Thursday, June 13, 2024

Witnessing genocide from comfort: ‘Do Palestinians get a moment to mourn?’ 

Photo: Anadolu Images

Amidst burning tents and headless bodies, screams filled the air. In a father’s arms, a child, headless and covered in blood, bore witness to the devastating tragedy. This was no nightmare. It was just another day in this part of the world when I woke up and checked social media. I had opened my eyes to heart-wrenching videos from Palestine.

Thousands of miles away, I felt deeply connected to the sufferings of Gazans through social media. Every morning, I would wake up and check to see if Palestinian journalists were still alive. I, along with many others, would anxiously scan Instagram for updates, fearing the worst if any of them failed to post. Despite never having met, the connection felt strong and real, and each loss felt personal.

Seeing these young journalists help children cope with the trauma was hauntingly beautiful. Videos of children crying, asking why this was happening to them, expressing their inability to sleep, and lamenting their lack of food or joy to celebrate Eid were heartbreaking. The steadfastness of their faith in such dire times has inspired many people globally. 

It was 26 May —another day in that part of the world—Palestine, occupied by Israel since 1947. The sight was all too familiar and nightmarish: everything burned—houses in ruins, ashes in the air. Charred sofas, burnt utensils, and scattered clothes were seen everywhere. With water access cut off by Israel, people tried to put out the fires with sand. Blood spilled from lifeless and wounded bodies, some beheaded. Sirens wailed and desperate cries for God echoed. People searched for the injured with phone flashlights. Parents used their bare hands to gather the body parts of their children.

Near the Rafah tents, unrecognisable bodies, mostly children, lay amidst the destruction. Israel had slaughtered more Palestinians at the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah. The tents were burned, and people screamed “Ya Allah” (O God!) in agony. Chaos, horror, and helplessness filled the air. But could this ever be considered normal? I broke down, questioning if Palestinians ever get a moment to mourn. Their grief and trauma are unrelenting. There is no post-traumatic recovery for them, only an unending cycle of pain—a relapse of trauma.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees called Gaza “hell on earth” after the recent Rafah attack. “Information coming out of Rafah about further attacks on families seeking shelter is horrifying,” UNRWA said. “There are reports of mass casualties including children and women among those killed.”

Disregarding the casualties, the Israeli military portrayed its assault as a targeted airstrike that resulted in the death of Yassin Rabia, the Hamas chief of staff for the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the deadly strike on a displacement camp in Gaza’s Rafah as a “tragic incident” that his government is currently “investigating.”

Gaza genocide

The genocide began on October 7, 2023. Today, it has been 247 days since Israel unleashed its horror on Palestinians. The devastation shows no signs of abating, with Israel resolute in its offensive, bolstered by a steady influx of weapons and unwavering political support from its allies – mainly from the United States. Diplomatic efforts and mediated talks have failed to yield a ceasefire, leaving over 5.4 million people in Gaza trapped on their own.

It didn’t stop after the Rafah attack, of course, but the attacks became more inhumane and horrible. On 8 June, Israeli forces carried out a brutal operation in the Nuseirat refugee camp. They infiltrated the camp in trucks disguised as humanitarian aid vehicles. This attack resulted in the deaths of over 200 people. 

The operation, described as a “complex daytime operation,” was aimed at rescuing four captives from Gaza and had the backing of the US.

Bisan Owda, a Palestinian journalist, described the aftermath of the attack, saying that some of the victims reached the hospital in pieces. “The number may increase… the camp is very crowded… human remains and pieces in the streets,” she wrote on her Instagram.

“The occupation has annihilated the Nuseirat refugee camp. Innocent and unarmed civilians were bombed in their homes. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s a catastrophe,” local Nidal Abdo told Middle East Eye. “I came from the camp to the hospital on foot. I can’t describe how we fled. I saw dead children and body parts strewn all over as we fled. No one was able to assist them. I saw an elderly man killed on an animal-drawn cart.” 

