“At least 11 Palestinians, including one child, have been killed after Israeli forces struck a mosque during prayers in the town of Beit Lahiya, north of Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip.
More than 200 people were inside the the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque praying when it was struck.
It is not clear yet whether the mosque was hit as part of the Israeli army’s shelling, which started on Saturday afternoon.
At least 50 people were wounded, Hamas and medical officials said.
The Israeli military has destroyed several mosques during its week-long offensive in Gaza, saying Hamas uses the houses of worship to store weapons.
Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza, said: ‘As much as Israel wants to be surgical in its strikes at the end of the day it is civilians that are being hit. This is proof that civilians are caught up in these attacks.’
Mohyeldin said doctors in the Gaza Strip were being overwhelmed by the number of casualties being brought in as a result of the Israeli offensive and that hospitals were near a state of collapse due to a lack of medicines and blood.”
Ziyaad Lunat, The Electronic Intifada, 3 January 2009
|An Egyptian national burns his passport outside the Egyptian embassy in Beirut, 2 January. (Matthew Cassel)|
In 1835, Thomas Macaulay, a British colonial officer in India, decreed that “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.” European colonial powers often used political outsourcing through a network of native collaborators as a convenient way to subjugate the masses. These collaborators would tame the colonized on behalf of their masters who became sheltered in this way from popular uprisings. However, this process was not always predictable. In 1857, the sepoys, Indian soldiers allied to British rule, revolted against their colonial masters. Britain’s response was fierce. Over 100,000 sepoys and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in cold blood. This became known as India’s first struggle for independence; which was finally realized in 1947.
A year later, European settler colonialists established the state of Israel through a pre-mediated campaign of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. Despite divisions amongst Arab governments and self-interested manipulation of the Palestinian plight, the response was that of opposition and generally in line with the feelings of the Arab masses. As a result, western governments have sought for decades to bully those governments into submission by forcing them to accept the premise of an inherently racist Jewish state in their midst.
As Israel massacres the Palestinians in Gaza once again, one may ask what has happened to this Arab voice. It is no surprise that the world’s super powers condone Israel’s genocidal acts in Gaza. Colonization, slavery, apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing have been constants in western colonialist adventures. What has now reached new levels is the open, vocal and active support of Arab governments to the massacre of the Palestinian people. As the Indian sepoys once did, new collaborators have joined the chorus of voices condoning the carnage.
The Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt is a case in point, symbolizing this painful new reality. Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt and the unelected Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have actively colluded with Israel, first to unsuccessfully overthrow Hamas from Gaza through force and then to choke the Palestinians in Gaza by denying them basics such as food, clean water, medical treatment and a decent education. While this “holocaust in the making” was occurring, as the UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk fittingly described it, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies were collaborating with Israel to deploy forces across the West Bank cities to suppress resistance to the occupation. As US general Keith Dayton put it, these forces were taught that they “are not here to learn how to fight against the Israeli occupation,” but instead to fight “the lawless elements within Palestinian society.”
Not surprisingly, Abbas blamed Hamas for the ongoing bloodshed, claiming that they have refused to renew the truce. The best he could come out with, in the face of growing popular discontent, was a “threat” to discontinue negotiations (read, collaboration) with Israel. Hamas has in fact shown willingness to extend the truce but under the condition of ending the illegal siege. This is tantamount to requesting basic human rights for Palestinians, something Abbas never conditioned in his dealings with Israel.
Israel’s other ally, Egypt, has accused Hamas of barring the wounded from escaping Israel’s attack, conveniently ignoring their own long-term refusal to allow any Palestinians to cross in and out of Rafah. According to the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, the Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman deceived Hamas into believing that Israel would not launch an attack on the Gaza Strip while sending their forces to seal the border in preparation for an Israeli attack. Egyptian forces later opened fire against Palestinians wanting to escape the carnage.
This form of hypocrisy found expression all over the Arab world. In the United Arab Emirates for instance, protests in solidarity with the Palestinians were banned or tightly controlled. The Arab League with its usual incompetence has been remarkably slow in reacting, first delaying their meeting for days and then issuing an insignificant declaration for all parties to cease violence offering no solution to the desperate plight of the Palestinians under siege.
But a more important question is how the Arab masses and people of conscience around the world have reacted. What are their real democratic wishes? If the Arab governments surpassed their own low standards in usurping Palestinian rights, the Arab masses have conversely renewed their determination to reject foreign domination, for every time they are stripped off their dignity; their spirit of resistance to oppression is revitalized. Across the Arab world, there has been a renewed sense of revulsion and determination to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, uniting their causes with the occupied Iraqis and others suffering under oppressive regimes sponsored by the West.
In a very sober address to the Egyptian people, Secretary General of Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah, stated: “Let the Egyptian people take to the streets in their millions. Can the Egyptian police arrest millions of Egyptians? No!” These words sum up why today, Hamas and Hizballah, have gained more respect and legitimacy in the Arab popular opinion than any of the corrupt Arab regimes. The resistance organizations represent the aspirations of the ordinary people, who want their rights and freedom reinstated, not because they support terrorism or are subhuman, as much of the western media portrays them to be. Israel and its allies are sowing the seeds of more radicalism and greater instability in the Middle East. While powerlessly watching the massacres in Gaza, one cannot discern whether this instability is a means or an end in itself. As for the corrupt Arab regimes, they are left with two choices: either they listen to their citizens or they will have to face continuous revolt by the people. The pages of history have taught us that oppression never existed without provoking revolt for liberation and rights.
