Opinion: Human toll too great in Gaza

July 30, 2014


On my refrigerator door I keep a photo of an exceptional Palestinian woman who ran kindergartens in Gaza in the 1990s for the Philly-based American Friends Service Committee. Mary Khaas, who died more than a decade ago, would drag her teachers from their refugee-camp homes to visit her Jewish friends at a kibbutz just across the Gaza border. She believed in two states, and wanted each side to stop demonizing the other.

Attitudes have hardened in Gaza over the last decade, and I don’t know how Mary would feel now. But as U.S. efforts to produce a lasting cease-fire falter, and temporary cease-fires run down, the photo reminds me that many Americans can’t conceptualize the humanity of the civilians who are dying there. Unless the world starts paying more attention to the people behind the statistics, the battles between Israel and Hamas will never end.

Few Americans, except for aid workers, have ever visited Gaza, a 25-by-5-mile spit of sand crammed with 1.7 million Palestinians, many them descendants of refugees who fled Jaffa or the Beersheba area during Israel’s war of independence.

No one wants the Gaza Strip. The Israelis captured it in 1967 from Egypt and regard it with disdain. In Hebrew, “Go to Gaza” is the local variant of “Go to hell.”

The Egyptians feel the same way. They occupied the strip in 1948 during the Arab war with Israel, when Gaza was part of mandate Palestine. Given the high unemployment and sinking economy in Egypt, the last thing its rulers want is to take the strip back.

So Gaza’s men, women, and children remain locked up in a virtual prison. Since Hamas took control in 2007, Israel has kept the strip under a punishing economic blockade; the Israelis control its sea space, airspace, and borders, except for the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Gazans are rarely allowed to exit for medical treatment or to study.

Tens of thousands of Gazans who once worked as laborers inside Israel were locked out of Israeli jobs nearly two decades ago for security reasons. Unemployment is sky high, and local businesses, such as flower, fruit and juice exporters, have been crippled by the blockade, or by previous battles between Israel and Hamas. Gaza lives off the international dole.

One reason for the amazing extent of Hamas’ underground tunnel network — which Israel is trying to destroy — is that digging tunnels is one of the few new sources of jobs.

The awful realities of Gazans’ lives get lost in the blame game between Israel and Hamas over their deaths.

Israel portrays the civilian victims, including children, as “human shields” forced by Hamas to stay in harm’s way despite advance Israeli warnings. Hamas says the responsibility for their deaths lies totally with Israel. Each side accuses the other of war crimes.

Both narratives are simplistic.

Hamas has indeed exposed Gazans to peril — by firing rockets that indiscriminately target Israeli civilians; this fits the definition of a war crime. By firing from built-up areas, Hamas puts its own population at risk, since it knows Israel will try to eliminate the rocket threat.

So Hamas is culpable for Gazan casualties, but the story doesn’t end there. There is no evidence Hamas is forcibly preventing Gazans from seeking shelter. Some Gazans stay put to protect their modest homes — which represent their entire life savings — or because it is simply too difficult to flee with huge extended families, or because they believed they were safe as they ate their post-fast meal during Ramadan.

As for prior warning, anyone who has been to Gaza (I have been there many times, though not recently) knows the tiny strip is so densely populated that civilians are hard pressed to escape the shelling and bombing. One reason the bombing has gone on so long, and aroused a limited international outcry, is that Gazans are rarely seen as individuals, but as a lumpen mass that is to blame for its own troubles. That view is especially prevalent inside Israel. Amira Hass, a courageous Israeli journalist who covers Gaza and the West Bank for Haaretz, and whose moving book Drinking the Sea at Gaza details ordinary life inside the strip, is often excoriated. Israeli artists who have expressed sorrow over deaths on both sides have been pilloried on social networks.

Mary Khaas’ photo brings back many memories of Gazans I knew whose stories would surprise Americans. There were Hatem Abu Ghazaleh, an eminent Western-trained surgeon who returned home to help handicapped children, and Eyad El-Sarraj, a psychiatrist, who fought for Palestinian human rights.

There were the Fatah members I met in the 1990s who had spent years in Israeli prisons, learned Hebrew, and had come to believe the only way forward was two states. More recently, there was an impressive group of young academics and Ph.D. candidates I met in Philadelphia, who encouraged young Gazans to channel their anger into writing short stories, collected into a volume called Gaza Writes Back. And there is the majority of ordinary Gazans who just want to get on with living.

The bottom line: It’s time to stop playing the blame game for civilian deaths in Gaza, or citing statistics and focus on this: Too many innocent people are dying. The bombing can’t continue.

