Tuesday 3 February 2009

A View from the pew - Eyeless in Gaza

View from the Pew is a series of articles I am writing for Newslink, the Diocesan magazine for the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. This one appeared in the February 2009 issue.

Gaza under bombardment

Smoke billows from the Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes, as seen from the northern Israeli border with the Palestinian territory on December 27, 2008.

As I write, on the 17th day of the Israeli offensive, the brutal bombardment of Gaza continues as Israeli troops push forward into the city of 1.5 million, while in a futile gesture Palestinian fighters continue to fire small numbers of improvised rockets at civilians in southern Israel. According to the latest reports, 908 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands wounded, including many civilians; 13 Israelis are dead, mostly soldiers from ‘friendly’ fire, but also 4 civilians in rocket attacks. The disproportion in the death toll ought to shock us all. Please God both sides will agree to a ceasefire long before you read this article. That will halt the deaths, but the wounded will still need to be cared for and the damage repaired.

Holocaust, Naqba and Terrorism

We are witnessing the latest battle in a war which started in 1948, the year I was born. It is tragic that Jewish people, who suffered so much in the Holocaust, should themselves inflict another historic injustice on Palestinians, around 250,000 of whom are Christian, including about 7,000 Anglicans.

Nazis and other anti-semites murdered 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. It is seared into the Israeli national psyche. This, and the reality of their encirclement by enemies, stiffens Israeli determination to preserve the security of their state, and no wonder. I do not doubt that Israel would use its nuclear weapons in the face of defeat, much as Samson brought down the roof on the the heads of both the Philistines and himself.

But the Palestinians too have suffered a national catastrophe, which they call the Naqba in Arabic. In 1948, some 750,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, to become refugees in Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring countries. Their land and houses were taken over by around 900,000 Jewish settlers, refugees from Europe and immigrants from elsewhere. And Arab land is still being seized for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian refugees and their descendents, now more than 4 million, continue to cry out for redress, and the right to return home. Is it any wonder that they continue to resist Israel?

Unable to challenge the Israeli army supplied with high-tech weapons by the USA, many Palestinians have fought back in successive rebellions or intifadas, targeting Israeli civilians with improvised weapons and suicide bombs. Such terrorist tactics are wicked of course, and we know all too much about such evils on this island.

But let us not forget that the Israeli state is also stained by terror. After WW2 the Irgun fought a bloody terrorist campaign to force British withdrawal and establish a Jewish state. My father, a British army chaplain in Palestine, remembered with horror the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, which killed 91 people, mostly civilians. The Israeli army used terror deliberately in 1948 to force Palestinians out. And terrorism is surely the precise word for the continuing communal punishments and targetted assassinations. Israeli terror is just as wicked as Palestinian.

An eye for an eye

Both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, have been locked in an escalating cycle of fear, anger and violence for 40 years. ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’, said Gandhi. In Samson Agonistes, the poet John Milton describes the Israelite super-hero Samson as ‘eyeless in Gaza’. Is this to be the fate of both the Israelis and the Palestinians?

It need not be. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘you have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.’ This is the only way to break the vicious circle. Our own experience in Ireland shows it is possible for deeply divided people to find a way to live together in peace. It may seem that we as individuals in Ireland can do nothing to help, but we can.

Firstly, we can pray for all those who are working for peace in Israel and Palestine. Our prayers will encourage them, and strengthen our own resolve to help.

Secondly, we can support our Irish Government’s diplomatic efforts to bring both sides to see the futility of their actions and seek another way.

And thirdly we can help in practical ways. A good way to do so is to send money to our fellow Anglicans already working on the ground to relieve distress among Palestinians of all faiths. Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani has asked both for our prayers and for financial support for Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, run by the Diocese of Jerusalem.

A recent report from Al Ahli Hospital, Gaza

We continue to receive and care for up to 40 new patients each day who are injured, wounded, or burned from the current conflict, requiring hospital admission and surgery, as well as up to 15 referrals from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. This increased surgical load places strains on anaesthetics, suture material, operating room linens and equipment, bandages, and surgeons themselves. Staff, some of whom stay in the hospital round the clock, are working long hours without rest and struggle against exhaustion.

The hospital is short of fuel to continue operating the electrical generator. Without fuel the hospital would have no electricity, greatly impacting its ability to operate. Glass in the hospital was shattered by nearby rocket and missile strikes. The windows are temporarily covered with plastic rubbish bags until plastic sheeting becomes available for better protection from the cold. Food is desperately needed. Our efforts are focused on providing nutrition for the most vulnerable people, like children and nursing mothers. The Diocese is providing the cash necessary for Al Ahli to carry out its work and is also guaranteeing debts incurred by the hospital.

Here is a picture of Mohan’nad, a 9 year-old boy, who’s badly injured leg the doctors and staff at Al Ahli were able to save, thank God.

You can donate on-line at the Diocese of Jerusalem’s web site: http://www.j-diocese.org.

Please give generously!

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