• War in Gaza - Summer 2014

    The War in the Summer of 2014

    The new year got off to a bad start. For the first time since 2009, we did not get the needed permit to enter Gaza. Hence our Bilingual Experimental Programme was interrupted. So was our network of relations, since the people we know in Gaza scarcely use internet, nor do they use the phone. Needless to say, there are no postal services in Gaza. No letter would get there.

    February 2014 : our file was classified as “in progress”. April 2014 : still “in progress”. Blame it on a change in personnel at the gates, or what, we were told we were not considered (anymore) as “humanitarian”.

    We pleaded countless times at different levels, still the ax would fall : no access. Bad omen, if anything. Our work proceeded, but in the West Bank only, in various universities, from Jenin to Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem.

    Not to underestimate the influence of higher education : good books and the study of languages will take you a long way indeed. Came June 2, 2014, and we learnt that Dr Rami Hamdallah, a linguist who had been President of the An Najah University in Nablus, was confirmed as Prime Minister, at the head of the second Government of National Unity, after the brutal demise of the first one, in the summer of 2006, when some forty members of the Palestinian legislature were taken prisoners (as a retaliatory measure against the capture of the young tank operator Gilad Shalit) – among them, the Vice Prime Minister Nasser Al Shaer, who also was “our minister”, the Minister of Education, the man who was instrumental in getting the Palestinian National Authority to support our Experimental Bilingual Programme in April 2006.

    This government is in charge of preparing the next general elections, a process that was frozen in 2006, with the massive arrest of legislators mentioned above.

    To us, an encouraging piece of news, since it was established in 2006 that only a strong government, representing all the tendancies of Palestinian public opinion, could implement our Experimental Programme.

    This ray of renewed hope did not last long. On June 12, ten days barely after the unity government was formed, three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped in an Israeli-controlled area, and from there all hell broke loose. Immediately, “Hamas” was designated as the prime suspect, which led to the massive arrests of more than 500 of its members and sympathizers in the West Bank. Among them, Dr Aziz Dweik, the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament – as such, according to Palestinian institutions, the second-in-line after President Abbas.

    Strangely, Dr Dweik is the exact opposite of an extremist. A professor in urban geography, with a Ph D in Regional and Architecture Planning from the University of Philadelphia, practically his whole family has been involved in medical and pharmaceutical studies. Reminding us of the poet’s quote : “they locked up a man who wanted to rule the world; the fools locked up the wrong man”.

    Could Dr Dweik be held responsible in anything for the kidnapping of the three teenagers ? Or Hamas for that matter, the usual Bête Noire ? An Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, gives troubling clues on that case, in his inquiry published by Al Monitor, on June 29 : Accused kidnappers are rogue Hamas branch.

    Sadly, and strangely enough, the very next day, the bodies of the three young hitch-hikers were found a few miles away from Hebron, in “Qawasmeh territory”. By Shlomi Eldar again, read Hebron branch of rogue Hamas wing has dark history (published on July 2).

    More strangely still : the two suspects, members of that “rogue wing” haven’t been found two months after the crime.

    On the same day, July 2, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped in the Northern suburb of Jerusalem, and burned alive in the small Jerusalem Forest, as “retaliation” for the triple murder in the West Bank.

    Six days later, the Israeli Defense Forces launched their “Mighty Cliff Operation” against Gaza, due to the number of rockets fired from there in June and early July.

    On this matter, people are of two conflicting views. Some claim that these rockets (including the long-range ones that can hit Haifa or Jerusalem) are as nothing, since more than 2,500 of them have only been able to kill 3 persons in 3 weeks. Their contradictors hold the view that just one is enough to drive people crazy, and trigger a carnage : on July 3 a short-range Qassam rocket hit a day camp in Sderot minutes before the children were due to arrive. On July 11, on the 4th day of the military operation against Gaza, a longer-range rocket hit a gas station in Ashdod, about 40 km from Gaza City, setting it on fire, seriously injuring a disabled man, moderately wounding seven others.

    Numbers speak volumes though, when compared to the tolls of the previous operations. As of August 1st, 2014, more than 8,000 Palestinians have been wounded in 3 weeks (as opposed to less than 7,000 in 8 years) and around 1,300 have been killed (1,437 according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, equivalent to the “peak” of 1,400 for “Cast Lead” and 622 for the other four operations altogether ).

    400,000 Gazans have become refugees in schools, mosques, public structures, including a few churches, or at distant relatives’. Ominously, one of the UN schools was hit by a shell, on July 30, and fifteen refugees were killed in their sleep. UN Aid Chief Pierre Krahenbuhl warned that this was the 6th time one of their schools had been targeted by shelling (check Daily Mail, August 1st). No place is safe anymore.

    The Al Najjar family, who had escaped heavy shelling in their village near the Eastern border to find refuge with relatives in densely populated Khan City, was hit by a missile on July 26, leaving 11 children and 5 women killed. Around thirty of them died in a few days in both locations. Where to go from there?

    In what ways this concerns us, and strikes us too :

    The boys you see in the pictures above are students in Shujaieh, East of Gaza City. How can they relate to Dr King’s approach to non-violent choices, non-violent resistance now ?

    The man who took their pictures is a member of the Al Najjar family. How can he continue with our programme, and its philosophy ?

    “I believe that even today amid rocket bursts and bullets whining, there’s still hope for a brighter tomorrow” ?

    Make no mistake : the one-ton bombs and the $100,000 Hellfire missiles presently targeting Gaza, along with the countless 155 mm tank shells, are not destroying “the infrastructures of terror” (or if they do here and there, they will be rebuilt in no time). Rather, they are creating irreversible damage to the minds of 1 million children and teenagers, making our work in the wake of this onslaught all the more difficult. Almost impossible, in the aftermath of this “inhuman war”.