surfing the other day I came across a rerun of Gandhi just in time to
witness the scene where British troops gun down unarmed fleeing protestors.
As a Brit, I
experienced a moment of shame which I was able to quickly suppress with the
thought this brutal act happened long ago. Nobody today would fire on a crowd
of civilians and if they did they would be prosecuted for war crimes right?
There would be an international outcry. The UN would be scrambling to pass
condemnatory resolutions or worse. Isn't that right?
wrong. There is one country that has virtually been handed carte blanche to
commit any atrocity it likes. It can humiliate, imprison and starve an entire
people with seeming impunity.
It can wage wars on
its neighbour, using cluster bombs, depleted uranium tank shells and white
phosphorous without barely a peep from the so-called international community.
It can level entire
neighbourhoods, murder hundreds of women and children without even a rap on the
knuckles from the UN Security Council. It can develop weapons of mass
destruction to its heart's content and the international nuclear watchdog, the
IAEA, so outspoken on Iran and North Korea, stays silent.
That country is, of
Just days after I
watched the Gandhi movie, I saw a real-life rerun of that nightmarish
scene in the form of Israeli soldiers firing on unarmed women moving towards a
mosque in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. They were desperate to
protect their men folk who were trapped within the mosque.
These were men
without whom those women and their children could not survive. They didn't
hesitate to move forward even as the bullets tore at their sisters, felling
them to the ground. Their sacrifice was humbling.
One of those women,
Jameela Al Shanti, describes how they got the strength and the courage to keep
going. "It is not easy as a mother, sister or wife to watch those you love
disappear before your eyes," she wrote.
was what helped me and 1,500 other women to overcome our fear and defy the
Israeli curfew last Friday - and set about freeing some of our young men who
were besieged in a mosque while defending us and our city against the Israeli
I couldn't help
thinking that deliberately firing at women was a low even for Israel, whose
spokespeople later made lame excuses that their soldiers targeted militants
dressed as women.
But those whose
broken and bloodied bodies were carried to the hospitals and morgues were not
gun-toting militants. They were someone's mother, someone's daughter.
But just days
later, Israel surpassed itself by shelling residents of Beit Hanoun as they
slept. Nineteen civilians died in that attack, including eight children, many
of them toddlers. You won't see this massacre on CNN or the BBC.
The sight of
lifeless children with missing limbs or eyes is not for the sensitive eyes of
Western viewers or advertisers. But those images are out there for anyone with
a strong stomach and an even stronger heart.
carried on Arab satellite channels and recorded for posterity on YouTube. There
is one in particular taped by a woman who is quietly sobbing in the background.
Vestige of humanity
Anyone with any
vestige of humanity or compassion would condemn this massacre termed "a
technical error" by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A technical error
is a term used by airlines when planes are delayed or television stations when
satellite uplinks fail to materialise.
There was no
technical error. It was one more horror in Israel's siege of Beit Hanoun, a
hellish city bereft of water, electricity, jobs and freedom.
Once again, the
United Nations didn't fail to disappoint. On Saturday, Security Council members
voted on a resolution, proposed by Qatar, urging the immediate withdrawal of
Israeli forces from Gaza and condemning the killing at Beit Hanoun.
And once again, the
US, which supplied Israel with the weapons used to kill those women and
children, flourished its veto, while its sycophants Britain, Japan, Slovakia
and Denmark, fine democracies all, shamefully abstained.
If only the leaders
of those proud nations possessed a crumb of the courage displayed by the women
of Beit Hanoun, the world would be a better place.
There is, however,
one tiny bright spot. The Arab League appears to have woken from its long
stupor. On Sunday it condemned the US veto and America's unfriendly stance
towards the Arab world.
It further called
for an investigation into the massacre and asked for international troops to be
sent to protect the people of Gaza from Israeli aggression.
The Arab League has
also expressed its intention to break the US-led embargo against delivering aid
to the Palestinian National Authority and encourages other countries to follow
suit. This is a positive move forward. Let's hope that body will put its money
where its mouth is.
can't eat words. They cannot be saved with official declarations or comforting
platitudes. Now is the time for Arabs to show just how much clout they have in the international arena.
have been alone and friendless for far too long through no fault of their own.
They need their brothers as never before. Don't let them down.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.