As I write this, a full day of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas had passed. The fear, unfathomable to most of us, is another matter.
The people of Gaza, one of the most densely populated regions in the world with 1.8 million living on a 41-kilometre stretch of land, have been shattered by the violence and destruction.
Nearly 1,800 dead, the vast majority civilians, including over 400 children. Some 63 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have also died in this latest conflict.
Thousands of modest Gazan homes and neighbourhoods have been destroyed, leaving nothing but piles of rubble, hundreds of children killed, thousands more wounded, entire families slaughtered by the precision of Israeli missiles, their schools bombed, their hospitals and medical professionals completely overwhelmed, their university a shell of its former beauty.
Over half a million people have been displaced in a mere 30 days — equivalent to the entire population of Newfoundland and Labrador being left homeless, jobless, hopeless and mourning the death of so many innocents.
It is a humanitarian catastrophe.
And there is no justification for the widespread killing of innocents despite the inflammatory and one-sided rhetoric of the Canadian Conservative government.
Absolutely, Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas terrorist rocket fire. But how does that right condone the indiscriminate killing of so many “non-combatants,” destroying their homes, businesses and neighbourhoods?
Simply, it does not.
The Canadian Conservative government continues to side exclusively with the actions of the Israeli government.
This is despite condemnation of those acts from the United Nations and its agencies, despite international humanitarian law, despite the pleas from human rights experts, despite the horror.
The Harper government’s position diminishes Canada as a nation that has prided itself as an advocate for human rights and peace throughout the world.
There has been no safe place for the people of Gaza over the past month. Even UN shelters, converted schools, have been bombed by the Israeli forces.
The images are surreal. More like something out of an end-of-the-world Mad Max movie than real life. But this is real life for the people of Gaza. As real as it gets.
You have to wonder amid the devastation, the piles of rubble, the dead bodies of children laid out in ice-cream freezers, how hope can live.
You have to wonder how a heart can hold anything but hate after such death and destruction. You have to wonder how much a people can endure.
This conflict between Israel and Palestine has been underway my entire lifetime.
But somehow this latest escalation seems different. It has captured the world’s attention, perhaps thanks to social media, in a way that past conflicts between the two have not.
The world has watched. And watched in horror.
There are rules to war. Rules that have been egregiously broken.
You don’t deliberately bomb UN shelters where innocents are seeking refuge, killing children while they sleep.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called it a “moral outrage and a criminal act,” saying, “the madness must stop” because in war “the parties to a conflict have an obligation, an absolute obligation, to protect citizens from direct and indiscriminate attacks.”
Ki-Moon called those attacks yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law.
“United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones. The Israel Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites. This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable.”
The UN has also, rightly, condemned the rocket bombings of Hamas. Both have broken international law.
Henry Seigman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project and former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, in a not-to-be missed interview with Democracy Now, asks: “What if we were in their place?”
What if we were in their place?
Humanity requires us to do exactly that. A peaceful resolution requires the same. It also requires an end to the unjust and illegal blockade of Gaza. At the very least, the humanitarian crisis demands this as well.
A little over a week ago, I attended a vigil for the dead Gazan children, held in St. John’s.
It was one of those glorious summer evenings that are so appreciated and yet so scarce when one lives on an island in the North Atlantic. The sky was blue and clear. It was still hot despite being evening. A whisper of a breeze fluttered the leaves on the trees as the names and ages of the children were read aloud.
The list was wretchedly long. Name after name, read by Newfoundland-Palestinians including a 13-year-old school friend of my daughter’s.
She is from Gaza. Her young voice clear, her beautiful face etched in grief, her eyes filled with a sadness no 13-year-old should know. Every day she checks on family members who remain in Gaza. Every day not knowing whether they will survive another day. A young man follows her. He can read just a few names before breaking into tears: the language, Voltaire once wrote, of grief.
As my daughter enjoys her summer, laughing with her friends, swimming, and growing up way too fast, I can’t help but think of those Gazan children who have known nothing but war and yet their hearts seem inexplicably filled with hope, hope for a normal life. Hope for a just peace.
This is why a just peace is possible. Why a just peace must be possible.
Nelson Mandela once said that if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. The key, of course, is that you want peace.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for
Unifor. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns Aug. 23.