Archive for January 17, 2009


Terribly Bloodied, Still Breathing

By CAOIMHE BUTTERLY

Gaza

The morgues of Gaza’s hospitals are over-flowing. The bodies in their blood-soaked white shrouds cover the entire floor space of the Shifa hospital morgue. Some are intact, most horribly deformed, limbs twisted into unnatural positions, chest cavities exposed, heads blown off, skulls crushed in. Family members wait outside to identify and claim a brother, husband, father, mother, wife, child. Many of those who wait their turn have lost numerous family members and loved ones.

Blood is everywhere. Hospital orderlies hose down the floors of operating rooms, bloodied bandages lie discarded in corners, and the injured continue to pour in: bodies lacerated by shrapnel, burns, bullet wounds. Medical workers, exhausted and under siege, work day and night and each life saved is seen as a victory over the predominance of death.

The streets of Gaza are eerily silent- the pulsing life and rhythm of markets, children, fishermen walking down to the sea at dawn brutally stilled and replaced by an atmosphere of uncertainty, isolation and fear. The ever-present sounds of surveillance drones, F16s, tanks and Apaches are listened to acutely as residents try to guess where the next deadly strike will be- which house, school, clinic, mosque, governmental building or community centre will be hit next and how to move before it does. That there are no safe places- no refuge for vulnerable human bodies- is felt acutely. It is a devastating awareness for parents- that there is no way to keep their children safe.

As we continue to accompany the ambulances, joining Palestinian paramedics as they risk their lives, daily, to respond to calls from those with no other life-line, our existence becomes temporarily narrowed down and focused on the few precious minutes that make the difference between life and death. With each new call received as we ride in ambulances that careen down broken, silent roads, sirens and lights blaring, there exists a battle of life over death. We have learned the language of the war that the Israelis are waging on the collective captive population of Gaza- to distinguish between the sounds of the weaponry used, the timing between the first missile strikes and the inevitable second- targeting those that rush to tend to and evacuate the wounded, to recognize the signs of the different chemical weapons being used in this onslaught, to overcome the initial vulnerability of recognizing our own mortality.

Though many of the calls received are to pick up bodies, not the wounded, the necessity of affording the dead a dignified burial drives the paramedics to face the deliberate targeting of their colleagues and comrades- thirteen killed while evacuating the wounded, fourteen ambulances destroyed- and to continue to search for the shattered bodies of the dead to bring home to their families.

Last night, while sitting with paramedics in Jabaliya refugee camp, drinking tea and listening to their stories, we received a call to respond to the aftermath of a missile strike. When we arrived at the outskirts of the camp where the attack had taken place the area was filled with clouds of dust, torn electricity lines, slabs of concrete and open water pipes gushing water into the street. Amongst the carnage of severed limbs and blood we pulled out the body of a young man, his chest and face lacerated by shrapnel wounds, but alive- conscious and moaning.

As the ambulance sped him through the cold night we applied pressure to his wounds, the warmth of his blood seeping through the bandages reminder of the life still in him. He opened his eyes in answer to my questions and closed them again as Muhammud, a volunteer paramedic, murmured “ayeesh, nufuss”- live, breathe- over and over to him. He lost consciousness as we arrived at the hospital, received into the arms of friends who carried him into the emergency room. He, Majid, lived and is recovering.

A few minutes later there was another missile strike, this time on a residential house. As we arrived a crowd had rushed to the ruins of the four story home in an attempt to drag survivors out from under the rubble. The family the house belonged to had evacuated the area the day before and the only person in it at the time of the strike was 17 year old Muhammud who had gone back to collect clothes for his family. He was dragged out from under the rubble still breathing- his legs twisted in unnatural directions and with a head wound, but alive. There was no choice but to move him, with the imminence of a possible second strike, and he lay in the ambulance moaning with pain and calling for his mother. We thought he would live, he was conscious though in intense pain and with the rest of the night consumed with call after call to pick up the wounded and the dead, I forgot to check on him. This morning we were called to pick up a body from Shifa hospital to take back to Jabaliya. We carried a body wrapped in a blood-soaked white shroud into the ambulance, and it wasn’t until we were on the road that we realized that it was Muhammud’s body. His brother rode with us, opening the shroud to tenderly kiss Muhammud’s forehead.

