When the messages stopped: November 23, 2023

My original substack essay was edited and shortened for the website Global Voices, now translated into Greek, Albanian, Spanish, Dutch, Bangla, Russian!!!!

Reflections on Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza

Gaza-based participation in the 18th We Are Not Numbers (WANN) cohort, meeting for a training in September 2023. The photo was taken by Yousef Dawas, who was killed by an Israeli missile strike on his family’s home in the town of Beit Lahia on October 14, 2023. Photo owned by WANN, used with permission.

From October 7 to 27, my phone constantly rang, fragmented messages and videos from the Gaza Strip, cries from survivors and the feared-soon-to-be dead. Medical colleagues stayed to work in their hospitals in the north despite the Israeli directive to move south (to what?) when roads were reduced to rubble, and there was almost no fuel for vehicles. Others managed to flee only to be bombed in the south. Some colleagues separated from their families (either internally in Gaza or because they now reside in the diaspora) were sick with anxiety. There was no clean water, and even bread was hard to find. 

Young writers from the mentoring program I volunteer with, We Are Not Numbers, sent desperate, heartbreaking messages when they had access to a moment of internet, until October 27, when the messages stopped. This is their sixth war, the traumas of the past resurfacing, layering their youthful enthusiasm and hope with fear and dread, the most terrifying experience of their already war-wounded existence.

Our project has lost three writers to the missiles, along with high numbers of their multigenerational families. At least one has been pulled out alive from the rubble, and a poet has been arrested, beaten, and released. 

In the USA, we have lost our moral compass and respect for human rights. In the fury and grief over the horrific Hamas attack, many have forgotten that destroying the lives of more than 5,500 Gazan children will not bring back the life of a single Israeli child. We have forgotten that all of these children are precious and human and, contrary to the bigoted comments made by Israeli officials and some of our Congress people, they are all innocent.

Messages from Gaza abruptly stopped on October 28, except for the occasional gruesome Instagram video. Intense airstrikes obliterated all methods of communication, which meant no landlines, cellphones, or internet. Now messages trickle in. 

“Unfortunately, I am still breathing.” 

“I will try to write something.”

“..[A] terrible couple of days.”

What this constriction of communications represents in terms of civilian lives is frightening: no one can call an ambulance, or check on a relative; pregnant women in labour do not know where to go; rescue workers can’t communicate; hospitals cannot call in emergency support; humanitarian agencies were quickly brought to a standstill. Local reporters could not document the atrocities.

I cannot know if the health workers or young writers I have worked with, agonized over, hoped for, are still alive, searching for water, bread, shelter, loved ones, or buried in rubble-tossed graves. The hospitals have run out of morphine, leaving patients writhing in pain, and there is no fuel to generate electricity. Patients are being treated on corridor floors because there are no available beds. Israel is bombing hospitals and ambulances, directing patients and staff to leave although there is nowhere safe to go, no medical facilities to receive them and no fuel or ambulances to transport them. This is all under the ruse that hospitals harbor “Hamas terrorists and tunnels,” despite the hospital staff’s assertions that this is false and the scant “evidence” that has been produced. Even if there were tunnels under hospitals, it is a violation of international law to bomb them.

Our government does not seem that concerned. By day 44, over 13,000 had been killed; in a callous act of minimization, the accuracy of the death count was questioned by Biden. In response, the Ministry of Health released the name, age, gender, and ID for almost every casualty. Each of these numbers is a person with a life, a family, beloveds, now a corpse wrapped in grief.

Many suspect that Israel’s massive bombardment to “destroy Hamas” may really be a plan, with the US State Department’s blessing, to depopulate Gaza and move its people into the Sinai. This is called ethnic cleansing. There are also reports of Israel’s interest in controlling the natural gas reserves just off the coast of Gaza. The power of the military-industrial-fossil-fuel complex in action.

Despite the moral stupor of the American Congress, acts of civil disobedience and protesters are filling the streets. Thousands filled Grand Central Station in New York, and a host of cities from the East Coast to the West, an estimated 300,000 gathered at the nation’s capital. A group of us from Jewish Voice for Peace shut down the Federal Building in Seattle; two weeks later, we shut down the Space Needle. Several polls show that the majority of US citizens support a ceasefire. Phone calls and emails are pouring into Congress with the message, “Ceasefire Now!” Perhaps we as a country have learned something from our morally and politically disastrous response to 9/11. Perhaps our elected leaders have not.

The Israeli and US call to destroy Hamas obscures the reality that Hamas is not just a militant insurgency that committed war crimes, but an ideology of resistance born of decades of Israeli occupation, siege, and apartheid policies. Israel has bombed tunnels before and sworn to “destroy Hamas” before; the fighters come back fiercer, better funded, and smarter in the ways of militant resistance. An ideology cannot be defeated when the roots of the ideology are not addressed. It is the responsibility of the international community to pressure Israel to end the siege and occupation, dismantle the apartheid systems, negotiate a viable and just future for the Palestinian people, and stop the endless flow of weapons into the region.

Many are calling for an immediate ceasefire and the provision of the necessary level of food, medications, electricity, and fuel. They are not merely calling for a “humanitarian pause” to allow civilians to briefly recover, only to be bombed again with the weapons we have paid for. A ceasefire would give room for civilian hostages to be released; otherwise, they are likely to die in Hamas tunnels from Israeli bombs. 2.3 million Gazan and thousands of Palestinian prisoners are all also hostages to the Israeli war machine. A full ceasefire could give space to negotiate a prisoner exchange for Israeli soldiers, begin serious humanitarian aid, and focus on respectfully addressing the root causes of this tragedy. The solutions must move beyond the continuation of settler colonial proposals that are now being discussed, with Israel maintaining control and Palestinians continuing their subjugation.  

Even Netanyahu speaks of “mighty vengeance,” and the Israeli government, parroted by US and European governments, claims that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Its response is a rage-filled revenge born of humiliation, shock and grief, with multiple violations of international law, and the creation of a new generation of Palestinians born into trauma, false promises, and abandonment by the international community. As the ground invasion continues, thousands more Palestinians will be injured and killed, Israelis will be injured and killed, and Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and possibly Iran may be triggered to do more than just stand with their Palestinian sisters and brothers.

Palestinians in Israel and the territories, many with relatives in Gaza, will likely be inspired to launch another unity intifada. With all eyes on Gaza, the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank have increased their attacks, killing 215 Palestinians and injuring 2,750, in the continued efforts to drive Palestinians off their land and to suppress any protests.

After Israel has bombed Gaza into the Dark Ages again, arrested and killed hundreds elsewhere, what then? Will Israeli soldiers occupy the Strip? Will they tighten the siege forever, or in their words, repeatedly “mow the lawn?” Will they push Gazans, 70 percent already refugees, into the Sinai and tent cities, creating another Nakba? The media is full of Israeli officials talking about “saving Gazans from Hamas,” as if destroying thousands of people and the entire infrastructure is some kind of gift. Palestinians are fully able to liberate themselves if we will only take the boot of occupation and siege off their necks. Oppressed people will resist. We supported that when it came to Ukrainians and Black South Africans; Palestinians cannot be an exception. 

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