Tonight I am confused.
I have been in Gaza for five days now and I am having difficulty understanding the 8-day war and the subsequent ceasefire. Let me explain the difficulty I am having. The Israeli Offensive Forces insist they protect civilians in Gaza, only targeting terrorists. They have several methods to protect innocent civilians. One method is to call the civilians on the phone, another method is to drop leaflets telling them to flee for their lives, as an attack is imminent.
During the latest offensive, Israeli dropped leaflets in the rural areas telling people to flee to the city. In Gaza City, leaflets were dropped warning people to flee to the rural areas. A new, ingenious method they use to protect civilians is to drop ‘loud, non-lethal bombs’ on a home as a warning for the inhabitants as to what will come. They even have a name for this warning. They call it ‘roof tapping’. Then anywhere from 3 minutes to 20 minutes pass before they bomb the house from F-16’s. These bombs are a very large and very lethal. The homes I have seen today have been completely flattened, and the houses around the target are also rendered uninhabitable.
The ‘non-lethal bombs’ penetrate rooftops and can travel through 4 stories. Children or other civilians sitting under these bombs lose limbs, suffer head trauma, shrapnel wounds, and other injuries. The idea behind these warnings is that inhabitants will flee their homes once they are warned. If elders, small children, newborns, or disabled people are in the home, this can be a difficult endeavor. If a child suffers an amputation, fleeing will take a little more precious time. But lets ignore these complications as they just muddy the waters. I am amazed at the generosity of the Israeli occupiers. You see, they are the “Most moral army in the world,” everyone knows this. The generals and politicians have been saying this for decades!
But this is my consternation. If you are so bent on protecting civilians and killing ‘terrorists’ why warn civilians to leave? Do they think the terrorists, who everyone knows hide behind civilians, will remain behind after the warning?
An even more confounding question remains. Why flatten an empty home?
After the most recent ceasefire agreement, it was stated that farmers would be able to reach their lands in the buffer zone that Israel established after they so generously abandoned their illegal settlements in Gaza. The farmers were thrilled that they would be able to farm on the 300-meter swath of land known as the buffer zone- better known here in Gaza as the no go zone, because if they dared try to access this land they were immediately targeted by Israeli snipers, but I digress.
On Wednesday we accompanied farmers to the buffer zone in Johr el Deek. It was amazing! We walked right up to the razor wire barrier! We watched as 2 Israeli jeeps approached the fence. I was smiling as they got out of their jeeps, but my smile was erased as they lifted their weapons and fired toward us. Of course, they didn’t shoot us, the ceasefire was in effect for an entire week! I was confused though, as they lobbed tear gas canisters at us, and continued firing over our heads as we retreated. Perhaps the soldiers were as confused as I was about the details of the agreement. After all, unfettered access to the land is a little vague. Perhaps the farmers misunderstood.
The fishermen faced a similar dilemma. After the ceasefire was announced, the fishermen were told that Israel, in it’s magnanimity, would allow the fishermen to fish in Gazan waters up to 6 nautical miles from the shore. This was double, (yes double!) the limit that has been in effect for the past 6 years. The fishermen were happy. They would have an opportunity to provide for their families. Never mind that the Oslo Accords stated fishermen would have access to 20 nautical miles of the sea. That was way back in 1993. Who could expect agreements so old to be respected now?
The fishermen I spoke with said they had access to the 6-mile limit for two whole days. Two days of fishing without risking their lives to feed their kids! It was great. So I was astonished to learn that on Wednesday, exactly one week after the ceasefire agreement, numerous fishing boats, in waters from 3 nautical miles to 6 nautical miles came under heavy attack by the Israeli Navy. One boat was sunk, 3 boats had their engines destroyed by gunfire, one trawler was confiscated and 9 fishermen were arrested. Of course, the Israeli officers made sure the fishermen stripped and jumped into the sea before they sunk the boat. They were safely in custody on the Israeli gunboat before the Israeli Navy blasted the fishing boat to smithereens.
The fishermen received no warnings. Of course everyone realizes that cell phones don’t work so far from shore and dropping leaflets would be impractical as most of the leaflets would fall into the water. And even I know ‘roof tapping’ at sea would be way too dangerous, as the possibility of harming the civilian fishermen would be high.
The best approach is to simply start firing from hundreds of meters away as the gunboats accelerate toward the fishing trawlers. This gives the fishermen at least 3 minutes to pull up their nets and escape back to port. I am not certain what changed on the third day for these fishermen, but few fish were caught.
We also visited the homes of 2 children who were killed. One was 15 year old, Hassan Jamal Nasser. The other child was 9-year old Fares al-Basyouni. Both were killed in their homes as they slept.
Shrapnel that penetrated the wall decapitated Fares. His father described the horrific scene. ‘We didn’t hear the bombs. We woke to the sound of windows shattering and the house shaking. The house was full of smoke. My daughters and sons were screaming as I moved from room to room to find them.’ Fare’s lifeless torso landed on top of his 14-year old brother, who ran screaming from the house into the night.
I thought this was impossible- didn’t they receive the warnings? Hassan’s cousin Mohammed confirmed leaflets fell from the sky 20 minutes after the attack. So, you see, they were warned.
One thing is certain. Israel has a right to defend itself. President Obama said, ‘There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’ I agree with this wholeheartedly, who can deny it? I also understand that Israel has to teach its enemies a lesson from time to time, and I imagine the sooner the better. They certainly don’t want the people of Gaza to imagine what it must be like to be free, this would only encourage the terrorists.
So you see my dilemma. What I read in the corporate media and what I hear from my government and Israeli politicians doesn’t quite square with the eyewitness accounts on the ground. Maybe the IOF can drop some leaflets and set me straight.
Johnny Barber, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is reporting for CounterPunch from Gaza.