by Bert de Vries.
“Those who turned Gaza into an internment camp for 1.8 million people should not be surprised when they tunnel underneath the earth. …”
Amira Hass, “Reaping what we have sown in Gaza,” Ha’aretz, 20 July, 2014
As I absorb the news of conflict in Gaza in the mainstream American media – pictures of bloodied children with limbs ripped away; the barrage of statistics, over 800 civilian Palestinians vs 30 Israelis, but a photo of one of each in each New York Times; missile hits on hospitals and schools, Hamas’ ineffective rockets missing an entire airport, and on and on – I hear no history, and therefore, no meaningful explanation, no past with which to understand the present. Seems all this began a month ago with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli young men, followed by the counter murder of a Palestinian boy and the cruel beating of his cousin in East Jerusalem. In response the Israeli army rounded up Hamas sympathizers in the West Bank, in reaction to which Hamas in Gaza started lobbing its tin-can missiles into Israel and the Israelis responded by sending its “precision” missiles into Gaza, in a sort of targeted assassination campaign that would stop if Hamas would stop.
This all comes with little or no explanation, no background or context, so that one is forced to draw conclusions about moves and counter moves as though this were a World Cup soccer came, Germany vs Brazil, say, with everything ‘meaningful’ compressed in the 90 minutes of play. So we could sense, early on, the shock over the killing of the three Israelis, followed by anguish over the murder of one Palestinian boy and the outrage from watching the beating of his cousin – over and over again – and then the grief over the massacre of entire Gazan families, and especially all those children. But the growing empathy for the plight of the victims of Israeli missiles faded as Hamas refused the Egypt-brokered ceasefire. After that, the ‘crowd’ in this past week gave the Israelis a virtual license to kill – until their missiles hit that UN shelter yesterday…
I call this reporting in the “sportscaster present,” a present in which the iconic impressions of the crowd (call it “fan loyalty”) take the place of objectively sourced understanding, an atmosphere in which oft-repeated platitudes and “media mantras” are presumed factual, explanatory and justifying, taking the place of real historical explanation. In this flat present, Hamas is always an Islamic extremist terrorist organization; American policy is condensed in the mantric “Israel has a right to defend itself.” The underlying unquestioned modus operandi is that Israel is “our” ally, and Hamas, the enemy of our friend, and therefore… So we take sides, even mildly and unawares, as in the words of a prayer in which the lamentable carnage of the women and children of Gaza was qualified as a response to a “threatening neighbor.”
In counterbalance, I prefaced this blog post with the words of Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist for Ha’aretz who has empathized with the plight of the Palestinians by living among them, in Gaza when she wrote Drinking the Sea at Gaza (1993) and more recently in Ramallah to report on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank from the inside. Her words seem shocking and melodramatic to us, not because they are false or exaggerated, but because it references a historical context our news media have not given us.
Clearly her overtly expressed sympathy for Palestinian suffering puts her in the minority among Israelis. Nevertheless, she holds her own, in part because her familiarity with suffering learned from her Holocaust surviving parents gives her empathy with all human suffering, but mainly because she explains and contextualizes her very personal stories of the people of Gaza with their history. And it is this well documented historical depth that has made her, not a partisan for the Palestinian point of view, but an advocate for peace and justice based on the knowable truth. I therefore conclude this essay with the rest of the paragraph quoted at the beginning:
“…Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?”
From her words what one might call a “threatening neighbor” speaking a-historically becomes a “throttled captive” speaking historically.
The “Green Line” was the armistice line between Israel and Egypt (creating the Gaza Strip) and between Israel and Jordan (creating the West Bank) in 1948.
The above, of course, is merely a blog, not a History of Gaza. However, I hope it prompts you to study that history; you could begin by reading Amira Hass’ book.
Bert de Vries (Director, Umm el-Jimal Project) is professor emeritus of the History Department, but he continues to administer and teach the Archaeology Minor Program at Calvin. Ironically, as his teaching duties faded the Umm el-Jimal Project, which he directs, has flourished.