WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Israel's blockade of Gaza -- where trapped Palestinians for the past seven weeks have held nonviolent protests along the border fence with Israel, resulting in more than 50 killed and 700 wounded by Israeli troops -- is one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. Yet the horror that is Gaza, where 2 million people live under an Israeli siege without adequate food, housing, work, water and electricity, where the Israeli military routinely uses indiscriminate and disproportionate violence to wound and murder, and where almost no one can escape, is rarely documented. Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen's powerful new film, "Killing Gaza," offers an unflinching and moving portrait of a people largely abandoned by the outside world, struggling to endure.
"Killing Gaza" will be released Tuesday, to coincide with what Palestinians call Nakba Day -- "nakba" means catastrophe in Arabic -- commemorating the 70th anniversary of the forced removal of some 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 by the Haganah, Jewish paramilitary forces, from their homes in modern-day Israel. The release of the documentary also coincides with the Trump administration's opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
-- Trailers for "Killing Gaza" may be viewed on killinggaza.com. Starting Tuesday, the entire documentary can be seen there.
Because of Nakba Day and the anger over the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem, this week is expected to be one of the bloodiest of the seven-week-long protest that Palestinians call the "Great Return March." "Killing Gaza" illustrates why Palestinians, with little left to lose, are rising up by the thousands and risking their lives to return to their ancestral homes -- 70 percent of those in Gaza are refugees or the descendants of refugees -- and be treated like human beings.
Cohen and Blumenthal, who is the author of the book "Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel," one of the best accounts of modern Israel, began filming the documentary Aug. 15, 2014. Palestinian militias, armed with little more than light weapons, had just faced Israeli tanks, artillery, fighter jets, infantry units and missiles in a 51-day Israeli assault that left 2,314 Palestinians dead and 17,125 injured. Some 500,000 Palestinians were displaced and about 100,000 homes were destroyed.
The 2014 assault, perhaps better described as a massacre, was one of eight massacres that Israel has carried out since 2004 against the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, over half of whom are children. Israel, which refers to these periodic military assaults as "mowing the lawn," seeks to make existence in Gaza so difficult that mere survival consumes most of the average Palestinian's time, resources and energy.
The film begins in the Shuja'iyya neighborhood, reduced to mounds of rubble by the Israelis. The wanton destruction of whole neighborhoods was, as documented by the film, accompanied by the shooting of unarmed civilians by Israeli snipers and other soldiers of that nation.
"Much of the destruction took place in the course of a few hours on July 23," Blumenthal, who narrates the film, says as destroyed buildings appear on the screen, block after block. "The invading Israeli forces found themselves under ferocious fire from local resistance forces, enduring unexpectedly high casualties. As the Israeli infantry fled in full retreat, they called in an artillery and air assault, killing at least 120 Palestinian civilians and obliterated thousands of homes."
The film includes a brief clip of young Israelis in Tel Aviv celebrating the assault on Gaza, a reminder that toxic racism and militarism infect Israeli society.
"Die! Die! Bye!" laughing teenage girls shout at the celebration in Tel Aviv. "Bye, Palestine!"
"f*cking Arabs! f*ck Muhammad!" a young man yells.
"Gaza is a graveyard! Gaza is a graveyard! Ole, ole, ole, ole," the crowd in Tel Aviv sings as it dances in jubilation. "There is no school tomorrow! There are no children left in Gaza!"
Terrified Palestinian families huddled inside their homes during the relentless shelling. Those who tried to escape in the face of the advancing Israelis often were gunned down with their hands in the air, and the bodies were left to rot in the scorching heat for days.
"I was inside when they started bulldozing my house," Nasser Shamaly, a Shuja'iyya resident, says in the film. "They took down the wall and started shooting into the house. So I put my hands on my head and surrendered myself to the officer. This wasn't just any soldier. He was the officer of the group! He didn't say a word. He just shot me. I fell down and started crawling to get away from them."