“Nuseirat was being annihilated. It was hell.”

Francesca P. Albanese, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said, “Relieved that four hostages have been released. It should not have come at the expense of at least 200 Palestinians, including children, killed and over 400 injured by Israel and allegedly foreign soldiers, while perfidiously hiding in an aid truck. This is humanitarian camouflage at another level.” 

She added that Israel has used hostages to “legitimise killing, injuring, maiming, starving, and traumatising Palestinians in Gaza. And while intensifying violence against Palestinians in the rest of the occupied territory and Israel”. 

“Israel could have freed all hostages, alive and intact, 8 months ago when the first ceasefire and hostage exchange was put on the table. Yet, Israel refused in order to continue to destroy Gaza and the Palestinians as a people. This is genocidal intent turned into action. Crystal clear,” Albanese said.

In a statement, Hamas condemned the US for its involvement in the operation. “American participation in the criminal operation that was carried out today proves once again the complicit role of the American administration, its full participation in the war crimes committed in the Gaza Strip, [and] the falsity of its declared positions on the humanitarian situation and its concern for the lives of civilians,” the statement read.

But is the US the only country involved?

Recent footage from Gaza reveals Indian-made weapons used in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians. A “made in India” label was seen on missile remains at a UN shelter in Nuseirat refugee camp. Records show India’s Munitions India Ltd and Premier Explosives Ltd have recently exported arms to Israel, potentially implicating New Delhi in war crimes. India, a top buyer of Israeli arms, faces scrutiny for its role in the conflict.

Last Sunday evening, Bengaluru Police halted a peaceful pro-Palestine protest in Frazer Town, detaining over 20 people before the protest could begin. Protesters, including human rights defenders, lawyers, and activists, were manhandled and beaten inside the Pulikeshi Nagar police station. The protest aimed to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide in Palestine by Israel. The police also confiscated the detainees’ digital devices.

However, a day before, numerous civil rights organisations, student collectives, and political factions gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest in support of Palestine and denounce the ongoing genocidal conflict in the region. 

While speaking to Maktoob, Hanan Shanavas, a member of the Fraternity Movement’s national general council, commented on the comparatively calm demeanour of the Delhi police during the protest. “As compared to the last protest, this time the Delhi police was calm. They are forced to be so. We were not detained and were allowed to protest,” she said.

Shanavas noted that similar protests are occurring worldwide, compelling authorities, including law enforcement, to acknowledge the prevailing sentiment. 

Under Modi’s rule, dissent has reportedly been met with repressive measures. Last October, over 60 individuals were detained at Jantar Mantar for protesting Israel’s military actions in Gaza. It was during the early stages of the genocide when the killings had just started.

After eight long months, the Gaza Health Ministry said that at least 37,084 Palestinians have tragically lost their lives so far and a staggering 84,000 individuals have been reported injured, while thousands of them have amputations and serious injuries as a result of the genocide. 

Using data from 70% of the deaths that the Gaza Health Ministry has fully identified, The UN has reported that around 52% of those killed in Gaza are women and children, with 40% being men. Over 1,900 elderly individuals and 496 medical personnel have also died. The brutal assault has damaged over 370,000 housing units, with 79,000 completely destroyed. It’s estimated that repairs will be needed until at least 2040. Additionally, more than 80% of Gaza’s schools, including all 12 universities, have been severely damaged or destroyed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that there have been 107 confirmed cases of journalists and media workers being killed: 102 Palestinians, two Israelis, and three Lebanese. Additionally, 32 journalists were reported injured, two were missing, and 38 were arrested. There have been numerous instances of assault, threats, cyberattacks, censorship, and even the killing of family members.

When the genocide of Palestinians began last October, it was justified by Israel as a response to an attack by the native armed resistance group Hamas, in which 1,139 Israelis lost their lives. In the aftermath, the cycle of violence has only intensified, with each day bringing new horrors to the already beleaguered population of Gaza. Israel didn’t react to Hamas alone; they went after civilians, turning the conflict into a brutal assault on the innocent. Instead of a battle between two armed groups, civilians were made to suffer, bearing the brunt of the relentless attacks.

