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The End of Impunity

Six children died in one Israeli missiled strike on a residential building in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. (Photo: Defence for Children International - Palestine)

By the time you read this who knows how many people will have been killed in Israel’s latest onslaught on Gaza. As I write more than 1200 - mostly civilian - Palestinians have been killed, hundreds of them children. Also 59 Israelis have been killed, 3 of them civilians.

Benyamin Netanyahu complains that the media show pictures of “telegenically dead” Palestinians. It’s true; my timeline looks like a perverse beauty contest for dead babies and traumatised kids. There are the “before” shots: Essam Ammar, 4, from Gaza City, wears a yellow check shirt and holds a somewhat bedraggled flower, Hind Shadi Abu Harbeid, 10, from Beit Hanoun has clearly been playing with her mother’s nail varnish; she rests her chin on paint-tipped fingers and gazes away from camera, a small smile touching the corners of her mouth and lighting up her eyes. Hatem and Yasmeen al-Yazji hug each other, soft hair flopping over foreheads, big smiles revealing gappy baby teeth. Then there are the “after” images: children on hospital trolleys, children in ambulances, children burned, children blinded, children buried under rubble.

What these dead children tell us, beyond everything else, is this: that Israel believes itself unassailable. There is no doubt that Egypt’s complicity, newly - brazenly - explicit, has helped. But Israel has acted with impunity for a long time. Remember the Turkish activists it killed on board the Mavi Marmara as they headed for Gaza? Remember Operation Cast Lead in 2008? And how, in 2012 the world was shocked when the 4 children of the Dalou family were killed in Gaza. In the last week, the UN noted a child is killed every hour in Gaza. Israel raises the ante every time. Then it sells more weapons “combat tested” in the killing fields of Gaza.

A strip of coast, 40 kilometres long by 11 kilometres wide. Home to 1.8 million people. Beseiged and locked in for eight years now by Israel from the north, east and west, and by Egypt from the south; their medicine, their books, their calorie intake, their fuel, their CDs, their building bricks – all of it rationed, outside their control. Half of the Palestinians of Gaza are under 18. Many of their parents or grandparents were originally refugees from land just to the north, from what is now the Israeli settlement of Sderot, where Israeli settlers drag deck-chairs to the hilltop and picnic and cheer as they watch their army’s bombs fall on the people they’ve displaced, the people whose lands they’ve stolen. If someone with guns and bombs robs me, locks me up and starves me, surely I have the right to dig a tunnel to get hold of food and medicine. Surely I have the right to find a way to fight my jailer.

The first act of violence is to establish a system of oppression. Everything after that is resistance. It has been de rigeur to decry the Hamas rockets that crash into Israel’s Iron Dome. But terrorism is using violence to impose a political condition. Terrorism is Israel imposing a siege on a people because they voted for a government Israel didn't like. Terrorism is bombing imprisoned civilians and schools and hospitals. Think of the countless days and weeks when no rockets were fired from Gaza. Was the siege lifted then? No. The world treated Gaza as a humanitarian case, as if what the Palestinians needed was aid. But what Gaza needs is freedom.

Israel requires the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. That is, to accept that the Palestinians living in Haifa, Yafa, Nazareth, Akka etc will always be second-class citizens in their country. Israel ruptures logic; it wants to be a democracy practiced on the basis that some people are “chosen” and others are not. And if that won’t work then it wants the “not chosen” to disappear.

This impunity will not last forever. The world has now understood that every act that the propagators and executors of the Zionist idea of a Jewish state in Palestine have taken has been – by its nature – an act against the Palestinian people. Israel has tried to hide this basic fact using emotional blackmail and nasty accusations of anti-semitism. But the tide has turned and the latest Israeli killing-spree in Gaza has moved the hearts and consciences of people across the world.

Protests have marched in cities from Reykjavik to Tokyo. A tower block in Bogota is lit in the colours of the Palestinian flag. #ICC4Israel is trending on Twitter. Dutch children have made a video speaking the words of dead Palestinian children. Hardened newsmen and women have suddenly dropped the “parity” approach and spoken of the horror they’re witnessing in Gaza.

In London, when a group of Jews opposed to Zionism climbed on top of a red double-decker to declare their stand with the Palestinians they were met with a huge cheer. On Sunday a group of rabbis in Washington DC disowned Israel’s actions. Jewish citizens across the world declare “Not in my Name” to what is fast becoming described as Israel’s war crimes.

Protests have erupted across Haifa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and the occupied cities of Palestine. Young people have clashed with Occupation forces in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron and many other places. They have also given martyrs, shaheeds, in this latest round of killing.

The Arabic root sh/h/d is to see or to witness. A shahed is a witness. The intense form of the noun is shaheed, a martyr whose sole function now is to bear witness. A shaheed is buried as he died; no undressing, no washing, no rubbing with oil. The shortest of prayers, then he is folded gently into his clean, white shroud and sent to his Maker with his evidence intact: the burst lung, the pierced heart, the shattered bones. See, Lord, what they have done to your creation!

Israel, the light unto the nations, provided light for the killers of Sabra and Chatilla. It rains the light of conflagrations and explosions on Gaza. Its white phosphorus makes pretty trails in the sky. It beams a wall of light onto the sea. Sometimes the wall is 6 miles from the shore, sometimes it’s 3; it’s the limit beyond which Israel forbids the fishermen of Gaza to work in the water. And so Israel makes of light a killer and a jail, it makes democracy the prerogative of the chosen, resistance becomes terror, and the “most moral army” in the universe targets and kills children playing on a beach.

No more. It was not just the arms dealers and their clients who were watching the Israeli display over the last weeks. The citizens of the world are paying attention. And they have taken Palestine to their hearts. There’s a rising demand for an arms embargo against Israel, for trials for war crimes, and the Boycot, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign is getting stronger. None of this will bring back one dead loved one. We mourn the dead and grieve with the living. We also resolve to do everything we can to heal this terrible wound in the heart of the world.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Ahdaf Soueif

Ahdaf Soueif's new book Cairo: My City, Our Revolution is published by Bloomsbury in January, 2012. Her novel The Map of Love was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker prize.

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