There is an intoxicating allure to allowing oneself to drink from the cup of fatalism as bombs drop—once again—on Gaza. What can we Americans—some of us with our hyphenated allegiances stretching across 13 thousand miles of land and sea—do that hasn’t already been done again and again for the last sixty-six years of Israel’s occupation of Palestine? How many letters to the editor or to our congressional representatives have we all written and how many demonstrations, protest marches and prayer vigils have we all been to? How many of us can remember being taken by our parents to the nearest Israeli embassy or federal building after this Israeli massacre or that Israeli bombing campaign with signs saying ‘Never Again’? And how many times have we now taken our own children—swaddled in kuffiyeh’s and twin US and Palestinian flags—to those same places with those same signs?
For me, this Palestinian déjà vu is most palpable when I recall the massacres at Sabra & Shatila in 1982. Sabra and Shatila. That horrific bloodletting of men, women and children—Palestinian refugees—whose only crime was their audacity to exist as living inter-generational proof of the Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-48.
There is an eerie similarity between what is taking place today in Gaza and what occurred in Sabra and Shatila more than three decades ago. True, Israel used a proxy army, the Phalange, armed with low-grade weaponry (assault rifles and butcher knives) then to do its killing. There were no two-ton bombs dropped on densely compacted Palestinian neighborhoods from US supplied F-16’s flown by “brave” Israeli fighter pilots. But Israel’s purpose today is the same as it was then. According to the 1983 report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the massacres:
The underlying Israeli objective seems clearly directed at making the Palestinian camps uninhabitable in a physical sense as well as terrorizing the inhabitants and thereby breaking the will of the Palestinian national movement, not only in the war zone of Lebanon, but possibly even more centrally, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
So Israel isn’t acting, and has never acted, in ‘self-defense’. It isn’t even trying to destroy Hamas, just as it really wasn’t after the PLO back in 1982. Israel’s mission, as it was in 1948, or 1967, or 1982, or 1987 or 2000, or 2008-09, or 2012, or 2014, is to destroy the will of Palestinians.
And so when I see the mother in Gaza, a refugee from 1948, standing in what is left of her home crying out to whomever is listening on the other side of the video camera that Israel can demolish her home over her head because she will rebuild in her former village inside Israel, I, sitting on the other side of the camera in the quiet of my own home, unclench my hands and pick up a pen or a picket sign. I am not fatalistic because this is not 1982. It’s 2014 and from Paris, France to Portland, Oregon, from Tokyo, Japan to Melbourne, Australia people of conscience—hundreds of thousands of people without any hyphens to their names—are standing with Palestine and against apartheid. And this time the signs we hold saying ‘Never Again’ will mean something.
* Zaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer, activist and author of the forthcoming novel, “Die Standing Like Trees”.