(Reposted from Pam in Progress) As I write this, Israel is bombing with intensity; 10 are dead already and casualties are reportedly filling the ERs. Resistance fighters are retaliating. On this, my last day in Gaza, I am confined to the home of a friend’s relatives — most likely until early in the morning…We are sitting around, chatting and listening to the news. And I am thinking…
In many ways, the Gaza Strip has improved significantly since Israel unleashed Operation Cast Lead, killing more than 1,000 Palestinians, destroying more than 4,000 homes and shutting the majority of the territory’s businesses. Each time I return I am amazed by the new buildings I see, and the scope of construction currently underway. Not only are there a few Western-style shopping malls (although smaller than American standards); a beautiful, modern new monument to the internationals murdered on the Mavi Marmara; and home improvements in evidence among the slightly more middle- class families who I know, but there is extensive roadwork underway on the main coastal street. (Isn’t that the ubiquitous sign of progress everywhere? Roadwork??)
However, the pain of Cast Lead is still festering, just beneath the surface. It is evident in the estimated 6,500 amputees you see almost everywhere — some begging, others going about their everyday lives. It is still visible in the pockmarked walls of so many of the cement buildings, silent reminders that the Israeli military can enter and attack at will, any time.
But one of the lasting “gifts” of Cast Lead that haunts me the most is the fate of 11-year-old Amal al-Samouni.
Amal al-Samouni (Photo: International Middle East Media Center)
Anyone who has read anything about Cast Lead and Gaza has heard about the Samouni family. Nineteen members of this extended clan were gathered together in the same house on Jan. 4, 2009, when they were surrounded by Israeli forces. They ordered Amal’s father, Attia, to step outside with his hands up, and upon opening the door, he was shot in the head and chest. Soldiers then started firing bullets into the house, killing Amal’s 4-year-old brother and injuring four others. Over the following hours, soldiers ordered over 100 other members of the extended Samouni family into the house of Amal’s uncle, and the next day, Israeli forces launched an offensive directly at the house and its vicinity, killing 21 persons. Amal, who was inside, was hit by shrapnel in the head and buried under the rubble, lying between injured, dying and deceased relatives. She wasn’t evacuated to a hospital until two days later.
Amal survived those four horrific days, but today, three years later, the shrapnel remains scattered throughout her brain — causing near-constant pain in her head, eyes and ears, along with severe nosebleeds. The continuous pain has a profound impact on Amal’s mood, her relationship with her siblings and her performance in school. “When I have a lot of pain I become nervous and angry,” she confesses.
At age 11, she faces an uncertain future of chronic, debilitating pain — or worse. Local physicians say it is too dangerous to attempt to remove the shrapnel, and so far physicians consulted in the Netherlands agree, adding that such an exploratory operation would be highly expensive, and no one would want to take the responsibility for the uncertain consequences. But…how do you look such a young girl in the eyes and tell her there is nothing to be done? How do you say that to her mother? (I certainly couldn’t. So when I return, I plan to seek out experts/medical centers willing to take another look.)
War and oppression are bad enough during the peak of their intensity. But after the politicians go home and the general public moves on to worry about some other “hot spot,” the people go on living with the many, myriad ripple effects. For example, the people of Fallujah, Iraq, are reportedly experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and sexual mutations than those recorded among survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the years after those Japanese cities were incinerated by U.S. atomic bomb strikes in 1945.
The “blowback” can be psychological and emotional as well. Dr. Eyad Serraj, president of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, followed the Palestinian children of the First Intifada — those who were arrested, for example, for throwing stones — and he observes that many of those most affected provided the “fodder” for the Second Intifada’s suicide bombers.
It is this fallout from our “war adventures” that politicians should be forced to confront before committing dollars or troops.
Although I cringe when I hear about all the foreigners who are paraded by the Samounis to hear their story — feeling a bit too much like they are “pity subjects” in a horror show — I am thinking that every Congressperson who votes to supply weaponry or other military aid to Israel, or who votes for any war/occupation, should be forced to look Amal in the eyes.