What Hell-on-Earth Was Like 4 Years ago in Gaza

If the world grants the Palestinian people their human rights there will surely be peace in the Middle East.

– Pastor Manuel

This seems a very good moment, on the sixth day of Operation Cast Lead Mk2, to remember what happened when Israel unleashed its last blitzkrieg on Gaza — Operation Cast Lead Mk 1 — over the Christmas-New Year holiday period nearly 4 years ago.

The courageous pastor of the Catholic Church in Gaza, Fr Manuel Mussallam, sent out the following report on 20 January 2009, speaking of the plight of his shattered community in the wake of the Israelis’ three-week murderous assault.

From the Church of God in Gaza: Peace and blessings upon you, as we pray to God to lift man’s anger and shower Gaza with his mercy and kindness.

Gaza was suffering prior to the war, it suffered during the war and it will continue to suffer after the war.

Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless. We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.

Many families fled to United Nations (UNRWA) schools where they thought they would be safe. But with 50-60 people to a room, no electricity, water, bedding or food and nowhere to wash, living conditions are terrible.

Emergency aid has not yet arrived at the Church and because they are too frightened to venture onto the streets our people cannot reach the warehouses which hold Red Cross and UNRWA relief supplies. We trust in God but appeal to the whole world and in particular the Church to help Gaza. Your prayers and your kindness will be our salvation.

The war has affected everyone in Gaza. A teacher fled to our school with her husband and four children. He was hit by shrapnel from an Israeli bomb and his legs badly injured. She is distraught and terrified and when I spoke to her she was desperately looking for clean water to make a bottle for her baby.

The Church has lost a 26 year old Catholic man, Naseem Saba, who was killed in an Israeli air raid on 7 January. The day before, Israeli jets destroyed his family home where he lived with his three uncles.

As well as the destruction and physical injuries the mental trauma of our people is incalculable. They will need help and support for years to come. They will have to find somewhere to live and we will need centres for those injured and disabled in the shelling, special schools for traumatised or orphaned children and a whole array of rehabilitation services.

Clean water is scarce so both our schools in Remal and Zaitoon provide local people with water from an artesian well, dug through the generosity of Austrian donors. The school’s generator produces electricity for the nearby bakery as there have been no bread deliveries for weeks. People say: “The priest has become a baker,” and it’s true – we are glad to be able to do it.

Peace is only possible if it embraces justice

The war must end now. The world has to find a solution for the Palestinian people and not simply revert to the position they were in before it began. The borders with Israel must be redrawn and the occupation, which began 60 years ago, has to end.

The status of Palestinian refugees must be resolved pursuant to the Right of Return, and East Jerusalem must be the Palestinian state capital. We must tear down the Apartheid Wall, open the border crossings, free Palestinian detainees and remove Israeli settlements so the land can be returned to its original Palestinian owners.

Peace is only possible if it embraces justice. If the world grants the Palestinian people their human rights there will surely be peace in the Middle East.

From all the people of Gaza we thank you, our friends everywhere, for your constant prayers and particularly for the support which we urgently need and we hope will reach us soon. We thank His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for his stance in calling for peace in the Middle East and for his generous support to the poor of Gaza. And we thank all bishops, priests, pastors, monks and nuns across the world for remembering us in their prayers.

On behalf of every Gazan, we share your prayers and say to the world: “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” (Galatians 6: 17-18)

Father Manuel Musallam
Pastor of the Catholic Church – Gaza

Nobody describes it more eloquently. I’d been privileged to meet this remarkable veteran of the Palestinian struggle a year earlier.

So what was learnt? What has changed?

The Zionist regime could never have maintained its illegal occupation of Palestine, or imposed a barbaric blockade on tiny Gaza, or mounted such a bloody assault on civil society for three long weeks, were it not for the protection of an over-powerful ‘friends’ network in every major western country. They had the testicles of the elected rulers of the Free World in a vice… and still do.

In Britain, the Friends of Israel organisation, in its various guises, has stooges occupying key positions at the heart of government and most other institutions. These individuals paralyse any effective action against their lawless masters. They ought to be regarded as agents of a foreign military power and weeded out, but no-one with authority has the balls to do it.

Infiltration is so complete, I’m told that membership of Friends of Israel is a necessary stepping-stone to ministerial rank in the two main political parties. Yet they must know it is a serious matter for someone in public office to place themselves under the influence of a foreign power and allow it to affect their actions in government.

I seem to recall that our leaders last time dragged their feet in demanding a cease-fire in order to give their Israeli friends enough time to do a thorough killing and wrecking job.

“The security council resolution… underlines the international community’s consensus and determination to do all we can to end this tragedy,” said Bill Rammell, the then minister of state for the Middle East. “Of course a ceasefire can only come about through decisions taken by the parties involved – but in the interests of people in both Gaza and Israel, we will expend every diplomatic effort to stop the violence.”

This was meaningless claptrap. Rammel’s boss, David Miliband, in a speech to Labour Friends of Israel, had numbered himself among “Israel’s most committed friends”. The prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, declared himself a Zionist. And so-called peace envoy Tony Blair, another Zionist, was too chicken to go talk to Hamas. So any diplomatic efforts would only amount to revving the engine with the parking brake firmly on.

It was equally obvious that the Israelis would remain deaf until their lust for land was satisfied. They’d listen only when hefty sanctions were applied, such as suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and expulsion of its ambassadors from London and other European capitals.

This time round the Free World leaders, and especially that noted Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Obama, again seem in no hurry (although Egyptian sources today say he’s given new president Morsi 24 hours to broker a truce). If they weren’t in the Zionist pocket they’d only need to snap their fingers to halt the slaughter.

In the intervening years has the world community — the mighty, high-sounding United Nations — granted the Palestinians their fundamental human rights?


Have lessons been learnt?


Has justice been embraced?


Will the next cease-fire embrace justice, as Fr Manuel hopes?

Not likely.

So there’ll be no lasting peace. History will just keep repeating itself and the torment for blameless citizens will continue on both sides of the Gaza border.

And the region will remain a powder-keg.

Stuart Littlewood, after working on jet fighters in the RAF, became an industrial marketeer in oil, electronics and manufacturing, and with innovation and product development consultancies. He also served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and a member of the Police Authority. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and has produced two photo-documentary books including Radio Free Palestine (with foreword by Jeff Halper). Now retired, he campaigns on various issues, especially the Palestinians' struggle for freedom. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.