Abbas and his minions can learn much from the sepoy mutiny in India and the Ghandian nonviolent struggle for liberation that ensued. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the 15 years of collaboration with Israel has yielded more settlements, thousands of house demolitions, kidnappings and massacres — the truth is that the leaders have nothing to show to the people in return. The time has come for the Palestinian factions to unite behind the popular masses, for active and passive legitimization of Israel’s actions to stop and for a return to basics. Resistance to Israel’s occupation can most effectively be done through a nonviolent struggle calling for equal rights to that of their Israeli occupiers under one secular state. It is time that we extend the basic premise the West has insisted upon for themselves: that freedom is non-negotiable.
Ziyaad Lunat is an honorary life member of the London School of Economics (LSE) and an activist for Palestine and can be reached at z.lunat A T gmail D O T com
Rami Almeghari writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 3 January 2009
|Thousands of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s bombing in Gaza are staying at UN schools like this one or with family. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)|
“They have made us gather, they have made us recall past days, they have let us feel a warmth that we have long missed amidst life’s troubles which have become so great. So we say simply and ironically, thanks to the Israelis.” Sahar Ali Shaath of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, voiced her reaction after she and more than 20 other family members were forced to flee their house near the Gaza-Egypt border.
The Shaath family is one of thousands that have been forced to flee their houses near the Gaza-Egypt border as Israeli warplanes have bombed the area for seven days straight. Israel has attempted to destroy tunnels used by Palestinians to bring in essential supplies include food, livestock and medicine to circumvent a tight 19-month long Israeli siege that has made these necessities scarce.
While reports say that most of the newly displaced families are staying with relatives, at least 200 are being housed in one school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.
“I really can’t describe what I felt the moment we decided to leave our house, to leave my office,” Sahar said from her brother’s cramped apartment in the nearby New Bader refugee camp where the family sought refuge. “But if we didn’t leave, we would have been targeted too, as the Israeli warplanes never stopped hitting my town,” added Sahar, who works as a project manager for Catholic Relief Services.
Sahar, who brought her laptop computer with her, said, “besides following up on my work, I went to a nearby grocery to buy some cookies and chocolates for my beautiful nieces and nephews. Every night, despite the blackout, we gather, talk and tell the children stories from our Palestinian history — stories of the intifada, and of our own repeated displacements to various refuges, up to now, the latest such refuge.”
Sahar’s brother Marwan, a civil servant, lives in a two-room apartment. Crowded into it now are more than 15 children including three of his own, his parents, his three married sisters and a brother. While he is offering refuge to members of his family now, he knows their situation only too well: his own house was demolished by the Israelis in 2002.
|What remains of Marwan Shaath’s house after Israeli forces destroyed it in 2002. (Rami Almeghari)|
“However abnormal this situation is, I am really happy I can offer a place to sleep for my relatives,” said Marwan. “Many people around us have been forced to stay with neighbors, or even at nearby schools for fear of Israeli air raids.”
During the day, Marwan and other family members returned to the evacuated family home in the Sheout area near the border with Egypt to bring back flour, blankets and Sahar’s desktop computer.
“We could not bring anything else that would require a van,” explained Marwan, “because the Israeli drones buzzing overhead fire at vans, suspecting they are carrying weapons.”
Outside in the yard, Marwan’s 72-year-old father Ali was playing with his granddaughter. “What can I say, my son?” he said. “Throughout my life I have lived many displacements. This is the latest.” Before Israel was created in 1948 and he and other residents were forced out, Ali lived in the town of Bir al-Saba (now called Beersheeva by Israel).
“They think they are targeting Hamas,” Ali said, “but they are not. They are targeting the entire Palestinian people. I know them very well from Bir al-Saba.” From there Ali was been displaced to Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp, then to Rafah, and now to Bader refugee camp.
“Do they think we will surrender?” Ali asks. “No, we won’t! If we all die, Palestinians who are outside Palestine will continue the struggle. Almost every Palestinian family has one or two sons abroad.”
On 27 December, Israel began an all-out aerial and naval bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, 80 percent of whom are refugees from towns and villages that are now inside Israel, according to UNRWA.
After one week of bombing, the death toll stood at more than 437 persons, and more than 2,250 injured. While claiming that it is bombing “Hamas targets,” Israel has in fact struck hundreds of private homes, mosques, charities, police stations, university and school buildings, ministries, the Palestinian Legislative Council building, and cars driving along roads. At least a quarter of the dead are women and children, not counting other male civilians including dozens of civil police officers responsible for traffic management and other routine duties.
Israel claims that this attack is aimed at stopping Palestinians from firing crude, homemade rockets at Israel. This firing resumed after Israel unilaterally broke a five-month long ceasefire with a series of attacks on the Gaza Strip beginning on 4 November. Over the past week three Israeli civilians and one army officer have been killed by Palestinian rockets.
On New Year’s Day, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni rejected a French proposal for a ceasefire to allow relief supplies to reach Gaza’s population. Livni denied outright that there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, contradicting UN reports of a very dire situation. The Israeli government has begun to make preparations for a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
“Every night we all gather in Marwan’s house. Who knows? Maybe an Israeli warplane will hit us, so we are much closer to each other than ever,” said Sahar with an smile on her face. “Thank God for everything.”
Rami Almeghari is contributor to The Electronic Intifada, IMEMC.org and Free Speech Radio News and is a part-time lecturer on media and political translation at the Islamic University of Gaza. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor-in-chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari A T hotmail D O T com.