Even the dead have no land

By Ronald M. Horvath | Jun 23, 2010

Gaza is a bridge of land that connects Palestine to the Sinai and to Egypt, an ancient road for conquerors, nomads and wanderers.

Today it is an island of misery surrounded by the armed might of Israel. Indeed, for the last 60 years it has been a kind of overpopulated prison for many of the same people who were driven from the land and homes of what is now Israel. During the 1948 war that marked Israel's birth Israeli forces uprooted more than half of Palestine's population -- 800,000 people -- and destroyed 531 villages and emptied 11 urban neighborhoods of their inhabitants. Their only crime then, it seems, is that they were in the way.

Their real crime now is refusing to admit to the lie that they didn't belong there in the first place like a prisoner in some Third World dictatorship that refuses to sign a trumped up "confession" in exchange for their freedom. They don't want that kind of freedom. They want justice, as well as their self-respect, their simple human dignity, and their right to self-preservation, all crimes in the eyes of Israel.

For having lost everything they have received little over the years but scorn and that narrative has become their reason for being. Philip Weiss, a Jewish American, wrote after visiting Gaza that "because of the ongoing oppression, this narrative of dispossession and massacre and humiliation crowds the consciousness, just like the Holocaust narrative that I was nursed on as a young man." One thing is clear to Weiss: "The occupation and siege are aimed at destroying the Palestinian spirit, that is the only obvious conclusion to me."

Weiss' observation is accurate in a very human sense. British religious writer Karen Armstrong wrote: "The Palestinians have discovered that physical exile is also a spiritual displacement. It is not true that they would gladly settle in other countries were it not for the dishonest schemes of their leaders, as their enemies maintain. Deprived of their rightful place in the world, they are aliens and outsiders."

The blockade that is destroying Palestinian life, but not their spirit, was inflicted on the people of Gaza as a result of a free election in which Hamas, an organization of resistance to Israel and support for Palestinians, was thrust into power by a people tired of the corruption and incompetence of their former leaders. It was, in Israel's opinion, the wrong decision and the blockade -- of such things as chickpeas, macaroni, wheat flour, recreational kits, stationery items for students, school-in-a-box kits, many medicines, and even chocolate -- is their punishment.

"Gaza is still a prison and its inhabitants are still doomed to live in poverty and oppression," wrote Israeli journalist Gideon Levy. "Israel closes them off from the sea, the air and land ... Gaza has no chance of escaping its poverty under these conditions. Nobody will invest in it, nobody can develop it, nobody can feel free in it. Israel left the cage, threw away the keys and left the residents to their bitter fate."

Of course this was the idea all along just as every incursion of Israel into Palestinian land, no matter what the provocation, is accompanied by an orgy of destruction, of homes, of businesses, of anything resembling the infrastructure that signifies nationhood, and, of course, of human life.

When Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel's presence from Gaza it was hailed as a move toward peace but it was nothing of the kind. Sharon's closest friend, colleague, senior adviser and chief of staff Dov Weissglass, in a long interview that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, claimed quite plainly that the disengagement, which he and Sharon had persuaded President Bush and both houses of Congress to endorse, "was actually intended to prevent a peace process, to consign Bush's road map to oblivion, and to preclude the emergence of a Palestinian state of any kind."

A short time later Weissglass, as a top aid to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, joked about the blockade saying, "The Palestinians will get a lot thinner."

A year later half the children under 2 in Gaza were anemic; 56 percent of Gazans are children who can hardly be blamed for voting for Hamas and yet it is now estimated that 10 percent of them have had their growth stunted from malnutrition. The United Nations said that a majority of Gazans and 25 percent of West Bank residents are "food insecure."

"What happens when you imprison 1.5 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens?" wrote Israeli journalist Amira Hass. "It is the good old Israeli experiment called 'put them into a pressure cooker and see what happens.' The success of the experiment can be seen in the miasma of desperation that hangs over the Gaza Strip."

In 2008, in retaliation for the homemade rockets of Hamas bombarding Israel 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed. Half were women and children. Thirteen Israeli soldiers died as well, and three of those were from friendly fire. Now, in addition to the hunger, there are the damaged hospitals and pulverized government buildings, as well as homes and businesses. Medical supplies are depleted (and restricted by the blockade) and an inability to get material for rebuilding now leaves many Gazans living in tents. Even before the blockade 16 million square meters of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip were razed by the Israeli army, destroying the inhabitants' ability to feed themselves or grow anything for trade. Half of Gaza's people now live below the poverty line and one in five live in extreme poverty. Unemployment routinely runs at almost 50 percent.

Perhaps of special significance during the 2008 Israeli incursion was the death of 20 members of one family. Since there was not enough room to bury all the bodies they opened up an old grave to accommodate them.

As one of their cousins bitterly observed, "Even our dead have no land."

Ronald M. Horvath lives in Camden.


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