On Saturday morning the Palestinian Health Ministry phoned A. from Rafah and asked him to open his vegetable refrigeration room. The idea was to make room for dozens of bodies piling up in the city’s small hospital. A.’s refrigerator quickly filled up with bodies, including of many children.
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In Rafah Saturday they counted 120 dead and about 500 wounded in one night of Israeli operations looking for 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin. At midnight between Friday and Saturday I got a call from Y., A.’s brother, who told me, in fluent Hebrew, in a choked voice that turned into weeping: “What happened in Rafah today is a massacre in every sense of the word.”
With his family, Y. had fled on foot from his home toward the sea as shells fell on his neighborhood. “All the F-16s and unmanned aircraft that Israel has are now in the sky over Rafah,” said the man who had spent 33 years working in Israel.
“We’re past Rafah, as you wanted, Tal,” sang Arik Lavie in a boastful song about another war. Lavie was talking about Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, who commanded the division that captured Gaza in 1967. But this time, horrifically, we’re still not past Rafah, the most ruined city in the Strip, where as of Saturday bodies were still piling up.
While Y. was crying massacre in Rafah, the White House spokesman released a statement calling the capture of the Israeli officer and the killing of his two comrades “a barbaric violation” of the cease-fire agreement. The restrained American spokesman used the word “barbaric” for the first time in this war.
Nothing else was considered barbaric. Not the Israeli shell that landed two days earlier on Shujaiyeh’s crowded market killing 17 people and wounding 150 at the height of another cease-fire, not the shell that fell on an UNRWA school where 3,000 refugees were hiding, not the bombing of the Gaza power station, the bombing of the university, the bomb dropped by those excellent Israel Air Force pilots on a four-story dwelling in Khan Yunis without warning, killing 35, including 18 children and eight women – apparently the most deadly bombing in Gaza ever.
Only the abduction and the killing of two soldiers. This is an American spokesman also afflicted with racism; “barbarity” is preserved only for one side. Yes, Hamas is known for its barbarity, as are all the Palestinians, and word of that barbarity has finally reached Washington in another Israeli public-relations feat.
But the truth is that this war has been barbaric since it started. The dead are already more numerous than in the previous barbaric attack, Operation Cast Lead, including the shocking number of civilians killed.
Relative to the size of Gaza’s population, the numbers are approaching the dimensions of the war in Syria, the one Israel bandies about to prove the Arabs’ animal nature. Last week, a record-breaking week, 1,700 people were killed in Syria. In Gaza, whose population is less than one-tenth that of Syria's, about that same number have been killed in three and a half weeks of Israeli intoxication of the senses – not a major difference.
What began as Operation Cast Lead and continued as Operation Pillar of Defense might turn into Operation Peace for the Galilee. Some people are talking about staying for a year in Gaza. More than 60 Israeli soldiers and officers have been killed, as well as more than 1,600 Palestinians, in a war that will achieve nothing but bloodshed.
The world cannot conceive of how unfeeling Israel is, and neither can Y. from Rafah. On Friday night he said to me on the phone: “I’m ashamed of my Israeli culture. I grew up with you from age 16; it hurts me when I hear a siren in Ashkelon, the city where I worked for years, and you don’t care at all about us, not at all.” He wept again, and I was silent.