There is no way to eliminate Hamas’ tunnels and rockets by military means alone — unless Israel flattens Gaza and disregards the death toll and the damage to its reputation. Absent a negotiated solution that gives ordinary Gazans some hope for the future, this problem won’t end.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


1 year, 4 months ago

As per Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh…."The destruction of stones will not break our will and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom."

Ismail Haniyeh worships and is willing to fight and die for this “freedom” ….but it is the SAME “freedom” that the Israelis are willing to fight and die for.

A short while ago, President Obama warned Israel that the US would not be able to prevent an “international fallout” if peace would not be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

A short while ago, Jorge Bergoglio (“Pope Francis”), President Pres, and President Abbas each prayed to their respective ‘religious gods’, at the Vatican, for FREEDOM. ….but in reality they prayed to the same “god of fortresses”, the “god of self-freedom”.

President Obama has declared that this FREEDOM is not given….that this FREEDOM must be “taken”.

And so, today, the Israelis are fighting for, to take, their “freedom”. And so, today, the Palestinians are also fighting for, to take, and are dying for their “freedom”.

This FREEDOM is the same “freedom” that both worship and live for. It is the ‘IMAGE’ of the “god above all fortress” that has the authority to speak and dictate what is RIGHT in the eyes of man.

This FREEDOM believes in one serving and magnifying oneself (XES). This FREEDOM declares that …”I am not my brother’s keeper….I am keeper of my myself first and foremost”. This FREEDOM confessed that it is RIGHT to be FREE to take (in disobedience) of the tree of justifying “ good and evil” in one’s own eyes, for one’s own self-interests.

BUT the One Creator forbid man ( did not give him the freedom) to worship any other ‘god’. ...And the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the One Creator God, said that it is written that one is to worship Only the One Lord Your Creator and Him Alone to SERVE in obedience and love...love for HIM First and Foremost….and love for , to DO GOOD to the fellowman.

Soon, very soon, the Anointed Lord Jesus will return to rule the earth as the One King according to the Will of the One Who Gives Existence to All that Exists and NOT according to man’s first love for “his freedom”.

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 4 months ago

Coincidence, or intentional?
Hamas, usually transliterated 'chamas' but pronounced the same, is the Hebrew word for:
violence, wrong.

It is true that the human toll too great in Gaza, but that can be said of any war. It is important to remember that Israel is not fighting the people of Gaza, but instead Hamas. Almost always, wars are between governments, not between people.

Rockets with explosives have been shot into Israel for years, and the number became far greater after Israel totally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Giving the Palestinians all of Gaza without any conditions made the situation even worse. Rockets shooting into the cities in the southern part of Israel, especially Siderot, became almost a daily event. So it's quite obvious that Israel did not start this, it's been going on for years.

Hamas has made it very clear that the goal is the total destruction of Israel. Israel has never had that intent towards Gaza.

Wars do not end until the populations on both sides want it to. Although, there are some exceptions, such as possibly Germany in World War II, when a gangster government takes control and aims for its own goals, regardless of the wishes of the population.

We're hearing so much about Gaza, while more than 140,000 people, over 7,000 of them children, have been killed in Syria. Why is that?

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 4 months ago

"It’s time to stop playing the blame game for civilian deaths in Gaza, or citing statistics and focus on this: Too many innocent people are dying. The bombing can’t continue."

Why didn't that apply to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 4 months ago

If Canada or Mexico started launching rockets into the U.S., what would or should we do?

I know that there is plenty of bad blood between Israel and the malcontents in the Gaza Strip. It has been traditional for most Islamic terrorists to lobby for the extermination of the Jewish State.

But if they started firing rockets at the U.S., what would happen?

I don't think this requires any great debate.

Scott Burkhart 1 year, 4 months ago

Armies are for breaking things and killing people. True peace between two warring factions is never achieved until one defeats the other. Hamas is a murderous group that thinks nothing of draping themselves with civilians, hiding armament in schools and hospitals, and strapping bombs to their children to fuel their quest to kill every jew they can. They have avowed to it. It is in their charter. I wish the civilians were not involved but they are. Israel needs to finish what it has started and moronic journalists need to accept that a nation like Israel has a right to defend itself, regardless off the cost to its enemy.

Bob Smith 1 year, 4 months ago

If Hamas were allowed to run wild, the death toll would be much higher.

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 4 months ago

"From the Al-Qassam Brigades to the Zionist soldiers: The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life."
[Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), Nov. 18, 2012]
(Note: Zionist is Arabic Newspeak for Israelis)

Hamas has publicly announced that they love death. Some of their citizens are getting what they said they love, so what's the problem?

