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Death in Gaza, Déjà Vu


It is a recurring nightmare. The sounds and smells are so familiar; the tension in the air so thick that you can see it like the grit and grime that collects on your clothes and shoes after being outside for only a short while.  In July, sand blows in off the shore whipping its tiny grains across your face until your eyes sting shut with tears. Drones buzz in the night sky and tracer flares speed past like little comets. In November there is a chill in the wind when the booms go off in the dusty overcrowded streets of Gaza. The killing is high speed and slow motion together; and later, in January, when the rains start, the streets will flood and the muck and debris of the earth surges upward making patterns of dirty, broken-lace detritus on the curbs and corners, unable to drain away quickly enough for easy passage. Dying in the cold and damp is worst of all when your limbs are left to bleed uncovered. Month after month, the leitmotif of death in all its creative varieties eats away at the people of Gaza.  Were it not so unnatural, we might wonder if the seasons had somehow been poisoned.

Forty-six-year-old Ahmad Jabari and his companion, Mohammad al-Homs, were together in their car when Israel incinerated them with the astonishing accuracy of its high-tech, precision-strike weapons. Were they conscious in those last seconds? Did an instant of suspended animation allow them to bid their world  good bye? On the dark side of the Manichaean universe into which we have cast them,  is it heresy to imagine they may have loved or have been loved; that mourning and bereavement would ensue? That whole families would be shattered again by death?   Israeli aerial attacks hit 20 targets on the first day alone of the latest operation to target alleged “missile silos,” weapons’ storehouses, and ‘terrorists’ the righteous can kill with particular impunity – like Jabari, whose position as head of the Qassam Brigades, or military wing of Hamas, could hardly merit condemnation.

Aerial strikes now soar into the hundreds and every non-combatant person is at risk. It is becoming more and more difficult to cover up the fact that the civilian population of Gaza, the families, children, shopkeepers, street vendors, pharmacists, doctors, construction workers, teachers, journalists, and others are not the ‘collateral damage’ in an angry war against “militants,” “terrorists,” and primitive rockets. Rather they are themselves are the primary targets. They are the ones who must be culled from the land. The “militants” are merely the means to their demise. The ‘unpeople’ who clutter the land like trash are the genuine, singular targets of US-Israel foreign policy, standing as they do between the messy, inconvenient present and the most sacred and coveted of goals: rule over the land unencumbered by Arabs; access and control of the resources with no pretense of sharing; open spaces for development and investment and future profits. That the planners will also get tourist attractions of a bygone civilization whose cultural artifacts can be served up as souvenirs in shops with restaurants serving ‘native’ cuisine may have been unintended, but are opportune, byproducts.  When Gaza is flushed free of its human squalor and the land and resources reintegrated methodically into the Jewish State, quietly and without fanfare, America’s Israeli terror over the land will end, or so it is presumed. Events could still go this quietly, and Palestinians will be likened to the Sioux. Will it be so easy to assure?

Jabari  was a perfect Kill: easy to transform from unsuspecting passenger in a car to calculating killer. The top military brass in Tel Aviv and Washington understand this as well as the servile journalists and sycophants whose job it is to lull even half-interested TV viewers across an ocean with “narratives” based on lies. “By nature of his position, Jabari has been responsible over the past decade for all anti-Israel terror activity emanating from the [Gaza] Strip,” a Shin Bet security agent said to the Times of Israel. Guilt by title; and the appropriation of the language of good for the Good, and bad for the Bad. Such logic will lead us to the alternatives already available, based as they are on an Original Myth: disengage from the rest of the natives until they turn to grass and stone, or pretend they were never there to begin with and proceed accordingly anyway: A land without a people for a people without a land.

Since Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 the IDF has hit well over 1000 targets of “terror” in its self-defense against families and children. There is no reason we should have to imagine what this looks like in the painfully dilapidated territory of Gaza,  bombed and wrecked beyond repair  so often, so repeatedly, and with a wrath that defies comprehension that one has to ask how it is that people still go on with life as well as they do—lacking water, electricity, arable land, employment, safe homes, sewage plants, functioning flour mills and fresh air. There are a hundred thousand photographs of the pock-marked, bullet-sprayed buildings, homes, and mosques. There are over a thousand posters of the martyred Palestinian (and foreign) resistance fighters. There are shelves stacked and overflowing with video footage from various international media and endless records of the maimed, the imprisoned, the tortured and humiliated, the hospitalized, the bed-ridden and the dead. NGOs served a great purpose, historians will decide, in preserving the precise, detailed records of every name unjustly abused. There are the wounded souls themselves who carry a burden of unbearable loss; who weep in silence for the dead. A Palestinian Ghost Dance may conjure the ancestors of old but it will also offer more incentive to annihilate the eerie traces of human attempts at self-preservation. A manifest destiny is a bullet to the brain of a peaceful protester in Bil’in whose turn at Gaza is fast approaching.

* * *

Gaza again is a living hell, all of it on record for the world to see. The death toll is climbing by the hour. The photos are everywhere but the New York Times has only a paragraph on the fear Israeli children experience from the loud noises and clamor. You have forgotten the other half of humanity, Mr. Publisher. Not the other half, really; the other 9/10ths of the world. When will you comment on the trauma the Gazan child experiences, and repeatedly, with children across the world under the bombs of the United States and Israel?

All the sounds and sights and smells of slaughter verify the damage and danger of aerial assaults and targeted killings; Apartment buildings still buzzing with human activity when missiles pierced through their ceilings offer up their dead and wounded to the deafening skies. Progressive US President Barak Obama and his allies applaud Israel’s masterful techniques of preventive war as self-defense; its sophistication at using state of the art weaponry against mosques, homes, markets and schools; re-emphasize at press conferences the right of Israel to defend itself against the human cattle they have justly corralled into densely packed camps to be bound and slaughtered or starved and transferred elsewhere. All of it is happening again, today, before our very eyes; before the universal documents proclaiming the rights of mankind and international humanitarian law; before the leaders who have so eagerly abandoned due process and civil liberties but fear the rising tide of rebellion in the Middle East and elsewhere? How dare we pontificate on the atrocities of Damascus after sponsoring such a Juggernaut for Jerusalem? For Gaza? What educated public can still claim they didn’t know? How can anyone any longer pretend the earth was not boiling beneath us like lava under an active volcano?

Jennifer Loewenstein is faculty associate in Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a long-time human rights activist and a freelance journalist. She can be reached at:

Jennifer Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at at Penn State University.  She can be reached at:

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