“They’re wiping out entire families”

January 12, 2009

AS ISRAELI forces began what officials called "phase three" of their onslaught on Gaza--moving into the cities--stories of atrocities are emerging that confirm the inhuman barbarism of the attack so far.

For example, in an eastern section of Gaza City, one extended family named the Samounis, whose members lived near one another in several homes, were herded by Israeli forces into a single building--which was then repeatedly shelled. The dead lay together with those left alive, but the Israelis prevented ambulances from coming to their aid for days on end.

The 30 known dead from the Samouni family are part of a death toll that is nearing 1,000 as the Israeli attack reached the two-week mark. Israeli casualties number around a dozen.

Haidar Eid is a professor, an activist for Palestinian national rights and a resident of Gaza City who has been speaking with SocialistWorker.org throughout the attack. On Friday, he talked again with Eric Ruder to describe the living nightmare that Gaza has become.

CAN YOU talk about what things are like in Gaza since we last talked? That was before Israel's ground invasion.

THINGS ARE getting worse--really much, much worse. We can't find food. We're surviving on canned food. We have a serious water crisis. We still haven't seen any electricity. And we don't know what to do.

A friend of mine--a comrade actually, who is a one-state activist--told me earlier that his wife's brother was shot dead five days ago. And his body is still in the apartment in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

It was an execution. They entered the house and shot him in the heart, in front of his wife and his children.

And we haven't been able to retrieve the body. You ask the Red Cross, and they tell you that Israel will shoot at them if they go in. You ask the United Nations, and they say they're not allowed in. We've called the human rights organizations--I myself talked to Human Rights Watch in Tel Aviv. My friend talked to an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset.

To give you an idea, yesterday, some ambulances went to the Zeitoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, where the Samouni family lived in several buildings. When the Israelis entered the area, they forced the family members out of the buildings and then into a single building. They kept them there for 24 hours, and then they shelled the building.

A Palestinian father carries his wounded baby daughter into a hospital in Gaza City
A Palestinian father carries his wounded baby daughter into a hospital in Gaza City (Yasser Saymeh | AFP)

So far, 30 of them are known to have died, and there are still corpses under the rubble.

That happened five days ago. Yesterday, when some of the ambulances were finally allowed to go in there, they found children still alive, next to their mothers' dead bodies.

One of these children, who's about 10 years old, told Palestinian TV, "My brother was extremely hungry. He was starving, and he asked me for a tomato. I went, and I brought him a tomato. He ate it, and he stopped talking." Which means he died. That's what he said.

Honestly, I don't know whether this is Auschwitz, or what the right analogy is. I really don't know. I'm a writer, but I haven't been able to write anything. I can't find the right words. I find myself speechless.

Today, I refused to give interviews because I haven't been able to think. I'm just talking to you because I feel that you're a friend, and we're just talking. But today, I didn't give a single interview. Usually, I give 15, sometimes 20, sometimes 25 interviews to mainstream and alternative media. But today, I decided not to do it, because today, I became speechless.

What you can do

Protests against Israel's assault on Gaza have already taken place in cities around the country, with more planned for the coming days. Contact local organizers for details where you live.

For updates on the current situation, plus commentary and analysis on the background to the war, read the Electronic Intifada Web site. Electronic Intifada Executive Director Ali Abunimah's "Gaza massacres must spur us to action" is a good starting point for further reading.

You can also find updated coverage on conditions in Gaza and the efforts of activists to stand up to the Israeli war at the Free Gaza Web site.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

More than 40 percent of those who have been killed are children and women. The figures I have here, which are tentative from the Ministry of Health, say that the number of dead as of now is 825, including 235 children and more than 100 women.

And that isn't to say that the rest of the dead are freedom fighters or members of the militant organizations. They are ordinary men, young and old.

AND ISRAEL'S attack keeps up around the clock, right?

WE CAN'T walk on the street. Right now, for example, there's not a single person out. It's 6:20 in the evening. Usually, you see people, you see cars. But right now, not a single one. And, of course, it's pitch black, because there's no electricity.

This afternoon, they gave us a temporary cease-fire--quote, unquote--from 1 to 3, to walk and get food. But the supermarkets are empty.

The Israelis say they allowed some trucks through with humanitarian aid. But on ordinary days, Gaza needs dozens and dozens of trucks a day with food and medicine and so on. For propaganda reasons, they said that they opened the borders, and they allowed us to walk on the streets between 1 and 3. But of course, we can do absolutely nothing.

I don't think that we've seen worse days than these days since 1948 and the Nakba.

I usually go up and have lunch with my brother, and he has three daughters and one son--the son is six years old, and the eldest daughter is 15. And you can see the trauma in their eyes.

We can't sleep because of the shelling from the Apaches and F-16s. And the drones, 24 hours a day. And now the mortar shells, because they have tanks around the city now. We can't sleep, and you can it in the eyes of the children. It's really horrific.

THERE'S BEEN speculation by commentators here that the Israelis want to wrap up their operations before Barack Obama takes office here, which is in nine days.

YES, NINE days away, which is like nine centuries here. I agree that they want to wrap up operations before he takes office. But the thing is that they have nine days, and they say that they're entering the third phase now.

The first phase, for the first eight or nine days, was intensive air strikes, targeting schools, hospitals, universities, police stations, prisons, the legislative council--all of these things. Then they started the ground invasion that split the Gaza Strip into three slices--the northern slice, including Beit Lahyia, the Jabaliya refugee camp and Gaza City; the second slice in the middle; and then the south.

In the third phase, they want to enter the cities. That's what they've been reluctant to do, because that means clashes with the resistance, from many different organizations--not only Hamas, but the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and others.

