I was drained, devastated and destroyed after reading the most recent United Nations report on the murder of Palestinians citizens by Israeli forces. The latest report documented how Israeli snipers killed 183 Palestinians, including 35 children, three journalists and two medical personnel in the last 10 months of 2018. An additional 6 000 Palestinians were injured and hundreds were left with life-altering disabilities.
But it was not necessarily the numbers that saddened me — statistics sometimes desensitise us. It was the reading of the names, ages, occupations and how each of the victims was killed or maimed that made me weep. I wept for the Palestinian child who was murdered and, simultaneously, I wept for the inhumanity of the Israeli who pulled the trigger.
In the past, most Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs and missiles (for example, in 2014 when Israel killed more than 2 000 Palestinians, including 500 children). These bombs could have been dropped by an unmanned Israeli drone or deployed by an Israeli fighter pilot hundreds of metres above ground. In a sense, there was “distance” between the pilot, the bomb and the victims. Collateral damage was used as an excuse for why civilians were killed. For some, it was easier to oppose Israel and still force oneself to find the humanity even in the perpetrator because of the distance. Some even drew a distinction between the Israeli regime as the main perpetrator and the Israeli soldiers who “only” acted on orders.
But the murdering of Palestinians in the past year has mostly been the calculated result of a human being, watching, waiting, aiming and firing — coldly, methodically and calmly — from a distance of more than a kilometre. This means that an Israeli sniper, on May 14 2018, deliberately aimed at the forehead of 11-year-old Yasser Abu Naja, ending his life.
What goes through the mind of a sniper who is aware that their bullet will shatter to pieces a young child’s skull? We are taught by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that we should find humanity even in our oppressors, even in those who kill but, as a Christian, I’m in a predicament. I don’t want to, because recognising the humanity in the soldier who shot 14-year-old Wisal Sheikh-Khalil in the head on May 14 seems as if it would mean that I would be dishonouring her, dishonouring her life and all the amazing things she could have become.
Finding humanity seems like an insult to those left disabled, such as Ahmad Ghanem (15), who was shot by an Israeli sniper in the torso on June 1 2018. Because of his injuries, doctors had to remove parts of his lung and liver. Also, he has only a 30% chance of recovering the use of his right hand.
The majority of “injuries” that Israeli snipers caused were not small cuts and bruises requiring a plaster. The injuries were a shattered liver, a destroyed lung, a butchered leg, an exploded eye. Twenty children out of 122 Palestinians had to undergo amputations. Of these, 98 were lower-limb amputations. Another example is that of Alaa Dali (21), a member of the Palestinian cycling team who was shot by Israeli forces in the leg as he stood in his cycling kit and holding his bicycle about 300m from the separation fence. His right leg had to be amputated, ending his cycling career.
Other than amputations, 21 Palestinians were permanently paralysed by injuries to the spinal cord and nine Palestinians suffered permanent loss of vision.
Several hundred Palestinians were deliberately shot in the groin — both male and female — leaving them unable to have children. A 15-year-old Palestinian from Northern Gaza, whose name has been withheld for privacy, was shot with a single bullet in the testicles. He is now unable to walk more than 30m and has dropped out of school.
I’m devastated, but not deterred. As an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement lending support to the Palestinians and their progressive Jewish Israeli allies, I’m not deterred from continuing my solidarity efforts. How can I, when Palestinians, even as their sons and daughters are dropping dead as a result of Israeli fire, continue to come out week after week in protest against Israeli apartheid?
Seventy-five percent of the Palestinians protesting at the fence that separates the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel are refugees who can see their former homes and homeland but are denied entry. They have been imprisoned in the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated piece of land in the world. These Palestinians are unable to return to their homes. Israel controls all of Gaza’s land, sea and air borders, deciding who is allowed in and who is allowed out. Gaza is an “open-air prison”, according to South African law professor John Dugard.
During last year’s sniper shootings, one victim was 14-year-old Zakaria Bishbish. The teenager, from the Maghazi refugee camp, was shot by an Israeli sniper, perforating his stomach and colon, splintering his vertebrae and damaging one kidney. His family sought an exit permit to leave the Gaza ghetto from Israeli authorities to seek life-saving treatment at Saint Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem, which had arranged a medical appointment for Bishbish. Israel denied the request, giving no reasons. Zakaria died two weeks later of sepsis.
The wretched of the earth in the concentration camps of the Holocaust raised their fists and embarked on uprisings against the Nazis. They refused to submit; they resisted even though the suffocating stench and very real possibility of death surrounded them. It was in those who resisted the Holocaust that we find hope for good to triumph over evil.
Likewise, it is in the Palestinian child who comes out week after week to break out of her ghetto that we are persuaded to persevere in our solidarity so that a free Palestine is not only possible but also inevitable.
Palestinians are refusing to submit on their knees and are insisting on fighting on their feet — just as people did in Nazi Germany. It is in this resistance that one observes the tenacity of the human spirit, the beauty of humanity and the seeds for a more peaceful, just and loving world. This tenacity should assist us in overcoming despair and not being deterred.
Dudu Masango-Mahlangu is a member of the South African Council of Churches and a board member of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa