Picture this normal scene: Teenage boys are playing soccer in front of their house on a sunny day in November. Just one problem: These boys live in the Gaza Strip. Suddenly a 13-year-old drops bleeding to the ground, shot by an Israeli soldier in a helicopter.
We were in Gaza at the time and paid a condolence call to the parents of the dead boy. The grief of his mother was unbearable to see.
A man at the funeral said, "We hope you will be strong ambassadors to reflect our message that we need protection. We are looking for freedom and peace."
Since we left Gaza, over 149 people were killed and over 850 injured during "Operation Pillar of Cloud." A majority of those killed in this eight-day assault were noncombatants including women, children and the elderly. The many hundreds more who were injured were overwhelmingly civilians.
We were in Gaza with a delegation organized by Inter-Faith Peace Builders. We met with human rights groups, women’s groups, fishermen, farmers, schoolchildren, refugees and other residents. Everyone we met has been severely impacted by Israel’s ongoing economic siege and by the destruction of "Operation Cast Lead" in 2008, when Israel killed an estimated 1,400 Gazans and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.
Farmers are not allowed to export their crops, the water and sewage system has been destroyed, no garbage trucks are allowed in, fishermen are continually shot at, and people are not allowed out for crucial medical treatments. And for years, Israel has struck into Gaza at will, killing and injuring ordinary Palestinians on a daily basis.
While every death or injury is a tragedy, the enormously lopsided casualty figures are proof that this is not an even playing field for both parties. Israel is the occupier, with the world’s fourth-largest army supplied by the U.S. government, provoking and relentlessly bombing a small strip of land that they have lain siege to for the past six years, to which they control nearly all entry and exit by sea, air and land.
Largely protected from Palestinian retaliation by its U.S.-taxpayer-funded “Iron Dome” missile defense system, Israel set in motion its pre-planned “do over” against Gaza. On Nov. 14 it broke a two-day ceasefire by assassinating perhaps the only man capable of maintaining that ceasefire, Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of the Hamas military wing. Israeli peace negotiator Gershon Baskin reports that Al-Jabari had just received a proposal for an extended cease fire with Israel hours before he was killed.
All aspects of civilian life were targeted, including schools, homes and infrastructure. It does not matter how sophisticated Israel’s “precision” weapons are, the 1.7 million people living in the densest place on earth were at enormously greater risk of death and injury than anyone in Israel who might be threatened by the primitive rockets of Hamas.
The Gaza that we saw right before this assault was inspiring because of the creative resistance of the people, yet heartbreaking because of the needless suffering they must endure. We were fortunate to leave before the major bombardment began and we can only imagine the chaos and terror of the the people who were so hospitable to us.
As we write, a ceasefire is in effect that we fervently hope will last. But whether or not it does, we call on Republicans and Democrats alike to stop pouring billions of our tax money into the Israeli military machine which clearly has committed human rights abuses with U.S.-supplied weapons. The U.S. and Israel must stop trying to solve a political problem through military force, end the siege of Gaza, and stop sabotaging all efforts to negotiate a just solution in accordance with international law.
Tsela Barr and Michele Bahl are members of Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.