As the bombs rain down on Gaza, I feel heartbroken and powerless. I watch footage of my people, broken and bloodied as they are pulled from the rubble with bare hands and carried desperately into hospitals that are full of the wounded and grieving. I can’t believe what is unfolding.
I can hardly believe how little the Western world is doing in the face of the clear, televised genocide happening in real time in Gaza. I know about the situation first hand. My dear sister Heba and her family were forced from their home in Gaza City to evacuate south. During the ceasefire they discovered that their home, and all their family possessions, had been destroyed by indiscriminate Israeli bombardment.
The Israeli military ordered them to move again from Khan Younis, which is now under constant Israeli bombardment. Then the Red Crescent school that Heba and her family were sheltering in, along with thousands of others, was ordered to evacuate. They have no place to go. They will end up staying in a tent, if they can get any, or in their car.
The empty sand dunes of Mawasi are not a refuge for 2 million people. There is nothing there. The numbers are simply staggering, and these are at the lowest estimate as the health system is in a state of collapse. More than 16,000 people have been killed by Israel, over 6,600 of them are children. This is a war on children.
As Unicef spokesperson James Elder has so eloquently said, there is nowhere safe in Gaza, and the “safe zones” that the Israeli army claims exist in the south are a “dangerous false narrative”. Thousands of people have been wounded, many of them are amputees now. This is a mass disabling event.
Because there are no medical supplies, people are being operated on without anaesthetic, without even pain relief. British-Palestinian surgeon Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta tells horrific stories about treating burned children with no morphine, their parents crying, him crying, the children screaming. And how will the terribly wounded recover in the collapsed health system? What are their future life prospects? It is unbearable to think of the fear and the trauma that people are experiencing. The loss is so immense for everyone, they are losing family members, often multiple relatives, friends, neighbours and there is no space or time to even begin to grieve, to mourn.
Over 300 families have lost 10 or more family members in Israeli bombings in the past two months. At least 189 families have lost between six and nine people, while 549 families have lost between two and five people. This is unimaginable. And it is deeply hurtful to hear media repeat Israeli military talking points, and describe this mass murder and ethnic cleansing as an “Israel-Hamas war”, while diminishing Palestinian testimony and experience.
Like my sister, most of the population of Gaza has been forcibly displaced, and for many, they have been forced from place to place. The population of Gaza is already made up of mostly refugees from the Nakba, so this is a generational trauma being inflicted on them, a replay of that terrible ethnic cleansing of 1948.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented that orchards, greenhouses and farmland have been razed due to Israel’s ground invasion in the north of Gaza. This raises huge concerns about food insecurity and the loss of livelihoods. It is difficult to imagine what the future is for the people in Gaza.
In the occupied West Bank, my relatives in Hebron and all Palestinians there live under brutal military occupation and face daily violence by armed illegal Israeli settlers. This in an area where Hamas does not hold sway. More than 250 Palestinians have been killed there since October 7th and over 100 children this year. Thousands of people have been detained and Israel has imprisoned more people than it released in the hostage exchanges. Some people have even been rearrested. The people released, many of them children, many held without charge or trial, detail being beaten, tortured, starved, deprived of blankets since October 7th.
They relate that Palestinian prisoners are being seriously abused. Last month Tánaiste Micheál Martin visited Israel while that state was committing a genocide nearby.
The fact that Israel rolled out the red carpet for our Minister for Foreign Affairs, and brought him on what amounts to a war propaganda tour, shows that Israel very much cares what Ireland says and does.
I believe that Israel values the position of Ireland in Europe. Ireland can lead and play an important role to put an end to Israel’s genocidal attacks on my people and help end Israel’s apartheid policies. As The Irish Times correspondent Naomi O’Leary wrote last week, Spain and Belgium are already leading with that pressure.
As Ireland helped to end apartheid in South Africa, we can do so again. Words are no use to the people in Palestine under existential threat right now – what they need is meaningful action. Let the Irish Government reflect the will of the many thousands of people who have taken to the streets over the last two months, by enacting the Occupied Territories Bill and the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill, referring Israel to the International Criminal Court, finally acknowledging the consensus among human rights organisations that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. The time to act is now. Every day without action means hundreds more beautiful lives lost. There must be an immediate ceasefire, for my sister Heba, for her children, for everyone.
Fatin Al Tamimi is vice chairperson of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign