One family buried a slain son over his grandfather. Another bundled up the tiny bodies of three young cousins and lowered them into the grave of a long-dead aunt. A man was laid to rest with his brother.
More than two weeks into the Israeli offensive that has killed more than 940 Palestinians, Gazans are struggling to find places to bury their dead. Cemeteries throughout Gaza City that were closed for new burials have now reopened.
"Gaza is all a graveyard," gravedigger Salman Omar said Tuesday as he shoveled earth in Gaza City's crammed Sheik Radwan cemetery, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
Just six miles wide and 25 miles long, Gaza has always suffered from a shortage of burial space. But Gazans say Israel's shelling and ground offensive have made it impossible for residents to reach Martyrs Cemetery — the only graveyard in the area with space to dig fresh graves.
Palestinian medical officials say roughly half the dead are civilians. Among them are the Samouni cousins, 5-month-old Mohammed, 1-year-old Mutasim and 2-year-old Ahmed, whose family hurriedly dug up the grave of an aunt to lay them to rest last week...
The three boys were killed Jan. 5 in what the family and the United Nations said was an Israeli shelling attack on a house in eastern Gaza where they had evacuated on soldiers' orders to avoid nearby fighting. Many members of the clan were wiped out. The exact number is unknown — figures vary from 14 to 30 people. Medics believe there are still bodies buried under the rubble that cannot be reached because of fighting in the area.
An embarrassing incident, to be sure, but of course it didn't stop both houses of the U.S. Congress from declaring their nearly unanimous and totally uncritical support for the massive Israeli military incursion into densely packed cities and refugee camps in Gaza. Nor will the latest reported atrocity -- the cold-blooded murder of Palestinians waving a white flag -- cause even the slightest ripple of concern among the American political elite, now busy picking out their glad rags for the upcoming inauguration blowout. The Belfast Telegraph reports:
Israeli forces said they had pushed deeper into Gaza City amid heavy fighting, with some units within a mile of the densely populated urban centre. Terrified residents were said to be fleeing from many homes which had been set alight.
At least three Palestinians in Gaza were shot dead yesterday after Israeli soldiers fired on a group of residents leaving their homes on orders from the military and waving white flags, according to testimony taken by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The testimony was rejected by the military after what it said was a preliminary investigation.
The thrust by Israeli ground forces into Tel Hawwa was the furthest the Israelis had gone into Gaza City since military operations were launched on 27 December. Meanwhile, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, declared that he would press forward with an "iron fist"....
As Palestinian hospital officials revealed that the death toll has risen to at least 952, half of them women and children, John Ging, the UN Relief and Works Agency's director of operations in Gaza, called on the international community to protect civilians in Gaza; he also wants a full investigation into allegations that Israeli military forces have used illegal weapons. [Link is mine, not in the original story.]
When speaking of the death toll in Gaza -- and the hundreds of women and children killed -- it should be remembered that many if not most of the men being killed are also innocent civilians, with no connection whatsoever to any military activity by Hamas. They are not "enemy combatants," even under the morally perverse terms of an act of military aggression. One possible gauge of the proportion of Hamas and non-Hamas deaths can seen in reports on the Palestinians detained by Israel in the course of the invasion. As the Guardian reports:
Of the 200 Palestinians detained by Israeli troops, fewer than 30 were found to have any link with militant groups in Gaza, a report said.
If this is any guide, we may roughly estimate that only one in every seven Palestinian adult males killed by Israel in the invasion had "any link with militant groups in Gaza." The proportion might be somewhat higher, given the fact that Hamas fighters engaged directly with Israeli forces are more likely to be killed. Still, the number of non-combatant males killed in the onslaught must certainly number in the hundreds. They too must be counted among the innocent dead.
Many more will die in the coming days, and not just from the American-supplied military hardware and the chemical weaponry being unleashed on the imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza. Death will also come in the form of disease and deprivation. From the Guardian:
Around two-thirds of the territory's 1.5m people have no electricity; the rest have only an intermittent supply, the UN said. Hospitals are overloaded with the injured, and 500,000 Gazans still have no access to running water. "Israeli bombardment is causing extensive destruction to homes and to public infrastructure throughout the Gaza Strip and is jeopardising water, sanitation and medical services," the UN said.