This morning we received news that Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was under siege. We tried unsuccessfully for hours to gain access to the hospital, trying to organize co-ordination to get the ambulances past Israeli tanks and snipers to evacuate the wounded and dead. Hours of unsuccessful attempts later we received a call from the Shujahiya neighborhood, describing a house where there were both dead and wounded patients to pick up. The area was deserted, many families having fled as Israeli tanks and snipers took up position amongst their homes, other silent in the dark, cold confines of their homes, crawling from room to room to avoid sniper fire through their windows.

As we drove slowly around the area, we heard women’s cries for help. We approached their house on foot, followed by the ambulances and as we came to the threshold of their home, they rushed towards us with their children, shaking and crying with shock. At the door of the house the ambulance lights exposed the bodies of four men, lacerated by shrapnel wounds- the skull and brains of one exposed, others whose limbs had been severed off. The four were the husbands and brothers of the women, who had ventured out to search for bread and food for their families. Their bodies were still warm as we struggled to carry them on stretchers over the uneven ground, their blood staining the earth and our clothes. As we prepared to leave the area our torches illuminated the slumped figure of another man, his abdomen and chest shredded by shrapnel. With no space in the other ambulances, and the imminent possibility of sniper fire, we were forced to take his body in the back of the ambulance carrying the women and children. One of the little girls stared at me before coming into my arms and telling me her name- Fidaa’, which means to sacrifice. She stared at the body bag, asking when he would wake up.

Once back at the hospital we received word that the Israeli army had shelled Al Quds hospital, that the ensuing fire risked spreading and that there had been a 20-minute time-frame negotiated to evacuate patients, doctors and residents in the surrounding houses. By the time we got up there in a convoy of ambulances, hundreds of people had gathered. With the shelling of the UNRWA compound and the hospital there was a deep awareness that nowhere in Gaza is safe, or sacred.

We helped evacuate those assembled to near-by hospitals and schools that have been opened to receive the displaced. The scenes were deeply saddening- families, desperate and carrying their children, blankets and bags of their possessions venturing out in the cold night to try to find a corner of a school or hospital to shelter in. The paramedic we were with referred to the displacement of the over 46,000 Gazan Palestinians now on the move as a continuation of the ongoing Nakba of dispossession and exile seen through generation after generation enduring massacre after massacre.

Today’s death toll was over 75, one of the bloodiest days since the start of this carnage. Over 1,110 Palestinians have been killed in the past 21 days. 367 of those have been children. The humanitarian infrastructure of Gaza is on its knees- already devastated by years of comprehensive siege. There has been a deliberate, systematic destruction of all places of refuge. There are no safe places here, for anyone.

And yet, in the face of so much desecration, this community has remained intact. The social solidarity and support between people is inspiring, and the steadfastness of Gaza continues to humble and inspire all those who witness it. Their level of sacrifice demands our collective response- and recognition that demonstrations are not enough. Gaza, Palestine and its people continue to live, breathe, resist and remain intact and this refusal to be broken is a call and challenge to us all.

Caoimhe Butterly is an Irish human rights activist working in Jabaliya and Gaza City as a volunteer with ambulance services and as co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement, She can be contacted at sahara78@hotmail.co.uk

By BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt were pretty close, politically and personally. They led the fight against fascism in the early 1940s, and although they had their disagreements they got on very well. They were both blunt in expressing their views, but there was no doubt who was the more powerful : Roosevelt called the shots, although Churchill had a lot of influence on him. But it would have been unthinkable for Churchill to have behaved in the way that the present (though not for long) prime minister of Israel did with the present (though not for long) president of the United States.

Prime minister Olmert of Israel, who has been forced to stand down because of allegations of corruption, telephoned President Bush to make the latter alter his orders to his Secretary of State to support a mild resolution in the UN Security Council that called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The barely believable transcript of Olmert’s boasting of his success is on public record. He said:

“I [Olmert] spoke with him [Bush]; I told him: You can’t vote for this proposal. He said: listen, I don’t know, I didn’t see, don’t know what it says. I told him: I know, and you can’t vote for it! He then instructed the secretary of state, and she did not vote for it.”

There is no other head of government in the entire world who could say such words to the president of the United States. And will Olmert’s successor be able to speak with Bush’s successor in the same way and with a similar result?

