The Gaza Massacre and the Struggle for Justice

The Gaza massacre, which
Israel launched two years ago Monday, did not end on 18 January 2009, but
continues. It was not only a massacre of human bodies, but of the truth
and of justice. Only our actions can help bring it to an end.

The UN-commissioned Goldstone Report documented evidence of war crimes
and crimes against humanity committed in an attack aimed at the very
"foundations of civilian life in Gaza" -- schools, industrial
infrastructure, water, sanitation, flour mills, mosques, universities,
police stations, government ministries, agriculture
and thousands of homes. Yet like so many other inquiries documenting
Israeli crimes, the Goldstone Report sits gathering dust as the United
States, the European Union, the Palestinian Authority and certain Arab governments colluded to ensure it would not translate into action.

Israel launched the attack, after breaking the ceasefire it had negotiated with Hamas the previous June, under the bogus pretext of stopping rocket firing from Gaza.

During those horrifying weeks from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009,
Israel's merciless bombardment killed 1,417 people according to the
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.

They were infants like Farah Ammar al-Helu, one-year-old, killed in
al-Zaytoun. They were schoolgirls or schoolboys, like Islam Khalil Abu
Amsha, 12, of Shajaiyeh and Mahmoud Khaled al-Mashharawi, 13, of
al-Daraj. They were elders like Kamla Ali al-Attar, 82 of Beit Lahiya
and Madallah Ahmed Abu Rukba, 81, of Jabaliya; They were fathers and
husbands like Dr. Ehab Jasir al-Shaer. They were police officers like Younis Muhammad al-Ghandour, aged 24. They were ambulance drivers
and civil defense workers. They were homemakers, school teachers,
farmers, sanitation workers and builders. And yes, some of them were
fighters, battling as any other people would to defend their communities
with light and primitive weapons against Israel's onslaught using the
most advanced weaponry the United States and European Union could

The names of the dead fill 100 pages, but nothing can fill the void they
left in their families and communities ("The Dead in the course of the
Israeli recent military offensive on the Gaza strip between 27 December
2008 and 18 January 2009," [PDF] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 18 March 2009).

These were not the first to die in Israeli massacres and they have not
been the last. Dozens of people have been killed since the end of
Israel's "Operation Cast Lead," the latest Salameh Abu Hashish last
week, a 20-year old shepherd shot by Israeli occupation forces as he
tended his animals in northern Gaza.

But the tragedy does not end with those who were killed. Along with thousands permanently injured, there is the incalculable psychological cost
of children growing up without parents, of parents burying their
children, and the mental trauma that Israel's offensive and the ongoing
siege has done to almost everyone in Gaza. There are the as yet unknown
consequences of subjecting Gaza's 700,000 children to a toxic water supply for years on end.

The siege robs 1.5 million people not just of basic goods, reconstruction supplies (virtually nothing has been rebuilt
in Gaza), and access to medical care but of their basic rights and
freedoms to travel, to study, to be part of the world. It robs promising young people of their ambitions and futures. It deprives the planet of all that they would have been able to create and offer. By cutting Gaza off from the outside world, Israel hopes to make us forget that the those inside are human.

Two years after the crime, Gaza remains a giant prison for a population
whose unforgivable sin in the eyes of Israel and its allies is to be
refugees from lands that Israel took by ethnic cleansing.

Israel's violence against Gaza, like its violence against Palestinians
everywhere, is the logical outcome of the racism that forms the
inseparable core of Zionist ideology and practice: Palestinians are
merely a nuisance, like brush or rocks to be cleared away in Zionism's
relentless conquest of the land. This is what all Palestinians are
struggling against, as an open letter Monday from dozens of civil society organizations in Gaza reminds us:

"We Palestinians of Gaza want to live at liberty to meet Palestinian
friends or family from Tulkarem, Jerusalem or Nazareth; we want to have
the right to travel and move freely. We want to live without fear of
another bombing campaign that leaves hundreds of our children dead and
many more injured or with cancers from the contamination of Israel's
white phosphorous and chemical warfare. We want to live without the
humiliations at Israeli checkpoints or the indignity of not providing
for our families because of the unemployment brought about by the
economic control and the illegal siege. We are calling for an end to the
racism that underpins all this oppression."

Those of us who live outside Gaza can look to the people there for inspiration and strength;
even after all this deliberate cruelty, they have not surrendered. But
we cannot expect them to bear this burden alone or ignore the appalling
cost Israel's unrelenting persecution has on the minds and bodies of
people in Gaza or on society itself. We must also heed their calls to

One year ago, I joined more than a thousand people from dozens of
countries on the Gaza Freedom March in an attempt to reach Gaza to
commemorate the first anniversary of the massacre. We found our way blocked by the Egyptian government which remains complicit, with US backing,
in the Israeli siege. And although we did not reach Gaza, other convoys
before, and after, such as Viva Palestina did, only after severe
obstruction and limitations by Egypt.

On Sunday, the Mavi Marmara returned to Istanbul where it was met
dockside by thousands of people. In May the ship was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla which set out to break the siege by sea, only to be attacked and hijacked
in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine people and
injured dozens. Even that massacre has not deterred more people from
seeking to break the siege; the Asian Convoy to Gaza is on its way, and
several other efforts are being planned.

We may look at all these initiatives and say that despite their enormous
cost -- including in human lives -- the siege remains unbroken, as
world governments -- the so-called "international community" -- continue
to ensure Israeli impunity. Two years later, Gaza remains in rubble,
and Israel keeps the population always on the edge of a
deliberately-induced humanitarian catastrophe while allowing just enough
supplies to appease international opinion. It would be easy to be

However, we must remember that the Palestinian people in Gaza are not
objects of an isolated humanitarian cause, but partners in the struggle
for justice and freedom throughout Palestine. Breaking the siege of Gaza
would be a milestone on that march.

Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament and a passenger on the Mavi Marmara explained last October in an interview
with The Electronic Intifada that Israeli society and government do not
view their conflict with the Palestinians as one that must be resolved
by providing justice and equality to victims, but merely as a "security"
problem. Zoabi observed that the vast majority of Israelis believe
Israel has largely "solved" the security problem: in the West Bank with
the apartheid wall and "security coordination" between Israeli
occupation forces and the collaborationist Palestinian Authority in
Ramallah, and in Gaza with the siege.

Israeli society, Zoabi concluded, "doesn't feel the need for peace. They
don't perceive occupation as a problem. They don't perceive the siege
as a problem. They don't perceive oppressing the Palestinians as a
problem, and they don't pay the price of occupation or the price of
[the] siege [of Gaza]."

Thus the convoys and flotillas are an essential part of a larger effort
to make Israel understand that it does have a problem and it can never
be treated as a normal state until it ends its oppression and occupation
of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and fully respects the
rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees. And
even if governments continue to stand by and do nothing, global civil
society is showing the way with these efforts to break the siege, and
with the broader Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and
sanctions (BDS).

Amid all the suffering, Palestinians have not celebrated many victories
in the two years since the Gaza massacre. But there are signs that
things are moving in the right direction. Israel begs for US-endorsed "peace negotiations"
precisely because it knows that while the "peace process" provides
cover for its ongoing crimes, it will never be required to give up
anything or grant any rights to Palestinians in such a "process."

Yet Israel is mobilizing all its resources to fight the global movement for justice, especially BDS, that has gained so much momentum
since the Gaza massacre. There can be no greater confirmation that this
movement brings justice within our grasp. Our memorial to all the
victims must not be just an annual commemoration, but the work we do
every day to make the ranks of this movement grow.

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