FROM ELECTRONIC INTIFADA
By M El Haj-Ahmed A translator and teacher from Gaza
A MONTH has passed since Israel’s 11-day attack on Gaza came to an end.
While we are glad that the attack is over, adjusting to everyday reality has not been easy.
It has not helped that Israel has already carried out new airstrikes against Gaza. Those airstrikes came within 48 hours of Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s prime minister last week.
Putting trauma behind us is a struggle. Most members of my family had trouble sleeping at night both during and after the May attack. Fortunately, we are able to rest a little better now.
Each of us is trying to cope in their own way.
Humour is essential to my own coping strategy. I try to find something funny in every experience.
Yet there was no laughter when Israel bombed Gaza in May. We were terrified.
Two noises were constant: the buzzing of drones and the loud whoop of the F-16 warplanes supplied to Israel by the US.
Still, I did my best to unwind. I even ‘celebrated’ the holiday of Eid al-Fitr by refusing to follow the news.
I did not know then that our area – al-Jenina neighbourhood in the city of Rafah – was about to be bombed.
Within the blink of an eye, Israel bombed a residential building beside where we lived on 13 May. There was no warning.
Four of our neighbours – all from the extended al-Rantisi family – were killed.
They included a grandmother and her baby grandson.
The al-Rantisis were popular in our neighbourhood. I had seen one of them, Raed, a few days before he was killed.
Raed was riding his motorbike. When he saw me, Raed slowed down and greeted me with a big smile.
I had a premonition barely five minutes ahead of the bombing.
It felt like something bad was about to happen. With a heavy heart, I prayed to God that nobody in our family would be harmed.
Then I heard an explosion.
All I could see was that the doors had been blown off their hinges and the windows broken. There was glass and bricks everywhere.
My bedroom is upstairs. The rest of my family were below me when we were bombed.
As it seemed that the explosion mainly affected the lower part of our home, I started to panic.
I immediately ran downstairs, barefoot.
I ran through broken glass. Yet I did not notice that my feet were bleeding.
The only person I could see was my father. His back was covered with blood.
I could not see anyone else. The house was full of thick black-and-white smoke.
I went outside and started searching for my mother and my sister. It took me a few moments to find them.
They were struggling through the haze caused by the explosion.
The following day, I went back to see our house.
Everything was a huge mess. There were no doors or windows. One room had been badly burned.
I found shrapnel on my bed; the floor in my room was covered with debris.
It was a horrible scene yet I felt a sense of relief. If I had been in bed when the explosion occurred, I would probably not be alive today.
I am 24 years old. In July, I will turn 25.
Most of my life has been spent in Gaza.
Not all, though. When I was a child, my family spent a few years in the English city of Manchester. My father was accepted in a doctoral programme at the University of Salford.
I was in Manchester during Operation Cast Lead, another major Israeli attack on Gaza.
On 28 December 2008 – the second day of that attack – it had been arranged that I would go to the cinema with some other Palestinians living in Manchester. As my father watched the horrific images from Gaza on Al Jazeera, however, he decided that I couldn’t go to the cinema.
Instead, we prepared for a trip to London, so that we could join the protests against Israel’s crimes.
Many people from Gaza living abroad have decided to remain living abroad. That is understandable.
Gaza is accurately described as an open-air prison. If you are in a prison, it is only natural that you wish to escape.
My dad could have made more money if he pursued a career as an academic in the UK. But he very much wanted to serve his people by teaching in Gaza.
So in 2010, we came back. My dad resumed his work at the Islamic University of Gaza, where he teaches how to translate between English and Arabic.
Since our return, we have lived through three major bombardments: one in November 2012, the next in the summer of 2014 and this most recent one last month.
We remain shocked by the violence we witnessed in May but we refuse to abandon hope.
Palestinians must be allowed to exercise our basic rights. We are not allowed to because Israel runs an apartheid system – with help from powerful governments such as the US.
That can change. We believe it will change if enough people around the world take action to end Israel’s crimes.
MEANWHILE Amnesty International stated on Friday that Israeli police are carrying out a ‘catalogue of violations’ against Palestinians across Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, including unlawful force against peaceful protesters, sweeping mass arrests, and subjecting detainees to torture and other ill-treatment.
The human rights organisation reported that Israeli police have also failed to protect Palestinian citizens of Israel from premeditated attacks by groups of armed Jewish supremacists, even when plans were publicised in advance and police knew or should have known of them.
‘The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of discrimination and ruthless excessive force by Israeli police against Palestinians in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem,’ said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
‘Police have an obligation to protect all people under Israel’s control, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian. Instead, the vast majority arrested in the police crackdown following the outbreak of inter-communal violence were Palestinian. The few Jewish citizens of Israel arrested were dealt with more leniently. Jewish supremacists also continue to organise demonstrations while Palestinians face repression.’
Amnesty researchers documented more than 20 cases, verified through 45 videos and other forms of digital media, of Israeli police violence between May 9 and June 12, 2021, during which protests against the forced expulsions of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah began.
‘This discriminatory crackdown was orchestrated as an act of retaliation and intimidation to crush pro-Palestinian demonstrations and silence those who speak out to condemn Israel’s institutionalised discrimination and systemic oppression of Palestinians,’ said Saleh Higazi.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in the police crackdown, and a 17-year-old boy and 25-year-old man were both shot dead. Mostly peaceful demonstrations have taken place in Israeli cities and East Jerusalem over the last several weeks.
More than 2,100 people – 90 per cent of them Palestinian – have been arrested, most for allegedly insulting or assaulting a police officer or taking part in an illegal gathering, while Israeli settlers have been largely able to organise freely.
‘The few Jewish citizens of Israel arrested were dealt with more leniently. Jewish supremacists also continue to organise demonstrations while Palestinians face repression,’ said Higazi.
On at least two occasions in Haifa and Nazareth, Amnesty reported there was evidence of police attacking groups of unarmed Palestinian protesters without provocation.
An incident in which an Israeli police officer shot a 15-year-old girl in the back outside her Sheikh Jarrah home was captured on video, as was another incident where a protester was shot in the face while using his phone to film police from a balcony in Jaffa.
The rights group also documented the torture of detainees who were tied up, beaten and deprived of sleep at a police station in Nazareth and at the Kishon detention centre.
‘The repeated failure of Israeli police to protect Palestinians from organised attacks by groups of armed Jewish supremacists and lack of accountability for such attacks is shameful and shows the authorities’ disregard for Palestinian life,’ said Molly Malekar, Director of Amnesty Israel.
‘The fact that Jewish citizens of Israel, including prominent figures, have been allowed to openly incite violence against Palestinians without being held accountable highlights the extent of institutionalised discrimination faced by Palestinians and the urgent need for protection,’ she added.