Eyewitness Account: The Diaphanous Faces of Ghosts Demanding Justice
Posted Jan 4, 2009

Eyewitness Account: The Diaphanous Faces of Ghosts Demanding Justice  

by Vittorio Arrigoni

While I write, the Israeli tanks have entered the “Strip”. The day has begun in the same way as the previous one ended, with the earth shaking under our feet, the sky and sea conniving endlessly against us overhead, suspended over the destinies of a million and a half people who’ve gone from the tragedy of a siege to the catastrophe of bombings where civilians are the preordained targets.

The place is devastated by flames, there have been cannon shots coming from the sea and bombs raining down from the sky all morning. The same fishing boats we accompanied into the open sea just a few days ago, well beyond the six miles imposed by Israel in their illegal and criminal siege, are now reduced to charred wrecks. If the firefighters tried to put out the fires, they’d instantly become the targets of the F16’s machine guns – this already happened yesterday. After this massive attack, after having made an exact estimate of the dead (if this will ever be possible), the city will have to be rebuilt over a desert of rubble.

Livni is declaring to the world that a humanitarian emergency doesn’t exist in Gaza: clearly, denial isn’t the done thing only around Ahmadinejad’s parts. The Palestinians are in agreement on one thing with Livni, an ex serial killer at the Mossad’s beck and call (as Joseph, an ambulance driver tells me): more food is indeed coming in through the borders, simply because in December, next to nothing had managed to make it across the barbed wire fence stretched out by Israel. But what point is there in serving freshly baked bread in a cemetery? The real emergency ought to be to stop the bombs dropping immediately, well before bringing the survivors any supplies. Corpses don’t eat, they can only provide compost for the earth, which at the moment in Gaza has never been more fertile from decomposition. On the other hand, the disemboweled bodies of the children in the morgues ought to increase the senses of guilt in the indifferent lookers-on, those who could have done something. The images of a smiling Obama playing golf were shown on all Arabic satellite TV stations, but around here no one is under the illusion that the colour of one’s skin will do wonders to radically change American foreign policy.

Yesterday (Friday, Ed.) Israel opened the Herez pass to evacuate all foreigners present in Gaza. We internationals of the ISM are the only ones to have remained. Today (yesterday, Ed.) we replied to the Israeli government through a press conference illustrating the motives that commit us to staying where we are now. We’re disgusted by the passes being opened for the evacuation of foreigners, the only possible eye-witnesses to this massacre, while they are being kept shut to the flow of the many international doctors and nurses pressing to get in and bring their heroic Palestinian colleagues assistance.

We’re not going anywhere because we believe that our presence is essential in providing eye witness accounts of the crimes inflicted against the unarmed civilian population hour by hour, minute by minute. We’re up to 445 dead, over 2,300 wounded and many, many missing. While I write, sixty-three minors have been torn apart by bombs. At the moment Israel counts three victims in total. We haven’t fled as our consulates have advised us, because we’re well aware that our contribution as human shields on the ambulances in giving first aid could be decisive in saving lives. Once again yesterday, an ambulance was hit in Gaza City. On the previous day two doctors at the Jabalia refugee camp had died when they were hit by a missile shot by an Apache helicopter. Personally, I’m not budging from here because my friends have implored me not to abandon them. My surviving friends, as well as the dead ones, who crowd my sleepless nights like ghosts. Their diaphanous faces are still smiling at me.

7:33 PM, Half Red Moon hospital in Jabalia. While I was connected via phone with the demonstrating crowds in Milan, two bombs fell in front of the hospital. The façade windows were shattered, and by pure chance the ambulances were not damaged. The bombings have become more frequent and powerful in the last hours. The nearby Ibrahim Maqadme mosque, nearby, has just crumbled under the bombs: it’s the tenth in one week. Eleven victims for now, and about fifty wounded. An elderly Palestinian lady I met in the street this afternoon asked me whether Israel thought it was still in the Middle Ages rather than in 2009, from the way it continued to hit mosques with such precision. It’s as if it were concentrating on a personal Holy War against all the Muslim places of worship in Gaza.

Yet another downpour of bombs hit Jabalia, and they came in, in the end. The creakings of the tanks tormenting the borders by day, like fasting mechanical creatures starving from not devouring enough human bodies, are now finding their tragic fulfillment. They’ve entered an area in North-West Gaza and are razing the houses down, metre by metre. They’re burying the past and the future, whole families and entire population dismissed off their legitimately owned land, who haven’t found any other form of shelter than a hut in a refugee camp.

We rushed out here to Jabalia after the terrible Israeli menace showered down from the sky last Friday evening. Hundreds of leaflets thrown out of the planes ordered the general evacuation of the refugee camp. This threat has unfortunately materialised. The most fortunate – a few – have managed to escape instantly, taking a few possessions with them – a TV, a DVD player, and the few pieces of memorabilia from the life that always was in a Palestine, eternally occupied and lost about sixty years ago. The vast majority haven’t found anywhere to go. They will face those creaks hankering for their lives with the only arm they have, the dignity of dying with their heads held up high.

Myself and my companions are aware of the enormous risk we’re coming up against, this night more than any other. But we’re more at ease in the midst of this Gazan hell than relaxing in a metropolitan heaven in Europe or America, celebrating the New Year and not really understanding just how much we would be compliant with and contribute to the cause of the killing of all these innocent civilians.

stay human

Vittorio Arrigoni for Il Manifesto