Months have passed, yet the brutality remains relentless. Thousands have fallen victim to senseless violence, and yet Israel’s power remains unchecked by world leaders. How is it that they can stand idle while this genocide unfolds? Muslim leaders too have failed to put an end to this atrocity, leaving conscious people questioning how such injustice can persist unchecked.

The global outcry against this injustice has been deafening, yet it seems to fall on deaf ears. Our voices, our protests, and our pleas seem to mean nothing in the face of this overwhelming power. We are trapped in a world controlled by the elite, where our lives are disposable and our suffering ignored.

As a journalist, sitting far away from Gaza, I feel suffocated by the weight of it all. It is as if the air itself has become heavy with despair. How can we bear witness to such suffering and still call ourselves humans? The so-called champions of human rights are nowhere to be found when it comes to the plight of the Palestine. It is a mockery, a charade played out on the world stage.

If only our prayers, our social media posts and our tears could make a difference, I would cry a river. But they don’t. And so, we hang our heads in shame, unable to look the victims in the eye and admit our complicity in their suffering. Our leaders have betrayed us, allowing this injustice to continue unchecked. Why is this happening? What have the innocent done to deserve such cruelty? These questions haunt me, gnawing at my soul with every passing day.

Perpetrators claim to be oppressors

In the fabric of injustice, the threads of oppression are intricately interwoven into the very essence of society, crafting a complex web of inequality that spans generations. When resistance rises against decades of oppression, the powerful suddenly portray themselves as the oppressed in the eyes of the world.

That’s what’s happening in Palestine. Israel has suddenly become the “poor victim”. 

For some, Palestine seemed to start burning last October, when it became big news. But Israeli oppression has been going on for decades, way before people paid attention. In the world of the powerful, it is easy to peddle lies. Palestine has been the biggest reality check for people who thought they were not prisoners of the powerful. Three months ago, the New York Times faced scrutiny over a December story on the Israel-Hamas war. The piece, “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7,” by Jeffrey Gettleman and freelancers Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella, alleged widespread gender-based violence by Hamas.

However, the Times later confirmed that the claim about Hamas fighters sexually assaulting Israeli women was false. A key witness interviewed by Gettleman “falsely claimed to have seen evidence” of sexual violence at Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7. Despite the original report’s assertion that Hamas abused women at a southern Israel music festival, Hamas has consistently denied these allegations, rejecting claims of sexual violence during Operation Al-Aqsa Storm.

But on 26 May, the horror unfolded in Rafah. Children were indeed beheaded, their bodies strewn everywhere. But this time, it was real. But the Western media remains largely silent or plays it safe. After the Rafah attack, The New York Times headlined, “Gazans Look Through Ashes After Israeli Strike on Rafah,” avoiding criticism of Israel. Similarly, CBS News wrote, “Israel airstrike in Rafah kills dozens as Netanyahu acknowledges ‘tragic mishap,'” inciting netizens to question how anyone can “accidentally” drop a bomb. 

The world is only for and of the powerful, where truth is often the first casualty. Amidst the smoke and screams, I wondered: Do Palestinians ever get a moment of peace? Or are they condemned to an endless loop of suffering, their stories muted by the overpowering roar of the powerful?

The human toll is staggering. Families are torn apart, homes are reduced to rubble, and the cries of the wounded echo through the shattered streets. For the people of Gaza, the suffering is unrelenting—a ceaseless barrage of fear and pain. Their days are marked by the constant roar of explosions, the acrid smell of smoke, and the ever-present dread of what the next moment might bring.

Perpetrators of sexual assault 

In the most comfortable corners of the world, these atrocities often feel distant and abstract. But for those living through this hell, the reality is a constant struggle for survival. The powerful may debate and decide the fates of millions from their secure enclaves, but on the ground in Gaza, the fight is for the most basic human right: the right to live.

