Shell-shocked by Israel’s war

July 20, 2015

Israel unleashed its most recent war crimes in Gaza one year ago this month, on July 8, 2014. A year later, thousands of Palestinians are still waiting for cement and other essential building materials to be allowed through the suffocating blockade on Gaza so they can rebuild. Gaza's civilian infrastructure remains in shambles, and Israel's relentless siege continues.

Mohammed Omer is one of the only independent journalists based in Gaza and has earned a well-deserved reputation for his fearless reports on Israel's episodic violence against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza. His book Shell-Shocked: On the Ground Under Israel's Gaza Assault is a comprehensive collection of Omer's reports written as the bombs literally detonated around him. As Noam Chomsky wrote in praise of Shell-Shocked: "Mohammed Omer could easily have escaped the horror of Israel's impending assault on the trapped and helpless people of Gaza. Instead, he chose to stay, to record, in searing and vivid detail, the savagery of Israel's latest escapade of 'mowing the lawn' and the steadfastness of the victims of a hideous tragedy. Few can match his courage and integrity, but all of us who live in countries providing the arms and diplomatic support that made Israel's actions possible should ponder his words and ask ourselves what has been done in our name and what we should do about it."

Here, we publish Omer's introduction to Shell-Shocked to mark the one-year anniversary of the latest episode in Israel's one-sided war on Gaza.

I'VE WRITTEN this book as a way of preserving and passing on stories that need to be told. Some are positive narratives, like the reporting of the 4,500 babies born in Gaza during the last assault. Some are more poignant, like the story of young Ahmed, a boy who did not survive the Israeli attacks. He is remembered through his sister Narjes al-Qayed's words and memories. I also seek to honor the steadfast spirit of solidarity between Gaza's Christians and Muslims. The priests and imams opened their churches and mosques for all, regardless of faith. People forget Palestinians are of all religions, including the Jewish faith. Palestine has existed for more than 3,000 years. It is noted in ancient Roman records, within the writings of Hebrew scribes, on historical maps from Europe and Asia. It is written on the tombstones in Old Jerusalem marking the graves of fallen British soldiers pre-1948. To be Palestinian simply means to be from the region of Palestine, which includes parts of modern day Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and the Occupied Territories. Our race isn't Palestinian. Our race is Arab, though many of us share Caucasian, Asian and/or African backgrounds as well. Our religions, which are not races, include, but are not limited to, Muslim, Jewish, Druze and Christian.

Shell-Shocked: On the Ground Under Israel's Gaza Assault | Mohammed Omer

In Gaza, Christians and Muslims live and suffer together. Palestinians of both faiths have seen their schools and places of worship bombed by the Israeli military. Palestinians of both faiths are arrested, starved, humiliated, separated from family, prevented from leaving and killed by the Israeli military and zealous settlers in the West Bank. And Palestinians of both faiths remain united in a spirit of common humanity despite the Israeli narrative and systemic dehumanization.

These are important facts to remember because one of the primary tactics used to prolong the occupation is creating divisions where none exist. These supposed divisions are often at the heart of the support by Western governments for a "two-state solution." Two state. One state. Neither is much of an issue in the Middle East and certainly not much of one in Palestine or Israel. The argument is another layer of lacquer slathered over the issue to make it look like something is being done to end the occupation. But the occupation will end only when it costs Israel more in political and economic capital than it is worth. Forcing Israel to pay that price is the purpose of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and the beauty of it is that it takes a legal route that doesn't use guns or kill people to make a point. It is completely nonviolent and, as South Africa showed, quite effective.

Speaking personally, I would like to see a single state where equity and tolerance are the only way forward for Israelis and Palestinians. On April 2, 2015, the Pew Research group released a report, The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050. By 2050, the study predicts that nearly 80 percent of the world's Jewish population will be in just two countries: Israel and the United States.

It's interesting that even today, in one of those countries, the United States, Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians work together, often live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same stores and are sometimes even friends. Each group has its own faith communities, customs and traditions, and each group is able to live with the other, absent walls, checkpoints, bombs, laws of segregation and all the other means of oppression deployed against the people of Gaza and the West Bank. It's only in Israel that a state of permanent war exists. This suggests to me that the problem isn't one of race, religion or ethnicity. The problem is policy. Change the policy. Change the dynamic.

STRENGTH LIES in mutual peace. If Israel feels threatened by its neighbors, it's going to need Palestinians as a mutually respectful partner. If we look back--to just before the intifada of 2000--we see a time when Palestinians and Israelis lived alongside each other in relative peace, with Palestinians employed inside Israel, often staying overnight for their work and returning peacefully to their homes. Such were the days when Palestinians could, at least, earn a wage to feed their families and maintain their homes, before the current situation in which they are forced to rely on the international community for aid, charity and handouts while Israeli is allowed to loot the land, set up closed zones, lock down the borders, and attack at whim. These realities have turned 80 percent of Gaza's Palestinians into refugees, dependent on UN relief agencies. When UN resolutions call again and again for the end to Israel's collective punishment and occupation and Palestine's self-determination, these are blocked by the United States and Israel doubles down on its oppression.

International law has always been in the background, somewhere, gathering dust, when it comes to war crimes and human rights abuse against Palestine. Every war in my relatively short life, so far, has taught me that the reaction of the international community is hopelessly weak when it comes to preventing innocents being killed. Consider the refusal to declare a no-fly zone, like the one that was imposed over Libya in 2011, to defend Palestine from Israeli bombing. I don't see the difference between defending innocents in Libya or in Gaza, especially when UN agencies are there, on the ground, working to provide relief.

I conclude on two positive points: the resilience of Palestinians is intact, despite being constantly hit hard with daily despair and huge unemployment throughout the Gaza Strip. The younger generation do all they can to hold on to their lives and human rights--they attend schools and colleges, and continue to value education highly as a foundation for their future careers, even if very few have been allowed by Israel to leave the Gaza Strip and pursue their dreams. This is the new generation that Israel should be seeking to make peace with, rather than setting up as an enemy.

The second positive point relates to the United States. I can recall my first talks at Harvard and Columbia universities, and in several synagogues across the USA, where most people listened but some came to heckle and shout against the truth being told. This trend is now changing, and there is a stronger connection with young Jewish American people. The tide is turning toward justice and equitable peace. I know it is a slow process and may take years, but it feels right. Change is coming. And that is a good thing.

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