Mazin Qumsiyeh: Sometimes the dead are envied

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

In Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine

It was not possible to sleep here for two nights now. The events and the images of death and carnage of children, of policemen, of people that look like my mother and my son and my sister and my friends were simply too much. Gaza has run out of stretchers and many are now carried to hospitals (which are running out of supplies) and morgues on commercial street signs, in blankets or simply by their limp limbs. Three mosques were destroyed. I recalled the Israeli attacks on the Church of Nativity which was minor compared to this. I was watching Israel shell the University in Gaza city including its faculty of science and a residence dorm for female students and was thinking of my university and my lab and office at Bethlehem University. I was then shocked into more horrific scenes and news. In one house five young sisters killed. In another six family members including four children killed while eating breakfast. In a scene that haunted me where four children were killed with their mother, I saw rescue workers try frantically to pull the remaining surviving girl whose legs were crushed under a huge boulder from the roof. As some of them were calming her down and working hard, just next to them other workers pulled the dead body of her sister (looked like 3-4 year old). They quickly covered her but I think her sister noticed. Sometimes the dead are envied for their suffering has ended. Her suffering is just beginnig. I thought of all the thousands of relatives of all the victims and how they feel…..I thought of friends I lost and talks with people in Gaza…I thought of my mother who at 76 has seen so much suffering and still she cried at the new images of new atrocities…

My heart aches and struggles with my scientist brain. The latter wants to focus on facts and figures. The attack in its second day was in the words of Israeli leaders “the beginning” and is intended “to send Gaza back decades”. So far over 300 were killed and over 1000 injured (200 of those critically), 35% women, children and elderly. I examine numbers of homes, police stations, civil society building destroyed. I read the Al Mezan Center for human rights which rationally states that most Gaza victims are civilians 1. But even my rational mind refuses to deal with these things. How could it handle just that one image of the young girl’s anguished pained look under the rubble of her house and so tears stream down again to to try to wash the image to no avail…..How could my mind examine rationally the statements of “leaders” saying this carnage is not the fault of the bombers and war criminals, but of Hamas!

Protests were organized around the world and more are being planned 2. The demonstrations helped vent some frustration and we hope will herald a reawakening of the heart of humanity that has been sputtering. But we hope it will go much farther to changing the rotted system of elites in power ignoring people’s rights for political expediency and for profit.

In the Bethlehem demonstration, we pounded on the permanently closed gate of the apartheid wall with deafening sound and the soldiers in the tower started to through stun grenades and tear gas. Injuries were sustained for activists….Our lungs still ache but our hearts ache more for the criminality of the apartheid regime, and the collaboration of the world governments. The Israeli occupation army killed two protesters with live ammunition in other parts of the West Bank 3.

Can someone asks western media or the Wetsern governments ruled by elite racists who keep spouting the nonsense about “Hamas” and “rockets” (projectiles that are militarily of little use and have no explosives, killed one person this year), why targeting civilian police stations, mosques, homes with children, ports, fishing vessels, streets, and more in one of the most densely populated areas on earth murdering hundreds of civilians would be an acceptable action (I don’t say response because Israel was killing people and massacring them for 60 years before)? And what would they expect from a starving 1.5 million people to do? Especially when one million of those are refugees or displaced people denied their rights to return to their homes and lands for 60 years while settlers live across the borders on their lands in areas like “Sderot” and “Netviot”? Would they not expect some resistance from some of those? Isn’t that codified in International law for the right of occupied people to resist including violently? (note that I personally support civil forms of resistance). Even if one buys the US/Israeli government propaganda, would it be acceptable to bomb cities in Europe and the US for any perceived or actual crime of a portion of their society or even their leaders (Bush and Blair in Iraq?)?

But again I think it is not best for me to try and reason things through in such times of calamities and little sleep. I got so many letters of support but please redirect your letters and energies elsewhere. Redirect them to challenge the injustice directly 4. Jesus made a statement directly relevant for us today:

You are the earth’s salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot. You are the world’s light – it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house.”

It is thus the time when people who claim they want peace and justice to stop talking about it and actually work for it. Put your lamp higher. It is time for real change…It is time for a world Intifada (uprising against injustice). It is time to do something concrete (like throwing our shoes at someone?)

Below are a press release from human rights organizations in Palestine (please circulate to media and politicians) and a poignant letter from a friend worth reading.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD

In Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine

Urgent Release
27 December 2008

Palestinian human rights community calls for international action

Palestinian human rights organizations strongly condemn the recent military attacks carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008. The attacks began at approximately 11:30 am and lasted for approximately three hours. These attacks have destroyed most of the Gaza security offices including police stations, resulting in the deaths of over 200 Palestinians. More than 350 have been injured with over 120 critically.

The number of deaths resulting from these attacks indicates a willful targeting of the civilian police forces in these locations and a clear violation of the prohibition against willful killings. Willful killings are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 147 and therefore, a War Crime. Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centres and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children.

The ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip has left medical facilities in the Strip incapable of meeting the needs of the hundreds more who have been injured which will likely lead to an increase in the number of deaths. According to Israeli officials, these attacks are only the beginning of an open military campaign in Gaza. It is therefore imperative that the international community not stand in silence while Israel moves forward with impunity.

Despite repeated calls from the Palestinian human rights community with regard to Gaza, the international community has failed to act. We are now on the brink of an explosion of violence as result of this failure and are pushed once again to call for action.

In light of the above, Palestinian human rights organizations urge:

* The UN Security Council to call an emergency session and adopt concrete measures, including the imposition of sanctions, in order to ensure Israel’s fulfilment of its obligations under international humanitarian law.

* The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfil their obligation under common Article 1 to ensure respect for the provisions of the Conventions, taking appropriate measures to compel Israel to abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular placing pivotal importance on the respect and protection of civilians from the effects of the hostilities.

* The High Contracting Parties to fulfil their legal obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of the Convention.

* EU institutions and member states to make effective use of the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure Israel complies with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions, as well as cessation of all upgrade dialogue with Israel.

Addameer Prisoners’ Support & Human Rights Association
Ad-Dameer Association for Human Rights
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights
Defence for Children International
Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR)
Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center (JLAC)
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession – Musawa
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (PCR)
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)
Women’s Studies Center
The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Network – PNGO


Letter From Jenka (US citizen married to a Palestinian who was paralyzed by an Israeli bullet in the back but continues to have hope and work for peace — and also for our International Middle East Media Center) 12/27/08

I sit in front of the computer, editing the article, trying, as always, to maintain objectivity, “Israeli airstrikes kill 205 Palestinians in Gaza”… eyes begin to blur …..images of bodies, of wailing mamas screaming for their sons, of children missing limbs, hospital crews running, rushing….bodies everywhere……I can no longer see the computer screen through the tears. I think of our friends in Gaza -“Are they ok?” …..I try to think of an appropriate response: a protest at the Israeli consulate? A petition? A boycott campaign? They all seem so trivial, so ineffective. Send ANOTHER letter to my congressman, only to be rebuffed again with a form letter stating that the Congressman is in full support of Israel and their War on Terror?

I’m thinking about an article I read yesterday, about Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush just last week. The article was by Ramzy Baroud, who said that the reality of the world outside the Green Zone had finally broken into the carefully-scripted press conferences of Bush lies and al-Maliki smiles….

“What also confused the script is that al-Zaidi was not al-Qaeda, or an al-Qaeda sympathizer, not a foreign fighter, not a member of the dissolved Ba’ath Party, nor was he affiliated with it in any way, and not even an Iraqi Sunni, for any such affiliation would fit perfectly in the political and media scripts that would demonize the man as an enemy of the Iraqi people, stability, democracy, freedom, and the rest of the redundant clichés. Al-Zaidi is simply an Iraqi man who has, as a journalist, highlighted the suffering of his people as politely, ‘objectively’ and ‘professionally’ as he could, and when he could no longer tolerate the lies told in the Green Zone’s ever malicious drama, he scrapped the script altogether, chucking his shoes at the main actor: This is a farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” His words, although uttered for the first time in the Green Zone theater, echoed the voices of millions of Iraqis outside, who have chanted these words, for six long, tragic years.”

