The HyperTexts

The NAKBA: Why is Israel denying human rights and water to Palestinian children?

An introduction to "Thirsty for Justice" by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

I became an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry because I oppose the the idea that human beings, including completely innocent children and their mothers, can be collectively imprisoned and punished for the "crime" of having been "born wrong." I shudder to think of millions of Jewish mothers and their children suffering and dying in the Holocaust. Being an American citizen, I am glad that my native country opposed the Holocaust and helped end it, but I shudder to think of three Holocausts that Americans participated in. The first Holocaust was the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Native Americans, millions of whom suffered and died at the hands of white supremacists who called it their "manifest destiny" to possess all the land. The second Holocaust was American slavery, which caused millions of African American mothers and their children to suffer, and many to die prematurely due to beatings, terrible living conditions, and sexually transmitted diseases incurred when women and girls were raped. The third Holocaust is still ongoing: the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of the Palestinian people. The US and Israeli governments are partners in crime in this new Holocaust, as they both preach the glories of "human rights," "justice" and "democracy" to the rest of the world, while making damn sure that Palestinians are denied any hope of equality, justice and self-determination. This has been going on since 1948, when the government of Israel chose to destroy hundreds of Palestinian villages and thousands of individual homes, leaving hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families homeless and destitute. Most of the Palestinians who became refugees were so poor they didn't have weapons and couldn't have fought well-armed Israeli Jews even if they had wanted to.

Hundreds of villages do not disappear by "accident." It takes a lot of money, manpower, machinery and careful coordination to demolish thousands of homes. This wanton destruction has been documented by Jewish historians like Ilan Pappé and Benny Morris. There is no doubt about what happened. Before 1948 the villages existed; after 1948 they didn't.

Contrary to the prevailing fictions, Israel was not fighting the Palestinians in 1948 because the Palestinians had no military and most of them had no weapons. When Israel unilaterally declared itself a nation in 1948, not waiting for the UN to proceed with the plan for two states (one with a Jewish majority, the other with a Palestinian majority), Israel was attacked by neighboring nations like Jordan, Egypt and Syria. However, these attackers had their own agendas and aspirations, and Palestinian farmers had absolutely no say in what the kings and dictators of other nations chose to do. When the fighting was over and the dust had settled, the farmers and their families should have been allowed to return to their homes and resume their lives. But the leaders of Israel chose the dark path of ethnic cleansing, and the hundreds of villages that once existed but no longer exist today tell the true story.

Now, more than sixty years later, rather than admitting what really happened and trying to help the Palestinians regain some semblance of a normal life, Israel in its racism, hubris and cruelty continues to ethnically cleanse Palestine, continually demolishing homes in the West Bank. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) has recorded more than 24,000 home demolitions. No nation in the free world demolishes thousands of homes on a racial/ethnic basis; only Israel does. Not only are Palestinian homes being wantonly destroyed, but even their olive trees. Why? Because according to the Zionist ideology that led to ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the land must be "redeemed" by Jewish labor. Therefore, even trees planted by Palestinian hands must be uprooted and destroyed. This is the same kind of fanatical racism that led to the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears and American slavery.

Why is Israel denying human rights and water to Palestinian children? For the same dark reasons that racists of the past denied completely innocent children the stuff of life.

Thirsty for Justice
by Mona El-Farra
Gaza Strip
March 25, 2010

Toni Morrison once wrote “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I feel it is the same for Palestinian refugees, who have struggled for decades for their right to return home. I thought of this connection between water and refugees during a recent meeting about the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s (MECA) Maia Project with Aidan O’Leary, Deputy Director of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. We are working with UNRWA to install locally-made water purification and desalination units in their schools. Mr. O’Leary expressed his total appreciation for the Maia Project and stressed that providing clean drinking water to children is among the highest priorities and needs for Gaza schools. Mr. John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, also expressed his admiration for the Maia Project.

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under Israeli military occupation and siege. The refugees are often the hardest hit by rising unemployment and poverty. Access to clean water is one of the many basic needs that UNRWA is no longer able to meet. A recent UNRWA report states that the most common infectious diseases affecting Palestinian refugees in Gaza — who make up more than three-quarters of the population — are directly related to inadequate supplies of safe water and poor sanitation: diarrhea, acute bloody diarrhea and viral hepatitis.

Creating a positive impact on children’s health is the main goal of the Maia Project, and working on water access when you live in Gaza is self-explanatory. The reality is that tap water in Gaza is undrinkable due to its bad quality and contamination. At best, when you have access to a running tap, the water is not clean and is very salty. Our daily water consumption averages around 78 liters a day per person, while Israelis average over 300 liters each, more than four times as much. Israel is under increasing scrutiny by international organizations including Amnesty International for “denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

We move to help the children as quickly as we can. Children in Gaza will have the chance to drink clean and soft water, but only at the rate in which we can implement the Maia Project. And we race against time. The UN estimates that Gaza will have no drinking water in the next 15 years.

Water is life, but here in Gaza it can also bring death. Numerous military attacks on the Gaza Strip have devastated Gaza’s water infrastructure. Israel’s twenty-two day assault last winter destroyed or rendered unusable an estimated 800 of Gaza’s 2,000 wells, and caused $5.97 million in damage to our water and wastewater treatment facilities. Since January 2009, the Gaza Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have issued drinking, seafood and swimming advisories.

We yearn for our water and our freedoms to return to us. We roll up our sleeves and hope for rain, the kind of rain that floods the hearts and minds of those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Here in Gaza, we are still thirsty.

Mona El-Farra is a physician and a human rights and women’s rights activist in the occupied Gaza Strip. Her blog is From Gaza, with Love.

The HyperTexts