Grotesque irony about Gaza
- WHY BOMBING ASHKELON IS THE MOST TRAGIC IRONY
By Robert Fisk
(Robert Fisk is one of the most respected Middle East journalists, has
a PhD in political science, speaks Arabic, and has lived and traveled
widely in the region.)
30 December 2008
How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete
the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza
which ? in any other conflict ? journalists would be writing about in
their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli
land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.
That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in
Ashkelon and the fields around it ? Askalaan in Arabic ? were
dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and
ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They ? or their children and
grandchildren and great-grandchildren ? are among the one and a half
million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per
cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This,
historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come
But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday,
that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped
up in the slums of Gaza ? a rubbish dump of destitute people of no
origin ? and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic
Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air
force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had
grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have
now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.
Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they
wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see
why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds
of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled
or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years
ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the
aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out
of their property didn't worry the world.
Well, the world should worry now. Crammed into the most overpopulated
few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have
been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in
hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West.
Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel
Sharon's bloody "pacification", starting in 1971, to be completed, and
Gaza is not going to be tamed now.
Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice ? I'm
talking about the late Edward Said, not the corrupt Yassir Arafat (and
how the Israelis must miss him now) ? is silent and their predicament
largely unexplained by their deplorable, foolish spokesmen. "It's the
most terrifying place I've ever been in," Said once said of Gaza.
"It's a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery
of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse
than anything I saw in South Africa."
Of course, it was left to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to
admit that "sometimes also civilians pay the price," an argument she
would not make, of course, if the fatality statistics were reversed.
Indeed, it was instructive yesterday to hear a member of the American
Enterprise Institute ? faithfully parroting Israel's arguments ?
defending the outrageous Palestinian death toll by saying that it was
"pointless to play the numbers game". Yet if more than 300 Israelis
had been killed ? against two dead Palestinians ? be sure that the
"numbers game" and the disproportionate violence would be all too
relevant. The simple fact is that Palestinian deaths matter far less
than Israeli deaths. True, we know that 180 of the dead were Hamas
members. But what of the rest? If the UN's conservative figure of 57
civilian fatalities is correct, the death toll is still a disgrace.
To find both the US and Britain failing to condemn the Israeli
onslaught while blaming Hamas is not surprising. US Middle East policy
and Israeli policy are now indistinguishable and Gordon Brown is
following the same dog-like devotion to the Bush administration as his
As usual, the Arab satraps ? largely paid and armed by the West ? are
silent, preposterously calling for an Arab summit on the crisis which
will (if it even takes place), appoint an "action committee" to draw
up a report which will never be written. For that is the way with the
Arab world and its corrupt rulers. As for Hamas, they will, of course,
enjoy the discomfiture of the Arab potentates while cynically waiting
for Israel to talk to them. Which they will. Indeed, within a few
months, we'll be hearing that Israel and Hamas have been having
"secret talks" ? just as we once did about Israel and the even more
corrupt PLO. But by then, the dead will be long buried and we will be
facing the next crisis since the last crisis.
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