Gaza’s “Bigger Holocaust”

RAFAH, GAZA STRIP, March 3 — Israeli officials said today that they finished their military operation in the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli attacks continue, and we fear that Israel is still planning a major invasion. On February 29th, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai warned of “a bigger holocaust” for Palestinians.

From February 27th-March 2nd, the Israeli army killed around 110 Palestinians in Gaza, about half of them civilians, and nearly a quarter children, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza. Hundreds were injured. Palestinians killed two Israeli soldiers and one Israeli civilian.

What is happening in Gaza hurts all Palestinians, not just Hamas. Before this assault, the Gaza Strip, with 1.5 million residents, was already like a prison under siege, with dwindling supplies of food, medicine, fuel, clean water and electricity, and growing poverty. Many families eat just one meal a day. We have no electricity for 6-12 hours daily.

On March 1st, I was home with my family in the city of Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, watching TV to see what was happening in northern Gaza. Around 10 PM we suddenly heard Israeli F16 fighter planes overhead. I said to my mom, something is going to happen. The sound of the F16s grew louder. Then we heard very loud rocket explosions.

My sister ran crying, saying, it’s close. My mom was cut in the hand trying to prevent glass from hitting her head. Many of our windows were broken. We ran outside because the electricity went off. My father said it’s safer in the street. At least we can see where the rockets are going and where to go.

Four Israeli rockets hit the mosque 150 meters away, killing six civilians and injuring 30. One of those killed was my 30 year old cousin Samer. Samer, a policeman with Fateh’s Palestinian Authority, was married with a young daughter.

The latest Israeli attacks began on February 27th when Israel assassinated five Palestinian fighters in Gaza. Palestinian fighters responded by firing rockets into Israel, killing an Israeli teacher in Sderot. Israel fired more rockets and invaded.

Most deaths happened in northern Gaza. When I visited there on February 29th, a mother from Beit Lahia explained what happened the day before, “My sons went to the playground to play football, and I said to myself they will be safe.” She completed the story crying, “But they weren’t safe anywhere. One of them was killed and the second was injured.” I began to cry also as she asked, “My son, why have you left me?” Twelve year-old Omar Dardona died immediately, and eight year-old Ali Dardona died on March 1st.

Another woman there told me, “I didn’t believe there were tanks in the neighborhood, and I looked through the door’s peephole, and there really were. I didn’t know what to do. I saw on TV yesterday eight children were killed, and I was thinking of my children. My husband climbed over our house wall and I passed the kids one by one to their father. They crossed the street and reached their grandfather’s house safely.”

Some Palestinians see shooting rockets into Israel as the only way to respond to continued Israeli attacks that have killed so many civilians and children, the only way to protest with a loud voice. Israel besieged Gaza after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January, 2006, and killed 823 Gazans in 2006 and 2007, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Hamas has repeatedly offered a truce, but the Israeli government has rejected those offers. Fourteen Israelis have been killed by rockets from Gaza since 2000.

It seems like the world knows that Israelis in Sderot are scared because of rockets from Gaza, but they don’t see what the Israeli army is doing. I feel sometimes like people in Gaza are in a different world.

The Israeli army bulldozed and destroyed our family home in 2004. In 2006 they bombed a house 40 meters from where we were living. Saturday night they could have hit our house. I fight hard to keep hate from my heart, but I get scared sometimes that it will overcome my resistance. I hope that I can continue to win this struggle.

Violence and death bring more violence and death. Hope brings more hope. Despite everything, children in Rafah tell me they hope to play, have fun, travel, and meet Egyptian children. It is these children’s dreams that renew my spirit.

Fida Qishta, an educator and journalist, is the founder and manager of the Lifemakers Center, which serves 70 children aged 6-18 in Rafah. Read other articles by Fida, or visit Fida's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. D. R. Munro said on March 12th, 2008 at 6:38am #

    This may sound morbid and unsympathetic, but perhaps what needs to happen is a large-scale invasion of Gaza, with thousands of civilian casualties. I know that sounds cruel, and believe me, I am the last person to promote civilian death, but . . .

    . . . perhaps if the Israelis make such a bold and ruthless strike, then Western bodies would have no choice but to criticize the blatant repression and systematic destruction, bringing it to light in the mainstream media and therefore into the minds of the masses.

    Then again, Israel is far too careful, far too cunning, and far too intelligent to make a mistake like that.

  2. jaime said on March 12th, 2008 at 8:39am #

    For sure, all of these terrible things that happened to gaza, happened because the Israelis left the area after dismantling their settlements and leaving a functioning flourishing hothouse industry intact for the Gazans to help build a life for themselves.

    This aggressive colonialist act prompted the Hamas to massively re-arm and attack Israel across the 1967 border with missiles and mortars.
    Israeli Withdrawal From Gaza Explained

    By Jefferson Morley Staff Writer
    Wednesday, August 10, 2005; 10:36 AM

    A brief explanation of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip:
    What is the Gaza Strip?

    Gaza is a small strip of land, approximately 25 miles long and six miles wide, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. For the past 38 years, it has been controlled by Israel. It is home to more than 8,500 Jewish settlers and approximately 1.3 million Palestinians.
    Why is Israel withdrawing from Gaza?

    In announcing the “Disengagement Plan” in December 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the withdrawal was to increase security of residents of Israel, relieve pressure on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, claims that the withdrawal is the result of violent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.
    What is the withdrawal plan?

    Starting Aug. 15, tens of thousands of Israeli troops will oversee the evacuation of the settlers from 21 different communities in Gaza and four smaller settlements in the West Bank. They will assist settlers with moving their belongings as well. Some Palestinian security forces will also participate. On Aug. 17, settlers who have not voluntarily left will be forcibly removed and may lose personal property, according to IDF commanders. Israeli soldiers will then demolish settlers’ homes.
    Why is it controversial?

    Many, but not all, Jewish residents of Gaza believe that the land is part of what they call “Eretz Yisrael” — Greater Israel — and thus biblically ordained for Jews. Other Israelis believe that withdrawal will not make Israel more secure from Palestinian attack. Some settlers, backed by supporters from outside Gaza, say they will not leave voluntarily on Aug. 15, raising the prospect of violent clashes between the IDF and Israeli citizens. The withdrawal marks the first time since Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 that it has relinquished Jewish settlements to Arab control.
    Who favors the withdrawal?

    Public opinion polls show that around 60 percent of Israelis and virtually all Palestinians support the withdrawal.
    Who opposes the withdrawal?

    Israel’s right-wing and religious parties are most opposed to the withdrawal. Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a member of Sharon’s Likud Party, resigned in early August in protest, the highest ranking Israeli official to do so. He said that withdrawal does not require reciprocal concessions by the Palestinians. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers who object to the withdrawal have been excused from duties.
    What will happen after the evacuation?

    The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) will administer Gaza while Israel will continue to control its borders, coastline and airspace. The biggest change for Palestinians will be that the tight travel restrictions that Israel has imposed within the territory will be lifted. The Palestinians hope to build apartment buildings on the site of the demolished Israeli homes.
    How will the withdrawal affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    The Israeli government expects the withdrawal will reduce Palestinian attacks on Jewish citizens. The Israeli Foreign Ministry says that the withdrawal shows that Israel is willing to make significant concessions for peace. The PNA, while welcoming the dismantling of the settlements, says that the withdrawal is a unilateral move designed to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank where the majority of Palestinians live.