The first to suffer and die in these inhuman conditions will be the most vulnerable: infants, children, the elderly, the sick. What else can they do? Where can they go? Not to the medical centers being destroyed in the attack. From The Independent:
Israeli warplanes have attacked two fully equipped medical clinics in Gaza, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, the Christian organisations which fund them reported yesterday. The Catholic relief group Caritas said its clinic in the al-Meghazi area of Gaza had been "completely destroyed" by a missile on Friday, and that 20 nearby homes had been damaged. Because local families had already fled their homes, no one was hurt, Caritas said, but equipment worth $10,000 (#6,700) was lost.
Twenty-fours later, another clinic funded by Christian Aid was also demolished in an air strike; it followed a telephone warning to the building's owners to leave within 15 minutes. Janet Symes, Christian Aid's head of Middle East Region, said the clinic had "standing room" only for mothers bringing their children for check-ups when she visited it last year. She added: "Now the whole clinic lies in ruins."
Were these Christian-run clinics being used as hideouts and ammo dumps by Hamas militants? This is the claim made by the atrocity apologists in Israel and America every time a hospital or ambulance or school or refugee center or mosque is destroyed. Or were they destroyed on the principle used by American forces in the razing of Fallujah in 2004? As I wrote at the time:
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service and the BBC report, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds.
The vast atrocity wrought on the people of Fallujah has already been forgotten. Along with its twin emblem of war's evil -- the tortured prisoners of Abu Ghraib -- it has been superseded by the mythical success of the "surge": the campaign of escalation and bribery that ensconced admitted al Qaeda terrorists as American-paid warlords in Sunni enclaves while tightening the grip of Shiite sectarian gangs on the national government. The American-installed ethnic cleansers in Baghdad have been loud in their denunciation of the Israeli attack on Gaza -- protests that Palestinian refugees in Iraq find particularly galling, as McClatchy reports:
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's public denunciation of the "major crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza " evoked a bitter laugh from Saleh as she riffled through pictures of Palestinians thought to have been killed by Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias and National Police commandoes during the height of sectarian violence.
"When Maliki talks about Gaza , I ask, 'What are you doing to us?' " she said. "When Iran talks about Gaza , I think, 'Who killed us? Wasn't it your people?' " she asked, referring to Iraqi Shiite militias supported by Iran who targeted them for their supposed allegiance to Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party . "God created us to be beaten, and wherever we go we're abused."
...Saleh was born and raised in Iraq . Her family had fled a village near Haifa in 1948, the year Israel was created. An Iraqi army unit invited some 5,000 families who'd been forced from their village to come to Iraq , taking them in until there was a "free Palestine." Sixty years later, they're still waiting.
The recent past has been especially bitter for them. During the worst of Iraq's bloodshed in 2006 and 2007, more than 600 Palestinian men were killed or disappeared...Iraqi Palestinians chafe at the discrimination. They're still harassed or detained at checkpoints, and as of late last year they must carry special documents: laminated Identification cards that identify them as Palestinian refugees. ...Most Palestinians are too frightened to head to Iraqi hospitals, and they can't leave the country for treatment. Those who do change their accents to pass as Iraqis. Four children have died in the last month after applying to leave for medical help.
On a recent visit to the camp it was Waleed, 9, whom a mother mourned. He suffered from muscular dystrophy, and by the end of his life he was on a feeding tube. "He died of neglect," said his mother, Harbiaa Shafiq Ali. "Waleed is gone, but no one asks about the Palestinians, and other mothers need help with their children."
No doubt Israel is hoping to copy America's success in burying atrocities, mass murder and oppression behind the PR illusions of a triumphant "surge" in Gaza. Just like the bipartisan Terror War establishment in Washington, the Israelis too hope to establish a "peace of the grave" in their own military adventure. They have a long way to go to match the million innocents slaughtered in the American war on Iraq, of course -- just as their harsh sanctions seem like a pajama party compared to the 500,000 children killed by the bipartisan, Clinton-Bush sanctions regime imposed on pre-war Iraq: one of the greatest deliberate non-military inflictions of death and suffering on a people since the heyday of Hitler and Stalin. But the Israelis are certainly doing their best to follow the master's example.
There's only one problem: how can you have a "peace of the grave" -- if you run out of graves?
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.
This story was published on January 14, 2009.