On civilians and ‘Israel’s Gaza problem’

Wednesday, November 14: Israeli forces have just killed a four-year-old and a seven-year-old in Gaza. Two children.

Jeffrey Goldberg tweets*, correctly, that the fighting won’t solve anything. But his phrasing embodies everything that’s wrong with the mainstream media. It also points at the Israeli attitude towards both the Palestinians and the region:

Prediction: Assassination of Hamas terror commander will not even partially solve Israel’s Gaza problem.

Israel’s Gaza problem?

The fatalities suggest it’s the other way around. According to B’Tselem, 6500 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces from the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000 until to September 30, 2012—4660 of which were Gazans. The same ten-year-period period saw 590 Israelis killed by Palestinians.

And then there’s the issue of Gaza’s economy, which Israel has systematically de-developed for over 40 years. There’s the blockade. There’s Israel’s separation policy, which, in a further attempt to fracture the Palestinian territories, tears families into two—leaving one spouse in the West Bank, another in Gaza, ripping parents from their children.

Israel’s Gaza problem?

These are people. 1.7 million people live in Gaza. They shouldn’t be collectively referred to as Israel’s “problem.”


I get on the train to go to a protest in East Jerusalem. People are talking and laughing and smiling as though nothing is going on. People are dying in Gaza. I boil. I sit. Two teenage girls stand in the aisle next to me. Their chatter is mindless and light-hearted.

The girls are about the same age as the Palestinian students I teach at a university in the West Bank. One has told me about her aunts and uncles and cousins in Gaza. I wonder what she’s doing right now. I wonder if her family is okay.

I think about the Palestinian woman, Nisreen, I interviewed via the phone recently. Her kids are in Ramallah; she is stuck in Gaza with no work and no family and hasn’t seen her son and daughter in five years. When I asked Nisreen about Operation Cast Lead, she said that the hardest part was not what she experienced but her parents’ and children’s panic and fear as they watched the news in the West Bank.

The teenage girls next to me giggle. I can’t bear their laughter. I move and stand, tucking myself into a corner, as far away from the other passengers as I can get. A tall, large middle-aged man boards the train and, even though it’s not crowded, he manages to step on my foot. There’s plenty of room but he stands, oblivious to me or just not caring that I’m there, boxing me in with his wide back.

“Can you move?” I say. My voice is sharp. I push past him and walk into the next car. I want to get off this train.


Damascus Gate. Between 30 to 40 Palestinians have gathered to protest Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense.” Less than 50 meters away, an equal number of Israeli police are sitting in vans and milling about. The protesters are unarmed. Some of the Israeli forces wear riot gear; others wear bullet-proof vests, rifles slung across their chests.

A majority of the protesters are women. One of the demonstrators explains to journalist Jillian Kestler-D’Amours and me that most of the protesters are Palestinian citizens of the state who go to Hebrew University. There are very few East Jerusalemites here.

The demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and chant. They call on Palestinians to raise their voices; they call for freedom; they say, “Netanyahu, wait; Gazans will dig your grave.”

I’m struck by this last one because the timing of this operation suggests the opposite—pummeling Gaza seems to be Netanyahu’s attempt to pave the way for his re-election. What does this say about the Israeli public? What does this say about the people I live and love among?

After 50 minutes, the demonstration ends. As Jill and I leave, I remark on how few Palestinian Jerusalemites were at the protest. “It’s always like this,” she answers me, in Arabic.

Jill is an old hand at these demos and has covered both East Jerusalem and the West Bank extensively. She explains that many Palestinian Jerusalemites are afraid to come to the protests; they’re worried that the Israeli authorities will use their political activities as an excuse to strip them of residency, that they’ll lose what little rights they have.


Thursday, November 15: I wake up before dawn, thinking about Gaza, wondering what’s going on, when will it end, how will it end, how will I face my Palestinian students on Sunday, how can I look them in the eyes when Israel is doing something terrible in my name, when Israel is bombing their aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmothers?

My heart slams into my ribs. It goes on like this for I don’t know how long and then I feel my heart seize, stop. Start. The beat is erratic; I feel a ripple make its way through my heart. It feels like a worm is crawling through my chest. Pain shoots into my shoulder.

My heart finds its rhythm again. But I don’t feel better. I get up and check the news. Three Israelis in Kiryat Malachi have been killed by a Hamas rocket. The siren has sounded in the Kiryat Gat area; I lived, briefly, on a kibbutz down there. I remember digging up sweet potatoes from the earth. I imagine the land I sunk my fingers into: scarred and battered.

I want to get off this train.

*Another note on Goldberg’s tweet, in which he calls Ahmed Jabari a “terror commander.” The accepted, journalistic term is “militants,” not “terrorists.”