While Palestinians across the world commemorated the 56th anniversary of the Nakba on May 15, Palestinians in Ghazzah were on the verge of another nakba as Israeli troops engaged in an orgy of violence in Ghazzah that left at least 45 dead and about 300 homes destroyed, rendering an estimated 3,000 people homeless...
While Palestinians across the world commemorated the 56th anniversary of the Nakba (‘the Catastrophe’, as Palestinians call the creation of Israel) on May 15, Palestinians in Ghazzah were on the verge of another nakba as Israeli troops engaged in an orgy of violence in Ghazzah that left at least 45 dead and about 300 homes destroyed, rendering an estimated 3,000 people homeless. Israeli military officers at the scene told journalists that their intention was to create a second nakba.
Officially, the object of the operations was to widen the clear zone on the border between Ghazzah and Egypt, and to destroy tunnels allegedly used by Palestinians to smuggle arms and other items from Egypt into Ghazzah. The reality on the ground was very different, however, as it quickly became clear to all objective observers that much of the Israeli destruction was gratuitous and designed simply to cause maximum suffering to as many Palestinians as possible, apparently in revenge for the destruction of two Israeli armoured vehicles by Palestinian mujahideen , in which 11 Israeli soldiers were killed.
Israel launched their vengeance on May 17, invading Ghazzah from all sides, in particular targeting Rafah and the Tel al-Sultan neighbourhood. More than 20 people were killed in the first 24 hours of the invasion. As usual, Israel claimed that most of those killed were Palestinian fighters; as usual, the evidence on the ground told a quite different story, with most of the dead actually being civilians as Israeli troops invaded house after house, ostensible in search of weapons and fighters.
In such episodes, particular instances of carnage reverberate around the world. In this case, it was the deaths of at least 10 people when the Israeli military used tank shells and missiles fired from helicopters to break up an unarmed march against the invasion in Tel al-Sultan. As usual, the Israelis produced a series of justifications for the slaughter, saying initially that they had been fired on by armed Palestinians among the demonstrators and that most of those killed were fighters, and later changing this story to say that a tank commander had actually fired at a nearby building in order to disperse the demonstration. Considering that this atrocity had been captured by television cameras, however, and independent observers had been present, Israel later admitted that "most of" those killed were civilians, while continuing to insist that the episode was an accident.
Such a high-profile incident attracts attention, but it is smaller tragedies, hardly noticed individually, that make up the bulk of Palestinian suffering. When the Israelis destroy homes, they arrive without notice, often attacking with people still inside the homes, forced to flee for their lives, carrying what little they can. The Israelis also made a point of systematically destroying acres of farmland, irrigation systems and greenhouses. One local farmer said that his family had lost $55,000 worth of investment, on which dozens of people depended for their livelihoods, in a few minutes of Israeli anger.
Such has been international consternation at the scenes coming out of Ghazzah that the US (eager also to curry favour in the Arab world at a time when it is under unprecedented pressure in Iraq) refrained from vetoing a UN security council resolution expressing concern about it. However, no-one expects any meaningful international action against Israel or to help their victims.
Although Israeli troops withdrew from Rafah on May 24, allowing families to bury their dead and try to salvage what they could from the ruins of their properties, officers said that it was a temporary withdrawal and the operation would be resumed.
In Israel, politicking continues over Ariel Sharon’s planned withdrawal from Ghazzah; the current violence may be designed to show Israelis that he has not gone soft. In Ghazzah, meanwhile, Palestinians are preparing for an Israel assault which they fear may be as long and as brutal as the attacks on Nablus and Jenin in April 2002.