“Unspeakable Devastation”: An Eyewitness Account of Israel’s Withering Assault on Gaza

In July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge – the third major assault on the Gaza Strip in six years, and the most deadly. One year later, Shell-Shocked, by Palestinian journalist and Gaza resident Mohammed Omer, tells the story of this brutal, one-sided war – as he experienced it on the ground. Order it today with a donation to Truthout!

The following excerpt is from the introduction to Mohammed Omer’s journalistic dispatches, Shell-Shocked: On the Ground Under Israel’s Gaza Assault. The book describes the slaughter – and the unrelenting degradation of Palestinians – that he witnessed:

Now, a year since the last war on Gaza, I find myself reflecting on my first meeting with Jalal Jundia. It was during the summer of 2014 when I saw him sitting atop the ruins of his family home, surrounded by dust and rubble. Though he was attempting to remain calm I could see that his face was etched with lines of stress. Like so many in Gaza, he had lost everything during the Israeli assault, the most recent of a series of attacks that arrive with predictable frequency every three to four years. Jalal wondered aloud about his wife and six children. Where could they go now their home had been destroyed? Where was it safe? They were trapped in Gaza and unable to leave. All they could do was wait for the bombings to end and pray for a day when drones no longer occupied the sky. Perhaps then there would be enough peace for his family to rebuild and attempt a return to some sort of normal life.

(Photo: OR Books)(Photo: OR Books)A year later, Jalal is still homeless. His house has not been rebuilt and his family survives, but is barely alive. As for myself, I try to remain optimistic, no small feat in this ruined shell of what was once a beautiful and self-sufficient costal enclave. Our reality is predicated upon Israel’s determination to drive us from our homes for good. After the 1947–48 purge, an ethnic cleansing of non-Jewish residents from territories Israel coveted but had not been granted by the United Nations, Gaza became a safe haven for tens of thousands fleeing the massacres at the hands of the Irgun, Stern and Lehi gangs. Self-admitted terrorist organizations, these were the forerunners of today’s Israeli military, police and Shin Bet. Meanwhile our elders today, the men, women and children who fled before the Zionist militias, still hold on to the keys of the homes they lost. These keys represent hope and a determination. One day they hope to return home.

In the wake of this latest attack, the vast majority of Gaza’s children remain traumatized. We continue to live under siege, limited in what we can buy, export or import. We can’t leave and it is very difficult for people to visit us. We listen resignedly as human rights activists laud the fact that we “Palestinians can withstand the aggression” simply because we have survived it for so long. That may be true but it begs the question: why should we be forced to continue to put up with this misery? The Second World War lasted six years; the Third Reich’s assault and ethnic cleansing of those it deemed undesirable lasted twelve. Our oppression has lasted sixty-seven years, making the Israeli occupation of Palestine one of the longest in history.

Every minute of every day we live in a distorted reality, a man-made catastrophe crafted to protect and enshrine a peculiar manifestation of overt racism that grants privilege and life solely on the basis of religion and race, and then denies it exists. Its purpose is to make the lives of those of us who belong to the non-favored race and religion unbearable. Its objective is to force us to “volunteer” to abandon our country, businesses, family, homes, ancestry and culture. The tool of this persecution is systemic and infects all aspects of life. It ranges over preventing us from rebuilding our homes to military aggression, targeted killings, imprisonment, starvation diets enforced by siege and an array of punishments that dehumanize and strip us of our rights. And then there are the obstacles to our movement— walls and checkpoints for “security.”

And yet, despite all this, we’re still here. It’s true: In Gaza we find ways to survive. Our women recycle the spent tank shells that have destroyed our homes into flowerpots. Students return to bombed-out schools determined to complete their education. Torn books are taped together, pens are jerry-rigged back into service. At night we often study by candlelight. The frequent cutting off of gas, water and electricity is another daily reality of life in The Strip. And so we carry on, focusing on the basics and muddling through with proud determination. We are human, with dreams and nightmares, equally strong and equally vulnerable. We pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and humbly thank God for the help of others as we hope and pray for justice.

That justice has yet to arrive. Each time he sees me Jundia asks when the West, with its pontificating about democracy and existentialism relating to human rights, will take action in keeping with its ideals. Do they not hear of Israel’s attacks on Gaza? His eyes search mine in hope. He knows I’ve been outside of The Strip and speak regularly with influential people in the West. Often, I am unable to meet his gaze. I’m aware that Western powers care little of human suffering if it happens in Gaza. Here it often feels as if we, the two million inhabitants of The Strip, don’t exist. I can’t relate this disturbing truth to Jundia. Rather, I bolster his hope, assuring him that I will continue to share his story with the world. I promise him that his voice will not go unheard.

Like Jundia, I am a resident of Gaza and suffer through daily local attacks, as well as the major assaults every few years. This has been my experience of life, first as a child, then as a young man, and now as a father and husband; I was born a few years prior to the first intifada. Today four generations have lived under this occupation. The majority of us in Gaza have known nothing else. Now the latest major attack is a year behind us. For fifty-one days last summer we endured unspeakable devastation. With each attack we emerged more tightly squeezed together, more resilient and determined. We are united by this will to survive and to rebuild our lives. There is a hope now that perhaps last summer’s was the final major attack – that never again will the people of Gaza be forced to succumb to such suffering. Hope, but not much faith.

Copyright (2015) of Mohammed Omer. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, OR books.