Thursday, July 31

Mercy of Israeli occupation at work in Gaza

In the midst of the ongoing onslaught against Gaza -- which has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 Palestinians and the wiping out of entire families -- Israel has at times been accused of targeting civilians.

The Israeli armed forces, however, have made much of their "humanitarian" credentials and concern for civilian life, claims which have been most notably exemplified in the argument that they warn civilians of an impending attack through a "knock" -- whether through the firing of a non-explosive projectile at the roof, or through a phone call or text message.

The notion that these warnings are somehow "humanitarian gestures" says much about the extent to which Palestinians have been subject to extensive dehumanization. On the basis of the military's own proud proclamation of this policy you could be forgiven for forming the impression that the residents of Gaza should be grateful to Israel for giving them advance warning of the obliteration of their own homes.

But are these "warned" families even able to escape unharmed?

In order to grasp the extent to which the open celebration of this policy represents a fundamental perversion, we must engage with the most basic precondition of humanitarianism and imagine the position of Gazans.

For a minute, put yourself in the shoes of the Gazans who receive these warnings.

You have just received notice that your home is to be obliterated in a matter of moments. Look around you -- how would you react?

All around you there are things that you need and things which are essential to your life: Where can you go without a passport? What if your employer asks you for your birth certificate? And then there are things which are personal to you: your wedding photograph, a photograph from a now distant childhood, a gift from a friend, your child's graduation pictures. How could you possibly choose? On what basis would you decide what is worth more to you?

You would want to be sure that you left nothing valuable behind, so you would run through the house, aware that you only have a few moments to find what is most valuable to you. You would perhaps tell yourself to focus on the task before you as you empty bags and hurl your clothes and personal belongings across the room; surely you will stop only to take the bare essentials?

It can all be replaced, you tell yourself.

But there is something that cannot be replaced -- the personal significance of the objects which you leave behind: the small things you hoped to hand onto your own children, the heirlooms which your own parents had passed onto you. Perhaps your hands will pass over these objects in a fleeting moment, a final farewell to a past you must now leave behind. Only afterwards will you realize just how much of yourself has been left behind.

Even the closeness of the moment fails to fully concentrate your mind: who can be entirely practical at times like this? Your hands knock jars off the shelves, and stupidly clutch at useless cooking utensils. You enter the bathroom and grasp at a towel and toothbrush.

Momentarily your mind snaps back to reality: a holiday? Is that where you think you are going? Chiding yourself, you run back into the living room, stopping by a chair -- again your senses snap you back, reprimanding your utter absurdity: do you really think you can take a chair with you?

Suddenly you awake, as if from a dream. Was it three minutes or 56 seconds? Who can be sure? It's not as if you can ask the person with their finger on the trigger when you will die. You grab what is most valuable to you, what you could never imagine leaving behind.

In a split second you take your children's hands and run from the house, leaving everything else behind you, knowing that you will never return and facing the unknown.

No wonder we hear the Gazans who survive talk about the slow death they experience.

Nadia Naser-Najjab has a PhD in Middle East Studies, and is an Associate Research Fellow at the European Center of Palestine Studies-Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter focusing on Palestine and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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