"An international spat has developed over disparaging comments about Israel allegedly made by the French ambassador to London at a private dinner party. During a conversation about the Middle East crisis with the owner of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Conrad Black, ambassador Daniel Bernard is reported to have spoken about 'that shitty little country Israel'." ('Anti-Semitic' French envoy under fire, BBC News, 20/12/01)
It seems we have a new Israeli propaganda genre - the 'Dear Palestinian' letter. Hardly have I fended off one (See my 21/1/09 post Dear Neighbour from Hell), than another has darkened my doorstep. Dear Citizen of Gaza , supposedly written by one Yishai (Reserve Soldier) for the Israeli Hebrew-language daily Ma'ariv and translated into English by Zionist propaganda site IMRA, is designed to persuade world (& no doubt Israeli) public opinion that, while Israelis all exhibit sweetness, light and empathy, those dreadful, brainwashed Gazans obstinately and unreasonably persist in riling them when what they should be doing is pulling out their collective finger, toppling the Hamas regime, and generally getting a life (when they're not busy dying, of course) so that warm and cuddly Israelis might feel sufficiently motivated to pop in for a cuppa. What follows is Yishai's priceless letter in italics, peppered with some reality checks from the killing fields of Gaza and beyond.
"Dear Citizen of Gaza,
"Hello, While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your home which remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away. I am that someone. I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked into your home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm. I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even the tiniest desire to hear what I have to say. At the same time, it is important for me to say the following in the hope that there is even the minutest chance that you will hear me. I spent many days in your home. You and your family's presence was felt in every corner. I saw your family's portraits on the wall, and I thought of my family. I saw your wife's perfume bottles on the bureau, and I thought of my wife. I saw your children's toys and their English language schoolbooks. I saw your personal computer and how you set up the modem and wireless phone next to the screen, just as I do. I need you to understand me, us, and hope that you will channel your anger and crticism to the right places. I wanted you to know that despite the immense disorder you found in your house that was created during a search for explosives and tunnels (which were indeed found in other homes), we did our best to treat your possessions with respect. When I moved the computer table, I disconnected the cables and lay them down neatly on the floor, as I would do with my own computer. I even covered the computer from dust with a piece of cloth. I tried to put back the clothes that fell when we moved the closet although not the same as you would have done, but at least in such a way that nothing would get lost. I know that the devastation, the bullet holes in your walls and the destruction of those homes near you place my descriptions in a ridiculous light. Still, I need you to understand me, us, and hope that you will channel your anger and criticism to the right places."
"There are many stories. Each account, each murdered individual, each wounded person, each burned-out and broken home, each shattered window, trashed kitchen, strewn item of clothing, bedroom turned upside down, bullet and shell hole in walls, offensive Israeli army graffiti... is important. I start to tell the stories of Ezbet Abbed Rabbo, eastern Jabaliya, where homes off the main north-south road, Salah ed-Din, were violated by bullets, bombs and/or Israeli soldiers. If they weren't destroyed, they were occupied or shot-up. Or occupied, and then destroyed. The army was creative in their destruction, in their defacing of property, in their insults. Creative in the ways they could shit in rooms and save their shit for cupboards and unexpected places. Actually, their creativity wasn't so broad. The rest was routine: ransack the house from top to bottom. Turn over or break every wardrobe, kitchen shelf, television, computer, window pane, water tank... The first house I visited was that of my dear friends, who we'd stayed with in the evenings before the land invasion began. Who we'd huddled with in their basement as the random crashes of missiles pulverised the neighbourhood. And whose father I'd worried non-stop about. After seeing he was still alive, I'd done the tour, from the bottom up. The safe-haven ground floor room was the least affected: disheveled, piles of earth at the base of the windows where it had blown in with a later bombing which caved the hillside behind, mattresses turned over and items strewn... this room was the cleanest, least-damaged. Upstairs to the first apartment. Complete disarray. Feces on the floor. Everything broken. Opened cans of Israeli army provisions. Bullet holes in walls. Stench. To the second floor, next two apartments, all of the extended sons' and wives' and children's rooms. More disarray, greater stench. Apparently, this was the main base from the boxes of food - prepackaged