Lead Rains of Gaza

A war is coming – I was forewarned some weeks ago by a most unlikely expert on the subject, an old fisherman called “Charlie”. We sat at a small café by the Sea of Galilee and looked at the dry mud where the sweet waters of the lake used to rollick, at its waterline, which has now receded like Charlie’s hairline; we gazed at the old signs forbidding swimming that now stick out hundreds of yards away from the lake. Drought is always a harbinger of war, said Charlie (whose real name is Ghassan but he prefers this movie-inspired nickname). The last drought was in the year 2000, and the Intifada broke out; he continued. The worst drought in a century has now brought the lake to its lowest level since Christ walked on it, as if the land is trying to get rid of human pestilence by starving it off, while men pour out their blood to pacify its angry spirits.

Water is a synonym for compassion in our arid land, and we are perilously short of both. The wells are dry, and the springs in the mountains have all but perished. For no rain of water, rain of lead – molten or cast – will come. The old fisherman’s prediction proved to be right, and there was a war, the Childermas War, for it started on the commemoration day for the innocent children slain by Herod at Bethlehem.

In the course of eight hundred years, from William of Norwich to rise of Zionism, the Jews have been accused (and sometimes found guilty) of murdering just over a hundred children, and they vigorously denied every one of these accusations; they spent millions denying the murder of al-Durra. But during the past three weeks alone they have openly killed some four hundred babies and children, and many (including Caiaphas’ successor) still crave for more. I envisage a promo campaign with bright ads showing a Palestinian baby and logo: “For just $100 contributed to Israel at our synagogue you can have this future antisemite killed. All donations are tax-exempt”.

A professional child killer, Captain R, would make a career under Herod. He commanded a battalion in Gaza doing what he is good at: In 1994, he murdered a 13-year old Palestinian girl, Iman, by pulverising her little body with some 20 bullets as she lay on the ground. We should kill even three year old children, too, he said to his soldiers. A military court actually gave him some $20,000 as an encouragement bonus, and he was promoted to the rank of major. He enjoyed coming back to Gaza, he told Maariv newspaper.

Women were killed, too, by soldiers sent by their Israeli sister Tsipi Livni. The BBC reported they called out civilians to leave their houses, women first, white flags a-waving. When some simple-minded Arabs did so, the Jews gave a hearty laugh and shot the women carrying the white flags.

In Israeli media, it’s Jews who were the victims. If they had no wounded to parade, they will show the scared faces of their women, or pity themselves for having to kill Palestinian children. In a clever move, they banned media from entering Gaza, and hundreds of photographers and correspondents hanged around nearby Sderot. Out of this forced inaction, they described the Jewish “victims of shock”, photographed a ruined shed, and sent pieces called “Israel braces for Hamas revenge”. Victimhood becomes Israel – even while killing others, the Jews bewail their bitter fate.

“Do not call it “war”, this is massacre”, wrote Angie Tibbs; but it’s still a war, for the Gaza fighters prefer to see it this way. They are not fishing for anyone’s pity. The Gazans are short of weapons, they are no match for the most powerful army in the region, they are not even well-trained fighters like their brothers from South Lebanon, but they are stubborn.

I offered to help a Gazan friend obtain visa and residency in Europe. He refused: our parents, he wrote, ran away from Askalon in 1948, I grew up in Gaza; nothing will force me to leave Palestine. The Gazans have got to be stubborn for they have survived the worst conditions possible. They are a product of an inhuman Zionist lab: they have been bombed by Israel for some sixty years, with short breaks. They do not value their lives overmuch. Israel can’t frighten them anymore. If they don’t submit to Israel’s demands, Israel may bite its moustache and growl, like Hitler in Mel Brooks’ Producers: “No Mr. Nice Guy next time!” That’s about it. The Gazans have the proud spirit of Masada – after all, they ARE the descendants of those ancient Hebrews. Great fighters they are not, but their character is exceedingly strong. Jews make a mistake taking them for granted.

The Jews declared a ceasefire unilaterally, shying away from any agreement. Unilateralists to a boot, the Jews follow Ben Gurion’s slogan “Lo Hashuv Ma Yagidu HaGoyim” (“Who cares what the goyim say?”). Actually, Ben Gurion was only repeating Numbers 23:9 with its “Bagoyim lo yithashev”. The King James Bible translates it (correctly) as “they won’t be counted among the nations”, but every Israeli will translate this verse to you as “the Jews do not give a damn about goyim”. They unilaterally left Gaza and unilaterally entered Gaza, one-sidedly bombed and one-sidedly stopped bombing – too much hubris for one small country, even if its prime minister can make President Bush cry u-n-c-l-e. This unilateralism shows that they do not consider the other side as being fully human. As a reply to Olmert’s declaration of unilateral ceasefire Hamas sent an equally unilateral rocket to Beer Sheba.

Eventually the cease fire set in, after the Hamas government let fly a few rockets to show their remaining ability and gave the Jews one week to get out of Gaza and lift the blockade.

