Anniversaries: Who counts?

Israel/Palestine
on 9 Comments

An early July letter from Hillary Clinton to Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban reveals her intentions to “defend Israel at every turn” and to ignore Israel’s serious human rights violations raised by the United Nations, a host of respected Israeli and international organizations, and a growing number of Jewish and Christian activists increasingly supportive of the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) for Palestinian rights and equality. Calling Israel “a vibrant democracy” and equating critical discourse on Zionism and Israeli policy with anti-Semitism, she does a grave disservice to the growing international awareness of the massive Jewish settlement growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the crushing siege of Gaza.

As a guest of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, I traveled to the region in March with Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility to listen to the voices of and work with physicians, mental health clinicians, UN and human rights workers, teachers, students, youth groups, artists, and ordinary people. It was eight months after the devastating war that destroyed the physical and emotional structure of their lives and the fundamental sense of personal safety that is part of normal existence.

I listened to psychiatrists discuss the 51 days of intense fear and insecurity and the challenges of  caring for traumatized patients when the clinicians themselves had lost homes, family members, and were equally traumatized.  I climbed the rubble of Shejaia where 75,000 people fled under intense Israeli  bombing and I met with families living in the rubble of their bombed out apartments because of the utter lack of reconstruction due to severe Israeli restrictions on importing cement and building materials.  I noted that the only high-level rehabilitation hospital, el Wafa, was leveled despite desperate calls to respect medical neutrality in times of war.

Physicians and administrators from UN agencies such as UNRWA and OCHA talked of the 450,000 people, mostly women and children, displaced from their homes during the bombardment. “There was,” they said, “no safe place.” Some 900,000 people currently require food assistance.  There is a lack of water and electricity, and raw sewerage pours into the Mediterranean due to the bombing of water and sewerage treatment facilities. The Ministry of Finance lies in a pile of rubble, Hamas and Fatah continue their quarrels, unemployment is astronomical, especially amongst the youth, and amidst the hopelessness, there is rising drug addiction and suicidality.  This humanitarian catastrophe is compounded by a severely distressed society strangled by years of blockade and siege, factional discord, fundamentalist opposition to the right of Hamas, and dramatic restrictions in options for everyone.

Historical memory is a contradictory process, churning the narratives of the powerful against the realities of those who have suffered the most and are often left voiceless. Now, at the first anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, we are facing a crisis of memory; Israel’s massive ground, air and sea assault killed nearly 2200 Palestinians, including over 500 children, left 11,000 injured, and brought the apocalyptic destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, water and agricultural infrastructure.  The popular discourse frames Palestinians and Hamas as the sole aggressors, ignoring occupation, siege, a crushing policy of “de-development,” and the massive provocations by Netanyahu and the Israeli military in the June build up to war.  And then there is the phenomenal disproportionality of pitting 1.8 million largely unarmed civilians – most under age 18 – living on a beleaguered strip of land 6 by 26 miles against one of the most powerful military forces in the world.

I found a unique and intimate window into Gazan society, its massive losses, challenges, and phenomenal resilience.  I bore witness to 1.8 million traumatized and extraordinary survivors. The intersections of a brutal siege, recurrent wars, homelessness, factional rivalries, and a patriarchal society were clear. I came to understand in a very personal way, the challenging political and human realities in a war-torn area and the desperate need for basic human rights; a respect for personal autonomy, freedom from violence, availability of education and economic choices, and access to housing and health care. I also came to love and respect the immense warmth, humor, and energy of the people in this forgotten and demonized place.

Most distressing, in the midst of the almost total lack of reconstruction, the tens of thousands of people living in their bombed out homes, the unbelievable levels of physical and emotional trauma, the lack of food and drinkable water, everyone I spoke with was worrying about the next Israeli attack.  In Gaza, there is no real “post” in the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that haunts so many children and adults.

Alice Rothchild is a Boston-based physician, author, filmmaker and member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a Jewish-American physician. Her most recent book is Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine, from Just World Books. Her previous book is On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion.

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9 Responses

  1. just
    July 28, 2015, 11:43 am

    Doctor Rothchild~ thank you.

    Those, like Hillary, who still pledge love and fealty for the state of Israel that did/and do these horrible things never gave a damn about the Palestinians or Israel’s crimes. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could turn a blind eye to Gaza, but so many pols and others do it. I really don’t know how they sleep at night or manage to hug their children and family, drive to work in the morning, or eat three meals a day without choking with self- disgust.

    There are millions around the world that will never forget and never stop working for the freedom, dignity, respect, and more that the Palestinian people have been denied for decades, and our numbers are growing. BDS is growing. It is up to us to make our politicians and governments change their awful complicity and enabling. And it is through your work and careful documentation, and that of many others, that this fire will spread and never be extinguished.

    • lysias
      July 28, 2015, 5:28 pm

      A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing today on BDS. Sanctions, Divestment and Boycotts, hearing of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — Subcommittee on National Security (July 28, 2015).

      They’re having to take BDS more and more seriously.

      • just
        July 28, 2015, 5:52 pm

        Yay! Thanks, lysias.

        Wish I had seen it, but I was watching Kerry/Lew/Moniz facing the crazy Congress Foreign Relations Cmte. wrt Iran.

    • ziusudra
      July 29, 2015, 3:33 am

      Greetings just,
      Ole Gal Hillary better watch out, by the time she finishes her political stomp through contiguous states, the goalposts may have been changed from pro to con Israel.
      She blew the wind of opinion on Iraq & she may blow it in 2016?
      She ‘s a good Ole Gal w/o any talent with Realpolitik.
      ziusudra
      PS Oh, but i jes want to serve America & do what’s right.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    July 28, 2015, 6:26 pm

    RE: “I listened to psychiatrists discuss the 51 days of intense fear and insecurity and the challenges of caring for traumatized patients when the clinicians themselves had lost homes, family members, and were equally traumatized.” ~ Alice Rothchild

    ONE WAY YOU CAN HELP:

    Please make a tax-deductible donation payable to The Gaza Mental Health Foundation Inc.
    Your gift will be sent to The Gaza Community Mental Health Program, which is providing vital mental health support to the traumatized families of the Gaza Strip.
    Your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
    To donate, please print out brochure or send a check with your name, address, telephone number, and email address to:

    Gaza Mental Health Foundation
    PO Box 380273
    Cambridge MA 02238

    SOURCE: Gaza Mental Health Foundation – http://www.gazamentalhealth.org/

  3. Citizen
    July 29, 2015, 4:55 am

    Thanks, Ms. Rothchild.

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