Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli aerial assault and massacre of Gazans begun on December 27, 2008, lasted for 22 days. The Israeli military deployed its navy, air force and army against the people living in Gaza, using U.S.-supplied weapons and killing 1,383 Palestinians, of whom 333 were children.
I remember a doctor at the Al Shifa hospital, after a ceasefire was declared, shaking with anger and remorse as he told me that for 22 days the world watched while the incalculable affliction of Gaza went on and on. Most of his patients, he said, were women, children, grandparents.
Carrying our press passes from Counterpunch, I and Audrey Stewart, a human rights worker, walked into Gaza at the Rafah border crossing, which at the time was the only Gazan border crossing not controlled by Israel. We were sandwiched between correspondents working for the New York Times and the LA Times. A human rights activist in Cairo had arranged for Audrey and me to stay with a family in Rafah, the residential area the crossing opened into. Overnight, bombs could explode like clockwork, once every eleven minutes, from 11 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and then again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. Yusuf, a bright child and the family’s oldest, explained to Audrey and me the difference between explosions caused when an Apache Helicopter fired a Hellfire missile and the sounds of 500 lb. bombs dropped by F-16 fighter jets. Yusuf at the time was seven years old.
When the ceasefire was declared, Yusuf’s mother sank into a chair and murmured, “Can you imagine? This is the first time I breathe in all these 22 days, – I was so frightened for my children.” Yusuf lost no time in going out to organize neighborhood children who were soon dragging a large tarp through alleys and along roadways, seeking twigs and branches they could bring to their families for fuel.
Meanwhile, Mohammad, his younger brother, playfully imitated an airplane flying in circles, after which he would dive into his father’s lap as, seated in a circle, we all shared breakfast.
Four years later, following another Israeli aerial attack against Gaza, I had a chance to again visit the family in Rafah. The children were proud of how their father organized relief work to help children traumatized by the bombings and siege. Gaza’s access to food, fuel, basic medicines, even clean water for washing or drinking, would continue to constrict under Israeli pressure over those years in which Yusuf and Mohammad would, eventually, become husbands and fathers themselves, still assisting the family efforts to share resources and care for increasingly desperate neighbors.
This month, Mohammad is dead. On October 12, while he was sleeping, his building was attacked by an Israeli warplane so that it collapsed, crushing him to death. I don’t know if his own children were with him, but countless others took hours or days to die in the rubble, as the region starved for fuel with which a rescue effort might have been undertaken. An estimated 10,000 people have been killed. 4,104 Gazan children, utterly innocent, have suffered tortuous deaths in just the recent month of atrocity.
Calling for a “pause” in the bombing rather than a full ceasefire is hideously cruel and unmistakably futile. Allow some relief to go in, a few of the maimed and wounded to go out, and then resume the bombing and the starvation blockade? President Joe Biden must call for a cease-fire, writes Professor Emeritus Mel Gurtov, “in order to save lives, including those of the hostages and Gaza’s population.” Who will benefit if the slaughter, instead, continues? Certainly, the weapon manufacturers’ profits will soar, assured of a sustained intensification of violence across the region and perhaps across the world.
On November 12, launching at 8pm Central time, the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal, which multiple activists have spent the last year preparing, will officially convene. It will aim to hold four major military contractors – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, RTX (Raytheon) and General Atomics – accountable for any war crimes and crimes against humanity they may be found to have committed.
I hold myself accountable for not having done more to stop the ongoing, and now horrifically intensified, carnage enacting monumental collective punishment on innocent Palestinians, including the children who make up half of Gaza’s population.
Recently, former U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that “nobody’s hands are clean … all of us are complicit to some degree.” We all, and not just the leaders we’ve failed to restrain, have unforgivable blood on our hands, but I’m mindful of young Afghans who repeatedly told us, over the past decade, that “blood doesn’t wash away blood.”
We’ve no excuse, none whatsoever, for not raising our voices resoundingly, thunderously, clamoring for a Ceasefire, Now.