In Israel, there is a feeling that enough is enough. Even Ari Shavit, an ex-Leftie born-again-proud Jew and Ha’aretz columnist, who was clamoring for more war just a few days ago, has now had enough blood. He feels satisfied – the UN headquarters have been bombed, mosques collapsed on worshippers’ heads, university and schools have been ruined – the job is done, the boys can come home. The Zionist-left party Meretz also decided to come to the side of peace. The declared Israeli goal of unseating Hamas or eliminating its ability to shoot rockets has not been reached.

So, what was the reason for this mass murder? Pundits were divided into schools of high and low expectation: the high expected Israel to attack Iran, to bomb Lebanon, to exterminate the Gaza population or send tsunami waves of Gaza refugees into Egypt. The low saw in this operation a regular, if beefed up, bombardment of Gaza (something Israel has been doing routinely since 1955), attuned to Israeli elections and timed just before the US change of guard. It seems that the second reading is closer to reality. The Israeli leaders have no idea what to do – they have weapons, and they can kill, but beyond that, they are short of vision.

Certainly unintentionally, the high-expectation school actually helped Israel to do its black deeds. Iranians and Lebanese sat on their hands waiting for the storm to come; Palestinians were afraid of mass expulsions and massacres. There were real reasons for their lack of response, beyond spin. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) of Mahmud Abbas is fully collaborating with Israel. At midnight, PNA police leave the streets of Nablus and Ramallah to the Israeli Army and Shabak (the secret police of the Jewish state), which freely roam and arrest activists and militants – sometimes according to direct info provided by the PNA. Now people under the PNA are afraid to demonstrate, while even under the direct military rule of Israel they never were.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel also have not protested much – the shock of being massacred in October 2000 has not worn off. Moreover, Israeli police have been out in strength everywhere – in my Jaffa there was a police car at every crossing, and a platoon of crack troops on every street. The anger just accumulated, waiting to break out, but it never did. Iran and Hezbollah also did nothing as well, being scared by the American threat.

Thus, Israel had the situation totally under its control. The Egypt of Mubarak is a full partner of Israel, while the PNA of Abbas is an obedient servant; Iran, Syria and Lebanon are scared, Jordan is aloof. The US is as obedient as the PNA, even more so: a Palestinian parliament would never approve the declarations the US Congress did. Despite these wonderful starting conditions, Israel failed: politically the Gaza war has achieved nothing. The war was flop.

The Middle East is back to its impasse, and Israel is in a worse position than it was three weeks ago. The Gaza leadership took a daring if calculated risk when they refused to extend the lapsed ceasefire agreement unless the Jews lift the siege off the Strip. After the war and its casualties, it seems that Hamas has remained in power and at large in devastated Gaza. Moreover, Hamas will get what it wanted: the siege will be lifted. But Israel will get nothing it couldn’t have gotten without this massive killing. American promise to keep Gaza defenceless could have been obtained without a single shot, with one phone call.

The international reputation of Israel is now at its lowest ebb. Even traditional Jewish defence, screaming about ‘antisemites’, has lost its charm. The word ‘holocaust’ is now more frequently applied to Gaza than to Auschwitz. The Germans are guilty, people murmur, of not doing their job thoroughly enough. Joseph Massad drew the comparison between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto. Surely that is an antisemitic canard. How can you compare the two?! The Germans lost 16 soldiers during the Ghetto suppression, while the Jews have lost only 10 in the Gaza cleansing.

The war has solved nothing, not for Israel, neither for Palestinians. This is the time for a full U-turn in politics. Neither side can win, they can both only lose. Separation is impossible, so we have to live together, and we better enjoy it.

Actually life was better ten years ago, before the second intifada, I told Charlie. Life was even better fifteen years ago, before the Oslo agreements, he answered. Life was even better before the first intifada, said I – there were no check posts, and one could go freely from Gaza to Jaffa. One could go to any village and return the same day. The younger men looked at the older ones seeking confirmation: is it true? Could it be that the life in our country was ever so wonderful that one could travel freely? That a boy from Tul Karem could actually go for a swim in the sea? That a boy from Gaza could come and see a movie in Tel Aviv? Yes, confirmed Charlie for the benefit of the youth. Life was glorious in the late sixties, soon after the Israeli conquest, before the Jewish land grab, before the process of separation between Jews and Palestinians started its perilous run.

Now, in February, there is a conference for One State scheduled in Geneva. It is a small affair, but only because of lack of support. With your massive support we still can change things for the better, integrate Gaza, give every Palestinian full rights, including the right to vote for parliament–Knesset.

If it should happen, even the rains will come back and the dry riverbeds of Negev will run again full of water. As a sign of this promise, today, on this feast of the Baptism of Our Lord the priests of our church blessed the waters in River Jordan and in the sea of Jaffa. For this war did begin at Childermass and ended on the blessed Epiphany.

Israel Shamir

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.