ONCE YOU SEE WHAT TRULY HAPPENED IN GAZA, IT WILL CHANGE YOU FOREVER

By Medea Benjamin

When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me. I saw it in a brochure called “Gaza will not die” that Hamas gives out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the street, when I go to sleep at night.

It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.

What was this little girl’s name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring?

Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children — each as beautiful and precious as our own.

As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness, firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping “smart bombs” that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.

If the invasion was designed to destroy Hamas, it failed miserably. Not only is Hamas still in control, but it retains much popular support. If the invasion was designed as a form of collective punishment, it succeeded, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers and traumatized children.

To get a sense of the devastation, check out a slide show circulating on the internet called Gaza: Massacre of Children (www.aztlan.net/gaza/gaza_massacre_of_children.php). It should be required viewing for all who supported this invasion of Gaza. Babies charred like shish-kebabs. Limbs chopped off. Features melted from white phosphorus. Faces crying out in pain, gripped by fear, overcome by grief.

Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that “Israel has the right to self-defense” or “Hamas brought this upon its own people,” or worse yet, “the Israeli military didn’t go far enough,” does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to humanity.

Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a desire to alleviate that suffering. True compassion is not circumscribed by one’s faith or the nationality of those suffering. It crosses borders; it speaks a universal language; it shares a common spirituality. Those who have suffered themselves, such as Holocaust victims, are supposed to have the deepest well of compassion.

The Israeli election was in full swing while was I visiting Gaza. As I looked out on the ruins of schools, playgrounds, homes, mosques and clinics, I recalled the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, “No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it’s not enough.” As I talked to distraught mothers whose children were on life support in a bombed hospital, I thought of the “moderate” woman in the race, Tzipi Livni, who vowed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, insisted that “terror must be fought with force and lots of force” and warned that “if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message.”

“The message,” I can report, has been received. It is a message that Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean nothing to them. Even more chilling is the pro-war message sent by the Israeli people with their votes for Netanyahu, Livni and anti-Arab racist Avigdor Lieberman.

How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.

Here in the U.S., Congress ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and pledged its unwavering support for the Israeli state. All but five members out of 535 voted for a resolution justifying the invasion, falsely holding Hamas solely responsible for breaking the ceasefire and praising Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time when food supplies were rotting at the closed borders.

One glimmer of hope we found among people in Gaza was the Obama administration. Many were upset that Obama did not speak out during the invasion and that peace envoy George Mitchell, on his first trip to the Middle East, did not visit Gaza or even Syria. But they felt that Mitchell was a good choice and Obama, if given the space by the American people, could play a positive role.

Who can provide that space for Obama? Who can respond to the call for justice from the Palestinian people? Who can counter AIPAC, the powerful lobby that supports Israeli aggression?  

An organized, mobilized, coordinated grassroots movement is the critical counterforce, and within that movement, those who have a particularly powerful voice are American Jews. We have the beginnings of a such a counterforce within the American Jewish community. Across the United States, Jews joined marches, sit-ins, die-ins, even chained themselves to Israeli consulates in protest. Jewish groups like J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom lobby for a diplomatic solution. Tikkun organizes for a Jewish spiritual renewal grounded in social justice. The Middle East Children’s Alliance and Madre send humanitarian aid to Palestine. Women in Black hold compelling weekly vigils. American Jews for a Just Peace plants olive trees on the West Bank. Jewish Voice for Peace promotes divestment from corporations that profit from occupation. Jews Against the Occupation calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

We need greater coordination among these groups and within the broader movement. And we need more people and more sustained involvement, especially Jewish Americans. In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our-and Palestinian-children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out. As Sholom Schwartzbard, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, explained at a New York City protest, “We know from our own history what being sealed behind barbed wire and checkpoints is like, and we know that ‘Never Again’ means not anyone, not anywhere — or it means nothing at all.”

On March 7, I will return to Gaza with a large international delegation, bringing aid but more importantly, pressuring the Israeli, U.S. and Egyptian governments to open the borders and lift the siege. Many members of the delegation are Jews. We will travel in the spirit of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but with a heavy sense of responsibility, shame and yes, compassion. We will never be able to bring back to life the little girl buried in the rubble. But we can-and will–hold her in our hearts as we bring a message from America and a growing number of American Jews: To Gaza, With Love.

For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact gaza.codepink@gmail.com.


Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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13 Comments

  1. Peter Kofod said,

    February 20, 2009 at 10:42

    Check out:
    http://www.vivapalestina2009.blogspot.com for updates on the Viva Palestina Aid Mission from London to Gaza!

