Dispatches from a War

Joydip Ghosal

Mohammed Omer in his book ‘Shell-Shocked, Dispatches from a War, On the ground under Israel’s assault’ (Publisher Speaking Tiger) documented the third major Israeli assault on the Gaza strip. He is a Palestinian journalist. In 2008 he was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He has reported extensively for Al Jazeera, the Nation, Democracy Now!, and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Noam Chomsky wrote “Mohammed Omer could easily have escaped the horror of Israel’s impending assault on the trapped and helpless people of tortured Gaza. Instead, he chose to stay, to record…” The author owed it to Palestinian people and Israeli people to get to the truth. The book was on Operation Protective Edge, launched in early July 2014 which was most savage and feral attack on the Gazans. For 51 gays the Gazans felt unspeakable agonies. The author lived through the horrendous brutalities along with his wife and then three-month-old son. He attempted to provide a firsthand account of life on the ground during the crackdown and mayhem.

While writing the book the image of Jalal Jundia kept visiting his mind who lost everything. During the summer of 2014 he saw him sitting atop the ruins of his family home surrounded by rubble and dust. Where they could go now as their home had been ravaged? Jundia asked the author every time when the western countries with their pontification about human rights would take steps against this violation in keeping with their lofty ideals .It often felt that Gazans did not just exist. The author tried to reassure him, bolster his courage. He promised him that his voice would not go unheeded. He would strive to share his story.

The Gazans were ensnared in Gaza and they were so hindered that they were unable to move. They could only pray for the bombings to end. Perhaps then they could try to rebuild their life from the scratch.

The author asked a pertinent question. Israel’s authority stood as priority in the media. But no one ever tried to raise the issue of Palestinians who were expelled from their homes. But the author proudly proclaimed that after every attack they emerged more tightly coalesced together.

A year later, Jalal still could not find any shelter. The author though tried to remain optimistic which was not a tiny feat in that war-ravaged once beautiful and self-reliant costal enclave. After the 1947-48 purge, Gaza became a safe haven for Palestinians who escaped the ethnic cleansing. Irgun, Stern and Lehi gangs drove them away. The author unequivocally declared that their reality was predicted upon Israel’s determination to drive them away from their homes for good. Every minute and every day the people lived in a reality which was distorted and crumpled. After the Operation Protective Edge the vast majority of children remained traumatised. They continued to live under constant seize. They were unable to leave and people could not visit them. They were limited in what they could import, buy or export. It was clearly evident that systemic tools of persecution infected all aspects of life. The life of non-favoured religion and race became traumatic. It ranged from imprisonment, arbitrary killings to prevent them from rebuilding their homes. Starvation diets caused by siege stripped them of their rights.

But the Palestinians asserted themselves. Despite all the brutalities they were still there. The author showed how they devised ways to survive. Women recycled the spent tank shells into flowerpots. Students returned to the bomb-out schools to resume their education. They tried to tape together the torn books.

Cutting of electricity, gas and water was another grim reality. Many of Gaza’s farmers had been forced to abandon their animals and crops paralysing agricultural works .The students tried to study by candle light. According to author they focused on basics and carried on with grit and determination. The occupation was not about religion but it was about natural resources. In Gaza Christians and Muslims faced the same tribulations. Both faiths had seen their places of worships destroyed by F-16. The author showed both faiths were incarcerated, humiliated, starved. Despite these “both faiths remain united in a spirit of common humanity”. According to the author he would like to see a single state where tolerance and equity would be the only way forward for Palestinians and Israelis. He emphasised that the problem was policy. Dynamics and policy had to be changed.

Actually it centred on who would reap benefits from those resources ranging from arable land to gas reservoirs beneath West Bank and coastal waters in Gaza. Political and economic clout also played a pivotal role. A Palestinian doctor said “Trauma is a term which they have used in the West when they were talking about normal situations and there is a breakdown. This breakdown is trauma, but for us Palestinians, trauma is the daily life.”In 2012 the United Nations agency for Palestinian Refugees observed that among the PTSD patients 42 per cent were children. The disease itself rose by 100 per cent. Children did not have the mental strength to cope up with these grim realities. Many reported symptoms of mental turmoil and strain and anger.

This book contained pieces that were arranged in chronological order. This book showed how media controlled the narrative in favour of the oppressor. It became evident that Palestinian version was under- reported. Israel spent enormous money to spin the media narrative .With graphic details this book delineated the sheer brutality of the Israeli attack. False air strike warnings was another ploy to cause ‘maximum collective fear’. It caused maximum impact without firing a single shot. Gaza’s churches that provided shelters to families remained potential targets for Israel’s war machines. Gaza’s fishermen were worst affected by the relentless offensive. Near constant barrage of Israeli air strike dismantled their lives. This book with poignant details showed how civilians were summarily executed. Israeli soldiers used Palestinians as human shields and fired on civilians in Khuza’a in southern Gaza. That pain of catastrophe was shared by all Palestinians. Even thousands of farm animals fell victims to the Israeli assault in Gaza.

 In order to understand the present crisis this book is an essential read that delved deeper into the recent past to unearth the horrific brutalities.

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Vol 56, No. 38, Mar 17 - 23, 2024