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http://www.sunspot.net/content/opinion/story?section=opinion&pagename=story&storyid=1150520209874

Getting an eyeful in Gaza

By Michael F. Brown, Baltimore Sun, Originally published Dec 11 2000

GAZA CITY -- Children have a keen sense of justice where racism is present. This was so in the American civil rights movement. It was equally the case in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa just more than a decade ago.

Today, it is no less true with Palestinian youth who know that the land they call Palestine is being inexorably cleansed of their presence. Righteous anger at injustice leads Palestinian children to resist Israeli efforts to relegate them to a tiny, open-air prison in Gaza and to isolated patches of turf in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Having developed a relationship with the small mental health community in Gaza, I know many of the Palestinians who have battled for years in a vain effort to stave off long-term mental health problems among Palestinian children, the sort that result from seeing young friends killed in front of them by a sniper's silent bullet.

Missile-firing helicopters will not make the work easier. Parents -- the same Palestinian parents viciously accused in American papers of sending their children out to be slaughtered by Israeli forces -- are seeking mental health advice as never before on how to insulate their children psychologically from the terror raining down on them from overhead.

The missile that wrought havoc in four Shati refugee camp houses may not be remarked upon at all by the American media as they pay tribute to Israeli "restraint," but it is etched in the minds of children I met there.

At the individual level, mental health practitioners in Gaza have helped a great deal. But at the macro level, they never had a chance.

In Gaza, where 1.2 million Palestinians live, each Israeli bullet sends shock waves rippling through the tightly bunched families of the refugee camps. Each victim is known. Whether it is a 5.56 mm bullet explosively fragmenting its way through a young boy's abdomen or shrapnel from a shell finding its way into a little girl's eye, they know. And they remember. The pain will not go away. And the humiliation will linger.

An occupying army that shoots a 12-year-old boy dead and then seeks to convince the world that Palestinians did it is asking for trouble. Likewise, an occupying army that assassinates a Fatah leader and regards as acceptable the simultaneous gruesome disemboweling of two women in their 50s is asking for trouble. My own anger and that of my neighbors builds when a U.S.-made missile crashes into a house about 60 yards from my own.

Israel can sign a just peace or insist on humiliating Palestinians and breaking up their land into noncontiguous bantustans (territories in South Africa that were set aside for blacks under apartheid and called homelands), seeking to make them grovel to obtain permission to travel from one Palestinian city to another. But Palestinians will not accept it. And hearts will grow cold and full of hate for those who would oppress them rather than allow them to live a dignified existence.

Having been forced to cede 78 percent of historic Palestine at the outset of these negotiations, Palestinians appear to me more determined than ever to cling all the more fiercely to those scraps of land remaining to them.

In the end, Palestinians will be living proof that "truth crushed to earth will rise again." The uprooted olive tree, the overturned rock retaining wall of the West Bank and the leveled orange tree where Muhammed Al-Durrah was murdered are all reminders of the truth of their cause.

After 52 years, Palestinians are still told that it is their choice to end the violence. It is not. Such notions misapprehend the reality of occupation. The choice rests with Israel as the occupying power creating the conditions that fuel resistance.

That Israel purposively colonized this land through building settlements intended to scuttle any hope of a future peace deal is not the fault of Palestinians.

The burden of a remedy to the problem of the settlements lies with Israel; the Palestinians cannot be expected to make further concessions.

Nobody forced Israel to violate the Fourth Geneva Convention's prohibition against injecting a civilian "settler" population into occupied territory. Yet Israel did so at a terrible cost to all parties involved.

That the resistance of Palestinian children to the excessive violence and expansionist bigotry of an occupying power is not hailed in the West is more a question of how little fundamental questions of justice matter there in today's political climate and not a barometer of the justice of their claims. Palestinian children cry out for a just peace even if the world's only superpower does not.

Michael F. Brown, a Baltimore resident, works with a Palestinian human rights organization in the Gaza Strip.


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