meals, noodles, tins of chocolate, and plastic-wrapped sandwiches - and the left behind IOF soldiers' clothing. A pair of soldier's trousers in the bathtub, soiled with shit. F tells me: 'The smell was terrible. The food was everywhere. Very disgusting smell. They put shit in the sinks, everywhere. Our clothes were everywhere. The last time they invaded (March 2008) it was easy. They broke everything, but we fixed it. But this time, they put shit everywhere: in cupboards, on beds - my bed is full of shit'. She is strong and has handled the invasions before, but the desecration of her house has got her down: 'A minute ago, Sabreen opened her wardrobe : there was a bowl of shit in it! They used our clothes for toilet paper'... The usual perspective and gratitude for surviving overrides what is her right to be indignant, depressed, to cry and lament their suffering: 'Thank God we have a room in our house. Many people's houses were completely destroyed', she says of her own seriously damaged house. The soldiers who ransacked, destroyed their clothes and shelled the home also stole a computer and 2,000 JD, she tells me." (Abed-Rabbo area: one family's story, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Eva Bartlett, ingaza.wordpress.com, 27/1/09)
"Around a dozen homes [in Zeitoun, on the southern outskirts of Gaza City] were destroyed, no more than piles of rubble in the sand... Helmi Samouni's 2-storey house was one of the few left standing, despite the gaping hole from a large tank shell that pierced his blackened bedroom wall. During the invasion it had been taken over by Israeli soldiers, who wrecked the furniture and set up sand-bagged shooting positions throughout. They left behind their own detritus... But most disturbing of all was the graffiti they daubed on the walls... Some was in Hebrew, but much was naively written in English: 'Arabs need 2 die', 'Die you all', 'Make war not peace', '1 is down, 999,999 to go', and scrawled on an image of a gravestone the words: 'Arabs 1948-2009'." (Amid dust & death, a family's story speaks for the terror of war, Rory McCarthy, guardian.co.uk, 19/1/09)
"I decided to write you this letter specifically because I stayed in your home. I can surmise that you are intelligent and educated and there are those in your household that are university students. Your children learn English, and you are connected to the Internet. You are not ignorant; you know what is going on around you. Therefore, I am sure you know that Qassam rockets were launched from your neighbourhood into Israeli towns and cities.* How could you see these weekly launches and not think that one day we would say 'enough'?! Did you ever consider that it is perhaps wrong to launch rockets at innocent civilians trying to lead a normal human life, much like you? How long did you think we would sit back without reacting? I can hear you saying 'it's not me, it's Hamas'. My intutition tells me you are not their most avid supporter. If you look closely at the sad reality in which your people live, and you do not try to deceive yourself or make excuses about 'occupation', you must certainly reach the conclusion that the Hamas is your real enemy."
*"Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the 6-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas's capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns... [L]et me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of of the IDF's Gaza Division. In an interview in Haaretz on 22 December, he accused Israel's government of having made a 'central error' during the tahdiyeh, the 6-month period of relative truce, by failing 'to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip... When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues... it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire... You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they're in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing'." (Israel's lies, Henry Siegman, London Review of Books, 29/1/09)
"The reality is so simple, even a seven year old can understand: Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, removing military bases and its citizens from Gush Katif. Nonetheless, we continued to provide you with electricity, water, and goods (and this I know very well as during my reserve duty I guarded the border crossings more than once, and witnessed hundreds of trucks full of goods entering a blockade-free Gaza every day). Despite all this, for reasons that cannot be understood and with a lack of any rational logic, Hamas launched missiles on Israeli towns. For three years we clenched our teeth and restrained ourselves. In the end, we could not take it anymore and entered the Gaza Strip, into your neighbourhood, in order to remove those who want to kill us. A reality that is painful but very easy to explain. You must lead a civil uprising against Hamas.* As soon as you agree with me that Hamas is your enemy** and because of them, your people are miserable, you will also understand that the change must come from within. I am acutely aware of the fact that what I say is easier to write than to do, but I do not see any other way. You, who are connected to the world and concerned about your children's education, must lead, together with your friends, a civil uprising against Hamas."