This is the true face of genocide—an unending procession of loss and despair, where the innocent bear the heaviest burden, and the hope for peace seems a distant, almost impossible dream.

Out of a total of 36 hospitals in Gaza, 31 have suffered damage or complete destruction. This includes Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the region, which now lies in ruins and is unable to provide any services. The few hospitals that remain operational in Gaza are only able to function partially and are facing significant challenges due to the widespread destruction.

According to accounts compiled by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, numerous female Palestinian detainees from Gaza have described experiencing verbal and sexual abuse, physical violence, torture, invasive body searches, and threats of rape while detained without legal justification by the Israeli military.

A woman at Nasr Hospital was forcibly stripped by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the presence of her family. When her husband and brother attempted to cover her, the soldiers fatally shot both men. Another woman had been sexually assaulted for a prolonged period, resulting in her losing her ability to communicate.  “‘Women in Gaza are being raped and this is not being investigated or reported’” Canadian doctors volunteering in Gaza reported in March. 

During these months, Gazan men and women have provided extensive testimony as to the nature of sexual assault perpetrated by the Israeli military. In February, as per a Guardian report, the United Nations experts reported “credible allegations” suggesting that Palestinian women and girls have faced sexual assaults, including rape, while under Israeli detention.

“We might not know for a long time what the actual number of victims are,” said Alsalem, special rapporteur UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). “I would say that, on the whole, violence and dehumanisation of Palestinian women and children and civilians has been normalised throughout this war.”

And although gendered violence pervaded everyday life for Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza prior to the current ongoing assault, feminists who rally around the reports of rape of Israeli women have not lent Palestinian women the same level of concern. Why? Could it be that it does not align with the agenda of the influential?

Reduced to refugees

As per the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), “close to a million Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza this month following Israel’s expansion of operations in Rafah and calls for people residing in certain areas to ‘evacuate’.”

Over 800,000 individuals have been forced to flee Rafah since Israel initiated operations in the area earlier this month. Additionally, another 100,000 people have been displaced as a result of conflicts in northern Gaza, as reported by the UN.

Israel’s evacuation orders lack guarantees of safety or return, violating international law. Many relocate to al-Mawasi, facing inadequate shelter, while those returning to Khan Younis encounter extensive damage and unexploded ordnances. Limited access to cash compounds the challenges, hampering the procurement of essentials and transportation.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza’s hospitals disrupt medical care, endangering thousands of pregnant women and newborns. The blockade worsens conditions, depriving facilities of vital resources like water and electricity. This compromises healthcare and leaves breastfeeding mothers unable to nourish their infants adequately. With over half of pregnant women in Gaza suffering from anaemia, complications arise, posing risks to both mothers and children. Moreover, the stress from constant assault leads to premature labour and decreased newborn survival rates. In overcrowded UNRWA shelters, 700,000 menstruating women face dire conditions due to insufficient sanitation and lack of menstrual hygiene products, increasing health risks.

It’s not only women; there are reports of children dying from hunger and enduring malnutrition. Numerous rallies around the world have voiced support for Palestine, yet their impact seems limited. Instead, these displays of resistance appear to provoke Israel into further aggression, demonstrating a brazen arrogance in their relentless attacks. As the world watches these atrocities unfold, a sense of helplessness grips us, akin to insects crawling beneath our skin. Every day, this feeling gnaws at us, leaving us burdened with guilt.

Prayers for the oppressed feel like our only recourse, as it seems there is little else we can do. The world’s failure to act not only condemns Palestine but also for future generations, where hatred triumphs and peace is a distant dream.

But amidst the chaos and despair, one truth remains resolute: the silence of the powerful is not just an act of complicity; it’s a deafening endorsement of injustice, challenging us all to confront our own humanity and the values we hold dear.

Gafira Qadir
Gafira Qadir
Gafira Qadir is a journalist based in Kashmir, covering human rights, gender, and education.

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