/ 5 November 2023

Gaza: The pain of tragedy viewed from afar

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People search through buildings that were destroyed during Israeli air raids in the southern Gaza Strip on November 5, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Outraged. All the words scramble to make their way through, I open my mouth to say something but no words come out. Nothing can describe any of this. Some have used the word “genocide” but it feels inadequate. The scale of the tragedy is immense, with more than *9 000 people killed, most of them women and children. It’s a term too limited to capture the sheer terror experienced when they heard the last explosion. The birds could escape, but they couldn’t. Instead they were trapped under the rubble of their own homes along with their memories and dreams killed by Israeli missiles.

The word also falls short in describing a father holding in a bag the remains of what he could find of his child who was torn to pieces by the bombardment. It doesn’t convey the heartbreaking image of a father covering his seven-year-old with a blanket before burying him, so he doesn’t feel cold in the grave. It can’t capture the three-year-old who survived, with his face covered in red blood, while his entire family was killed by Israel. What could a three-year-old possibly be guilty of?

“The kids died before eating.” These words by a Gazan mother haunt my thoughts. And a boy begging his father to “wake up” but nothing can bring him back for Israel has killed him. I heard a story about two sisters who survived one bombardment only to be killed in the next. A girl wrote her name on her arm — Ameera Shehab — so that she could be identified if she were killed by the Israeli missiles.

The Israeli bombardment continues relentlessly, targeting hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, bakeries and thousands of houses — whole neighbourhoods — resulting in thousands of deaths and leaving the survivors homeless. Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, depriving people of food, water, medical attention and electricity.

While the Western media keeps mentioning the “attack on 7 October”, this is not the whole story. Every story needs context, and so does this one. The roots of this crisis go back further than 2006, when Gaza was besieged, with 2.3 million people, half of whom are children, subjected to Israeli control over what goes in and out of Gaza, including basic goods, medicine and even fishing restrictions.

Rescind that, this didn’t start in 2006. This story goes back further than 1948, when the people of Palestine, whether Muslims or Christians, were dispossessed, their lands seized, and they were subjected to ethnic cleansing and numerous massacres to establish the “State of Israel”.

These injustices persist, with ongoing killings of Palestinian whether in Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem, land seizures and imprisoning thousands of political prisoners, including children and women. All these atrocities and injustices have been met with international silence, and only occasional condemnations of the actions of the “apartheid State of Israel” against the indigenous people of the land. No concrete action has been taken to stop this suffering.

I’m not Gazan but all Palestinians are family. I was thinking the other day about how each Palestinian has a story. Some in Gaza, some in the West Bank, some in what is now called Israel. And some in the diaspora, my family being one of them. My family fled the West Bank after Israel occupied it in 1967. I have never visited Palestine. Israel will not allow me to enter Palestine, despite the fact that I have family there. Despite my grandfather’s house being there, I cannot go and live there. But Palestine is the only place that I can truly call home even if I have no documents to prove I’m Palestinian.

My father has lived in South Africa since he was in his twenties so he got the citizenship and I grew up here too, so South Africa is my second home.

As a South African Palestinian, I can’t help but draw parallels between the shared histories and struggles of the two peoples, their resistance and fights for their lives, rights and liberation. It’s not a complicated issue; it’s simply a matter of years of occupation, apartheid and genocide. People in Palestine are crying for our help, and I can only hear South Africa chanting “Amandla” to which Palestinians will respond “Awethu”.

*The number of people killed was updated more than three times before I could finalise the writing of this article.

​​Maryam Douglas is a Palestinian-South African student based in Gqeberha.