Just three weeks ago, when I last visited Gaza, I reported on some positive developments there. It is amazing how, in the absence of a true and just peace in our region, a situation can turn upside down practically overnight.
This morning, and for the third time since the beginning of the current military violence in Gaza since 14 November, I have made phone calls to all of our partners there to check on them and show our solidarity. The messages I received were unanimous. There has not been a building or an open field that has been spared from missiles launched by F-16 fighters or warships in the Mediterranean or shells from tanks across the border. Anything that moves is a target, and people have locked themselves in their homes. Most, if not all of our Christian institutions, have sustained some damage, in most cases broken glass, blown out windows and doors. Everyone with whom I have spoken has also said the attacks this time around make the 2008 war in Gaza look like child’s play. It is clear that given the unexpected surprise of the various rockets launched from Gaza that reached deep into Israel — including Tel Aviv and Herzliya — Israel was determined to unleash its war machine at unprecedented levels with no concern for human casualties.
And who is paying the heaviest price? Civilians, especially children and the elderly.
The photographs of children, women and senior citizens being shared on various satellite channels as well as through the social media networks are simply outrageous. The killing of 11 members of the Dalou family on Sunday when their three-story residential building was struck by an F-16 missile was heartbreaking. Many other attacks on open fields, cemeteries, soccer fields and parks seem so senseless and unwarranted.
Many of my contacts there have not been able to sleep at night as a result of the constant explosions throughout the night. One told me that after the field next to her home was bombed and all windows of her home were broken and doors and shutters blown out, she took refuge at her cousin’s home for the night. There, she was surprised that the building next to her cousin’s home was also shelled, causing the windows to break and glass to hit her in the face, hospitalizing her. I guess there is no place to hide anymore in Gaza, especially since there are no air raid sirens to warn people and buildings are not equipped with bomb shelters. Another friend who lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building in the center of Gaza City surveyed all the buildings that were demolished surrounding her home. She said she felt that she was living on an earthquake fault line that had all of a sudden become active; her building sways with each shelling.
On the political front, there seems to be a lot of pressure on both parties to reach some sort of a ceasefire soon, hopefully within the next 24 hours. Some of my friends in Gaza were optimistic and were actually praying that things will move in this direction. Others were very pessimistic about reaching some sort of an agreement and said that each party has an agenda that will not allow them to reach an agreement anytime soon.
The agenda for Israel seems to be very much tied to the upcoming Israeli elections in January. Anything that will be perceived less than a total victory for Israel will cost precious votes. Hamas, whose rockets have struck targets deeper into Israel than at any time in the past, wants to affirm that they are the party that will change the rules of the game with Israel. They also have their terms for reaching a ceasefire.
The alternative appears to be an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. This will involve Israel calling some 75,000 reservists to get the job done. Should this happen, Israel will enter the “quicksand” of Gaza and will probably be there for a very long time. It will be quite easy to enter Gaza, but certainly not as easy to leave it. The damage, destruction and loss of life will be something one can only imagine in nightmares and not in real life.
Please pray for sanity to return to the politicians on both sides in order to avoid this, and, more importantly, pray that a just and lasting peace is reached so that Israel and Palestine can live in security and peace as good neighbors in the future. Only then will these never ending cycles of violence stop.
With each phone call to our partners, I end my conversation with a promise to visit Gaza as soon as the security situation allows in order to be in solidarity with the people and to assess the damage and the needs first hand. Unfortunately, yet again, CNEWA is forced to shift into emergency humanitarian relief. When will this madness stop?