They sought a brief escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere in downtown Gaza where a depressive combination of crowdedness, poverty and mounting insecurity is tormenting the mental health of everyone, children and adults alike. They headed for Sudaniya beach, thinking they could have some fun on a Friday afternoon, the Muslim day of rest. Instead of sunshine and sea waves, they met an Israeli artillery shell fired from offshore.
Within seconds, seven members of the Ghalia family were dead, including three toddlers, their bodies mutilated and maimed by shrapnel. The only survivor was a young girl who was repeatedly throwing herself on the sand and crying hysterically, "My dad! My dad! My dad!"
Her father was lying dead next to her, along with the rest of her family. The gory images of the massacre, played repetitively on television screens, as if somehow beyond understanding on the first encounter, would move the stonehearted. This, albeit yet another Israeli massacre, will leave an indelible imprint on collective Palestinian conscience and memory.
As though to make the Ghalia family slaughter old news, fresh killings followed Tuesday in eastern Gaza. This time, an Israeli warplane fired two missiles on a crowd, killing nine, mostly children and women.
Once again, Palestinians have appealed to the world for protection. "They are the Nazis of our time," said one retired teacher watching images of the massacre on Al-Jazeera, referring to the Israeli army as "a Nazi-like army of thugs, hoodlums and common criminals". The former teacher added: "I know that calling Jews Nazis won’t be received well in Europe and the West. But when Jews think, act and behave like Nazis, they become Nazis. We must call a spade a spade, especially when we find it in the hands of our grave-diggers."
One must wonder what words beyond these, full of justified fury as a helpless people’s children are cut down, would mobilise the "free world", or for that matter the Arab and Muslim world, who watch passively if not numbly. What level of pornographic carnage is necessary before someone somewhere speaks out?
For most Palestinians, Israel’s entire history is an uninterrupted chain of massacres: its existence itself founded on a crime against humanity. What pains and insults Palestinians is the conspicuous absence of any international outcry at such wanton killings.
Further injury was registered by the scant coverage of the massacres by some Arab state- run television stations, with one Hebron citizen remarking, "God is great! They are even afraid to show out pain on their TV... Is America even controlling their thoughts?"
There is no doubt that Israel is more or less enjoying open season over a helpless and impoverished people who rely heavily for their very survival, both as individuals and as a nation, on the moral weight of international public opinion.
This moral weight has been much undermined since 11 September 2001, resulting in more Palestinians murdered while indifferent capitals around the world throw an arm on Israel’s shoulder and ask for restraint while pointing a finger at the Palestinians demanding an end to terror. It’s as though a mirror or a filter was reversing every image, every word and every piece of footage that portrays the reality of Israel’s vicious military occupation.
As is usual, the Israeli government and its spokespersons and apologists proved again this week that they are more concerned about public relations than the unjust, illegal and utterly wanton slaughter of Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli army, which has killed over 770 Palestinian children and minors in the past six years (according to B’tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation), initially claimed the "incident" was the result of a "misfire". One Israeli army officer said the shell that killed the Ghalia family "swerved off target for unknown reasons".
Later another narrative issued from the Israeli army’s disinformation mill, claiming that the explosion of abandoned ordnance might have caused the deaths. Eventually, on Tuesday, the Israeli army had the audacity to accuse Hamas of responsibility for the carnage, alleging that a landmine planted by Hamas in the area exploded, causing the deaths.
Palestinian leaders have rightly refused to dignify the Israeli lie by commenting on it, with one Palestinian government official wondering if anybody "would accept the idea of the Gestapo investigating itself".
Israeli public reaction to the massacre varied according to the ideological and political map. Most religious and right-wing parties didn’t hesitate to absolve those responsible for the massacre, voicing largely insincere regrets over the loss of innocent lives.
One Hebrew University professor claimed that the massacre was "a great day for the Palestinians. It was just what they wanted, an Israeli massacre caught on film." Such remarks, especially from the mouth of supposed educator, beggar belief.
Some Israelis, particularly those within the ever-diminishing leftist camp, did condemn the massacre in unequivocal terms. David Grossman, a prominent Israeli writer, argued that instead of worrying about the "damage to Israel’s image" and instead of seeking to formulate the automatic cliché counter- arguments, Israelis should take a good look at their handiwork.
"It is long overdue for us to notice the slippery slope down which we are sliding ourselves, and to start asking which deep abyss lies ahead," wrote Grossman in the Hebrew newspaper Maariv on 12 June.
With Israeli prime minister insisting, however, that the Israeli occupation army is the "most moral army in the world", notwithstanding the weekly slaughter of children and women in Gaza and the West Bank, it is unlikely that more than a few Israelis will read Grossman’s words, let alone heed them.
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