Again but differently, that terrifying open-ended escalation.
In 2014, Israel’s final, gratuitous act in Gaza was its bombing of two residential apartment buildings. In 2021, it is their opening gambit. They have picked up where they left off – but it’s different this time. UNRWA which sheltered 293,000 displaced people in 2014 has been gutted by Trump while Gaza’s health, water and other essential infrastructures have been hollowed out by Israel through the years. Where will people go for shelter?
This time, there is Covid on one side. Israel has vaccinated its military and systematically refused to meet its legal obligations to vaccinate the Palestinians whose land it occupies. Gazans in distress, in relatives’ homes, in hospitals, will be unable to socially distance.
It is different within Israel, too. Rockets are reaching further and causing casualties. There is an uprising in Lod. I dread the violence, everyone’s violence. I am afraid for my family, I am worried and sad for everyone.
Still, I cannot understand this unless I distinguish between the equal rights of civilians to safety, and the grossly unequal Israeli regime that has placed them all in such danger. With that distinction, I know there is no way back to the status quo ante, because the status quo caused this.
Generations of settler-colonial occupation, racially differentiated laws and life prospects, forced expulsion and violence with impunity – that was the status quo. Palestinians have abruptly overturned it. Rejecting the forced expulsion of families from Sheikh Jarrah and incensed by the paramilitary violation of their sacred space, 80,000 Palestinians faced down the soldiers and prayed at Al Aqsa Mosque. With that, the status quo was over. There is no way back.
So I sit with my fears, I dream about a post-racial society that has dealt with its crimes, and I send my best to clear-eyed strangers.
But I will not sit still while Gaza is under bombardment. That is different. The wall makes that different.
Two million people are trapped within an illegal blockade, crowded together in a pandemic, lacking reliable supplies of clean water or electricity. Most of all, they lack any way to move to safety. You cannot protect civilians behind a wall. I know this. I was part of the UNRWA emergency response team that could not keep displaced Palestinians safe enough from Israel’s bombardment in 2014.
My heart is racing today as it used to race then.
Gaza is so small that the bombs have names on them. First the sound smacks into your chest and the earth shudders, and a moment later the curtains flap inward from the rushing air. You turn to each new pillar of smoke and dust and flame, and you ask, “Who do I know there – which of my friends lives there? Who have I lost?” And even if you don’t know anyone in that neighbourhood, the density of Gaza means that the bomb had someone’s name on it. Someone has lost.
No matter how many bombs fall, you do that every time. You peer into every pillar of smoke and strain to know who is gone. The number of explosions does not blunt a single one of them.
And then neighbours race toward the rubble and the fires. Neighbours come to dig with a shovel or with their bare hands, to search for survivors or to carry the remains of their friends and families for burial. When the other sounds abate, you hear the screams of relatives who are tormented by their wait.
The wall, the blockade makes Gaza different.
Occupied people are legally protected people. The law makes their protection our responsibility, and the people of Gaza need us to live up to our responsibility right now.
So speak up.