Sheri Oz

Sheri Oz – Fadi is Marching in Gaza for His Kids

Sheri Oz – Fadi is Marching in Gaza for His Kids

The New York Times gave space to Fadi Abu Shammalah. He wrote an opinion piece called, Why I March in Gaza. First of all, let us look at who Abu Shammalah is: executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centers in Gaza. I find it interesting that there is a General Union of Cultural Centers (GUUC) in Gaza. After all, Gaza is often called an open-air prison, and it is compared with Warsaw Ghetto. I doubt there were cultural centers in the Ghetto; you know, places where kids learn to dance and do art, for example. But in 1997, well before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the GUUC was established, apparently with 52 cultural centers currently in Gaza and Judea & Samaria. Funny how the Gazans try to have it both ways – to claim they are under horrific Israeli occupation and blockade while at the same time showcasing cultural centers, five-star hotels and more.

Let us see what Abu Shammalah wrote for naive readers of the NYT:

The Great Return March is the name that has been given to 45 days of protest along the border between Gaza and Israel. It began on March 30, Land Day, which commemorates the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations, and ends on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of Israel.

Language is important and the last sentence above says: “during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of Israel.” However, Israel was not created, not by war or decree. Israel was re-established as a modern state. And what led to its legal re-establishment was the 1920 San Remo conference declaration. What led to its re-establishment in fact was the hard work of the Jews who were always there, joined by waves of Jews immigrating throughout the centuries, who built the infrastructure for a modern state without the help of anyone else. That happened long before 1948.

The Legacy Abu Shammalah Wants to Leave His Kids

Abu Shammalah’s son, Ali, asked him why he is joining the march if it is so dangerous:

There are multiple answers to Ali’s question. I fully believe in the march’s tactics of unarmed, direct, civilian-led mass action. I have also been inspired by how the action has unified the Palestinian people in the politically fractured Gaza Strip. And the march is an effective way to highlight the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled.

Let us parse this one, ok?

  1. unarmed, direct, civilian-led mass action: burning tires, throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, trying to take down the border-fence, and more are not activities generally characterizing unarmed demonstrations. Furthermore, Yediot Aharonot military correspondent, Alex Fishman, writes that when the demonstrations began, the Gazans were 700 meters from the fence and now they are a mere 100 meters away from it. Their goal is to knock the fence down and send a stream of Gazans into Israel to run amok. It all sounds rather not-civilian to me.
  2. the march has unified the Palestinian people: this remains to be seen. According to PhD candidate Moran Stern, this is not at all true. He writes that the story of the Friday protests is more a story of the millions of Gazans who stayed at home rather than the small minority who came out.
  3. the march is an effective way to highlight unbearable living conditions in Gaza: for the fact they have only four hours of electricity a day, they need to blame the PA that does not pay Israel for the electricity she provides.
  4. the economy and borders under siege: Israel allowing the transport into Gaza of hundreds of tons daily of food, medicines and other products is not a siege. A siege is what happened to the Jews at Masada; it is what happened numerous times to the Jews in Jerusalem. Furthermore, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, before Hamas started terrorizing Israelis living in the nearby communities, borders were open and people and goods moved freely in both directions. But hey! It is safer to blame Israel than Hamas, right?
  5. fear of having one’s home bombed: if Hamas would not fire missiles at Israel from civilian homes, there would be no bombing of their homes.

He goes on:

But the core reason I am participating is that years from now, I want to be able to look Ali, Karam and Adam in the eye and tell them, “Your father was part of this historic, nonviolent struggle for our homeland.”

I think Abu Shammalah would be more honest were he to tell his son that a far more dangerous but far more justifiable demonstration would be one protesting Hamas because Hamas is the one that has a stranglehold on Gaza. But they do not even whisper this out of fear of Hamas. Instead, he waxes poetic about the village from which his family came:

I long to sleep under the olive trees of Bayt Daras, my native village. I want to show Ali, Karam and Adam the mosque that my grandfather prayed in. I want to live peacefully in my historic home with all my neighbors, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish or atheist.

Maybe, one day, he will be able to visit with his kids and grandkids. Returning there to live is not realistic. I understand his yearning. I also understand Jewish yearning to see the homes and synagogues in Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, and more that were home to Jews for centuries. I understand the yearning of billions of displaced persons and their descendants to see the homes and landmarks where their predecessors lived. But at some point, it is time to build life forward and not back. The Bayt Daras that he wants to visit was destroyed because its residents attacked Jews who then protected themselves. If he wants to live peacefully with all his neighbours, well, he had that chance before 2005 when Arabs lived and worked with Israelis in Gaza and Tel Aviv. After the election in 2006, Hamas (did he vote for Hamas?) chose otherwise.

If Ali asks me why I’m returning to the Great Return March despite the danger, I will tell him this: I love my life. But more than that, I love you, Karam and Adam. If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.

What causes me incredible pain when I read this is that all this was possible in 2005. Israel withdrew totally from Gaza. Israel’s Disengagement Plan included this:

. . . the State of Israel will be willing to consider the possibility of the establishment of a seaport and airport in the Gaza Strip, in accordance with arrangements to be agreed with Israel.

If you know about the resources in Gaza that could support tourism and more, then you know what was possible then. The only request was this:

If and when there is evidence from the Palestinian side of its willingness, capability and implementation in practice of the fight against terrorism, full cessation of terrorism and violence and the institution of reform as required by the Road Map, it will be possible to return to the track of negotiation and dialogue.

Unfortunately, the free country Abu Shammalah wants for his kids is all of Israel free of Jews. And he wants NYT readers to believe that the Great Return March is a civilian non-violent phenomenon seeking an end to the dire situation in Gaza. In fact, it is a continuation of the determination to eliminate Israel from the map, just by using a different tactic. NYT readers perhaps believe the sugar-coated presentation of what is happening, and that is not helpful at all to anyone on either side of the fence.

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