine: gunmen open fire on people in the streets of Lille, France, leaving several people dead. The attackers are then gunned down by French police officers during an exchange of fire. It becomes clear that the attackers were riding bicycles. France’s conclusion and plan of action: the Netherlands has to be bombed, as bicycles are very common there. Dozens of people –especially the ones on bicycles- and numerous buildings across the Netherlands are hit by French airstrikes over the next days. Fear spreads in targeted areas such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague. The bystanders who get hurt or killed, are labelled ‘collateral damage’. Dutch politicians are urged to calm down their outraged and frightened people.
If in the above scenario the bicycles hadn’t been kalashnikov bullets and the Netherlans and France hadn’t been Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip, this would probably remain an absurd and horrific imaginary event. That just wouldn’t happen in the ‘normal world’. But this is occupied Gaza, real life, with real people.
Kamal al-Nairab (43), ‘Emad Hammad (40), ‘Emad Nasser (46), Khaled al-Masri (26), Khaled Sha’at (32), Malek Sha’at (2), Munther Quraiqe’ (32), Mo’taz Quraiqe’ (29), Islam Quraiqe’ (2), Mohammed ‘Enaya (22), Samed ‘Aadeb (25), Anwar Saleem (23), ‘Emad ‘Aabda (23), Isma’il Nemr Ammoum (62), Salamah al Masri (18), Alaa al Jakhbeer (22), and Hisham Abu Harb (20), were some of these real people. They died over the past weeks, targeted by a blind urge for revenge, punishing them for a crime they did not commit.
While the skies of Gaza started filling with drones, apaches and F16s later that Thursday, the people were bracing themselves for what they knew would inevitably come. Later that day missiles started hitting places across the entire Gaza Strip. The people around me were reliving their traumas as memories from the 2008/9 war resurfaces. Apaches and drones fired missiles at people and buildings in densely populated areas. The constant buzzing of a zanana (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle – or drone) above everyone´s heads instills the awareness of imminent threat and powerlessness. Children and adults alike know that these zananas can fire a missile at any time. During this week´s airstrikes many civilians and members of armed groups were killed or injured when missiles hit their homes, farming land, sports club, neighbours’ house, a government buildings or a passers-by. A bit of bad luck is all it would take. Anything could put you at risk: walking close to the wrong car, motorbike, building or person. Timing could be the difference between you getting injured, killed or at a safe distance from a shelling. For the many people (especially children) here who suffer from PTSD since the last war, this week has been a psychological hell. Most parents are unable to reassure their sons and daughters as they are feeling insecure as to what will happen too, and their children know it. The repeated sounds of bombing, buzzing zananas, and ambulances, combined with the feeling of insecurity and fear for a military invasion gave many of them days of insomniac, nauseating, sweaty fear.Were the people in Gaza surprised about the military assault on their cities and villages? No. They knew the origin of the Eilat attack would not be relevant: Gaza would be attacked regardless, they expected. Did they feel human emotions such as fear, stress, powerlessness, anger and sadness? You answer that one.
Being occupied means there is no such thing as checks and balances, in reality. The laws, policies and judgements come from the same creator; the occupying power. This power will also be his own assessor. There is no inherent protection of people living under occupation. So what is the buffer between the civilians of the Gaza Strip and a large Israeli military operation in the area? It is not principles of international law, as that leaves no possibility for giving in to a blind urge for revenge. Nor is it morality, as it would not allow the intentional killing and injuring of civilians. The answer to the question was given after an Israeli cabinet meeting earlier this week: public relations. Officials have indicated that the ´lack of international legitimacy´ is one of the main reasons for holding off on an all out war on Gaza, at least for now. This gives a clear insight in the absurd and inhuman reality that seems to have been the measuring stick here for years now: not the value of human lives but rather the diplomatic costs determine whether the people here live or die.
For the sake of diplomatic relations Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has expressed regret over the five Egyptian policemen that were killed by the Israeli army when the latter allegedly chased suspects of the Eilat attack.
Attempts to return to the status-quo through an Egyptian brokered ceasefire have failed until now, as airstrikes and rocket firing continued. Time will tell if the most recent agreement –which came into effect this morning- will stick, for now.