Opinion

Little Ghosts From Gaza

As long as life in Gaza is governed by Israeli drones, artillery and snipers, this cruelty will continue to kill bodies there – and souls here too

Four and a half years after that summer in Gaza, the character of Rani is the one, in the closing episode of the Kan TV series “Muna,” who found the exact words, which he says to Yaniv: “You never really went in there. And you’ll never really leave. You’re there. You’re there and Gaza is here. Like your ghosts. All of our ghosts. In fact, it never really begins, and it never really ends. It’s an endless loop. We’re done for.”

In that summer in Gaza, with missiles, smart bombs and stupid artillery shells we killed more than 500 of their children. And since then, where will we take the horror? The ghosts of 1-year-old Ranim al-Ghafoor and 2-year-old Muhammad al-Nawasrah – both killed on July 9, 2014, the second day of the “operation”, in different attacks from the air – float in our consciousness. There, and here too.

Yamen al-Hamidi, 4, was injured in another strike on July 13; he died of his wounds a week later. And in a single bombardment in Bani Suheila, on July 20, we killed 18 children from the same extended family, the Abu Jama family. The ghosts of the youngest of them, baby Nujud, 5 months old when she was killed, does not let go.

This shame cannot be buried. There is nowhere to lead it. It never really begins, and it never really ends. We’re done for.

The Israelis don’t want to hear about Gaza. They certainly don’t want to feel that they are to blame for it. After all, we left, and in any case it’s all Hamas’ fault, as the government “explains” from every platform, especially abroad. This is cheap propaganda – as Rani tells Yaniv, after all, we never really left. We’re even still in charge of their population registry, more than a decade after the “disengagement.”

And so even the names of the children of the a-Rifi family, all of them hit together on August 21, were in the end deleted from the population registry by an Israeli clerk. Six names: Ahmed, 3, Maram, 7 and Omar, 9, were killed on that day; 5-year-old Abdallah survived another six days; Ziad, 9, died of his wounds five days later; Mohammad survived for more than four years, a quadriplegic on a respirator, and he died a few months ago, November 3, 2018, a 13-year-old who for more than one-third of his life could not breathe or move on his own, a prisoner in his own body. The ghosts of the children of the a-Rifi family certainly bothered the Israeli population registry clerk a number of times, each child on his particular date.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proud of his well-honed English and his ability to use it to represent and defend Israel abroad. In the most beautiful English, Netanyahu stood before the UN General Assembly in September 2014 and said: “No other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies.” Eleven days before his speech, 2-year-old Sama al’Ajuz died of her wounds. She was injured by tank fire on July 20 and died two months later, on September 18, in a hospital in Jordan. Netanyahu did not mention little Sama in his speech, but her ghost floated over it, especially when he pronounced the word “enemies” in English.

Four and a half years have gone by since then. The shame that can’t be buried floats in our consciousness, emerges suddenly from our subconscious in unexpected ways. If not in the form of guilt or repression, then at least as political profit? Ghosts float above Gaza in the election campaign of the chief of staff of that military operation, now a politician who seeks to replace the prime minister and return “statesmanship” to Israel. To get elected, his campaign ads count bodies, as many as possible, and showcases a drone’s-eye-view of Gaza’s destruction. If that’s the way the campaign looks, how will a future military action look, under a statesmanlike government.

In a few weeks, at the end of the month, it will be a year since the weekly Great March of Return demonstrations started, every Friday at the Gaza border fence. Israel does not put its snipers into Gaza. The sharpshooters fire from embankments inside Israel, around the Gaza Strip. And so, in slow, continuous bleeding, in an endless loop, another 6,300 wounded and 200 more ghosts have been added. On some days the continuous bleeding has not been slow: The day the American Embassy opened in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2018, 73 people were killed. The youngest of them, Az-Adin Asamak, was 13. Almost his entire short life in Gaza was spent under siege.

Children who were born in Gaza at the start of the Israeli blockade are now celebrating their 11th birthday, if they survived operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge. Both they and their families are certainly asking how things will look in the future. Two million people in a besieged and crowded area, with little electricity and polluted water. Not only bombs are killing Gaza’s children, so is polluted water. Truly, the grandmothers sigh, how will the future look?

The ghosts don’t give one’s soul a rest, but in the dense reality of our lives, this is a matter of life and death. As long as life in Gaza is governed by Israeli drones, artillery and snipers, this cruelty will continue to kill bodies there – and souls here too. But the lives of 2 million people will not be controlled this way forever. Only a way out that is one of justice and freedom, rights and equality will cut the endless loop. Otherwise, as Rani said to Yaniv, this loop will really never end.

Hagai El-Ad is the director of B’Tselem.

A file photo of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border as Israeli soldiers are seen taking cover, 2015.
\ REUTERS