The Women of Beit Hanoun


The winter rains have started and the temperatures are falling everyday. Unsealed roads are fast becoming muddy tracks. The heavens are weeping too, witness to the frightful events that are unfolding now in that devastated and forgotten strip of land that we call Gaza, home to 3 million Palestinians.

In this dreary weather the joy of the festive holiday of Eid has vanished. There is only cause for sorrow now and tears that will rival the heaven’s showers. Before dawn on Friday morning the Al Quds Radio station in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, called on the women of the city to stage a protest outside the mosque inside which 40 of their resistance fighters were trapped.

Twelve hours later an Israeli spokesman announced “The militants used women as human shields. This is a clear example of the use of innocent population for terror.” This statement was duly swallowed by the western media, most of which have covered the present crisis and growing tragedy in Gaza as little as possible.

But what was the terror and what was the threat? Who was threatening and who was perpetrating the terror?

There have been three days of bloodshed in Gaza which followed an ominous build up of the Israeli military on the borders. We watched in horror and yet again failed to do anything until it was too late. Only now, after 43 Palestinians have been killed in the course of three days, is the international community calling on Israel to ‘show restraint’.

Again, too late and too little.

When those in the position to force some restraint fail to act then it is left to desperate people to act in desperate ways. The women of Beit Hanoun acted in response to the radio call for help because the international community had not been bothered to mediate. Their men were under siege. Their brothers, husbands and sons were being killed and their mosque was being bulldozed to the ground.

Many did not have to think twice when they were called on to act. What were they risking? A life where missile attacks are a daily occurrence, where funerals to bury their relatives are a weekly event, where fresh water and proper food are dreams they hav long given up on.

For many of the women who left their homes at sunrise and walked for an hour or more to the scene of terror their only hope was that their actions might save some lives and the world might be woken up to the reality of their tragedy. Instead, their actions have been used to further vilify their loved ones who had spent a night holed up inside a house of worship that was being systematically bulldozed from outside. Walls were crushed and the ceiling caved in. The women outside were looking for one glimpse of their husbands and sons. The Israeli forces opened fire and women were among the dead.

A heartbreaking photo bears witness to the scene of carnage, published in West Bank newspapers and kept away from the rest of the world media: Women rushing for cover behind a wall. A lamp post covered with blood and a crumpled woman on the ground. Faces turned heavenward in disbelief and anguish.

‘The Army was forced to open fire on the crowd because two militants were among the women.’ The Israeli media announced. And instantly the action is excused.

Of course, Israel must protect its citizens. ‘This offensive is to halt hand-made rockets being fired into Israel across the border.’ Israel as been “protecting its citizens” with increasing ferocity for the past four months, at the cost of more than a thousand Palestinian and Lebanese lives.

Meanwhile we are ladled propaganda about militants and their threat to Israel security, even when it means accepting the fact that Israel opened fire on a group of women, killed two, wounded more than ten and then denigrated their action into “an action supporting Palestinian Terror.”

Why can we not even give honor where honor is due?

Give some credibility to the bravery of the women of Beit Hanoun who dared the tanks and fire of the strongest military in the world for the love of their men!

There has been a continual strike in the West Bank over the current situation in Gaza. On the day the rains started the streets were empty in Ramallah and the shops were shut. There was an atmosphere of horror, deepened by night-time invasions in all the major cities of the West Bank. It seemed on Saturday that everyone had some one to mourn and bury; a relative, a friend or just the impossible hope that the present situation was going to improve before winter came with its added hardships of rain and mud and freezing nights. A winter difficult enough for the villagers who are reliant on wood-fires for warmth, but compounded a million fold for the people of Gaza who are still trying to piece together lives shattered by the last bloody actions of the Israeli military.

There were actions in solidarity with the people of Beit Hanoun on Saturday in Ramallah and Nablus and afterwards, as I walked the quieter streets in the evening rain, I stopped women I saw walking and asked them what they would have done if the Ramallah radio broadcast such a call for help.

“Of course I would have gone,” one elder woman answered. “If it was not my son or husband or brother besieged inside our mosque, it would have been my neighbor’s. Our men are risking their lives to try and forge our children a better future, it is our duty to fight by their sides.”

One young and beautiful woman added: “It would have been an honor to act as our sisters in Gaza have acted.”




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