According to the Israeli media, there are differences within the Israeli Cabinet itself. There are those who think that what they've achieved so far is enough, and that means the creation of facts on the ground. All they have to do is reoccupy the area around the border between Rafah and Egypt, so they can control the supposed smuggling of arms and so on. But there are others who think they should try to reoccupy some major parts of the Gaza Strip.

Today, they dropped a leaflet--I read one of them, and it said that the third phase started last night. And last night, they dropped--I don't know--strange bombs. I saw them with my own eyes--they didn't give off the dark smoke that we're used to. It was a bright white smoke.

One of the doctors who's volunteering at the Shifa Hospital said it was a phosphorus bomb. And the smell was horrendous. It was all over, coming from the north and even in Gaza City.

But the warnings and the messages they have been sending are clear. They are saying that they're going to kill civilians.

I live in a high-rise building. There's another tower building nearby, and this week, a rocket hit the roof. The day before yesterday, one block from where I live, a rocket hit an apartment at the level of the 11th floor. It killed a journalist who works for Palestine TV, his mother and his wife.

So they are targeting apartments and houses. Five days ago, they targeted a three-floor home in another refugee camp. The man, his wife and six children were killed on the spot. He's a teacher. They're wiping out entire families.

So the message is very clear for us. It's civilians that they're after, because they can't find fighters. If you remember two-and-a-half years ago in Lebanon, it was the same thing.

We talked about the analogy in our last phone call. They started targeting civilians in Lebanon, and that led to the killing of 1,200 people. But Lebanon is a large country. Here, we are talking about the Gaza Strip, 360 square kilometers, with a population of 1.5 million, which makes it one of the most densely populated places on earth.

It's a genocide. That's what is happening.

WE WANTED you to know that there are protests happening all the time here in the U.S., with larger numbers of people coming out than ever before. I know that you've been organizing around a call for people internationally to take up the call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions--BDS for short--along the lines of the international campaign against apartheid South Africa. Can you talk about that?

I STRONGLY believe the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League--really, the international community at large--have failed the Palestinian people.

I think the example of the United Nations Security Council resolution issued yesterday, that called for a durable and respected cease-fire, is a good example. It treats the whole issue as if there are two sides--as if you have two equal armies at war.

Israel has killed more than 830 people and injured more than 3,000 people so far. Israel is a colonizing power. It is based on deep-rooted racism, and it has reoccupied parts of the Gaza Strip. And the Security Council acts as if there are two equal parties that have to declare a cease-fire.

That is why I strongly believe we can't count on the international community any longer. I think the UN Security Council and the international community in general reflect the balance of power, and that balance of power is still in favor of the U.S. and Israel.

I can't separate the United States and American imperialism from Israel and Zionism. And that's why I see the war conducted against us now as part of the Bush Doctrine. This is part of what Condoleezza Rice called "the birth pangs of a Middle East" out of what she called "creative destruction." I think that's exactly what is happening right now.

That's why I think we have to rely on civil society organizations. You just mentioned the demonstrations that have been going on in America. I just got a message from South Africa about another huge demonstration in one of the townships. They told me about a demonstration yesterday in front of the Egyptian embassy in Pretoria, and four days ago, there was a demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate in Johannesburg.

Yesterday, there was a huge demonstration in Amman, Jordan. Before that, there was a demonstration of 1 million protesters in Morocco, and 1 million protesters in Istanbul. And Hugo Chávez kicked out the Israeli ambassador--I think that's a fantastic model.

I think we can call on civil society organizations for their words of support to be translated into action. Because of the imbalance of power between Palestinians and Israel, we think that's the only way.

Israel has the fourth-strongest army in the world. It has the strongest army in the Middle East. So Israel is the superpower of the region--and second, it's the strategic ally of the U.S. empire in the Middle East.

Therefore, the only way forward for us and for our struggle is international. We need an international intervention--and that international intervention can't come from official bodies.

This is exactly what happened after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when 69 Blacks were killed by the white racist regime of apartheid South Africa. This massacre gave rise to the BDS campaign against apartheid South Africa, which ultimately led to the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his election as the first Black president of multicultural, multiracial, secular, democratic South Africa as we know it now.

Gaza could be the spark that could initiate a different "new Middle East" than what Condoleezza Rice talked about in 2006. She meant a "new Middle East" characterized by American and Israeli hegemony. What I'm saying now is that I can see the birth pangs of a new Middle East characterized by the end of despotic, dictatorial pro-American regimes.

In order to reach that stage, we need to support the call that more than 177 civil society organizations of Palestine issued in 2005 asking people internationally to support them by boycotting, divesting and imposing sanctions on Israel.

I'm saying to let Gaza 2009 be like Sharpeville of 1960, which led to the end of apartheid. Let Gaza 2009 be the beginning of a new, more democratic Middle East, with a secular, democratic state of Palestine that treats all its citizens equally, regardless of religion, race, sect, gender and so on.

That's the only way. The question is: What more do people who love freedom need to see to translate their words of support into action? What more than the dead bodies of hundreds of Palestinian children? No child, whether Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, should see what Palestinian children are seeing right now.

I think this is an ethical responsibility of every single person who believes in freedom for all. It is their responsibility to make sure that this never happens again.

It happened in the Second World War to the Jewish people. It happened to Black Africans in South Africa, and we freedom-loving people said "Never Again." But we are allowing it, unfortunately.

This is why we say now that the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is the responsibility not only of civil society organizations, but of every single individual. This is what we can do. We can boycott Israeli goods and Israeli foods. We can divest from Israel and demand sanctions. And only then will Israel start to reconsider what it has done to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Further Reading

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