He was fed up! He tried to be objective, kept reporting the daily toll of deaths, the daily violence of the occupation, the never ending river of blood and bodies…..and finally, after nothing he reported changed anything, he risked his career, and his life, to break the script at the press conference and express the rage and fury of the millions of Iraqis suffering and dying in the daily brutality of Bush’s war. He has been tortured and beaten senseless for his deed, by Iraqi security, who, Baroud says, “must’ve tried to impress their American security ‘counterparts’ by teaching the poor al-Zaidi a lesson in good manners, Abu Ghraib-style”.

here’s that article:

As I look again at the toll of today’s Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, my eyes glance across a headline in one of the Israeli papers: “White House blames Hamas” …..and the fury and grief flow through me again. Israel drops 60 bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of civilians, wounding and maiming many more, and the first thing the White House has to say is that it is Hamas’ fault! For what? For having been elected as the Palestinian government in uncontested and fair elections? For taking the unprecedented step of engaging in a unilateral ceasefire against Israel for the last six months, which was never reciprocated or even recognized by the occupying Israeli army? For begging Israel for a ceasefire this last week, but being rebuffed at every turn? The truth is, it doesn’t matter what Hamas does, it is their very existence that Israel is trying to eradicate, with full US support. The fact that there is an Islamic movement that stands in resistance to the Israeli occupation is something that Israel cannot stand, and it’s clear from their targets in today’s airstrikes: Hamas government buildings, police stations, municipal headquarters, offices of the bureaucrats of an elected government. And they struck during rush hour, when the streets were full, in one of the most crowded places on earth, so as to maximize casualties.

And the US blames Hamas.

What eventually becomes clear, to any Palestinian, or any Iraqi for that matter, is that their occupier can do anything they want, with impunity, and no matter what, they, the occupied, will be blamed.

And the other thing that becomes clear, after day after day of this violence, month after month, year after year, is that the world, or at least those with the power to change anything, do not care.

It’s like Ward Churchill said in his post-9/11 speech that got him fired from the University of Colorado despite his tenure: if you are a person in the Arab world and you see Madeline Albright up there on 60 Minutes saying, “Yes, we know that 500,000 Iraqi children have died from the sanctions, but we think the price is worth it”, well, what are you SUPPOSED to think??? There’s no other conclusion that you can reach except that the piles and piles of corpses, the thousands of innocent children, do not matter to Madeline Albright, or to the American people! The American people DO NOT CARE!

And no amount of objective journalism on the subject can make people care.

And what now – Barack Obama is supposed to be some kind of savior and change everything? I don’t think so. My email after his election was mainly just surprise that there was not another Supreme Court-decided debacle. But he’s not going to change US policy toward Israel. He’s never said that he would. I think maybe people just hoped that he would, with no evidence in his record that he would – just because people want someone to save them. But his appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as his Chief of Staff, as his FIRST cabinet appointment, set the tone for what the Palestinians can expect from Barack Obama. Emmanuel’s dad told an Israeli paper, “Of course my son will have a big influence on Obama regarding Israel – what, do you think he’s going to be sweeping the floors of the White House? He’s not an Arab!”

This is the kind of outright racism that Obama’s dear friend Rahm Israel Emmanuel was raised with.

There’s no chance whatsoever that he’ll change US policy toward Israel. He’s said so himself, many times.

What can we do?

Every day I edit articles coming out of the occupied Palestinian Territories, on the website …..will that really change anything? I don’t know.

But at least it’s a record, documenting the daily Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.

Every week the Palestinian Center for Human Rights publishes a detailed record documenting the Israeli crimes for that week.

The record of Israeli crimes is all there, verifiable and well-documented. But the US government does not, and will not, care. As far as I can tell, the State Dept. bureaucrat directing policy toward Israel is: Director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs Thomas Goldberger 202-647-3672

Maybe the least we can do is to flood his office with calls, demanding that the US stop supporting an illegal occupation that engages in daily violations of international human rights law and completely disregards the internationally-recognized rights of the Palestinian people.

Right now, though, I kind of feel like throwing my shoes.



[3] see example here

[4] Gaza Massacre must spur us to action (See article written even before three families were targeted killing 10 children)

[5] Videos

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