The Massacre at Beit Hanoun
By KATHLEEN CHRISTISON
Ha'aretz correspondent Gideon Levy described the situation in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun in a searing article on Sunday. He proposed, half seriously, that the Israeli colonies removed last year as part of Israel's so-called "disengagement" from Gaza should be returned because they would serve "as the last human shield for a million and a half residents who now comprise one of the most helpless populations in the world. Incarcerated, without any assistance, they are liable to starve to death. Exposed, without any protection, they fall prey to the Israel Defense Force's operations of vengeance."
How can we Americans ignore this? How can we bear it? How can we bear to continue paying for Israel's atrocities? How can we possibly allow this inhumanity to be perpetrated in our name without crying out in horror, without bringing down our own government that sits by doling out the money and the weapons to keep this horror going, without severing altogether any ties with Israel's Nazi government?
"Burying its 350 dead since the summer," Levy goes on,
"Gaza threatens to become Chechnya. There are thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people in Gaza, unable to receive any treatment. Those on respirators are liable to die due to the frequent power outages since Israel bombed the power plant. Tens of thousands of children suffer from existential anxiety, while their parents are unable to provide help. They are witnesses to sights that even Gaza's old-timers have never seen before."
The horrors are unspeakable; I'm not making this up. Nor is Levy.
"Anyone who does not believe this can travel to Beit Hanoun, an hour from Tel Aviv. The trauma is only intensifying there, in a town that lost nearly 80 of its sons and daughters within a week [in early November]. The shadows of human beings roam the ruins. Last week, I met people there who are terrified, depressed, injured, humiliated, bereaved and bewildered. What can one say to them? That they should stop firing Qassams? But the vast majority of them are not involved in this at all. That they should return Gilad Shalit? What do they have to do with him? They only know the IDF will return and they know what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions, without them being guilty of a thing. In Israel's dark southern backyard, a large-scale humanitarian tragedy is unfolding. Israel and the world, including the Arab states, are covering their eyes and the last resort, as absurd as it sounds, might be to long for the settlements. The situation is that desperate."
How can we possibly allow this to go on, blithely ignoring it, blithely affirming Israel's "right to defend itself," ignoring the absence of any actual threat to Israel, blithely assuming that it is right and proper to murder, starve, imprison, deny medical treatment, deny water to an entire people simply because they are not Jews and are resisting Israel's domination?
"Brutal and dizzy ideas compete against each other," Levy continues, "the defense minister suggests liquidations and the agriculture minister proposes tougher action; one advocates 'an eye for an eye,' the second wants to 'erase Beit Hanoun' and the third 'to pulverize Beit Lahiya.' And no one pauses for a moment to think about what they are saying. What exactly does it mean to 'erase Beit Hanoun'? What does this chilling combination of words mean? A town of 30,000 people, most of them children, whose measure of grief and suffering has long reached breaking point, unemployed and hungry, without a present and without a future, with no protection against Israel's violent military responses, which have lost all human proportionality.
"Proportionality is also needed when examining the extent of suffering in the neighboring town, Sderot [the Israeli town frequently hit by Palestinian Qassam rockets]. It should be stated honestly: Sderot's suffering, as heart-rending and difficult as it is, amounts to nothing when compared to the suffering of its neighbor. Sderot is now mourning one fatality, while Beit Hanoun is mourning nearly 80 dead. . . . Did the futile killing of the people in Beit Hanoun contribute anything to the security of Sderot's residents? The events of the past days clearly demonstrate that the answer is no. . . .
"Soon Gaza will look like Darfur, but while the world is giving some sort of assistance to Darfur, it still dares to play tough with Gaza. Instead of boycotting the one who is abusing the residents of Gaza, the world is boycotting the victim, blocking assistance that it so desperately needs. Tens of thousands of workers who are not receiving their meager wages because of the boycott are the world's gift to Gaza, while Israel is not only killing them, but also stealing their money, locking them in from all sides and not allowing them any chance to extricate themselves."
How can we allow this to go on? C-SPAN is asking this week for one-minute video-taped statements, which it will begin airing on Thanksgiving, answering the question "what does being an American mean to you?" I have no video camera and no intention of submitting a tape, but the invitation got me thinking. Does being an American mean that I must sit back and quietly allow my government to starve the entire Palestinian people, in the name of some kind of dedication to a flag and a bill of rights that applies only to white people? Does it mean that I must approve, or even merely accept, the subhuman behavior of my government's closest ally, Israel?
Or does being an American mean that I must do something -- at least speak out, scream out -- to stop the bleeding inflicted on innocents by America and Israel? And does not being an American mean that I must challenge my fellow Americans to speak out as well? Here is the challenge: any Jew anywhere who allows Israel to commit these acts and pursue these policies in the name of all Jews -- for Israel does claim to act in the name of Jews everywhere -- without speaking out against Israel, without screaming protests, must be ashamed. Any American who allows the United States to support Israel -- to support it militarily with infusions of arms in the billions of dollars every year and to sustain it morally and psychologically -- without loud protest should be ashamed. The time has come to stand up and be counted as Americans truly interested in justice and human rights and humanity.
Can we not match Gideon Levy's courage in speaking the truth? Palestine is the conscience of us all.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.