My children are too young to know war so well

A large crater marks the location where two tin shacks used to stand. On November 14 they were wiped away by Israeli bombs. Nine members of the same family were killed, including five children (Ashraf Amra)

Ahmed Abu Artema

The Nation  /  November 21, 2019

It’s time for the international community to hold Israel accountable for its abuses of Palestinian rights and freedom, in Gaza and beyond.

When the latest escalation of violence began last week in the Gaza Strip, I had just departed to travel abroad, leaving my wife, four children, and extended family behind to endure the terror of Israel’s bombing by themselves.

It is difficult to put into words the anxiety and worry that comes with being aware that your wife and children and your other loved ones are in danger. Like so many other Palestinians from Gaza who found themselves outside the territory, I couldn’t stop my hand scrolling through social media, hunting for news updates on my phone. “Now, they are attacking relatively far from my home, so my kids will sleep safely tonight,” I would think one moment. Then, a few minutes later, after another update, “Now they’re getting closer to our neighbourhood. It’s going to be a tough night for my kids.”

In the past, when Israel attacked Gaza, my little son Abdul Rahman would run into my arms screaming in terror when he heard bombs falling. I always tried to make the cruel reality easier on him by saying, “Look, son, these bombs are far away and fall in the sea not near us, so whenever you hear them again, I want you to jump high in the air, laugh, and shout ‘Hey!’” I do believe that if we cannot change the harsh reality, we can instead secure our minds as a means of facing it.

The peak of the escalation this time coincided with my daughter Batoul’s fourth birthday. My wife was planning to have a small party for Batoul to celebrate with her friends from kindergarten, but Israel’s attack disrupted all activities in Gaza, so it was cancelled. That evening, I asked Batoul on the phone, “Did you celebrate your birthday, sweetheart?” She replied, “I will when the war stops, Dad.” My heart sank. My little 4-year-child had just added a new term to her vocabulary, “the war.”

This latest escalation of violence began on November 12 with Israel’s assassination of the military commander of Islamic Jihad, Baha Abu el-Ata. While his family was sleeping, Abu el-Ata and his wife were killed. Their children woke up the next morning to find themselves orphans. In response, the resistance factions fired a number of homemade projectiles towards Israel while Israeli warplanes dropped a far greater number of bombs on Gaza. By Thursday, this assault had killed 34 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least eight children and eight members of the Abu Malhous family. It had wounded more than 100 others.

The Abu Malhous were a poor family who lived in a desolate house in Dir el-Balah refugee camp. They went to sleep that night but never woke up. At midnight, Israeli warplanes rained missiles down on them and destroyed their home. In the blink of an eye, the Israelis turned their house into a pile of ruins and killed them all, including five children.

On November 14, the rain of death finally stopped with a declaration of a fragile cease-fire. But as long as Israel continues to enjoy impunity for its illegal actions, and the underlying causes of the violence are ignored—namely Israel’s cruel and illegal siege of Gaza and denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to the homeland they were expelled from during Israel’s establishment—it is only a matter of time before it occurs again, with the people of Gaza once again bearing the brunt of the suffering and destruction.

Like Israel’s previous attacks against Palestinians in Gaza, this latest assault began without provocation. What all the attacks have in common is that they are part of an Israeli strategy to break the will of Palestinians and to erase our existence.

Yet Israel would not be able to flout international law and commit these crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere for more than 70 years without the help and protection of the United States and other Western governments. These governments enable and encourage the most dangerous and extreme elements in Israel with the massive political, military, financial, and moral support they provide, the latest example of which is the Trump administration’s reversal of the United States’ long-standing recognition of the illegality of Israeli settlement.

It’s time for the world to finally say to Israel that enough is enough, that it must end its siege and blockade of Gaza now and grant Palestinians our freedom and rights. And it is time for people of conscience to apply concrete pressure on Israel in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions if it does not.

Ahmed Abu Artema is an independent Gaza-based writer, social-media activist, and one of the organizers of the Great Return March