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Shock, not awe, among 'battle-hardened' Gazans

Netanyahu might have taken his ‘gloves off,’ but Palestinians in Gaza have long since been hardened by their bare-knuckle existence.

In the three days beginning on March 19, 2003, Baghdad endured just over a thousand bombing runs, all aimed at cowing the Iraqi capital — a city of nearly four million people — through what the U.S. military called “shock and awe.”

As of Friday, Israel had already conducted more than 1,000 air sorties over Gaza as part of its so-called “Operation Protective Edge” — this upon a population of two million with no army, no command-and-control structure, no sophisticated anti-aircraft batteries, and no state of their own. By Sunday morning, the number of Israeli sorties had risen dramatically, with at least 52 Palestinians killed in a hailstorm of bombing that included 11 airstrikes in just one five-minute period.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it,” said my friend Jehad Saftawi, who lived through Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2009 and 2012. We spoke by phone on Saturday night, moments after he had tweeted about a massive airstrike just outside his apartment building in Gaza City. His voice, usually soft, was amplified by adrenaline, but he ended our call by asking me to take care.

I’d heard that kind of lopsided sentiment before — from an aid worker friend who survived a six-hour gun battle in Afghanistan and saw one of her coworkers killed before her eyes. She still ends every call, every email, with the words, “stay safe.”

For civilian “veterans” of violence, the trauma of battles they can neither fight nor win is indescribable — literally. The preponderance of literature on PTSD — the post-traumatic stress most often associated with combatants — largely omits mention of those caught in the crossfire. And when that “crossfire” includes hundreds of tons of bombs tormenting you and everyone you know, day in and day out without pause, the trauma is gnawing, almost metastatic. When you can’t fight back, you internalize the battle in ways that eventually turn malignant. And when the guns fall silent, you wage war on yourself.

Palestinians mourn the death of Ibrahim Nabil Hamada, 23, who was killed during an Israeli attack, Al Shaja'ia cemetery, Gaza City, July 12, 2014. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Palestinians mourn the death of Ibrahim Nabil Hamada, 23, who was killed during an Israeli attack, Al Shaja’ia cemetery, Gaza City, July 12, 2014. (Photo: Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

In Gaza, though, the guns seldom fall silent. And there is no chance to convalesce. Healing, says Emad Burnat in his film “5 Broken Cameras,” “is the victim’s sole obligation.” But when the victim is “hurt over and over again,” he forgets his wounds.

It’s an important lesson for anyone contemplating an endgame to this latest series of horrific Israeli attacks, which have so far killed more than 150 Palestinians, including at least 23 children. Benjamin Netanyahu might have taken his “gloves off,” but Palestinians in Gaza have long since been hardened by their bare-knuckle existence. They are, as any human being would be, shell-shocked by the brutality they have endured. But judging from my friend’s voice, there is nothing about Netanyahu’s war that will inspire awe in them.

It’s a lesson the US military learned in Iraq, and it’s one Israel will eventually learn, too. In the meantime, how many more innocents must die?

‘We stay together, or we leave this world together’
Blame Israel and Hamas both for Gaza’s civilian deaths
‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

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    1. rsgengland

      When Hamas and the other jihadis stops sending rockets and mortars at Israel, then there will be quiet in Israel.
      It’s totally irrelevant whether Hamas etc. have anti-aircraft defenses or not.
      They are still shooting their missiles etc at Israeli civilians
      If you attack Israel don’t complain when Israel returns the favour.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        “Missiles?” More like bottle rockets.

        Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Call them what you will, they are still capable of killing and maiming.
          The only reason there have been no Israeli fatalities to date, is due to that great game changer IRON DOME, and the fact that Israel requires that every home/apartment built has a safe room or air raid

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            “Comprende” this: Gazan civilians have no such security precautions, and your military knows this. Thus, as long as they keep up with the air-strikes, they have the blood of innocents on their hands.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sonnenuhr

            Reza, whose fault is that Gaza civilians have no security precautions? Hamas has spent tens of millions of dollars on cement for its bunkers and tunnels but nothing for protection of its civilians. Hamas has spent billions of dollars on its arsenal. Israeli civilians build safe rooms in their houses and apartments and the Israeli government has built public shelters. The Israeli government uses missiles to protect its public. Hamas uses its civilian population to protect its leaders, fighters and missiles. Hamas has built its rocket launchers, weapon stores and command centers in civilian areas, in civilian and pubic structures. Hamas has made a battleground of civilian areas. Its operatives do not wear uniforms and attack from civilian areas against Israeli civilian areas. In such circumstances civilians from Gaza are going to die when Israel responds to Hamas attacks.

            Reply to Comment