Today’s New York Times highlights the plight of the Samouni family in Gaza who lost eleven of their members despite their calls to the Red Cross to help them evacuate from Gaza, and after the order from the Israeli military forces, who occupied their home, to relocate to another building. Masouda al-Samouni lost her husband, mother in law and her 10 month old son for whom she had been preparing food. “He died hungry,” she said.
Let us set aside the business of occupation and military aggression for a moment and reflect on the words of Major Avital Leibovich, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces who repeats the oft repeated: Hamas has built its network among civilians and therefore civilians are collateral damage. The entire Gaza strip is 360 square km. That is just about 50 sq. km. larger than New York City. Should the rest of the neighboring states here decide to surround the city of New York, cut off access to it or departure from it, ignore its elected leaders, withold its legally earned revenue, set up refugee camps and periodically bulldoze them as well as adjoining neighborhoods, starve the people, cut off their water and their electricity and prevent the supply of humanitarian aid, where would the city’s resistance reside? I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be congregating en masse down 5th Avenue.
In the occupied territories of Palestine - and I call them that because we are all intelligent enough to know that occupation does not have to mean physical presence, it is the power to deny human freedoms and to prevent the right to the conduct of normal life - there are no families left who have not suffered a loss at the hands of the IDF. That makes every Gazan a victim. That makes every Gazan have anger toward the IDF. That does not make every Gazan deserving of murder.
Collateral damage is an easy term to toss around. The term collateral comes from the Latin and its meaning is not only “parallel,” it is also “additional but subordinate.” The United States military defines it as being damage that “is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the military advantage anticipated by the attack.” Since when is the premeditated murder of an innocent human being, “subordinate” to anything? How, exactly, do we define “excess?” Would we have mourned less if nobody had gone to work on 9/11 and only a few janitors and an over-zealous upper manager or two were killed? Is there a certain number after which we begin to pay attention? When our basic human instinct to feel for one another, to mourn the death of another like us, kicks in?
In 1994, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire watched as his troops, sent for peace-keeping, were withdrawn over the death of ten Belgian soldiers. He went on to write a book, Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, in which he poses the question, why did the deaths of ten Belgians matter so greatly, and the death of eight hundred thousand Rwandans matter so little?
The question for us today is the same. We have the UN inside Palestine, along with numerous other organizations including the Red Cross. Apparently, we care enough to maintain an international presence that can help eleviate the suffering of the people of Palestine. But we don’t care enough to stop the continuing massacre of those people. We don’t care enough to set aside our polite requests by international governments, not specific leaders, and our little European delgations flying hither and yon asking for a bit of mercy on behalf of those people, to put our feet down in the soil inside Palestine and say no.
In 2003, a 23 year old American activist, Rachel Corrie, had the guts to do what we refuse to do. She stood before a caterpillar bulldozer being driven by the IDF, to ask that they not destroy the home of a Palestinian family. Despite the attemts of her fellow activists to contact the American embassy, and the knowledge of the IDF about the presence of Rachel and other International Solidarity Movement volunteers in Rafah, Rachel was killed as her friends watched.
This country came together, not so long ago, to bring about a transformation that the world never expected of it. During those twenty months, and right up to the day of the presidential elections, we were all Rachel Corries, we were simply doing her work inside America. So long as we consider that to be sufficient contribution to the progress we desire, to the peace we seek, and to the change we want, we will all die hungry.