GAZA: BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED
A shining symbol of unyielding resistance
By: Gulamhusein A Abba
Gaza! That small, beautiful but turbulent and besieged piece of land, just a little more than 40 km long, no more than 12 km wide, a little bigger than New Jersey, crammed with more than one and half million people, battered by wave after wave of Israeli incursions and bombardments, has been bloodied but remains unbowed, a proud symbol and a stirring example of unyielding resistance.
For long under the Ottoman Empire, it came under the British Mandate in 1920 and then, when the British left Palestine in 1948, and the ensuing war between Arab states and Israel came to an end in 1949, much of the Gaza Strip that was earmarked for an Arab state in the UN partition Plan was retained by Israel under the 1949 Armistice line. The rest of the Strip fell under Egyptian control.
Even this chopped up Gaza strip was occupied by Israel in 1967 (along with what is now the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan heights and the Sinai Peninsula). In 1979 Israel made peace with Egypt and returned the Sinai to it but retained what remained of the original Gaza Strip.
Since then, Gaza has been ravaged by Israel time and again.
Adequately capturing the pain and suffering, as also the bravery, the courage and the indomitable and unconquerable spirit of the Gazans, and effectively conveying them, can only be done by an artist, a poet, a visionary. Judging by the preview of his forthcoming book, Dom Martin, who combines in himself all the required qualifications, has wonderfully done.
However, to fully understand what the Palestinians have suffered it is necessary to know what exactly they have had to endure. To that task I have addressed myself here.
In 1987 the first revolt by the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation broke out. There were riots and strikes and violence throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Israel responded with tanks, tear gas, plastic bullets, and live ammunition against the stone throwing Palestinian youths.
Till that time Israel had favored the Muslim Brotherhood which was based in Gaza, and Gaza had refrained from attacks against Israel. But after the Intifada, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin created Hamas from the Gaza wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas quickly began attacks on Israeli military targets, and subsequently, Israeli civilians.
Apart from numerous incursions into Gaza, targeted assassinations ((including that of its 67 year old, wheelchair ridden, nearly blind, quadriplegic spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin in March, 2004) and imprisonment of its leaders, Israel has carried out major military operations in the area.
After demolishing 1800 homes in the largest and most densely populated refugee camp in Rafah (it was established in 1949 to provide shelter to 41,000 refugees), in May 2004 Israel launched "Operation Rainbow" on Rafah town and refugee camp. In seven days 45 Palestinians, 38 of them civilians, including nine children, had been killed, 134 civilians, including around 50 children, had been injured, dozens of Palestinian homes were destroyed, rendering hundreds of Palestinians homeless. Civilian infrastructure and facilities in the town and refugee camp were largely destroyed.
Just four months later, in September 2004, Israel initiated another military assault, "Days of Penitence", deploying about 2,000 Israeli troops, with 200 tanks and armored vehicles. According to a UNRWA report, approximately 36,000 Palestinians in different locations were under siege, many thousands of civilians were unable to leave their homes, as fighting raged around them. An additional 4,000 persons fled their homes in the affected areas. 107 Palestinians were killed and 431 injured, from rocket attacks, machine-gun and sniper fire. Twenty five per cent of those killed were aged 18 years or under. One of Gaza's bloodiest days since the start of the Intifada, the assault was directed at Jabaliya refugee camp, home to more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees. Under the pretext of creating a 9-km "buffer zone" around the refugee camp, Israel leveled dozens of Palestinian homes and acres of agricultural land were destroyed. There were reports that the residents were given just minutes to gather their belongings and leave. They carried on their head in a bundle the little they could save.
The stated aim of the Israeli operation was to prevent the firing of homemade Palestinian rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. It is relevant to point out here that just four Israeli citizens had been killed by these rockets in several months preceding the Israeli operation in Gaza.