*"Everyone seems to have forgotten that Hamas declared an end to suicide bombings and rocket fire when it decided to join the Palestinian political process., and largely stuck to it for more than a year... When Hamas unexpectedly won the election [January 2006], Israel and the US immediately sought to delegitimise the result and embraced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who until then had been dismissed by Israel's leaders as a 'plucked chicken'. They armed and trained his security forces to overthrow Hamas; and when Hamas... pre-empted this violent attempt to reverse the result of the first honest democratic election in the modern Middle East, Israel and the Bush administration imposed the blockade... [F]or all its failings, Hamas brought to Gaza a level of law and order unknown in recent years, and did so without the large sums of money that donors showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. It eliminated the violent gangs and warlords who terrorised Gaza under Fatah's rule. Non-observant Muslims, Christians and other minorities have more religious freedom under Hamas rule than they would have in Saudi Arabia, for example, or under many other Arab regimes." (Siegman, ibid)
**"I'm surprised at how buoyant people are given the circumstances. Talking to them, I find morale high and an overall sense of defiance. At one point I saw a young boy on a donkey cart, unaware I was observing him. As an Israeli jet passed overhead, he shook a fist at the sky." (Defiance & destruction in Gaza, Ben Wedeman, CNN, 16/1/09)
"I swear to you, that if the citizens of Gaza were busy paving roads, building schools, opening factories and cultural institutions instead of dwelling in self-pity, arms smuggling and nurturing a hatred to your Israeli neighbours, your homes would not be in ruins right now. If your leaders were not corrupt and motivated by hatred, your home would not have been harmed. If someone would have stood up and shouted that there is no point in launching missiles on innocent civilians, I would not have to stand in your kitchen as a soldier. You don't have money, you tell me?* You have more than you can imagine. Even before Hamas took control of Gaza, during the time of Yasser Arafat, millions if not billions of dollars donated by the world community to the Palestinians was used for purchasing arms or taken directly to your leaders' bank accounts. Gulf states, the emirates - your brothers, your flesh and blood, are some of the richest nations in the world. If there was even a small feeling of solidarity between Arab nations, if these nations had but the smallest interest in reconstructing the Palestinian people - your situation would be very different. You must be familiar with Singapore. The land mass there is not much larger than the Gaza Strip and it is considered to be the second most populated country in the world. Yet, Singapore is a successful, prospering, and well managed country. Why not the same for you? My friend, I would like to call you by name, but I will not do so publicly. I want you to know that I am 100% at peace with what my country did, what my army did, and what I did. However, I feel your pain. I am sorry for the destruction you are finding in your neighbourhood at this moment. On a personal level, I did what I could to minimize the damage to your home as much as possible. Instead of sinking into self-pity, build a flourishing and prosperous country. In my opinion, we have a lot more in common than you might imagine. I am a civilian, not a soldier, and in my private life I have nothing to do with the military. However, I have an obligation to leave my home, put on a uniform, and protect my family every time we are attacked. I have no desire to be in your home wearing a uniform again and I would be more than happy to sit with you as a guest on your beautiful balcony, drinking sweet tea seasoned with the sage growing in your garden.**"
*"Egypt stopped a senior Hamas official from carrying 9 million dollars and 2 million euros into Gaza on Thursday, a security official told AFP... Hamas has said it plans to distribute 4,000 euros ($5,200) to each family whose home was destroyed and 1,000 euros ($1,300) for each family member killed in the onslaught... In December 2006, Hamas' then-prime minister Ismail Haniya was forced to leave $35 million at the Egyptian side of Rafah. The money was then transferred to a Palestinian Authority account." (Hamas official stopped with Gaza millions, news.yahoo.com, 5/2/09)
**"On Wednesday they were picking through a sea of rubble [in Johr ad-Deek]. Not a house was still standing. Fences and gardens were gone. The turnip crop, the spring wheat and the orange groves were ripped up by the tracks of 70-tonne tanks. Olive trees were flattened. Worse, for parched Gaza, the platic irrigation pipes that carried water to the fields were torn up and sliced to bits." (Stoic Gaza claws back, to what passes for normal, Douglas Hamilton, Reuters North American Service, 21/1/09)
"The only person who could make that dream a reality is you. Take responsibility for yourself, your family, your people, and start to take control of your destiny. How? I do not know. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Jewish people who rose up from the most destructive human tragedy of the 20th century, and instead of sinking into self-pity, built a flourishing and prospering country. It is possible, and it is in your hands. I am ready to be there to provide a shoulder of support and help to you.* But only you can move the wheels of history."
*"Ammar [Helw, 29, of Zeitoun] said he spent 5 days in Israeli custody, most of it blindfolded and without food and water. After reuniting with his family, who were staying with relatives, they returned to their home Jan. 19, he said, but found it in ruins. Ammar alleges that Israeli soldiers smashed the computer and stole the family jewelry. He said he also found his father's body, 30 feet from the house, haphazardly buried under dirt and chunks of cactus plants. 'These aren't human beings, I swear to God', Ammar said." (Gaza family recounts day of horror, Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, 26/1/09)