We know the name of the next US president, but we don’t know who the next Israeli prime minister will be. It looks as if it might be a choice between two steel-minded sadists, Tzipi Livni or Binyamin Netanyahu, both dedicated haters of Palestine, Palestinians and Arabs in general. So what might they be able to say to President Obama? Will they be able to pick up the phone and call him to suggest forcefully that he alter the voting intention of the United States of America in the UN Security Council? And what would he do, if they did?

Given the commitment to Israel of Mr Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as was obvious in their groveling speeches last year to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, there is no guarantee that they will, either of them, ever utter a word in criticism of Israel.

There is one thing certain: the US Congress is going to continue its unconditional support for Israel, no matter what war crimes are committed by its disgusting thugs-in-uniform. The Reps need the money, after all, which they get through political action committees which are generously funded by American Jews. And they are scared to political death by the threat that pro-Israel agencies will destroy them politically if they dare say a word against Israel.

There are very few Representatives of the people of America who would dare challenge Israel, or who might possibly criticize Israel, or who have the courage to condemn atrocities committed by Israel.

***

The worst of all the barbarians who are killing children and their mothers and fathers in Gaza are the Israeli pilots who mercilessly bomb houses occupied by terrified families. And they are staunchly supported by the House of Representatives of the United States of America.

These pilots, these vile little war-gamers of the skies, these latter-day examples of what Tom Wolfe called “The Right Stuff”, can zoom over towns full of traumatized children and happily heave and hurl their bombs and rockets to kill yet more Palestinian kids without the remotest chance of being shot down. How heroic; how truly gladiatorial. How contemptible. They are blood brothers with the pilots of the Nazis’ Stuka ground attack aircraft of yesteryear, with their terrifying sirens, who bombed columns of fleeing refugees all round Europe.

But the US House of Representatives rushed to praise Israel, and endorse its invasion and its merciless air strikes, and committed America to a motion “Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

***

Not many Americans know anything about the hideous barbarity in Gaza, because US cable networks and newspapers rarely carry pictures of disfigured blood-splashed children who have been killed, maimed or orphaned by the Israelis. But here in Europe we have access to some TV channels and newspapers that are very different from the pliant pro-Zion patsies of the major news outlets across the Atlantic.

And if US television channels carried pictures like the ones we see, there would be such outbursts of horror and indignation that even the US Congress might be forced to condemn the Israeli fascists for their barbarity. But the all-powerful Israel lobby makes sure that little of the sort will appear.

Who runs America?

The only honorable members of the House, voting against unconditional support for Israeli killing of Palestinian children, were Democrats Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (California), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin), and Nick Rahall (West Virginia), along with Texas Republican Ron Paul. And Mr Kucinich put the whole case for their vote when he said

“In Gaza, the United Nations gave the Israeli army the coordinates of a UN school, and the school was then hit by Israeli tank fire, killing about 40. The UN put flags on emergency vehicles, coordinating the movements of those vehicles with the Israeli military, and the vehicles came under attack, killing emergency workers. The Israeli army evacuated 100 Palestinians to shelter, and then bombed the shelter, killing 30 people.”

Blunt stuff – but it cut no ice with the 390 members of the House who voted for Israel to continue its killing.

The Israelis have killed over a thousand Palestinians, and the UN reports that at least 500 of these deaths were civilians, and that half of these were women and children. One million of Gaza’s 1.5 million people have no electricity, and about 750,000 are without water. They are existing in conditions of appalling squalor and fear, with US-supplied helicopter gunships and F-16s striking at will, and tanks and artillery destroying their houses and killing their children.

Yet the House votes for Israel. And the President of the United States of America jumps to obey the Israeli prime minister. But will there be any change under Obama and Clinton?

A year ago Hillary Clinton told the American Israeli Committee that “we stand with Israel because of our shared values and our shared belief in the dignity of men and women and the right to live without fear or oppression.”

Last June Barack Obama told the American Israeli Committee “Now is the time to be vigilant in facing down every foe, just as we move forward in seeking a future of peace for the children of Israel, and for all children. Now is the time to stand by Israel . . .”

Will they continue to support Israel, the country that has laid waste a land and murdered over 200 women and children?

If they do, the question must be asked: Who runs America?

Brian Cloughley‘s book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK) and will be published in the US in May by Skyhorse (New York).