Walking through a field of peas in the buffer zone, 60-year-old Palestinian farmer Jaber Abu Rujeila pointed to the fence that demarcates the border with Israel and where military vehicles regularly patrol. “If the jeeps stop, run,” he warned. “They’ll shoot.”
The buffer zone is an Israeli-declared no-go area that stretches a few hundred meters into Gaza. Anyone who sets foot inside can be fired upon. This includes much of Gaza’s agricultural land, making simple farm labor a potentially deadly mission.
“The Israeli side calls this a ceasefire,” Abu Rujeila remarked. “Every day they shoot at me and then they talk about the ceasefire.”
Tank shells from last summer’s war on Gaza litter his land in al-Faraheen, an area in the village of Khuza’a which was besieged by Israeli forces for ten days last summer. Abu Rujeila’s kitchen and bathroom were destroyed, and today they remain in the condition they were almost a year ago.
For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the period since last summer’s war has been a one-way ceasefire. While Palestinian armed factions have observed the ceasefire, with a handful of exceptions, Israel has violated the ceasefire on a near-daily basis. Soldiers fire at farmers in the buffer zone, gunboats shoot at fishermen, and warplanes and drones are a regular sight over Gaza’s skies. In the period of January through March of 2015, conservative estimates tallied 67 Israeli shootings and six military incursions, resulting in the death of one Palestinian and injuries to sixteen.
Yet these Israeli ceasefire violations are completely omitted by popular western media coverage, amounting to a de-facto vow of silence. This media blackout has become as predictable as the shootings themselves — they are another part of the maintenance of the occupation.
And this media silence has consequences. All signs point to another major military operation in Gaza, and Israeli military and political figures threaten that it will be even more catastrophic than the last. The media silence that cloaks Israeli ceasefire violations serves to portray the next round as defensive in nature — an exercise in Israel’s proclaimed “right to self-defense.”
While Israel gears up for another war, the victims of last summer’s offensive haven’t recovered. After the decimation of neighborhoods like Shujaiya, Palestinian civilians have lived in perpetual crisis. While the Israeli shells that damages or destroyed 100,000 homes have ceased falling, survival in the rubble has been a struggle.
Sitting on a bed in their half-standing Shujaiya home, Rania a-Kheysi’s daughter rocked the empty crib where they found her six-month-old son Wadie’s body. Born last summer during the war, Wadie froze to death — a casualty that will not be included in the war’s official death count. In freezing winter temperatures, rain and wind whipped through the al-Kheysi’s blown out walls. Unable to find adequate warmth, Wadie succumbed to the elements. “I can’t forget him,” Rania al-Kheysi said with tears streaming down her cheeks as she recounted discovering her infant son’s corpse. “He’s on my mind every minute. It’s like a part of my heart went away. His sisters always ask me ‘Where is Wadie? I want to wear his clothes and sleep in his bed.’”
In Ashkelon, a coastal city a just north of the Gaza border, Jewish Israelis seemed to be living as insulated from the violence Gaza as pundits across the Atlantic Ocean.
“No, I don’t want to talk, but don’t you know that Hamas broke the ceasefire” one woman replied when I asked for her evaluation. She was surprised by the question, as if it were a given that Hamas had broken the ceasefire. “Are you Jewish,” she asked me, as if that were relevant to the topic.
Standing in front of the Shekem Electric appliance store in an Ashkelon strip mall, salesperson Stan Goldin, 28, stood and smoked a cigarette. “They violated the ceasefire long ago,” he asserted. “For you as a foreigner [who is] not from here, you think Hamas and Palestinians and Arabs are three different bodies, but it’s only one single [body]: it’s Arabs. All of them.”
Like the woman before, Goldin had little grasp of the reality surrounding him. His apparent comfort in espousing racist vitriol while representing his workplace spoke to the endemic racism that Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to when he called on Jews to vote against Palestinian citizens of Israel, winning the national election.
Back in Shujaiya, Rania al-Kheysi’s father-in-law Moaeen sat in front of a fire in his partially standing home. “We wake up every night to the sound of shooting,” he said. “The Israelis never stopped shooting at us but Palestinians aren’t shooting them. We want the ceasefire to be from both sides, not just one side.”