Vittorio Arrigoni has written an on-the-spot account of what occurred in Gaza during Israel’s Cast Lead operation. Arrigoni — who lived in Gaza working as an authentic journalist and volunteer with International Solidarity Movement — exemplifies what it is to be a humanist. This comes through in his Gaza: Stay Human — an eyewitness chronicling of destruction, misery, courage, inhumanity, and humanity in Gaza during the massacre that was Cast Lead.
Arrigoni combats Israeli and western media disinformation without mincing words. He unequivocally states Cast Lead was a “deliberate criminal and terrorizing will to massacre civilians.” He points to the extremely dense population of the strip where aerial bombing would “inevitably butcher many civilians.” Eighty-five percent of the casualties were civilians. Yet he notes that the killing was futile, as the massacre deepened the incredible solidarity among Palestinians.
Arrigoni describes life in Gaza during the Israeli onslaught as a “tour of hell that even the poet Dante Alighieri could not have conceived of …”
Arrigoni is a pacifist. While decrying the huge number of Palestinians murdered, he was thankful for the low number of Israeli deaths.
The Italian author portrays the whopping asymmetry of the “conflict”: “Tanks, fighter planes, drones, Apache helicopters – the world’s fiercest army attacking a people who use donkeys as their main means of transportation…” And the Israelis wielded their military power without compunction. They targeted firefighters, ambulance crews, United Nations personnel, media, … The killing was also indiscriminate: “Bar none, everyone in Gaza is a walking target.”
During the massacre, 21,000 civilian buildings were destroyed or damaged by Israeli shelling, including 57 medical centers, 51 schools and 59 UN schools, in addition to 1,500 factories and shops, 20 water and sewage networks and power plant.
The repair bill was estimated at $1.9 billion dollars.
Arrigoni expressed his disgust: while Palestinians were penned in (Israelis opened exits points to foreigners – to remove eyewitnesses to their carnage); “mercenary journalists” reported ensconced in comfort far from the killing fields of Gaza. He lamented the lack of “a single western government lifting a finger to stop this massacre, or sending medical staff out here, or stopping the genocide that Israel is smearing its hands with …”
Yet the US, he wrote, was about to ship weapons to Israel – arming Israel took precedence over the humanitarian disaster in Gaza enforced by US-Israeli arms.
The European Union used the massacre to attempt to impose its/Israel’s political will over Gazans. European commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero threatened European “aid” for reconstruction would only arrive when Palestinians overturn their democracy.
Arrigoni digs deeper than the physical devastation. He captures the desolation of Gaza and the feeling of abandonment by the Palestinians. He examines the effects warring that usually escapes the mention of media; for example, the harmful effect warfare has on intimacy between human adults.
The bombing was not without warning. Arrigoni says of the Israeli leafletting prior to bombing: “Israeli commanders are indeed polite – they ask the population of Gaza to cooperate before crushing them like insects.” In an open air prison like Gaza, there was nowhere for the people to go. And the Israeli army left little food for the “insects,” as it torched wheat and barley fields in Gaza.
Racism plays a significant part in the Israeli Massacre Machine. Arrigoni tells of Tel Aviv shops selling t-shirts with racist slogans that dehumanize Palestinians and laud their killing.
Cast Lead, according to historian Ilan Pappe, in the book’s foreword, is what you get “[w]hen you have the firepower and no moral inhibitions against massacring individuals…” Pappe cites massive Jewish Israeli support for the massacres. This is symptomatic of a society that dehumanizes Palestinians.
What is needed, says Pappe, is to delegitimize Zionism.
Arrigoni strongly supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign as a tactic to bring Israel’s occupation and oppression to a halt. Arrigoni suggests that consumers look for barcodes whose first three numbers are 729, meaning it is a product of Israel. By refusing to purchase Israeli products consumers can express their opposition to the Occupation of Palestine.
Gaza: Stay Human is a searing first-hand account of life for people under siege and fire in the open air prison called Gaza. It conveys the danger, raw emotions, and gore that Palestinians face. Arrigoni urges people to stay human; but when Israelis disrespect Palestinian life, they strike at themselves and their own humanity. When people in the international community stand by, it renders so many of us culpable and less human.