Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Unchain the people of Gaza

Palestinian children, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, lay on the floor of an emergency room at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Palestinian children, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, lay on the floor of an emergency room at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Here's the problem with arguing about Gaza: with few exceptions, most of its loudest detractors have never been. And since media coverage of the place and its people falls almost exclusively to war correspondents, perceptions of Gaza tend toward the monolithic, even the hysterical.

No, not everyone in Gaza is a rocket-wielding fanatic, just as Israel – a nuclear power armed with the world's most sophisticated weapons – does not face an existential threat from Hamas.

These are the entrenched talking points of polar-opposite pundits, whose views are only as relevant as the violence now consuming Gaza.

The Palestinians there want no such distinction. Instead, they long for a moment of respite from Israel's round-the-clock bombing and shelling. When I chatted with a friend there on Thursday morning he pleaded: "Talk to me about something ordinary. I am sick of talking about the situation here."

So I asked him where he would go, right then, if he could leave. It's an invitation to daydream, of course; no Palestinian can leave Gaza. But my friend, like all Gazans I know, has learned to leaven his life-under-siege with a clear-eyed imagination. He responds, as if we'd rehearsed, that he would go to Haifa.

But he cannot. Between my friend and Haifa – a historically Palestinian city off limits to him and Gaza's 1.8 million residents – is an abiding fear that, to welcome him is to expose deeper wounds. For Israelis know all too well that more than three-quarters of Gaza's population are refugees. They hail from villages and cities like Haifa, places that were levelled or largely depopulated of their indigenous Palestinian population to make room for the new Jewish state.

More than anything, that buried injustice prolongs the pain in Gaza – and indefinitely defers the sense of security that Israelis no doubt want. But security cannot come at the expense of the truth.

Acknowledging Palestinians' right to access the land of their ancestors – the land of historic Palestine – is the only path toward a durable peace with Israel. A first step along that path is to open Gaza to the world.

Samer Badawi is a Palestinian who writes for the Tel Aviv-based magazine +972

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