The problem is that people are dying for Hamas that don't necessarily support Hamas. Hopefully a new and more peaceful government will emerge after the present carnage is over.

This photo was not taken in Gaza, but instead near the West Bank City of Hebron on June 14, 2014. It shows the terror that Palestinians often experience while Israeli soldiers are on patrol.

Terrified Palestinians in the West Bank

Terrified Palestinians in the West Bank by Ron Holzwarth

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 4 months ago

From a simple word search of the Koran:

Israel is mentioned 44 times.
Palestine is mentioned 0 times.
Jerusalem is mentioned 0 times.

I think there are some radical Muslims that need to study the Koran.


Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 4 months ago

I would be furious to if I lived in the Gaza Strip. I think the United Nations should formally recognize Palestine as an independent state. As of now it has observer status only. Acknowledge the Gaza Strip of part of Palestine and take away Israels right to control that airspace and end the blockade.

Leslie Swearingen

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 4 months ago

If Palestine becomes an independent state, Israel will have to declare war against it, unless the barrage of rocket fire and other forms of terrorism stops.

It's so easy for Americans to talk, after all, rockets and mortars are not being shot from Tijuana, Mexico into San Diego. And it's so nice that Canada is not shooting rockets with explosives into New York City. We should appreciate that.

Abdu Omar 1 year, 4 months ago

Holswrath you always miss the point-always. When you crowd 1.8 million people into a small space and give them everything?- no they blockaded them, closed the tunnels into Egypt and Israel, starving them, no jobs, no money, no decent living places and you call that Israel giving them everything? So what can they do to draw attention to this travesty? They shoot harmless rockets into Israel killing NO ONE! If you opened the blockade and allowed Gazans to be able to trade with other countries, remove the occupation, Palestine could flourish next to Israel. But your friend Bibi wants the land, he wants to kill Palestinians so Israel is alone on that land-he has said as much. So the Quran mentions Israel? I don't think so, it mentions the Children of Israel who have transgressed so much that God (we can write His name) had to send prophet after prophet to get them to follow the straight path. But instead, the COI, as we call them, rejected and killed the prophets. There is no land of Israel, but He gave the Sinai to the COI, but they soon left it. Then the COI embraced Islam and are the Palestinians of today. Read buddy, research and you will find this factual. So the Israelis of today are fighting the descendants of their ancestors if they are real Children of Israel. I believe the European Jew is not, has no connection to the land nor the ancestors that would bequeath them Sinai.

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 3 months ago

Maybe I should call you Obduracy Omar. I don't see the difference.

Abdu Omar 1 year, 4 months ago

Also, in Arabic, there is an "H" sound like "hello" "how"" heaven" so the pronunciation of the word Hamas is hamas. not chamas. I know most Hebrew speakers do not use the "h" sound. So what does Hamas mean in Arabic? I doesn't mean terror or wrong or violence, it means one who is true to God.

God says in the Quran that Muslims must always fight against oppression and by fighting, God means that when the oppression is over, Muslims MUST stop fighting. There cannot be grudges and revenge. When it is over, it is over. It is very clear that the Israelis keep the Palestinians under a state of oppression and the Israelis do so, so that the Pals have nowhere to go but out of the area which would give them the land they desire.

Bibi ( Netanyahu) clearly stated last week that the two state solution is not part of his plan and that he believes it wouldn't be in Israel's best interest. But look at the number of real Jews living in the Arab world in a peaceful and meaningful way. While I visited North Africa a few years ago, I asked to see the Jewish quarter. My guide said they live everywhere among the Arabs who trade with them and socialize with them. Muslims and Jews share almost the same dietary laws. So why not in Palestine?

Because, in North Africa, Jews are not looking at the land and wanting it all, unlike Israelis. How can you be friends, socialize and enjoy the company of one who wants your land?

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 3 months ago

That is ridiculous. An Arab needs to be educated on the correct transliteration of Hebrew into English characters.

(Ch) = (H) That is the sound that is transliterated from (Ch).

Educate yourself, and you won't look like such a fool. Plus, history books are helpful.

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 3 months ago

If Palestine ever becomes an independent state (aside from Jordan, which already is a Palestinian state), there will be tourists flocking there to see their holy sights for themselves. There won't be nearly enough hotels to accommodate them all. It will be the tourist boom to end all tourist booms that have preceded it. And in the process, the Palestinians will become very wealthy.

All it takes is the will among the Palestinians to make it happen.

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