By Ambra Visentin
House by house, hospital by hospital, refugee camp by refugee camp. Israel’s ground assault on Gaza continues, with IDF forces pushing south with an attack on Khan Yunis, the territory’s second largest city, where the Hamas leadership is believed to be hiding. During the week, air strikes targeted the Al-Maghazi and Al-Shabora refugee camps in central and southern Gaza, respectively, killing at least 50 Palestinians. Last week, nearly 200 people were killed in the Jabalia refugee camp, the largest in the Strip.
On Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres took the rare step of declaring the conflict a threat to international peace and security, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter. The United Arab Emirates, backed by Arab and Islamic states, circulated a short draft resolution to the Council expressing “grave concern at the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population”. It states that “Palestinian and Israeli civilians must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law”. The diplomats also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and humanitarian access to Gaza”. The text was put to a vote and supported by 13 Council members, but the US vetoed it, blocking the resolution. The UK abstained.
Since the outbreak of hostilities, with the exception of a brief ceasefire in early November, an average of 50 trucks of aid have entered the Strip each day, compared to the pre-war average of 500 trucks needed to feed the population. With border controls – lengthy selection and verification processes lasting between 10 and 15 hours – the crisis in Gaza is now total. Carl Skau, deputy director of the UN’s World Food Programme, said only a fraction of the supplies needed have been able to enter – and nine out of 10 people are unable to eat every day.
Local journalists and the many video documents that manage to find their way onto the net are in the front row to report on what is happening in the enclave. Foreign journalists have been denied access. But this is not the first time Gaza has been under bombardment, and there are books, stories and articles written in the past that become current news. “From the very first days of the war, I felt I was reliving to the nth degree what Vittorio had experienced during “Operation Cast Lead”: indiscriminate bombing, ground attacks. What I feel are feelings of fear and great suffering. This is Egidia Beretta, Vittorio Arrigoni’s* mother. He was an Italian activist and writer, an advocate of a bi-national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a pacifist, who was living in Gaza when he was murdered by an extremist Salafist group in 2011. Beretta finds in his son’s words, written at the time, an apt description of Israel’s military action in Gaza.
“He had agreed to recount the tragedy. Sentence by sentence, word by word, his chronicle is up to date,” says Beretta. The increased dimension and cruelty of the attacks is what she finds most striking: “There is a superimposition of events. Schools are bombed, the Jabalia refugee camp is bombed again. And again schools, mosques, hospitals, markets… There is no more talk of the right to defence. It’s as if we were razing Sicily to the ground to hit the Mafia in Palermo. No, I think it is collective punishment, an opportunity to get rid of the Palestinians as much as possible.”
For Beretta, the Palestinian issue has always been under the radar. “We take what is happening as a lesson that we must learn, namely that Palestine must be treated with the same dignity that any other people deserves, and that the Israeli occupation must end.” And the future? For the moment, there seems to be no glimmer of hope: “I don’t see any future. The families of the hostages are also suffering. This tragic moment must pass before we can talk about peace. And who should sit at the negotiating table, Abu Mazen? It would be important to have a strong interlocutor and at the moment the situation is difficult.”
“The silence of the ‘civilised world’ is far more deafening than the explosions that cover the city like a shroud of terror and death. Gaza, stay human.”
From the book “Gaza, Stay Human”, 2011
To learn more, read our Israel/Palestine conflict factsheet
Cover image by Anas-Mohammed on Shutterstock
* Vittorio Arrigoni (4 February 1975-15 April 2011) was an Italian reporter, writer, pacifist and activist. Arrigoni worked with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, from 2008 until he was murdered by an extremist Salafist group in 2011. Arrigoni maintained a website, Guerrilla Radio, and published a book of his experiences in Gaza during the 2008–09 Gaza War between Hamas and Israel. Arrigoni was the first foreigner kidnapped in Gaza since BBC journalist Alan Johnston’s abduction in 2007 (Continue reading on Wikipedia)