  2. February 20, 2009 at 14:29

    God bless you for your honorable voice
    please see our blog http://justicenownetwork.blogspot.com/

  3. Barbara said,

    February 20, 2009 at 16:37

    For years I have followed the works of Medea and admired her unwavering commitment to what is right. Many of her antics are serious but tinged with a zany sense of humor and most effective, but the work she and her mates with CodePink is invaluable. They take their message to source and apply peaceful but powerful pressure on the people behind the atrocities.

    The Code Pink website is testamony to this. They are innovative in getting their message across.

    I did not know, smiles, that she was Jewish. These things have never mattered to me, but her points about the power of American Jews are valid and must be supported. I have found in speaking to so many of my Muslim friends, “There is no such thing as a good Jew, they are all criminal” seems to be the mindset. To that end, I do my best to point out that the peace movements of the Jewish people are hidden by their media and these people are truly putting a lot on the line to voice their true feelings. In my research on various topics, I have found very many Jewish peace groups who are making a difference.

    Having Medea Benjamin involved will definitely draw a lot of attention to these groups and help them gain the necessary exposure. And I pray, make a difference for the men, women and children of Gaza.

  4. embarrassed in USA said,

    February 20, 2009 at 17:33

    house cleaning is needed good people
    a good house cleaning is needed

  5. Nick Bell said,

    February 20, 2009 at 17:55

    Thank you Medea Benjamin for keeping hope alive.

  6. tay said,

    February 20, 2009 at 18:01

    nah,not a cleaning,time to get the exterminators in.

  7. Easterling said,

    February 20, 2009 at 20:56

    http://www.nkusa.org/

    Please check out nkusa

    Thank You Man of PEACE!

  8. February 21, 2009 at 07:47

    […] ONCE YOU SEE WHAT TRULY HAPPENED IN GAZA, IT WILL CHANGE YOU FOREVER Tags: […]

  9. michael mazur said,

    February 21, 2009 at 12:31

    Yes, the arms are US made and freely given to be used as seen fit. Holocaust guilt has done that to people in the West, and the pain of the Holocaust guilt is somewhat eased by allowing this unique perpetual victim class to indulge in unlimited crime.

    Strange to conceptualise how it might be in the mind of a Holocaust Believer, but in making the effort to peer inside his skull i see that the unlimited instilled personal guilt needs the symmetry of granting perpetual indulgence to the heirs of the Memory of the Holocaust to behave in just as a depraved manner as attributed to all Nazis in order to feel some relief this expiation gives.

    I hate to bring the bad news to Medea Benjamin, but if these mind numbing horrors are not going to be endlessly repeated, people doing years in German jails for Holocaust Denial will simply have to be allowed to have open televised prime time debate with the most knowledgeable Holocaust Affirmers.

    You can’t jail people in Germany for not believing your story at the same time as you plant trees in expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

    Where’s the symmetry ?

    For my part, while i do not go as far as to say, “There is no such thing as a good Jew, they are all criminal”, i do see you all as a monolith. To be sure, there are minute numbers of exceptions like Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir and Israel Shahak and Desert Peace and Brother Nathanael Kapner, but that’s about it.

    Literally, the fingers of one hand.

  10. desertpeace said,

    February 21, 2009 at 12:47

    Michael…. re: your closing paragraph…. please look at this post.
    https://desertpeace.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/photo-essay-new-york-jews-take-to-the-streets-in-support-of-gaza/

  11. michael mazur said,

    February 21, 2009 at 14:11

    Yes, DP, i won’t quibble. To that extent i amend what i said.

  12. Sahar said,

    February 22, 2009 at 14:15

    Thank you Medea, really appreciate your article.
    I just would like to say in response to your statment;
    “How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.”

    The planning for the establishment of the state of Israel started in the late 1800’s, against the approval of many Jews at the time who sopke against it.. It was established and kept its strategy of emptying the land, by any means, of the Palestinians.

    What I really want to say is that; had it been truely “the people born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust”, things may had been different.

    Thank you and all the Jews and Israelis who have come out lately to tell the truth, and we know how difficult that is to you all.

    A Palestinian.

  13. Roula said,

    February 22, 2009 at 15:53

    Check this site:http://www.islamonline.net/English/In_Depth/GazaHolocaustMuseum/topic_01/31.shtml
    You’ll find out the poor girl’s name and other information.
    R.I.P my loving little one…..


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