I suppose it’s strange that I hadn’t seen Tears of Gaza (full movie on youtube) before tonight. Isn’t is standard viewing for pro-Palestinian activists in North America? The truth is, I never saw it because I thought I knew what was in it – brutal footage of the 2008-9 massacre – and I didn’t want to experience the emotions I knew I would watching such a film.
The film is, I find, much better than I expected. I honestly thought it was an account of the massacre of thrown together news footage and what amateur stock was available. In reality it’s a film with high production values, with unbelievable footage of the attack while it was going on. And it’s not paced like a news report. It has a wonderful, terrifying, slow pace. It walks you through events, not day-by-day, not a factual as-it-happens report of a meta-narrative, but emotionally. Time passes but watching this film you don’t count it in minutes, but rather in the feeling of waiting in a bread line, or in the chaos and crisis of missiles entering your house and killing half your family.
The film is, undoubtably, brutal. But the events of the massacre were brutal, and there is no other way to honesty talk about them. The film doesn’t begin with gore though, far from it, and really explicit and gory scenes of martyrs bodies’ don’t appear till near the end, when in a sense you are prepared to see them. By that time, you don’t see bodies like objects, you see people – brothers, fathers, sons. These are people living in Gaza. People living under one of the most brutal ongoing terror campaigns happening in the world today.
You can’t talk about Gaza without talking about terrorism. And if we’re going to talk about terrorism, we should be honest and have a real definition for the term – if we use it to mean attacks on civilians, with the intention of traumatizing the population, then every bomb is its own terrorist attack. People condemn the Palestinians for suicide bombing, but when doing this you should recognize that the accuracy that Palestinians can only achieve by strapping bombs to themselves, Israel can achieve time and time again with computer guidance systems. So while people remember the 2nd intifada by the bombings “this day there were 2 bombs”, “the bombing that happened on this day of this month”. Well, in Gaza I’m not sure if you can count the bombings, the number of bombs that fell is so high. And many of those bombs destroyed houses where people were working or living – people buried by concrete. The first violence shown in the film is showing this – a large house, or perhaps apartment block levelled, and a huge mass of people walking towards it, covering the rubble, all working in unison trying to save people, unearth them from under the collapsed building. Unfortunately most of the bodies that are unearthed are clearly not alive.
It’s easy when talking about terrorism to retreat to a very logical kind of discourse, to say “well, Israel committed crimes in Gaza, but Palestinians use suicide bombing so neither side is right”. Or, to begin only looking at numbers and the journalistic sources of different statistics, and argue about proportionality and international law and other things which basically fail to grasp the gravity fo the situation. What the stories in Tears of Gaza show, however, is that the terrorist attacks in Gaza were carried out by regular IDF – the army firing missiles into people’s living rooms, or simply knocking on a door and immediately shooting the person who opens it. They tell a story of utter cruelty, of massive dispossession, and of a people which can hardly cope emotionally with the suffering that has befallen them.
It’s on this question that I find myself the most embarrassed for not having visited Gaza, for not knowing anyone there. These questions about social trauma, about shared loss and a community that was and continues to be unable to properly respond to the challenges it faces – these are things you can only get a sense of by living amongst them. I feel that I start to have some sense of the situation in the West Bank, but Gaza is another world.
I don’t have much else to say, but I think I should comment briefly on the issue of white phosphorus. You see a lot of it in the film, you see it raining down on cities, you see kids kicking it in the street, you see fire brigades trying to put it out. The idea that Israel used it legally as a smoke screen is ludicrous – Gaza isn’t big enough to need a smoke screen,and Israel wasn’t fighting against a regular army. Clearly the major purpose of white phosphorous shells was to test how they worked against military and civilian targets (note: under international law, white phosphorus is illegal to use against civilian targets, and can only be used as a smoke screen. According to Protocol 3, the 1980 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons:
1. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects the object of attack by incendiary weapons.
2. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.
3. It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons other than air-delivered incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
The Chemical Weapons Convention goes farther, banning its use against military targets, while continuing to allow its use as a smoke screen. But even within the confines of protocal 3, we see that there is no chance Israel’s use of phosphorous could have been legal in Gaza, because all the “military objectives” (in reality this means police stations and government buildings) were in civilian areas.
It’s unfortunate that talk about white phosphorus always gets mired in international law. Because what the film shows is that when people are living with this, the experience is not characterized by its illegality, but its monstrosity. You ask “who are these people who could do this to us”? You wonder what kind of monsters would attack a house with only women and children inside of it with an incendiary weapon.
And I wonder sometimes, more and more actually, what kind of monster Zionism has made of the israeli people.