A confession: Whatsapp - Gaza anxiety

 Let's not forget that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told journalists to " keep their mouths shut " until they can report properly on the situation in Gaza. "It seems to me that in this journalistic environment nine out of 10 articles that are written about the Gaza conflict are critical of Israel,” he said, “With all the criticism Israel has gotten, nobody has identified the less lethal means by which Israel could have defended itself."

Let's not forget that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told journalists to "keep their mouths shut" until they can report properly on the situation in Gaza. "It seems to me that in this journalistic environment nine out of 10 articles that are written about the Gaza conflict are critical of Israel,” he said, “With all the criticism Israel has gotten, nobody has identified the less lethal means by which Israel could have defended itself."

By Kathryn Shihadah

Like almost everyone in the world, I carry my smartphone with me everywhere. Few apps are more important to me than Whatsapp. It helps me stay in touch with family and friends.

A few months ago, I got onto a Whatsapp group called "Gaza Breaking News," which consists of on-the-ground reporters in Gaza telling the rest of us (from the Middle East, Europe, Australia, and North and South America) what's happening as it happens. These are not embedded American reporters. These are Palestinians who have lived their whole lives in Gaza.

Before March 30th, it was kind of exciting to know that, thanks to technology, I was never far from the land that I've grown to love. It was a special connection that I valued.

 Thousands of Palestinians assemble along the Gaza-Israel border to reaffirm the ‘Right of Return’ on 30 March 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Thousands of Palestinians assemble along the Gaza-Israel border to reaffirm the ‘Right of Return’ on 30 March 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Then the Great March of Return started. All day, every Friday, I'd hear that" ping" alert, and my heart would skip a beat. Usually that sound meant that someone was dead. Israel had posted snipers at the border.

On March 30th, 16 Palestinian death pings.

On April 6th, there were 9 victims, with a 10th succumbing later.

 30-year-old Yaser Murtaja was shot despite wearing a vest that clearly identified him as a journalist. This amounts to a  war crime .

30-year-old Yaser Murtaja was shot despite wearing a vest that clearly identified him as a journalist. This amounts to a war crime.

April 13th, 2 died, one of them deaf; a 3rd - a journalist - died several days later.

April 20th, 4 were killed by snipers, including a child and a man on crutches (both were shot in the head); a 5th died later that week.

April 27th, there were 3 deaths early on, followed by 2 more later in the day.

Is this getting mundane? Are you losing interest?

May 4th, wonder of wonders, no sniper bullets killed - but as usual over 1,000 were injured. However, later in the week 3 Gazans were killed, allegedly while crossing the border.

May 11th, 1 man was killed and another 1,000 were injured.

 US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaking at a UN Security Council meeting concerning the violence at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip, at United Nations headquarters, May 15, 2018 in New York City. 

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaking at a UN Security Council meeting concerning the violence at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip, at United Nations headquarters, May 15, 2018 in New York City. 

May 14th was Nakba Day (commemorating the Nakba - the Catastrophe - when Israel was born, and would go on to take over 78% of historic Palestine). It was also opening day for the controversial new US Embassy in Jerusalem. Each Whatsapp ping announced several deaths - there were 60 martyrs that day. It was a devastating day for Palestinians, obviously, and also for lovers of justice all over the world. We all watched with horror the split-screen newscasts: on one side, Ivanka Trump smiled and gave a perfect speech about her wonderful daddy; on the other side, people with blood and soot on their faces carrying stretchers. (It was on this day that Nikki Haley patiently Zio-splained the United Nations Security Council that "no country would act with more restraint than Israel has.")

Apparently the worldwide outcry following this massacre was loud enough at last. For 6 weeks, Israeli leaders had blamed the high number of casualties on Hamas, but somehow, when Israel was clearly losing the PR war, it suddenly became possible to manage a low (or even zero) casualty rate.

May 18th and 25th saw no deaths. (Nikki, hon, that's a little closer to "restraint.")

June 1st saw only 1 killed: a young female medic with a white coat and her hands in the air.

June 8th, 4 Palestinians were killed

It has been a relief to see fewer casualties - and hear fewer pings - but things haven't exactly been peachy at the border. The numbers (not to mention the human beings behind the numbers) are grim. At least 500 protesters have been shot in the head; the IDF is using (and has been from the get-go) exploding bullets that cause massive injury and have necessitated at least 40 amputations, with likely many more to come, as these devastating injuries can not always be treated within Gaza and few patients are allowed to leave.

Nevertheless, I stopped getting heart palpitations with every Whatsapp alert. I started sleeping a little better.

 n improvised explosive device, disguised to look like a set of bolt cutters, planted along the Gaza security fence on May 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

n improvised explosive device, disguised to look like a set of bolt cutters, planted along the Gaza security fence on May 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

A new phase

On May 29th, things took a dark turn. Members of Islamic Jihad (one of the groups that carries on the resistance in the absence of a standing army) improvised an explosive device and left it at the border fence. It was discovered by Israeli forces and detonated with no injury to anyone. The IDF retaliated by killing 3 members of Islamic Jihad.

Gaza's resistance groups had held their peace through the deaths of 116 unarmed protesters and something like 10,000 injuries (those numbers are now up to 131 and over 13,000); they had stayed silent through Israeli and American trash-talk. But now it was too much. Members of the resistance shot about 70 rockets and mortars toward Israel, the first rockets in over 3 months, the first offensive action in all this time.

And so the pings started up again on my Whatsapp - only now instead of snipers killing one Gazan at a time, the news was about air strikes and bombings. Ramped-up rhetoric poured in from both sides: Gazan resistance leaders declaring, "We are committed to a formula of a strike for every strike," Israeli leaders vowing that the "steel fist of the IDF will powerfully strike anyone who attempts to harm us."

 Smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strikeת Gaza City, May 29,

Smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strikeת Gaza City, May 29,

It is a relief that so far no one has been injured on either side, but it's just a matter of time. And we all (including Hamas) know that the IDF's steel fist will prevail.

But what other choice does Gaza have? Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas; Israel will not back down from the blockade; Palestinians will certainly not stop resisting. So the summer of 2018 will very possibly see another "war" on Gaza with another astronomical, one-sided death toll. 

Terrorism. War crimes.

Israel has forbidden Palestinians to have a standing army, but Palestinians need to defend and protect themselves, and perhaps even more importantly, they need to resist. This is why Hamas and other groups exist.

Hamas is, to Israel, the embodiment of terrorism. But if you look at how the word "terrorism" is defined (although the world has yet to agree on a single definition), you will notice something startling.

In 2004, a United Nations report described terrorism as any act

intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act. 

If we hold this description up at the Gaza border, we can see that the Palestinian side of the protest is not undertaking terrorism at all: Palestinians are not facing off against civilians, Islamic Jihad's bolt-cutter was placed in the zone under IDF supervision. Flip it around: IDF soldiers are precisely targeting civilians; the blockade is in place to intimidate a population into dumping their government (Hamas). Israel, dear, that would make you the terrorist. 

Additionally, Israel is guilty of multiple war crimes: each civilian that was killed (not just the medics and journalists) was a victim of a war crime. Each person who was shot with an exploding bullet was a victim of a war crime. And that's just the start. Peruse Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court for more.

What needs to be done? Short-term, we need a peace treaty so that the rockets and war planes can be put away. Long-term, Palestinians' demands have to be acknowledged and negotiations for peace need to be made. The blockade has to end. It is cruel and unbecoming to the "Jewish State," not to mention in breach of international law. Justice needs to come to that region, and fast.

Gazan correespondents need some truly good news to report for a change.